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10 Ways to Remain Athletic as You Age

Written on February 14, 2016 at 7:53 am, by Eric Cressey

Back in my early-to-mid-20s, my focus shifted into powerlifting and away from a "traditional" athletic career. While I got a ton stronger, I can't say that I felt any more athletic. In hindsight, I realize that it was because I trained strength at the exclusion of many other important athletic qualities. Since then, I've gone out of my way to include things that I know keep me athletic, and as a result, at age 34, I feel really good about taking on anything life throws my way. With that in mind, I thought I'd pull together some recommendations for those looking to remain athletic as they age.

1. Stay on top of your soft tissue work and mobility drills.

Without a doubt, the most common reason folks feel unathletic is that they aren't able to get into the positions/postures they want. As I've written in the past, it's much easier to do a little work to preserve mobility than it is to lose it and have to work to get it back. Some foam rolling and five minutes of mobility work per day goes a long way in keeping you athletic.

2. Do a small amount of pre-training plyos.

I think it's important to preserve the ability to effectively use the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). That's not to say that every gym goer needs to be doing crazy depth jumps and sprinting full-tilt, though. A better bet for many folks who worry about tweaking an Achilles, patellar tendon, or hamstrings is to implement some low-level plyometric work: side shuffles, skipping, carioca, and backpedaling. Here's a slightly more advanced progression we use in The High Performance Handbook program:

The best bet is to include these drills right after the warm-up and before starting up with lifting.

3. Emphasize full-body exercises that teach transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body.

I love cable lift variations to accomplish this task in core exercises, but push presses, landmine presses, and rotational rows are also great options.

4. Emphasize ground-to-standing transitions.

Turkish Get-ups are the most well-known example of this challenge, but don't forget this gem:

5. Get strong in single-leg.

Squats and deadlifts will get you strong, no doubt, but don't forget that a big chunk of athletics at all levels takes place in single-leg stance. Lunges, 1-leg RDLs, step-ups, and split squats all deserve a place in just about everyone's training programs.

6. Use core exercises that force you to resist both extension and rotation.

Efficient movement is all about moving in the right places. The lower back isn't really the place to move, though; you should prioritize movement at the hips and upper back. With that in mind, your core work should be focused on resisting both extension (too much lower back arching) and rotation. Here are a few favorites:

7. Train outside the sagittal plane.

It's important to master the sagittal (straight ahead) plane first with your training programs, but once you get proficient there, it's useful to progress to a bit of strength work in the frontal place. I love lateral lunge variations for this reason.

8. Chuck medicine balls!

I'm a huge fan of medicine ball drills with our athletes, but a lot of people might not know that I absolutely love them for our "general population" clients as well. I speak to why in this article: Medicine Ball Workouts: Not Just for Athletes. Twice a week, try adding in four sets at the end of your warm-up and prior to lifting. Do two sets of overhead stomps and two sets of a rotational drill, starting with these two variations in month 1:

In month 2, try these two:

Trust me; you'll be hooked by the "8-week Magic Mark."

9. Be fast on your concentric.

If you want to stay fast, you need to keep a fast element in your strength training program. This can obviously entail including things like Olympic lifts, jump squats, and kettlebell swings. Taking it a step further, though, you can always just make a dedicated effort to always accelerate the bar with good speed on the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement. 

10. Play.

In a given week, on top of my normal lifting, I might catch bullpens, sprint or condition with my athletes, play beach volleyball, or run a few football receiving routes at the facility. The old adage, "Variety is the spice of life" applies to fitness and athleticism, too. Don't be afraid to have some fun.

The longer you've been training, the more you realize that your strength and conditioning programs have to be versatile enough to preserve your athleticism and functional capacity while still keeping training fun. If you're looking for a flexible program that's proven effective across several populations, I'd encourage you to check out my flagship resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off through the end of the day today.

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5 Strength and Conditioning Exercises that Overdeliver

Written on February 9, 2016 at 7:31 am, by Eric Cressey

With this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite exercises that are included in the program. I like these, in particular, because they're "anti-isolation" exercises. In other words, they deliver multiple training effects to give gym-goers more efficient training outcomes. Keep in mind that just because I don't include classic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts in this discussion doesn't mean that they aren't absolutely fantastic; I just want to give you a little exposure to some different drills in this post.

1. Kettlebell Crosswalk

Because of the asymmetrical loading, you get some great rotary stability work at the core - on top of the anterior core stability work you get from holding a weight overhead while resisting too much arching of your lower back. You get some outstanding shoulder mobility and stability benefits, as getting the top arm up requires a lot of scapular upward rotation and rotator cuff activation. Finally, an overlooked benefit is the opportunity to reaffirm good neck positioning. A lot of athletes will want to shoot into forward head posture, but if you pack the neck correctly, you'll be able to avoid this.

2. Positional Breathing

I use a wide variety of positional breathing drills as part of The High Performance Handbook program, so this is really more of a "category" than a specific exercise. When you put athletes (especially those with more "extended postures) into a more flexion biased position and encourage them to full exhale, you are effectively training both mobility and stability simultaneously. When you exhale, many of the muscles of inhalation - scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, lats, pec minor (not surprisingly all muscles that have chronic tissue density in many individuals) - all are forced to relax. Concurrently, the rectus abdominus and external obliques fire to get air out - and in the process, establish better anterior core stability.

Here are a few examples:

3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL

Whenever I put this in an athlete's program, I go out of my way to warn them that they'll be pretty sore in the days that follow. Lunging and 1-leg RDLs constitute different kinds of single-leg work with different training effects, but when you combine them, you can get the best of both worlds.

This can also be done with one dumbbell at a time. As athletes get more proficient with the drill, I look for more "fluid" transitions, as opposed to a lot of stop-and-go movements.

4. 1-arm KB Turkish Get-up

This one is just too obvious. To do a good get-up, you need everything from a hip hinge, to anterior core control, to shoulder mobility, to single-leg stability.  

 

Not bad for a crafty lefty. #CSPfamily #100lb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

If you're looking for a great coaching resource on Turkish Get-up Technique, check out Greg Robins' article, 6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes.

5. Combination Mobility Exercises

Let's face it: nobody really enjoys mobility warm-ups. Fortunately, for those of you who dread these drills and prefer to get to the lifting as quickly as possible, there are some combination drills that speed up the process a bit. Check out these two examples from the program:

Wrap-up

If you're looking to learn more about how all these different pieces fit with an overall strength and conditioning program "puzzle," then I'd encourage you to check out my most popular resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off this week, and offers programs versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of training goals.  

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4 Rules of Posture

Written on January 13, 2016 at 8:47 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Physical Therapist Chris Leib. Enjoy! -EC

chrisl

Recently, there has been plenty of discussion regarding the efficacy of the idea of posture and whether attempting to improve it is a useful tactic for decreasing pain. This discussion has been perpetuated by research indicating that there is a surprisingly poor correlation between pain and posture. The evidence seems to be pretty damning on this topic, which raises questions about whether looking at pain as an outcome measure actually makes sense when discussing posture. Moreover, even more basic questions still need to be asked regarding the very definition of posture.

When discussing these inquiries, it’s important to understand that the current research has demonstrated that pain is far more complex than previously thought, and that a single model of physiological stress will not be sufficient to demonstrate why some people experience pain and some do not. A discussion of pain science is too complicated to be brushed over in the present discussion; however, it must be understood:

Just because proper posture hasn’t been highly correlated with pain doesn’t mean it’s not important.

When looking deeper into the studies cited above, it becomes clear that there is not a consensus definition of posture. Instead of looking at the constantly changing nature of posture, many of these studies defined posture by using various markers of static structure. Taking this fact into consideration, one must ask the following question: If no agreement is reached as to what proper posture is, how can it be well studied?

In my experience over the past decade as both a strength and conditioning professional and physical therapist, my own definition of proper posture has evolved considerably. Utilizing these years of clinical experience and the current research, I would like to set forth the following 4 Rules of Posture.

Rule #1: Posture May Not Cause Pain, But Improving Posture Can Help to Decrease Pain.

Although there is poor evidence that various definitions of poor posture are associated with increased pain, it’s obvious through clinical assessment that a change in posture can decrease pain when it is present. Go to any physical therapy clinic and you will find patients in pain getting education regarding postural changes that improve their symptoms on the spot. Pain can be a great indicator of what the body feels is a stable position. Often, immediate positive changes are made just by getting the person into a different position.

A common example is the individual with neck pain who has pain when sitting slouched with his or her head forward. Frequently, a combination of education and ergonomic adjustment can abolish this excruciating pain in shorter order. Now, this isn’t to say that the quick fix always “cures” the problem, but it does gives the person more feelings of control over making change with regard to their pain, which actually goes a long way. This sense of control has been demonstrated to be a positive indicator of recovery from and the ability to cope with chronic pain .

Rule #1 is the only rule in which we’ll discuss pain. As I noted, the research on pain indicates that the science is far too complex to discuss isolated associations. Clinically, pain can be a good feedback indicator of postures and positions that a person’s body finds unsafe. This feedback helps determine the best positions for the person to train in and, with time, adopt.

The subsequent three rules will discuss posture in relation to functional and physical performance-based movement quality.

Rule #2: Support Yourself Actively and Passively.

This rule will illustrate the difference between passive and active postural stability, as well as the appropriate balance that’s needed between the two. Let’s get some definitions out of the way first.

Generally speaking, passive stability is using something other than balanced muscular effort to adopt and maintain a desired position. Passive stability can either be anatomical or external in nature. Anatomical passive stability utilizes one’s passive stability structures such as joint capsules, cartilage, and ligaments to find stability in a position, while external passive stability utilizes an external item for extra support when attempting to maintain a position. When dealing with passive stability of any type, the common denominator is finding a stable position while decreasing relative muscular effort.

Active postural stability, on the other hand, refers to the use of muscles to maintain a desired position. In order to optimize muscle activity during static and dynamic postures, the attachments of the muscles must be positioned so that the muscles contract in a balanced way. In addition, the position should minimize energy expenditure against the pull of gravity.

For clarification on how best to determine optimal positioning based on the above definitions, let’s illustrate a common static and dynamic example.

i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair

No matter what, this common static position will never be ideal for postural stability due to the severe muscle imbalances inherent to sitting with your hips and knees in 90 degrees of flexion. However, sitting with the head and shoulders substantially in front of the line of gravity makes a bad situation even worse. The further forward the head and shoulders travel out in front of this line, the more effort the muscles that hold up the head and trunk must exert. More importantly, because the muscles in this case are overstretched and in a poor position to function in a balanced way, less resilient structures such as ligaments and joint capsules/cartilages are forced to pick up the slack.

Thus, the most optimal default position in sitting is the one that minimizes the effort of your muscles and stress to your other more passive structures by allowing the head and shoulders to balance effortlessly in the line of gravity. (Feel free to take this opportunity to observe your own posture. Are your head and shoulders neatly stacked or forward like the pass from the 2000 Music City Miracle?)

NeckPosture

ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground

In this dynamic example, the muscles of the hips, lower back, abdomen, and thorax will be in the most balanced position to lift the load when the pelvis is in a neutral position. That is to say, the lower back should neither be flexed nor extended. In this position, the muscles of the lower back are well balanced with that of the abdomen, and the hip extensors have a better opportunity to contract during the lift.

If the lift were initiated with the lower spine in an extended position, the position can still indeed be stable; however, the stability would come from passive anatomical structures such as the lumbar facet joints and ligaments of the anterior spine. This position increases compressive forces to the lower back and decreases the contractile ability of both the abdominals and hip extensors, as both of these muscle groups are now in an over-lengthened position.

DL posture

Therefore, the optimal position for the dynamic movement of deadlifting is the one that allows for the hip/trunk flexors and hip/trunk extensors to work in the most balanced fashion (see video below). Moreover, setting up the movement and transitioning the bar in such a way that the load stays as close to the body as possible minimizes the downward pulling effects from gravity much like the head and shoulders staying over the midline of the body in the previous sitting example.

When attempting to understand how best to balance active and passive stability within a specific task, we must take into consideration four factors: (1) the available tissue mobility in order to get into the position required; (2) the external objects manipulated or used for positioning; (3) the duration of the task; (4) the intensity of the task.

Let’s return once again to our two examples:

i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair

For static sitting, we must first assess ranges of motion like thoracic extension, shoulder internal/external rotation, and scapular retraction/depression/posterior tilt. In doing so, we’re able to determine whether the desired position can be assumed without pain or excessive compensatory muscle effort. Moreover, we must know the type of seat the client will be utilizing and what activities he or she will be doing while sitting (i.e. typing, driving, etc.).

In terms of duration and intensity, sitting will typically fall under the category of a low intensity activity done for long durations. The longer the duration, the more muscular endurance necessary to maintain a desired position. If any of the above factors are not optimal, external passive support in the form of a lumbar cushion, posture shirt, or corrective tape may be necessary to enable the client to attain a more favorable posture without excessive effort.

seated

(Passively elevating the hips to decrease the effort to maintain an upright torso)

ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground

With deadlifting, mobility limitations in the hips and trunk can often limit an individual’s ability to adopt and maintain the optimal stable position described above. In addition, the intensity of the load or duration of the set must not exceed the amount of muscular force the individual is able to generate, or else even a solid initial position will be lost.

In cases where mobility restrictions are a limiting factor, passive support can come in the form of apparatuses that decrease the range of motion of the movement (i.e. elevating the load onto blocks or a rack). When approaching maximal loads or durations, passive support may take the form of stability belts and braces in areas most susceptible to positional failure.

2DLs

3. Posture is the Product of Your Movement Variability.

Posture is often discussed as a single static element that represents one’s lack of mindfulness or genetic misfortune. Clinical experience and the current scientific literature say this belief is not only wrong, but also a harmful notion to the process of making postural change. One shouldn’t feel guilty or unfortunate that he or she is demonstrating an unskillful posture. Instead, there should be an understanding that posture is not a single static entity, but rather task dependent and constantly changing.

The secret to good posture is that you shouldn’t need to work for it when you are at rest. You see, your static postures during sitting, standing, and walking are a product of your cumulative movement throughout the day. Our bodies are built to adapt to the positions and activities we take on most frequently. If any of these positions and activities are done is excess, all our positions and movement can become imbalanced. This imbalance is what is deemed by many as poor posture, but in reality it is just the body doing what it does best: adapting.

In order to prevent postural imbalances, it is unwise to attempt to simply make ergonomic adjustments to the positions we sustain too frequently. Instead, we must consider our whole body of movement throughout the day. If we focus on proper positioning in training, it will inevitably transfer to our static postures. In this way, programming for any strength, conditioning, or fitness routine must involve a strong focus on developing positions that promote muscular balance (active postural stability) and task transference, as opposed to simply task completion.

For example, there are many ways to push yourself up from the ground when doing a push-up, but there are positioning subtleties that can either promote balanced muscular stability or feed habits of chronic positioning that we already practice too frequently throughout the day (see video below). Thus, an individual’s movement practice should be about movement quality and variability as much as about cultivating strength and conditioning.

Mindless prescription of physical activity (i.e. 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercises; 3 sets of 10 of machine based resistance exercise) prioritizes strength and conditioning capacity over movement capability and variability, hoping that by blindly improving one’s quantity of routine movements the quality of movement will also improve. Don’t get me wrong, in moderation, more movement is better than less movement. However, too much of the same movements can create similar problems as too little movement.

4. Counterbalance Your Life.

The idea of increasing movement quality and variability goes way beyond one’s time at the gym. To allow for increased ease of active postural stability, the common patterns of one’s entire day need to be understood so that behavioral change can be implemented. This is not to say that if we sit all day at work then we need to get a new job. That’s just not practical. Nor does it mean that we must be obsessed with maintaining an upright posture or “drawing our abdomens in” all day long. It simply calls for awareness — awareness of the positions that are most frequently adopted and strategies for counterbalancing them.

Guidelines for this awareness are three-fold:

i. Understand the chronic positions you adopt.

Often postural counterbalances are subtle and developing improved body awareness becomes much more important than simply adjusting your position. This improved body education can come in many forms, such as independent reading on anatomy and physiology, advice from a movement professional, or cultivation of a versatile movement practice as discussed above. It’s important to know that ultimately YOU have the best opportunity to understand your own body. It can be a gradual process to refine this body awareness, but once developed, understanding the positions and movements that are healthy versus harmful to your specific body becomes much easier.

ii. Separate times you must be stationary and times you choose to be stationary.

It’s important to have a plan of attack for positioning throughout your day. Practically speaking, if you sit all day at work, acknowledge it, and then minimize the time you sit when in the comfort of your home. Likewise, if you are on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to spend some time vegging out on the couch. One stationary position is not necessarily better than the other (i.e. standing is not better than sitting). It’s the one that you do most frequently that will usually lead to problems.

iii. Expand your positional repertoire.

When attempting to adopt positions different from those in which you are most comfortable, it is important to have other positions at your disposal. For example, sitting in a chair is a completely different mechanical stress than sitting cross-legged on the ground, just as standing stationary on two legs is different than weight shifting effortlessly from one leg to the other. Similar to the idea of developing more movement variability in an exercise practice, it’s important that you’re able to adopt positions besides those you do most frequently. This may be another area where the help of a movement professional is necessary so that you can become comfortable with the mobility and stability necessary to adopt different variations of sitting and standing positions.

See the video playlist below regarding positional variations for sitting (chair and ground) and standing:

In conclusion, there is plenty of disagreement and misunderstanding around the topic of posture. In my experience, this controversy is unnecessary and overblown. Any respectable strength and conditioning professional would agree that proper positioning and technique is vital when undertaking various movements in a strength and conditioning program. Why should the importance of positioning be any different in our movements throughout the day? We must understand that our bodies are constantly changing; therefore, posture should be viewed as a dynamic, ever-changing journey — not a fixed destination. Hopefully the 4 Rules of Posture set forth above allow you to better understand how to embrace this journey!

About the Author

Chris Leib of MovementProfessional.com is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with nearly a decade of experience in treating movement dysfunctions and enhancing human performance. He has written for many popular training and rehabilitation websites, and has a versatile movement background with a variety of certifications as both a physical therapist and fitness professional. Chris considers physical activity a vital process to being a complete human being and is passionate about helping others maximize their movement potential. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

A special thanks to Travis Pollen of www.FitnessPollenator.com for his help with this article.

References

1. Grundy, Roberts (1984) Does unequal leg length cause back pain? A case-control study. Lancet. 1984 Aug 4;2(8397):256-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6146810

2. Pope, M., Bevins, T., Wilder, D., & Frymoyer, J. (1985). The Relationship Between Anthropometric, Postural, Muscular, and Mobility Characteristics of Males Ages 18-55. Spine, 644-648. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4071274

3. Grob, D., Frauenfelder, H., & Mannion, A. (2006). The association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain. European Spine Journal Eur Spine J, 669-678. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2213543/

4. Nourbakhsh, M., & Arab, A. (2002). Relationship Between Mechanical Factors and Incidence of Low Back Pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 447-460. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12322811

5. Dieck, G., Kelsey, J., Goel, V., Panjabi, M., Walter, S., & Laprade, M. (1985). An Epidemiologic Study of the Relationship Between Postural Asymmetry in the Teen Years and Subsequent Back and Neck Pain. Spine, 872-877. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2938272

6. Franklin, M., & Conner-Kerr, T. (1988). An Analysis of Posture and Back Pain in the First and Third Trimesters of Pregnancy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 133-138. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9742469

7. Lederman, E. (2010). The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 131-138. http://www.cpdo.net/Lederman_The_fall_of_the_postural-structural-biomechanical_model.pdf

8. Christensen, S., & Hartvigsen, J. (2008). Spinal Curves and Health: A Systematic Critical Review of the Epidemiological Literature Dealing With Associations Between Sagittal Spinal Curves and Health. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 690-714. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19028253

9. Evidence-Base for Explain Pain, Second Edition. (n.d). Retrieved October 2, 2015. http://www.noigroup.com/documents/noi_explain_pain_2nd_edn_evidence_base_0813.pdf

10. Control, culture and chronic pain. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2015.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0277953694900205

11. Garber, C., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M., Franklin, B., Lamonte, M., Lee, I., Swain, D. (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1334-1359. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx


Do Your Strength and Conditioning Progressions Create Context?

Written on January 10, 2016 at 8:11 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that some athletes pick up new movements faster than others. Usually, this occurs because they have context from which to draw. 

As an example, an athlete might have a great hip hinge because they've done it previously while playing defense in basketball. Having that hip hinge proficiency helps the individual to efficiently learn a deadlift pattern (among many other athletic movements).

Establishing context is just one of many reasons that children should be exposed to a wide variety of free play and athletic endeavors. The more movement variability we have at younger ages, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it once the time is right.

It's foolish to think, however, that every individual we encounter in personal training, strength and conditioning, or rehabilitation settings will have this broad foundation of context from which to draw. This is where appropriate training progressions become so important. You select exercises with which individuals can be successful not only to build confidence and achieve a training effect, but also to establish context for further progressions.

As an example, if you want to be able to do a quality lateral lunge with overhead reach as part of your warm-up, you've got to be able to string together several movement proficiencies: full shoulder flexion range-of-motion; sufficient thoracic extension and scapular posterior tilt/upward rotation; hip adductor range of motion; hip hinge proficiency; and good stiffness in your anterior core and deep neck flexors to prevent low back arching and forward head posture, respectively.

When I'm teaching this pattern for the first time, I'll always say, "It's just like your back-to-wall shoulder flexion, but with a long lunge to the side."

Back-to-wall shoulder flexion is big-time "context creator" for me because I can teach it to just about anyone really quickly. In fact, I've taught it to seminars with 100+ people without many challenges. More importantly, it creates quality movement from the core all the way up (five of the seven movement prerequisites I noted earlier) - and that has big payoffs later on when one wants to teach anything from a push-up, to a landmine press, to a snatch, to an overhead medicine ball variation.

 

 

#Orioles prospect Will Shepley with a little controlled chaos during this morning's pro crew. #cspfamily #medicineball

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

A lot of folks will read this article and think, "But these is just common sense progressions." I'd agree. However, as we've learned in recent years, in the world of larger group training without individualized programming, common sense isn't so common anymore - and as a result, folks wind up skipping steps and advancing to exercise for which they aren't ready. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, being able to effectively sequence coaching progressions will, in my opinion, become even more important in the years ahead. With the trend of early sports specialization, we're getting "less athletic athletes;" they don't have as much context in place, and wind up having to back-track. Additionally, we have an increasingly sedentary society, which certainly robs individuals of context.

All that said, just remember that if you want to have an exercise in your program, you have to think about how you're going to coach it with all the individuals that may come your way. And, that coaching might involve devising some exercise regressions that build context from which to draw.

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Building Aerobic Capacity with Mobility Circuits (Another Nail in the Coffin of Distance Running for Pitchers)

Written on November 23, 2015 at 9:10 pm, by Eric Cressey

If you've read EricCressey.com for any length of time, you're surely aware that I'm not a fan of distance running for pitchers. I've published multiple articles (here, here, here, and here) outlining my rationale for the why, but these articles have largely been based on theory, anecdotal experience, and the research of others. Today, I wanted to share with you a bit of data we collected at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida last week.

CSP-florida-021

First, though, I should make a few important notes that "frame" our training recommendations and

1. Athletes absolutely must have a well-developed aerobic system in order to recover both acutely (during the training session or competition/games) and chronically (between training sessions and competitions/games). It's relatively easy to improve if approached correctly, and can yield outstanding benefits on a number of physiological fronts.

2. As long as the intensity is kept low enough during aerobic training initiatives, it won't compromise strength and power development. I wrote about this all the way back in 2003 with Cardio Confusion, but many industry notables like Alex Viada, Joel Jamieson, Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman Eric Oetter, Pat Davidson, Charlie Weingroff have done a far better job describing the mechanisms of action in the 12 years since that article was published. Speaking generally, most folks put the "safe zone" intensity for aerobic development without strength/power compromise at approximately 60-70% of max heart rate (Zone 2, for the endurance savvy folks out there).

3. It might be a large amplitude movement (great ranges-of-motion achieved), but baseball is a low movement variability sport. Pitchers are the most heavily affected; they do the exact same thing for anywhere from 6-9 months out of the year (or up to 12, if they're making bad decisions by playing 12 months out of the year). Distance running to me does not offer significant enough movement variability to be a useful training option for developing the aerobic system.

4. The absolute best time to develop the aerobic system is early in the off-season. For the professional baseball player, this is Sep-Oct for minor leaguers, and Oct-Nov for major leaguers. This is one more strike against distance running; after a long season of being on their feet in cleats, the last thing players need is a higher-impact aerobic approach.

With these four points in mind, two years ago, I started integrating aerobic work in the form of mobility circuits with our pro guys in the early off-season. The goals were very simple: improve movement quality and build a better aerobic foundation to optimize recovery – but do so without interfering with strength gains, body weight/composition improvements, and the early off-season recharge mode.

The results were awesome to the naked eye – but it wasn’t until this week that I really decided that we ought to quantify it. Lucky for me, one CSP athlete – Washington Nationals pitching prospect Jake Johansen – was up for the challenge and rocked a heart rate monitor for his entire mobility circuit. A big thanks goes out to Jake for helping me with this. Now, let’s get to the actual numbers and program.

Jake is 24 years old, and his resting heart rate upon rising was 56 beats per minute (bpm). If we use the Karvonen Formula for maximum HR (takes into account age and resting HR) and apply our 60-70% for zone 2, we want him living in the 140-154bpm range for the duration of his session. As you can see from the chart below – which features HR readings at the end of every set during his session – he pretty much hovered in this zone the entire time. The only time he was a bit above it was during an “extended” warm-up where I added in some low-level plyo drills just to avoid completely detraining sprint work (he’d already had a few weeks off from baseball before starting up his off-season).

MobilityCircuitsHR

When all was said and done, Jake averaged 145bpm for the 38 minutes between the end of his warm-up and the completion of the session.

Graph1

He bumped up a little bit high in a few spots, but that’s easily remedied by adding in a slightly longer break between sets – or even just rearranging the pairings.

Graph2

To that last point, I should also note that this approach only works if an athlete is cognizant of not taking too long between sets. If he chats with his buddies and heart rate dips too much between "bouts," you're basically doing a lame interval session instead of something truly continuous. Jake did 94 sets of low-intensity work in 38 minutes. You can't get that much work in if you're taking time to tell a training partner about the cute thing your puppy did, or pondering your fantasy football roster.

Think about the implications of this....

What do you think this kind of approach could do for the foundation of movement quality for a typical high school, college, or professional pitching staff?

Don't you think it might make them more athletic, and even more capable of making mechanical changes easier?

Don't you think they'd be less injury-resistant performing an individualized mobility circuit instead of one-size-fits-all distance running?

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they'd feel better after an 11-hour bus ride?

Don't you think they'd bounce back more quickly between outings?

Designing a low-intensity mobility circuit like this is not difficult. I have a ton of examples on my YouTube page and in products like Assess and Correct and The High Performance Handbook. Stuff like this works great:

What is difficult for some coaches, though, is admitting that distance running to "build up your legs" is like changing the tires on a car with no engine, or studying for the wrong test. Just because "that's how it's always been done" doesn't mean that's how it has to stay.

Give some of these a try in the early off-season - and even during the season in place of "flush runs." They'll be a big hit with your athletes both in terms of performance and health. 

And, for those of your looking for another Z2 training option, look no further.

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The Best of 2014: Guest Posts

Written on December 30, 2014 at 8:20 pm, by Eric Cressey

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2014, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year. Here goes…

1. The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make With Their Training Programs - With this great post from Molly Galbraith, for the second year in a row, my top guest post related to the topic of strength training for females. I think it's safe to say that I need to feature more female-specific content moving forward!

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2. 5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility - This post from Dean Somerset only ran a few weeks ago, but quickly became one of the biggest hits of the year.

3. 5 Ways You've Never Used a Barbell - Greg Robins shares some outside-the-box thoughts on how to get the most of barbell training beyond "the basics."

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4. Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better? - Nobody geeks out about glutes like Bret Contreras, and this article is a perfect example.

5. The 5 Most Common Errors Athletes Make With Yoga - Dana Santas goes to great lengths to apply yoga "the right way," and in this article, she talks about where many athletes and yoga instructors go astray.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2014. In the meantime, have a safe and happy new year!

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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

Written on December 26, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.

1. 5 Things I've Learned About Mobility Training - This article only just ran about three weeks ago, but it still was the biggest hit of the year. Given the popularity, I suppose I should have written it a long time ago!

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2. Why We're Losing Athleticism - This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2014, and was especially popular among parents.

3. Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes? - What started as a Q&A ended up being a lengthy post that kicked off a great discussion.

4. 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises are Essential - We all know core control is incredibly important, but who knew an article about why would be a hit, too?

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5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle Imbalances Revealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!

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5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility

Written on December 11, 2014 at 8:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC

Mobility is one of those nebulous concepts that get thrown around the fitness industry a lot. You either have it or you don’t, and if you’re one of those lucky Tinman stiff-as-a-board folks who can’t touch their toes without a yardstick, you’re told to stretch and do more mobility work, which seems akin to carving out Mount Rushmore with nothing more than some sandpaper. We might be here a while if all you have available to you is simply stretching to make your mobility improve.

What we forget to do is ask a very simple question: Why do you feel tight in the first place? Muscles are incredibly dumb and won’t contract on their own. They’re usually told to contract, and they’re good soldiers that do what they’re told. You could cut a muscle out of the body and hook it up to a car battery and have it contract until either the proteins are ripped apart or until you turned off the battery. Also, muscles can’t get confused, so let’s stop using that term while we’re at it, shall we?

Typically a muscle will tense in response to a few different things. The first is the desire to produce movement, which means the normal shortening response happens and people awe and admire the massive weight EC pulls on a daily basis.

The second is as a protective means. A joint that may be unstable or a step away from being injured could cause the body to contract muscles around it in a protective “casting” method that restricts movement in the joint and calls up muscles that may cross more than one joint. An example of this would be the psoas tensing in response to anterior lumbar instability. The runners with chronic hip flexor pain and a forward lean when they pound the pavement, but who stretch their hip flexors (usually poorly and into spinal extension) 3 times a day for 20 years and still have tight hip flexors are a prime example of this. They stretch but don’t improve stability, so the psoas continues to hate life.

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The third is in response to nervous system tone, specifically sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Sympathetic is best exemplified by that one kid who is always bouncing and tapping their foot, can’t seem to sit still, and always wants to run and jump everywhere, whereas parasympathetic would be the stoner who looks perennially half asleep. If you’re constantly jacked up like a cheerleader on a mixture of crack and RedBull, flexibility won’t be a strong suit of yours, even though you could probably pull a tractor with your teeth or scare old women and small children.

The Ultimate Warrior was definitely NOT parasympathetic, nor was he likely to be hitting the splits anytime soon, but he could always bring the house down.

If you’re constantly a ball of stress, your muscles will be in a constant state of “kind of on,” which is to say their contraction is like lights on a dimmer switch. They’re not all the way on, but they’re not off either, they’re just “kind of on.” Being all jacked up all the time might sound cool, but in reality it tends to cause some issues if you can’t turn it down once in a while.

Lastly, and one of the most simple of all, is alignment. If you have a muscle held in a stretched position, it’s going to reflexively increase tension to prevent the muscle from stretching too far and potentially creating an injury.

I know it’s kind of counterintuitive that a chronically stretched muscle would be tight, but consider the effects of something like low back erector muscles and posterior pelvic tilt. If your pelvis is tucked under like Steve Urkel (I’m dating myself here, but it’s a fun game trying to confuse the 20 year olds), the erectors are already on stretch without having to do anything, plus they’re contracting to keep your spine from sliding further into extension. Trying to touch your toes will result in embarrassing results.

So now that you know why muscles can be tight, we can work on them and produce much better results.

Strategy #1: Change your breathing.

One of the first things I usually see when someone tries to stretch into a bigger range of motion than they’re used to is that they wind up holding their breath. This works against you in two ways. First, when you hold your breath, you crank up your sympathetic system, which drives more neural tone to all muscles of the body and causes reflexive tensing. Second, by not breathing you pressurize the entire thoracic spine: all of the intercostal muscles between your ribs, your diaphragm, and even your obliques tense to help increase intrathoracic pressure against that held breath. This causes muscles to hold tension even more.

In many instances, people will hit an end range of motion while holding their breath, and I tell them to breathe. They, in turn, gasp like they just surfaced from diving with Jacques Cousteau, and wind up getting another few inches into their range.

When trying to get range of motion, long deep inhalations and exhalations where you reach on the exhale makes a massive difference. The length of the breath increases stimulation of the vagal nerve, which is responsive to the heart and drives cardiac rate and parasympathetic stimulation into the medulla oblongata, and as a result muscle tension reduction through the whole body. Lower heart rates means a less energy demanding system, which is commonly results in lower arousal, meaning less tense muscles at rest.

Here’s a simple breathing drill you could do to help increase your overall mobility through your shoulders and hips.


Timely to give Eric a baby breathing exercise, huh?

Try this out: Test your toe touch ability and range of motion bringing your arms up over your head. Make a note of both how far you get and also how easy they both felt. One way to gauge overhead range is to stand against a wall, then bring your arms up overhead without arching your low back, and either mark the wall or make a mental note as to how high you bring your arms. Try the breathing drill and then retest your mobility and see whether it resulted in any changes.

Strategy #2: Build stability to create mobility.

As I noted earlier with respect to stability, if a joint is perceived as unstable and potentially about to be injured, the body will clamp down muscles around it. One way to see this in a graphic manner is to look at hip rotation and core function.

Try this out and see what happens: From a seated position, turn your hips side to side and see whether you have good rotational range of motion through both external rotation (where you look at the inside of your knee) or internal rotation (where you look at the outside of your knee). If you find you have poor external rotation, try doing a hard front plank and then retest. If you find you have a poor internal rotation, hit up a side plank and see what happens. Here's the test:

Here's the front plank:

Here's the side plank:

If you noticed a big increase in mobility, you likely had your hips putting on the brakes and donating some stability up to the lumbar spine. By reinstating some of that stability, the hips opened up and had lots of freedom since they weren’t working double time anymore.

Strategy #3: Change alignment from the bottom up.

Foot position can play a massive role in how well you move. Most people who tend to be flat footed wind up with tibial internal rotation, which results in internally rotated femurs. This rotation increases tension through the anterior hips and up the chain further which reduces the range of motion for overhead movements. It also reduces the force production capability through the legs, which makes you less awesome.

If you roll to the outside of the foot, more supination, you increase tension through the posterior aspect of the hip and pushes you into more external rotation, which reduces the amount of internal rotation your have available, and also reduces your ability to move freely down into hip flexion.

Use this little test and see what happens: stand up and roll your feet so that you put most of your weight on the inside, in line with the big toe, and bring your arms overhead and then touch your toes. Make a not of how high and low you go and also how easy they felt. Then roll to the outside of your feet, more weight on the baby toe side of the foot, and see what the movement results are looking like. You might find it’s different in each example, and will showcase how foot position can affect your overall mobility.

Strategy #4: Change alignment from the top down.

Neck position can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, and it plays down in a couple of simple anatomical means. For the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up. If you stand with your head jammed into the back of your neck, you’ll have some smashed up pteryhyoid and stylohyoid muscles, which will alter (not necessarily improve or decrease, but alter) the ability to move the arms around.

Sternocleidomastoideus

Secondary to this, head position will play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord. The chord has the ability to slide up and down in the spinal canal in order to adjust for different positions. Since the nerves can’t stretch, they accommodate range differently by moving along with the rest of the body. When you’re in standing and you tuck your chin to your chest, the spinal chord moves up in the spinal canal. When you look up, your give some slack to the chord and it moves slightly lower.

What this means is that if you were to bend down to grab a bar for something like a deadlift, and you tucked your chin, your available range that the spinal chord could allow movement to occur before it was stretched would be less than if you had a neutral neck, and much less than if you were to look ahead slightly. Additionally, if you have any restrictions through areas like the sciatic arch, it will prevent movement of the nerve through this area and make your range of motion somewhat limited.

Try this out: stand tall and tuck your chin to your chest, then try to touch your toes. Right after, keep your head level with the horizon and try to touch your toes again and see where the change in range of motion comes from. If you noticed a pronounced change, it's time to get cracking on "packing the neck" during your training and everyday life.

Strategy #5: Clean up cranky fascial lines.

This is where some voodoo starts creeping in. The body is more than a collection of individual muscles that all connect to bones and do stuff. They have lines of action where multiple muscles along specific pathways will contract and relax together to produce movement. These pathways are visually represented through the work of Thomas Myers in his outstanding book Anatomy Trains, but can be shown in real time with some simple tricks.

One fun fascial line to work with is the spiral line. It’s a really cool powerful series of tissues and muscles that runs from one foot around the spine and connects to the opposing shoulder, both on the front and the back. By “tuning” fascia in the leg, you can see some pretty immediate changes in range of motion at the shoulder.

I showcased this with a live demo in a recent workshop in Los Angeles, where a participant had some shoulder issues. I had Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Sports Performance fame stretch him into external shoulder rotation, then applied some light pressure to his opposing adductor group to simulate what he would do with foam rolling. Within 5 seconds, he started to get more external rotation, all without me doing anything at his shoulder and with Tony only holding his arm in a position and letting gravity pull him down.

valgus

Try this out: If your shoulders are restricted through external rotation (like laying back to throw a baseball), foam roll your inner thigh, spending time hating life and breathing deep to try to get them to reduce tension and pain, then retest the shoulder external rotation. If you’re restricted through internal rotation, try rolling out your IT bands and see what happens.

Wrap-up

These methods aren’t guaranteed to work for every single person, but they are simple tricks that seem to work well with a lot of people. The good thing is if one of them works really well for you, you could use it on a regular basis to keep your mobility high and to use it in a new way you never had before.

Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 59% off through this Friday (12/12) at midnight.

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Mobility Training

Written on December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been almost ten years since Mike Robertson and I introduced our Magnificent Mobility DVD set. This popular DVD set certainly helped a lot of people, but as with all aspects of the incredibly dynamic strength and conditioning and rehabilitation fields, we've learned a lot about mobility over the past decade. In other words, there are a lot of things I do differently with my training programs these days. I mean, seriously, I looked like I was 12 years old in this video.

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Very simply, mobility is one's ability to reach a desired position or posture. Because many folks erroneously confused it with flexibility (range of motion at a specific joint), the industry as a whole trended toward labeling all mobility issues as true shortness of tissues that crossed the joint(s) in question. As the years have progressed, though, we've smartened up to realize that folks may struggle to get to specific positions because of joint structure (e.g., femoroacetabular impingement), insufficient stiffness at adjacent joints (e.g., poor core control "presenting" as bad hip mobility), density (rather than just length) of the aforementioned tissues that cross the joint, and a host of other factors. To be more succinct, mobility is dependent on much, much more than just tissue length!

With that in mind, I thought I'd highly a few game-changers I've picked up on the mobility front over the years. This post is especially timely, as Dean Somerset's great new product, Ruthless Mobility, is on sale this week at a great introductory 59% off discount.

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1. Soft tissue work is important, even if we don’t know exactly why.

I'm honestly entertained when I hear someone insist that foam rolling is the devil, and we should never do it. People feel and move better after they do it, and it always seems to improve the quality of mobility initiatives that take place subsequently.

I certainly don't think it's truly mechanically breaking down scar tissue, but it's absolutely transiently reducing stiffness in the targeted tissues via one or more of a number of other mechanisms. Just because we can't explain them in complete certainty doesn't mean that "good" isn't being done.

2. Breathing can reduce bad stiffness and establish good stiffness.

This point could also be called, "The yoga folks have been right about breathing for a long time."

It's not uncommon to incorporate positional breathing drills that will transiently improve both flexibility and mobility. To me, that's an indicator that we're both reducing bad stiffness and establishing good stiffness. As an example, take all fours breathing in a flexed position:

I've utilized this with athletes and seen supine shoulder flexion range of motion increase by 10-15 degrees in a matter of 15-20 seconds without actually stretching the shoulder anywhere near its end-range. Additionally, scapular upward rotation (which takes place against gravity) usually improves a bit, presumably because of both the increased recruitment of serratus anterior and reduced downward pull of the lats. Again, this is very much a theory, but it's consistently being tested with great results in our training each day. And, it's much easier than doing loads of manual therapy and time-consuming static stretching (although there are still places for both of those initiatives).

yogapush

3. Not everyone conforms to the joint-by-joint approach.

The joint-by-joint approach was first introduced by Gray Cook and developed further by Mike Boyle. The concept is very sound: the body is a system of joints/segments that alternate in the need for mobility or stability. For instance, the ankles need mobility, the knees need stability, the hips need mobility, the lumbar spine needs stability, the thoracic spine needs mobility, the scapula needs stability, etc. This all makes a ton of sense, especially in the general population that is more predictable.

However, there are some glaring exceptions to this rule. You'll see folks with hypermobile hips, and excessively stiff lumbar spine segments. You'll observe thoracic spines that are so flat/extended that they shouldn't be mobilized, and shoulder blades that are so locked down that they demand more mobility training to achieve optimal function. Shoulders and elbows can really go either way.

The point is not that the joint-by-joint approach doesn't hold water; it's actually a tremendously useful paradigm I use on a daily basis. Rather, the point is that you can't "one-size-fits-all your mobility approaches." Everyone needs something slightly different, and every joint really needs a combination of mobility and stability.

4. A lot of people mistake laxity (or, worse yet, instability) for mobility.

Building on my last point, you'll find a lot of people who have so much congenital laxity that they don't need any stretching. Their mobility training is really a matter of attention to soft tissue quality and stability training.

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The problem with these folks is that they can often "cheat the tests." For example, they might have unbelievably perfect overhead squats and shoulder mobility to the naked eye, but if you actually pair these tests up with stability-oriented screens, they may fall well short of what you'd deem "acceptable" movement.

Instability - or an acquired, excessive joint range of motion - is even more problematic. This is where folks will literally "blow out" their normal anatomy to acquire a desired range of motion. An example is the anterior shoulder capsule in throwers; they'll do whatever they can to get the arm back to help generate range-of-motion to support velocity production. Eventually, the shoulder can get so loose that the active restraints (rotator cuff and biceps tendon) can't effectively hold the ball on the socket, and pain occurs with throwing.

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In consideration of both laxity and instability, just because you can get to a position does not mean that you're sufficiently stable in that position.

5. Building and maintaining mobility is like managing a bank account.

It goes without saying that it's easier to maintain mobility than it is to lose it and get it back. Everyone uses the analogy of babies and young children having freaky range of motion and perfect squat patterns, but losing them as time progresses. The assumption is that this occurs because they "make enough deposits:" targeted mobility work and a wide variety of activities throughout their days. Certainly, this is an issue, but I'd argue that it's because of excessive withdrawals, too.

Withdrawals could be sports participation where eccentric stress or direct trauma to tissue beats them down. It could be lifestyle factors like alcohol or tobacco use that negatively impact tissue quality. It could be pushing through faulty movement patterns until bone spurs result. What we take out is just as important as what we put in.

We all start with some money in the bank as children, but it's up to us to have more deposits than withdrawals in this mobility account over the course of the lifespan.

These are really just a few of many observations I've made over the years; there are countless more that could turn this article into an entire novel! With that said, if you're looking for an outstanding, up-to-date mobility resource at a great price, I'd recommend you check out Ruthless Mobility. Dean Somerset has put it on sale this week at an excellent introductory discount, and it also provides continuing education credits for the fitness professionals out there. Check it out HERE.

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The 5 Most Common Errors Athletes Make With Yoga

Written on May 2, 2014 at 12:42 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from yoga expert, Dana Santas. Dana has built up an impressive client roster of professional athletes and teams, and it's no surprise, given how educated she is in applying yoga the right way. Enjoy! -EC

DanaSantas

Yoga is a popular topic in the sports world these days. Undeniably, yoga can offer some amazing benefits for athletes. However, those benefits can only be realized when it’s taught correctly and adapted specifically with the goal of increasing sports performance. Otherwise, at best, yoga can be marginally helpful in sports, and, at worst, can actually be dangerous.

These are the five biggest mistakes I see athletes, coaches and trainers making with yoga:

1. Viewing Yoga as a Harmless “Stretch Class”

The most prevalent misconception about yoga that I encounter is that it’s best used for “stretching.” In my opinion, yoga applied for sheer flexibility has no place in sports. Flexibility without stability is nothing more than a recipe for injury. If you only use yoga to “stretch out” athletes without understanding and addressing the cause of the tension, you’re only applying yoga for temporary relief and can actually do more damage than good. A perfect example is the typical complaint: “I need to stretch my hamstrings because I can’t touch my toes.” When the hamstring tension is caused by an anterior pelvic tilt pulling the hamstrings into a lengthened yet inhibited position, attempting to stretch the hamstrings without correcting the pelvic tilt will only lead to tearing the hamstrings.

APT

Most tension in athletes is caused by dysfunction or compensatory movement patterns. Fix the pattern and you release the tension--without unnecessary static stretching (like in the hamstrings example above).That’s why I never call what I do “increasing flexibility.” Is it a byproduct? Certainly. But I focus on using yoga for mobility, which--to me--means increasing stable, functional range of motion.

2. Not Understanding the Differences (and Dangers) of Yoga Styles

Saying “I do yoga” is like saying “I drive a car.” Really, what kind? There’s a big difference between a Hyundai and a Ferrari. When it comes to yoga, the variety of styles goes on and on...Hatha vs. Ashtanga vs. Bikram vs. Yin vs. Power vs. Blah Blah (everyone is making up their own version); I even have my own style! Athletes, coaches and trainers have to take the time to educate themselves about the techniques and rationales of the different styles before jumping into a class.

Personally, I believe some styles should be entirely contraindicated for athletes. I realize I’m going to piss off all the hot-yoga disciples by saying this, but one such style is Bikram, where the heat is turned up to an obnoxious 105 degrees. Yes, I know this is popular with athletes because they love to sweat. Great--push yourself properly in 75 degrees to sweat (or go to the sauna), but steer clear of a yoga style that teaches its instructors to shout commands like “lock your knees” while you slip and slide in sweat over the course of 90 minutes. Of the 26 poses used in Bikram, there are two I don’t think most athletes should attempt because of stress on the knees (Reclined Hero) and cervical spine (Rabbit). Another style that I’m not crazy about – Yin yoga – is widely marketed to athletes. The deep, static stretches of Yin are intended to stretch out the connective tissue--including ligaments. I don’t agree with encouraging athletes to stretch out areas that provide joint stability.

PirateCityYogaTraining

3. Not Vetting The Yoga Instructor

Most people don’t realize that yoga instruction is almost entirely unregulated. As such, there's no law requiring any specific certification to teach yoga. So, anyone can buy a certification online. Consequently, there isn’t a requirement for any anatomy training at all. In fact, even the current gold standard of certification through Yoga Alliance only includes a limited number of anatomy hours, which can be entirely comprised of energy anatomy (chakras, nadis, etc.) rather than muscle and joint function.

Despite this, yoga teachers are encouraged to manually adjust their students in postures. If you’re asking yourself how anyone without anatomy and biomechanics training can properly adjust someone into alignment in complicated yoga poses, you’re contemplating a very valid question. What happens when ill-advised instructors adjust students in classes? Well, injuries aren’t uncommon. One of my MLB clients suffered a cervical spine injury when an instructor in a gym placed a strap around his neck and did “traction” to help him “rest comfortably” while supine at the end of class. Yikes!

Danateam-triangle

4. Trying to Become a Yogi

Simply learning to do a particular style of yoga as a form of cross training is like a baseball player playing basketball in the off-season. He may benefit from the cardiovascular exercise and even improve his agility, but nothing he does playing basketball is specific to him becoming a better baseball player. And, it could even put him at a greater risk of injury as he feeds into existing dysfunctional patterns within the movements of the new sport. The same logic applies to athletes learning to be yogis.

Consider this: a MLB player came to me as a new client after practicing yoga the two previous off-seasons. His movement across the transverse plane was poor and his right SI joint was jammed due to pelvic rotation left to right. He knew how to do yoga sun salutations (albeit while employing myriad compensatory movement patterns), but he lacked the ability to shift appropriately into his left hip and tap into core power and hip mobility for powerful, fluid rotation. He was a left-handed DH, not a yogi, and should’ve approached his yoga practice as such. Consequently, I designed a custom yoga practice for him that focused on establishing the ability to properly shift into his left hip while increasing fluid movement of his pelvis and hips supported by integrated core strength. That’s the kind of yoga he needed!

Another point I have to make about athletes not striving to become yogis is regarding learning advanced inversions and arm balances. Yes, standing on your head looks really cool, but, can easily cause disc herniations when done incorrectly. And arm balances are awe-inspiring, but offer no benefit to athletes (especially throwing athletes) that outweigh the risks. When pressed by clients to teach these poses, I ask them: “Are you an athlete who wants to reach the top of your game or would you rather join Cirque du Soleil?”

DrewDana

5. Wasting Hours in Yoga Classes

The standard format for a yoga class is a 60- to 90-minute class. With grueling training and game schedules, athletes have limited time to get the best possible training and have any semblance of a life outside of their sport, so every second counts. In my opinion, spending an hour-plus in a generic yoga class is not time well spent.

When taught athlete- and sport-specifically, yoga can be applied in a variety of ways that require little time commitment (i.e., a yoga mobility warm-up can be done before a workout or game, restorative yoga and/or deeper stretches can be done after games and/or on off days, yoga moves used as corrective exercise or functional training can be added into workouts in between sets of complementary moves). My clients’ in-season programs never include anything more than 20 minutes at a time and are also broken down into individual movements intended for integration into other parts of their strength and conditioning programs.

The bottom line is that all of these mistakes and potential dangers can be avoided by practicing due diligence. When athletes are smart about why and how they add yoga to their training, they can use it tap into another level of function, awareness and control that will help them move, breathe and focus in ways that directly translate to enhanced sports performance and decreased injury.

About the Author

Dana Santas is creator of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga-based mobility and sports-training style designed specifically to help athletes move, breathe and focus in ways that enhance performance and decrease injury. Nicknamed the “Mobility Maker,” she's currently the team yoga trainer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Philadelphia Phillies, as well as sports mobility consultant to more than half a dozen other teams and hundreds of MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL and MLS pros. You can learn more about her and get information about her upcoming workshop in Waltham, MA at www.RadiusYoga.com.

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