We're lucky to have Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg filling in for this week's collection of quick tips for your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs. Here we go!
1. Own the weight/movement during execution.
Far too often, I see trainees fail to take control during the execution of a lift. For example, many people completely disregard the tempo, which inevitably leads to a faulty lift. If I see something like this, I tell the individual to "own the weight/movement or count to three” as they go through the eccentric portion." By employing this cue and focusing on the tempo, you will not only mitigate the risk of injury, but you will become more proficient with the given lift.
So, the next time during the execution of a lift, try to become more mindful with how fast you’re completing each rep. Make an attempt to utilize a countdown or envision the “owning” cue in order to control the lift.
2. Limit yourself to three steps when you set-up for a squat.
Squatting (whether a traditional back squat, front squat, or one that utilizes specialty bars) is generally a staple in most training programs. But too often, a lifter will take too many steps to set up once they unrack the bar from the J-hooks. This bad habit not only causes the lifter to lose his/her pre-settings (air and tension), but it also expends far too much energy during the foot-placement.
So, once you are under the bar and your air is set, take only three steps for your set-up. On the first step, allow yourself to clear the hooks. Then, use the second and third step to position yourself in the appropriate squat stance. From there, reset your air and go to town!
3. Assume a quadruped position while loading for a push-up.
Once you have mastered a conventional push-up (unloaded without elevation or additional stability points), the next step for progression is loading it (using a weighted-vest, chains or bands). However, this weight should not be added while in the push-up position because you will fight the anti-extension component and waste a lot of energy you need for the lift.
Instead, assume the quadruped position (on all fours) as weight or added resistance is being loaded. If you opt for a vest or bands, still assume the quadruped position (rather than hanging out in a starting push-up position). By doing this, you allow your base of support to be closer to your center of gravity, making the set-up less strenuous. Remember, even though you want to work hard, be smart. You need to know when to preserve your energy in order to optimize the exercise.
4. Get out of your footwear as much as you can.
The shoes we wear often restrict our range of motion and provide external stability that our feet need to develop on our own. This is why many lifters perform some of their training exercises barefooted. Eliminating footwear allows for improvements in ankle and foot mobility and stability, reduction in hypertonic calves, greater activation of the posterior chain, and increased proprioception of the foot.
However, there are unfortunate situations where gyms do not allow members to take off their footwear. So in these cases, you should purchase minimalist sneakers (we like the New Balance MX20v3) that will aid in providing just enough stability to prevent lateral sprains, all while helping you increase ankle mobility and stability in the foot. Also, get out of your footwear (running sneakers, dress shoes, or heels) whenever you can, and while shoeless, implement foot and ankle drills in order to maintain adequate function.
5. Create a shake matrix to streamline the smoothie making process.
A busy lifestyle forces many of us to eat on-the-go, which is why shakes are all the craze lately. Unfortunately, a lot of people make the same smoothie day after day, week after week, without any changes or new add-ons. Incorporating different nutrient-dense ingredients is very important, though. The variety provides a blend of essential macronutrients, vitamins and minerals you need for optimal bodily functioning.
So, I refer you to the “shake matrix” (see below), created by Dr. Mike Roussell. This table presents different, tasty ways to eliminate boredom and ensure that you provide plenty of nutrients to your body. Use it as inspiration and change up your recipes!
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Back in 2011, I wrote up a detailed post highlighting my favorite all-around training sneaker - and it turned out to be my most popular post of the year. That very sneaker - the New Balance Minimus - has since been improved considerably, so I thought I'd use today's post to highlight those improvements and introduce my favorite training sneaker for 2013, the New Balance MX20V3. I liked it so much that I wound up in a commercial for it with a few of our professional baseball players at Cressey Performance:
The sneaker is available in several different colors, so be sure to check out both the men's and women's options available. Enjoy!
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As an interesting little aside to this, last week, I had a chance to preview the newest version of the Minimus (due out in December), and they're absolutely awesome. Cool colors, awesome design, super durability, and great fit. I'm excited to rock them.
With 2011 winding down, I'll be dedicating this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I'll kick it off today with my most popular articles from the past year.
1. My New Favorite Training Shoe - This post received more than 3,000 views more than #2. Apparently, footwear is a topic about which folks were anxious to read, and I gave a detailed review of all the minimalist footwear options I've tried - and folks shared it a ton. Additionally, based on feedback on my Twitter account, a lot of people purchased the New Balance Minimus based on my recommendation and have absolutely loved it.
2. Your Arm Hurts? Thank Your Little League, Fall Ball, and AAU Coaches. - This post received well over 1,000 Facebook "shares" and loads of Tweets, and I'm hopeful that this is indicative of parents, coaches, and players learning about how to approach arm care and throwing programs intelligently. I think it was also popular because it was a good blend of scientific evidence and simple, everyday logic.
3.Tim Collins: Why Everyone Should Be a Kansas City Royals Fan (at least for a day) - This was my favorite post of the year, as it was a chance to celebrate a good friend and long-time Cressey Performance athlete who is everything that is right about Major League Baseball. As a cool little aside, traffic to this article played a large part in having "Tim Collins" trending on Twitter during his MLB debut on Opening Day in March.
10. Lifting Heavy Weights vs. Corrective Exercise: Finding a Balance - I can definitely see how folks found this topic so interesting, as it's a very challenging balance to strike. In fact, it was even a very challenging piece around which to wrap my brain!
This wraps up our top 10 posts of 2011, but I'll be back soon with more "Best of" highlights from 2011. Next up, I'll list my top product reviews of the year.
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1. Regaining lost mobility - This is an incredibly loaded topic that goes far beyond the scope of any blog or article, as it's an entire two-day seminar or book! You see, losses in mobility - the ability to reach a desired position or posture - can be caused by a number of issues - and usually a combination of several of them. Tissues can actually lose sarcomeres and become short after immobilization or significant eccentric stress (as with the deceleration component of throwing). They can become stiff because of inadequate stability at adjacent joints (learn more HERE), protective tension (e.g., "tight" hamstrings in someone with crazy anterior pelvic tilt), or neural tension from an injury (e.g., disc herniation causing "tight" hamstrings).
The "Short vs. Stiff" issue is why you need to have a variety of tools in your "mobility toolbox." You need focal modalities like Active Release, Graston, and ASTYM techniques to assist with dealing with short tissues, whereas you need more diffuse modalities like traditional massage and foam rolling for dealing with stiffness (although both modalities can certainly help in the other regards, this is how I prefer to use them).
You need to understand retraining breathing appropriately and how posture affects respiratory function. If you live in extension, you'll have a poor zone of apposition in which the diaphragm can function. The average human takes over 20,000 breaths per day. If you don't use your diaphragm properly, more of the stress is placed on the supplemental respiratory muscles: sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi (to only name a few). What are some insanely common sites of trigger points in just about everyone - especially thrower? Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. Improving respiratory function can be a complete game changer when it comes to enhancing mobility. If you see a baseball player with a low right shoulder, prominent anterior left ribs, adducted right hip, huge anterior pelvic tilt, and limited right shoulder internal rotation, it's almost always a slam dunk.
You may need low-load, long-duration static stretches to improve length in tissues that have lost sarcomeres. This research has been around in the post-surgery community for decades (1984 research example here), but it's actually not used all that much in strength and conditioning programs - presumably because of time constraints or the fact that most coaches simply don't know how well it can work in the right people.
Finally, as we noted in our Assess and Correct DVD set, you also need dynamic flexibility drills in your warm-ups to reduce tissue and joint stiffness, and subsequent strength exercises in your strength and conditioning program to create adequate stability at adjacent joints to "hold" that new range of motion in place.
Many physical therapist employ heat early in a session to decrease stiffness prior to strengthening exercises, too. The point is that there may be many different ways to skin a cat - but there are also a lot different types and sizes of cat. And, for the record, I don't condone skinning cats; it's just a really gruesome analogy that has somehow "stuck" in our normally very politically correct society. Weird...but let's move on.
2.Improving dynamic stabilization of the scapula - I say "dynamic stabilization" because you don't just want scapular stability; you want a scapula with appropriate tissue length, stiffness, and density to allow for the desired movement. A scapula that doesn't move might be "stable," but that's not actually a good thing!
Truth be told, the scapular stabilizers generally fatigue before the rotator cuff does. And, when the scapula isn't positioned appropriately, the rotator cuff is at a mechanical disadvantage, anyway. Additionally, poor scapular control can present as an internal rotation deficit at the shoulder, as you'll just protract the shoulder excessively in place of internally rotating. In other words, you can do all the rotator cuff exercises you want, but you don't increase strength of the periscapular muscles, you'll be spinning your wheels. There are loads of drills that we use, but forearm wall slide variations are among our favorites:
3. Enhancing global strength while minimizing reactive training - As I've already noted in this series, we're certainly spending a lot of time addressing specific areas of weakness like the rotator cuff, scapular stabilizers, and anterior core. However, I should be very clear that we're still using "money" strength exercises like variations of the deadlift, single-leg exercises, squatting (in some of our guys), pull-ups, rows, push-ups, and dumbbell bench presses to get strong. That said, the volume and intensity come down a ton on the reactive training side of things. We'll give our guys a few weeks off altogether from sprinting, as they've usually done a lot of that all season. Plus, nixing all the sprinting and jumping for a few weeks ensures that they won't tweak anything, given the soreness they'll be working with from the strength training program - and it allows us to increase strength faster.
4. Putting guys in the right footwear - One thing that many folks don't appreciate about playing baseball every day from February to October is the sheer amount of time one spends standing around in cleats, which will never be as comfortable as sneakers or going barefoot. As such, one of the first things we do with most of our guys is get them into a good pair of minimalist shoes for training, as it gets them away from the rigidity, separation from the ground, and ankle mobility deficits that come with wearing cleats. As I wrote previously, I'm a big fan of the New Balance Minimus.
Keep in mind that we ease guys into these minimalist shoe options, rather than throwing them in the footwear 24/7 right away. They'll start out just wearing them during training, and increase from there, assuming all goes well.
5. Normalizing sleep schedules - Professional baseball players (and really all professional athletes) have terrible sleep schedules. Because most games are night games, they generally go to bed around 1-2AM and wake up anywhere from 7AM to 11AM. The early risers I know will usually take a nap before going to the park, whereas the guys who sleep in roll out of bed and go straight to the park. Additionally, much of this sleeping comes on planes and buses, which aren't exactly comfortable places to get quality sleep. I'm a firm believer that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight - but this simply isn't an option for professional baseball players.
That said, we try to normalize things as much as possible in the off-season. All our athletes are encouraged to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time - and to hit the hay before 11pm every night. Any naps they can get during the day are a bonus, too!
While I've outlined ten things we address in the early off-season, these are really just the tip of the iceberg, as every player is unique and needs an individual approach. That said, the one general theme that applies to all of them is that we're shifting paradigms - meaning that some things about our philosophy may differ from what they've experienced. Some guys may be accustomed to just "football workouts." Others may have been coddled with foo-foo training programs where they didn't work hard. Some guys ran distances. Some guys crushed the rotator cuffs every day while ignoring the rest of the body.
The point is that it's not just our job to find what we feel is the best fit for these athletes, but also to educate them on why the unique program we've designed for them is a better approach than they can get anywhere else.
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I get asked all the time what sneaker I recommend for strength and conditioning. While no shoe is perfect for everyone and all tasks, I’ve certainly grown to love the more “minimalist” options on the market today that simulate barefoot training. In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training “accidentally” improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives.
That said, not all minimalist footwear options are created equal – and I can speak from experience, as I have tried out just about every version on the market today.
My use of old-school Converse All-Stars (“Chuck Taylors") could probably be considered my original “foray”into minimalist footwear, as I gravitated toward them because they were flat-soled and allowed me to better drive through my heels while squatting and deadlifting in powerlifting. Unfortunately, they weren’t very comfortable, weren’t particularly aesthetically appealing, and I couldn’t really do much single-leg work or sprinting in them the way that I wanted to because they just felt restricting at the ankles (admittedly, I had the high-top version). Plus, I always felt like people automatically lived in my parents' basement and played Dungeons and Dragons because I wore them.
From there, I went to the Nike Free back in 2006 – and was pretty impressed. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm tailed off quickly, as I beat these sneakers into the ground almost overnight. The panels on the bottoms would fall off all the time when we pushed the sled (we find 3-4 new “pieces” of Free on the floor at CP every day).
And, the sneaker design actually seemed to “de-evolve,” as the upper and sides seemed to get stiffer while the heel lift increased (pictured below is the 7.0, and while the lower digit versions are a bit less stiff, there still seemed to be a general shift toward "normalcy" in terms of heel lift).
Looking for an alternative, I tried on a Reebok Travel Trainer (yes, only one) on in a store – and quickly returned it to the box before lacing up the other sneaker. It felt so low in the back that I literally thought I’d come out of the shoe altogether if I tried to run – and this was a sentiment echoed by my wife, who owns a pair and has worn them a whopping one time for a training session…a mistake she’ll never make again, as they are buried in some closet with her 13,000 other pairs of shoes. Using an excavating helmet and my Dora the Explorer flashlight, I managed to find them:
Then, earlier this year, an employee of Vibram Five Fingers kindly gave me a pair of their shoes to try out. I really liked it for walking around the facility and training my bilateral lower-body lifts, but was not a fan of it for single-leg training, as it beat up my big toe on the trailing leg in lunges. I'm also a heavy supinator, so it wasn't a good fit for me with sprinting.
However, I do love the material on the bottom, as it is one solid piece that couldn’t fall apart like the Frees do. I also liked the pliability of the upper section; it had just the right amount of give. That said, like most folks I’ve met who wear the Vibram Five Fingers, I could have done without the “Five Fingers” part, from an aesthetic standpoint. It's the absolute closest you can get to true barefoot training.
Luckily for me, though, the clouds opened up and I finally found a pair of minimalist sneakers that I love "all-around" when I got hooked up with a pair of the New Balance Minimus. The new "training" shoe, which is pictured below, actually debuted in July of 2011, with more colors and styles added to the product line in the months that followed. These bad boys are the real deal: durable bottoms, the same upper “feel” of the Five Fingers (they actually collaborated with Vibram on the trail version, which feels similar to the Five Fingers, minus the toes), and just enough protecting at the big toe to keep me from getting banged up on lunges. There is also sufficient padding in the back to ensure that you don't slip out like one does with the Travel Trainer. Tony and I each have a pair, as does the First Lady of Cressey Performance (for the record, Tony's are the pink ones):
I’ve used it for everything from sprinting, to jumping, to lifting and felt great. I feel like an absolute rock star because I don’t have to change footwear halfway through a session in my strength and conditioning program, and while that may be a sad commentary on my life, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a damn good training show that I’ll be rocking for the foreseeable future. It's also quickly become the single most popular training shoe on the floor at Cressey Performance on a given day, as many of the athletes have followed our lead and been thrilled with their purchases.
You can check out the different styles of Minimus at NewBalance.com. I also liked this great interview on the research and development that went into creating the Minimus; it’s worth a read if you’re a geek like me.
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Q: I read with great interest your recent review of Muscle Imbalances Revealed, and in particular, your comments on Mike Robertson's presentation that touched on factors related to excessive pronation. I have this excessive foot pronation, plus a spondylolisthesis, a history of ankle sprains, double-jointed elbows and knees, and hips that move around like John Travolta's in Saturday Night Fever. Basically I should have given up my career and gone into the Cirque de Soleil.
What I want to know is that specifically with my feet if wearing a supportive shoe with orthotics is such a bad thing. Everyone is on this barefoot kick, but it just doesn't work for me. If I go barefoot my hips move out of correct position and my ankles and calves ache. In fact, when I was a child, my dad had to massage my calves and arches at night because I'd be in tears from the pain of being flat-footed. Once I got my first orthotics at age 7, I was so much more comfortable. I feel that orthotics and a nice flat shoe for me helps me use my feet correctly and allows me to stay away from internal rotation of the tibia and femur, and reduces pelvic tilt, etc.
Or, I could be mistaken? What do you think, and have you heard anyone else talk about this? Other hypermobile people and I have talked about this and we all seem to feel the same: barefoot is not the way to go for us.
A: Extensive barefoot stuff is definitely not for everyone, and if you were having issues that significant at such a young age, you're probably just someone with a structurally different foot type. There are definitely scenarios where orthotics are indicated, and the fact that you've gotten so much symptomatic relief from them tells me that they're a good thing in your case.
That said, you might still benefit from just a bit of barefoot training - like deadlifting barefoot and doing some bowler squats and the like. Basically, just use it for situations where foot positioning doesn't change. Then, you don't have to mess around with how it affects the gait cycle. I think you'll get some of the benefits of strengthening the small muscles of the feet and improving proprioception (in light of your history of ankle sprains) without all the unfavorable compensations further up. And in folks who don't have your hypermobility, improving dorsiflexion ROM would be an added benefit.
I wouldn't say that it's specific to hypermobile individuals, though. A lot of them probably have issues with barefoot training because they lack the strength and underlying stability required at the lower leg and hip to take the ground reaction force stress off the feet. Remember that mobility and stability are always working at odds with one another; if you've got too much of one, you have to train the other one to pick up the slack. My hunch is that most of these people don't have structural pronation; they have excessive functional pronation because the anti-pronators - specifically the hip external rotators - aren't strong enough to decelerate that pronation. Check out the valgus (poor) positioning on the left here:
Of course, in the general population, we see it for this reason, as well as the fact that most people walk around in terrible cinder blocks footwear that completely "tunes out" the joints and muscles of the feet.
A lot of the folks that try barefoot training and wind up in pain get that way because they're idiots and jump right in full-tilt. You can't go from wearing cross-trainers to wearing thin pieces of cloth/rubber overnight. And, as Nick Tumminello wisely pointed out recently, while our ancestors were barefoot all the time, they weren't barefoot on CONCRETE for loads of mileage. And, they weren't as overweight as today's society is, with such low relative strength. As always, people get hurt because they are stupid and not because a specific training modality is bad.
Typically, in a broad sense, I recommend that people do their 1-leg (pistol) squats, all deadlifting variations, and box squats without sneakers.
As long as they aren't really overweight - or presenting with a history of foot problems - we'll also have them do their warm-ups without sneakers.
Q: I know that you're a bid advocate of including barefoot weight training in your strength and conditioning programs. What in general is your "shoeless" policy with your athletes, if any?
A: Yes, we use a lot of barefoot weight training around Cressey Performance in our strength training programs. In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training "accidentally" improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives.
Here are the exercises we're open to doing barefoot:
All deadlift variations (rack pulls and DB variations included), box squats (hip dominant), and all any body weight mobility drills.
We don't go barefoot for any loaded single-leg movements (aside from 1-leg RDLs and 1-leg squats/pistols) or more quad-dominant squatting variations.
All that said, we are careful about integrating barefoot drills in very overweight or very weak clients. These individuals do not go barefoot for any of our dynamic flexibility warm-ups aside from in-place ankle mobilizations, as lunging variations can be a bit too much stress on them at first.
We do, however, encourage clients (in most cases) to go with a good minimalist shoe. My personal favorite is the New Balance Minimus.
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