Home 2012 (Page 2)

Mobility Exercise of the Week: Alternating Lateral Lunge with Overhead Reach

It's been a while since I introduced a mobility exercise of the week, so I figured I'd introduce a new one that we use with a lot of our athletes nowadays.

The alternating lateral lunge with overhead reach gives you all the benefits - adductor length, hip hinge "education," and frontal plane stability - that you get with a regular lateral lunge variation.  However, by adding in the overhead reach, you get a greater emphasis on optimal core stabilization and mobility and stability at the shoulder girdle.

In this position, we'll coach different athletes with different cues.

If it's an athlete who is stick in an exaggerated lordotic posture, we'll cue him to engage the anterior core and keep the ribs down as the arms go overhead.

If it's a "desk" jockey who is very kyphotic, we may have to actually cue him "chest up" because he's so rounded over; we have to bring him back to neutral before we even worry much about the anterior core involvement.

If it's a high school athlete who has really depressed shoulder blades, we will actually cue him to shrug as he raises the arms to complete scapular upward rotation in the top position.

Conversely, if it's a client is already very upper trap dominant, we may have to cue a bit more posterior tilt of the scapula during the overhead reach.

In other words, this is a great example of how you can take a good exercise and make it even more effective, especially if you individualize coaching cues as much as possible.  Try it for a set of five reps per side as part of your warm-up and let me know how it goes!

Looking for more mobility drills like this?  Be sure to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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4 Reasons the Game is Always Changing in the Fitness Industry

Yesterday, a reporter for MLB.com came by Cressey Performance to interview a few of our major leaguers.  While there, he asked me my take on whether or not I thought players' off-season preparation changes dramatically from year to year. My answer was something to the effect of:

The fitness and strength and conditioning industries as a whole change significantly each year, so that would certainly be the case in baseball, which features throwing - the single fastest motion in all of sports - and alarmingly high injury rates at all levels.  Guys certainly have mainstays that they stick with regardless of the points in their career, but with innovation as prominent as it is in our field, I change quite a few things each year with how we prepare our guys.

With that in mind, I thought I'd highlight four things that have forced innovation in the way that we train athletes and general fitness folks alike.

1. New Research

There are more scholarly journals - and research review services summarizing these publications - than ever before.  Even if you aren't trained in research methods, you can easily get access to interpretations of these research studies via those who are.  And, just by looking around online and attending seminars, you can see how other coaches and trainers in the field are integrating this new research in their programs.

2. Better diagnostic procedures, physical therapy treatments, and surgical interventions.

Nobody had ever heard of a sports hernia or femoroacetabular impingement before the last 10-15 years, yet nowadays, they're incredibly common diagnoses in athletes involved in violent extension and rotation.  And, taking it a step further, when you can diagnose something, you have to be able to treat it - whether it's conservatively or surgically.  Diagnostics, surgeries, and PT all give rise to the need for more trainers to understand new conditions - both from prevention and post-rehabilitation standpoints.

3. More competition.

When you're King Crap on Turd Mountain, there really isn't much incentive to try to better yourself.  Nowadays, though, while the fitness industry at times is perfectly described as "Turd Mountain," there is no definitive "King Crap."  This is especially powerful when you consider that the industry is moving toward more and more specialization.  People are focusing on specific athlete/client populations and still not differentiating themselves as the absolute best.  As a result, everyone who wants to be near the top really has to bust their butts.

As an interesting parallel to this, try to name a major professional sport where one athlete is so far superior to all the rest.  I'll give you Usain Bolt, but in every other major discipline, there is a far more even playing field.  I think innovations in strength and conditioning have played a big part in that.  Outstanding fitness can make up for a lot of what high level athletes may lack in raw talent/skill.

4. An aging clientele.

Anyone who has outstanding client retention can attest to this: people change over the course of the many years that you train them.  I've trained 13 year-olds who have gone on to be taken in the MLB draft.  I've written letters of recommendation for former high school athletes to get into medical school.  I've watched how career and financial success can change exercise adherence both for the good and bad.  And, I've learned that training single athletes is much different than training those athletes when they're married and have children. Heck, pretty soon, I'll be training their kids, too!

Aside from these social factors, people's bodies change.  There may be fluctuations in life stresses that may impact what they can do in the gym. There may be aches and pains over the years around which you have to work. An offensive lineman might decide he wants to lose 100 pounds after his playing career is over. A client may even finally have a hip replacement they've been putting off for a decade. 

The point is that you have to be educated in order to adjust to clients as they evolve as people.  And, in order to do that, you have to be educated - and stay educated.

This is one reason why I'm so proud to be a part of the Elite Training Mentorship team.  Twice each month, this site updates with in-services, exercise demonstrations, case studies, sample programs, and webinars to keep you up-to-date on what's going on with the fitness industry.

I'm excited to announce that through tonight at midnight, you can get 30 days of Elite Training Mentorship for just $1 - and to sweeten the deal, we're offering the entire Fitness Business Weekend seminar (twelve 45-60 minute presentations) as a bonus to those who sign up.  This is an absurdly good value, so don't miss out.  Click here for more information.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/6/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship - I normally post my updates here once a month, but this month, it's especially exciting, as we're running at "30 days for $1" trial at ETM, and as a bonus for signing up, you get all the presentations from the Fitness Business Weekend.  So, effectively, you're receiving education on the training and business sides of the fitness industry, and you certainly can't beat the price!  Head over to the Elite Training Mentorship site for details, but don't wait, as the deal ends this Friday at midnight.

By the way, for those interested, my in-service this month was "Understanding Common Shoulder Conditions and Surgeries," and I also had two articles and exercise demonstrations posted.

Everybody, Never, and Always - This blog from my friend and business partner, Tony Gentilcore, is a great post on why "absolutes" are never a good fit in our industry. He cites some specific examples, but just as importantly, encourages you to consider how these three words apply to your own training.

Is it Dangerous to Squeeze the Glutes During Hip Extension Exercises? - This was a great Q&A from Bret Contreras on how to cue athletes during exercises like glute bridges, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings.

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How to Front Squat: Everything You Need to Know

The squat is one of the most revered strength training exercises of all time, and the front squat is a popular variation on this compound lift.  However, like many lifts, it's often performed incorrectly, and in many cases used by folks for whom it isn't a good fit.  To that end, I thought I'd devote this article to outlining everything you need to know to be successful with the front squat.

What Makes the Front Squat Different?

A few primary factors differentiate a front squat from a traditional back squat.

First, the bar is positioned on the front of the shoulder girdle rather than on the upper back.  In the process, an athlete is given a counterbalance to allow for a better posterior weight shift, which improves squat depth.  If you need proof, check out your body weight squat, and then retest it while holding a ten-pound plate out at arm's length; most of you will improve substantially.

Second, because the arms are elevated (flexed humeri), the lats are lengthened.  This is in contrast to the back squat, where the lats can be used to aggressively pull the bar down into the upper back and help create core stability.  I firmly believe the lack of lat involvement is what accounts for the significant differences in loads one can handle in the front squat as compared to the back squat.  However, "quieting down" the lats on the front squat is likely why athletes with such dramatic lordotic posture can often squat much deeper/cleaner with the front squat.  Of course, if they have an excessive lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt, you may not want to squat them in the first place!

Third, the positioning of the bar in the front makes the front squat much more shoulder friendly than the back squat, assuming we aren't dealing with an acromioclavicular joint injury, which would be irritated by direct pressure of the bar.  In the back squat, the externally rotated "rack" position poses problems for athletes with poor upper body mobility, and it actually reproduces injury mechanisms at the shoulder and elbow in overhead athletes like baseball players, tennis players, volleyball players, and swimmers.

Fourth, the upright torso angle of the front squat reduces shear stress on the spine. More forward lean equates to more shear stress, as the resistance is moved further away from the axis of rotation; just think of a see-saw where your lower back is the middle point and you'll catch my drift. Moving the load further out also increases risk of going into excessive lumbar flexion under compressive load. The front squat – even under heavier loads – keeps a lifter more upright, or else he’ll simply dump the bar; it's somewhat of a self-limiting strength exercise.

Fifth, because the load is positioned further forward than in a back squat, there isn't as much of a pre-stretch for the posterior chain, so the front squat will be more quad dominant than the back squat, which will engage more glutes and hamstrings.  Of course, you can use front box squats to shuffle things up and get some variety, but we won't deviate from the point too much here.

Sixth, in the overwhelming majority of lifters, because of the upright torso angle and increased recruitment of quads relative to posterior chain, most lifters will use significantly less weight on the front squat than the back squat. All things considered, if you can achieve a comparable training effect with less external loading, you're dealing with what would generally be considered a safer exercise.

Contraindications

Some individuals simply aren't cut out for any kind of squatting, so before we even talk technique, it's important to start by separating these lifters out.  Some common contraindications for squatting include poor tolerance to compressive loading (e.g., symptomatic lumbar spine disc injuries) and femoroacetabular impingement (this bony block at the hips makes it virtually impossible to squat without developing issues acutely and chronically).

Specific to front squatting, poor hip mobility, ankle mobility, core stability can be problematic, but perhaps nothing is as big of a buzzkill for front squatting as a kyphotic posture.  As I demonstrate with my Quasimodo impression in this photo, it's impossible to get the elbows up when you're rounded over like a scared cat.

 

These are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential contraindications, but they serve as examples of how we need to fit the exercise to the lifter and not vice versa. With that out of the way, let's talk...

Technique!

We'll start with the hand positioning, as it's the most hotly contested portion of the front squat technique debate.  Only a video will do it justice:

When it comes time to unrack the bar, I cue the athlete to push the elbows up high and take air into the belly as they stand up the weight.  This combination of "elbows up" (shoulder flexion) and "air in" prevents the bar from rolling - either because the arms are angled down or because the torso goes to mush as the rib cage comes down.

After the weight is walked out, the athlete should take a slightly outside hip width stance, with the toes angled slightly out.  One of the biggest mistakes I see is that athletes go too wide with their stance, and the end result is that the knees have nowhere to go but in:

To piggyback on the "feet in, knees out" cue, I encourage athletes to think of "squatting between the knees, not over them."  This seems to get folks to the right balance of "sit back" and "sit down," as an (Olympic) front squat will have more "sit down" than a back squat or box squat variation. Additionally, a regular back squat will be slightly wider in stance than a front squat for most folks, and a box squat will certainly be even wider.

"Elbows up" is a cue that resounds throughout the movement, and it's especially important in the bottom position, when the bar will want to roll the most.  Regardless of the hand position you select, make sure the elbows are at or above the level of the bar at all times.  One great drill for practicing is to simply unrack the bar hands-free and gradually build up loads.  If you can get comfortable with this set-up, you'll always remember to think "elbows" and not "hands."

As you come out of the hole and accelerate toward lockout, make sure you don't get lazy as you enter the easy portion of the strength curve.  This is where front squatting with chains can be very helpful; it educates you on how to accelerate right up to lockout, where the hips and knees extend fully simultaneously.  If you don't have chains, try loading the last ten pounds of weight as 2.5-pound weights (two on each side). Position the clamp about an inch further out than it would normally be so that they can "clank" a bit.  Your goal is to make the 2.5-pound plates rattle at the top of each rep.  Finish with the glutes as you stand tall, and reset your breath before descending for subsequent reps.

Speaking of reps, stay away from doing high-rep front squats.   Sets of six should be the maximum you do, as muscles involved in maintaining the "rack" position may fatigue early and compromise the safety of the exercise.

Equipment Considerations

There are three important equipment considers to take into account.

First, your shoes should have a subtle heel lift.  It doesn't have to be an Olympic lifting shoe, but something that is totally flat to the ground won't work for the majority of folks.  It'll take some tremendous ankle mobility to squat deep without a little lift - even if it's only a few millimeters.  Front squatting (assuming an upright, Olympic stance) barefoot is probably not a great idea; I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen do it in good technique in the past 4-5 years since the barefoot craze took off.  Minimalist shoes are fantastic, but not necessarily for deep, Olympic-style squatting. If you're rocking a Minimalist sneaker, you can always slide a five-pound plate under the heel.

Second, be careful with shirts made of "wicking" fabric.  While they may be super comfortable, they do tend to allow the bar to slide a bit too much, especially if you're using a bar that doesn't have much knurling.  A quick solution to this is to spread some lifting chalk around the collar and chest to help the bar grab the shirt a bit more - or you could just wear a different shirt.

Third, many front squat newbies will really struggle with the discomfort of the bar position as they're learning to the bar-in-front technique.  While everyone ultimately adjusts to this discomfort (especially if they add some muscle mass to the area), one strategy to help athletes get by in the short-term is to just have them wear two shirts while they front squat.  This extra layer of padding is subtle and won't change the technique of the exercise, but will make it more tolerable during the learning phase.  You can taper an athlete off of it shortly thereafter.

Closing Thoughts

Squats aren't for everyone, but if you are going to squat, the front squat is one great option. Put these coaching cues and strategies into action, and you'll be front squatting safely and moving big weights in no time.

Looking for more detailed training tutorials like this, and a program in which front squatting is incorporated? Check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 26

Compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here are this week's tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Improve your anti-extension core stability exercises with these tips:

2. Improve your sitting posture with one easy step.

This past week we were fortunate enough to have Michael Mullin from Orthopedic Associates in Portland, ME give a guest in-service on how he uses concepts from the Postural Restoration Institute in his practice. I picked up a lot of great tips from Mike, but one in particular I found particularly easy to implement. When asked what people can do when sitting (especially at a desk) to improve posture, Mike suggested simply sitting on the edge of their seat, a concept he referred to as "functional sitting." By doing so they are in a more “active” position where the body has to stabilize itself more. I’ve spent the last few days putting it to the test and I think it’s a great piece of advice. Give it a try!

3. Appreciate the importance of breathing (namely exhaling) in “core stability.”

Another interesting point that was hammered home by Mike was that the body can draw stability from three major sources: Muscular, Positional (think joint placement), and Gaseous (breathing). As an example, try this:

Make a fist and tense up your whole arm, that arm is under a lot of muscular tension and is stable.

Now relax and completely slouch over in front of your computer, you body is probably hanging out on bony structures now, and drawing stability primarily from the position in which gravity has put it.

Finally, take a deep breath and hold it. The expansion of your diaphragm and lungs has filled you out and is giving you stability.

We need to draw stability from all three sources appropriately; in fact, all three depend on each other. If we breathe correctly, we will be a in a better position. If we are in a good position, we will use muscles appropriately to create stability.

With that in mind here is a quick way to add some focused breathing into a common stability drill. When doing your dead bugs, practice fully exhaling in the bottom position before returning to the top. As you exhale try to depress the rib cage and lower it towards the hips. This will cause the low back to sit heavy into the ground. We have incorporated this at CP, and it has a made a great difference in showing athletes how exhaling activates the abdominals and causes true “core stability” to be trained.

4. Consider your somatotypes when making fitness-based decisions (Part 1).

A person’s body type (also known as their somatotype) is a general classification of their physical composition, as well as certain physiological characteristics. Taking into account your body type is an easy way to individualize your approach for added success in the gym and the kitchen. If this is a new concept to you, first you need to figure out what body type you are most similar to. Then, consider these general guidelines for training and nutrition to optimize your results. For more information, I encourage you to poke around the Precision Nutrition website. Many of these suggestions come from their certification manual. Their web site, nutrition programs and certification program provide an unparalleled source for nutritional information.

Ectomorphic: You tend to be “skinny” through both your limbs and torso. Your metabolism is fast, and in some cases hyperactive. Your tolerance to carbohydrates is great. You tend to be someone who always wants to gain “size”, especially in the limbs (arms and legs). If this sounds like you, use what works for you to your advantage. Go heavy on the carbohydrates; at least 50 – 60% of your intake can come from them. Furthermore, if you are looking to get bigger, limit extra physical activity and focus your efforts on strength gains, and in time, the addition of higher training volumes.

Stay tuned next week and I’ll hit upon another body type!

5. Read into skinfold measurements a bit deeper.

Calipers are often used to measure a person’s body fat percentage. It is a relatively inexpensive way to get an accurate idea of this number, and track progress. One really interesting topic I read about when prepping for my Precision Nutrition exam was the relationship between skin fold measurements and hormone levels. Basically people with similar hormone profiles also tend to carry body fat in the same place. By considering this information you can take a better approach to eliminating body fat as a whole. For example, if you have a high abdominal skinfold you are likely to have elevated levels of cortisol and stress in general. Therefore a better approach to your body fat reduction should include strategies to reduce stress, improve sleep, increase protein intake, and suppress cortisol.

Here are a few more tips for you to consider in relation to where you store body fat:

High suprailiac: Reduce your carb intake, and/or use nutrient timing strategies.

High subscapular: Improve your insulin sensitivity. Consider adding in fish oil supplementation.

High chest: Boost your testosterone by making sure your calories are high enough and you are receiving enough dietary fat.

High triceps or thigh: Reduce your estrogen levels, exercise more, and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/29/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing:

Thrive on Throwing - This is an outstanding DVD set from Alan Jaeger that thoroughly teaches the science and practice of long tossing.  Alan has generously offered to provide my readers with a 25% off discount (which applies to his other products as well).  I highly recommend this throwing resource, as long toss sometimes gets a bad rap in large part due to the fact that many players and coaches implement it incorrectly.

Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program - While we're on the topic of long toss, I thought I'd bring this old article back from the archives, especially since a lot of our professional baseball clients started throwing this week.

5 Holiday Diet Tips that Don't Suck - This is a quick read from Nate Miyaki over at T-Nation, but it packs some good information and strategies for you to employ this holiday season.

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Now Available: Cressey Performance Camo Shirts!

I'm excited to announce that Camoflauge Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development t-shirts are now available for sale.  Prior to today, these New Balance shirts were worn exclusively by our professional baseball clients.

These shirts are 90% cotton and 10% polyester and insanely comfortable.  They do, however, run a bit small.  So, if you normally wear a large, order a XL.  If you're normally a XL, get a XXL.

We'll be accepting pre-orders until February 25th in order to make sure that they all shipping out in time for the holidays. Each shirt is $24.99 + S&H, and I'd recommend you purchase seven of them, as you'll want to wear one every single day!

Click the links below to add shirts to your cart:

XXL

Extra Large

Large

Medium

Small (note: if you weigh more than 120 pounds, this won't fit)

We plan to do one order now and then retire these guys for good, so don't delay if you're interested in picking one up. Enjoy!

 

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Squat and Deadlift Technique: Why the “Knees Out” Cue Might not be Enough

"Knees out" is a term I've heard yelled in gyms during squatting for as long as I can remember.  However, that cue alone might not help a lot of lifters train safely and productively.  Check out today's video to learn more:

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How Each Pitcher Creates (or Loses) Velocity Differently

If you've read my baseball content on this website for any length of time, you've surely noticed that I'm a firm believer that no two pitchers are built exactly the same.  Rather, they all develop velocity via different combinations of athletic qualities - or miss out on velocity gains because they don't possess some of these qualities.

To that end, a while back, I gave a presentation down in Texas to a group of a few hundred pitching coaches on this very topic, and it's now being released.  Check it out:

Pitching Whip: What it is and How to Get it

Both electronic versions and DVDs are available, but only for a short time - and at the current 75% off discount. So, don't delay; check it out here now.

Also, on a related note, for those who don't know that I publish a free baseball-specific newsletter, you can subscribe to it in the opt-in box below (you'll receive a free copy of the Cressey Performance Post-Throwing Stretches, too):

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I’m Having a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale (Just Like Everyone Else on the Planet)

I guess I'm joining in the discount madness this holiday season, even if I didn't have to do any planning!  Here are some options for your holiday shopping at EricCressey.com:

1. Whip: What it is and How You Get it - This was a presentation I did a while back at Ron Wolforth's Pitching Coaches Bootcamp, and it's now available for sale individually. In the presentation, I talk about factors the influence whether you increase throwing velocity and how strength and conditioning programs can have a dramatic impact - either positive or negative - on whether one develops the whip needed to throw harder.  You can either watch this online or get it as a DVD.

2. 20% off all Physical Products at MikeReinold.com - This sale includes Functional Stability Training and Optimal Shoulder Performance, along with many of Mike Reinold's other products.  Just enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2012 at checkout to get the discount.

3. 15% of all Products at RobertsonTrainingSystems.com - This sale includes Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility, along with many other products from Mike Robertson. The discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

We don't put products on sale very often, so be sure to take advantage of these offers before they expire at the end of the day on Monday!

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series