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2013 MLB Draft Thoughts: Talking vs. Doing

Late Saturday afternoon, the 2013 MLB Draft wrapped up, with a record 15 Cressey Sports Performance athletes having been taken over the three days.  It's always a great time of year, as being drafted is a dream come true for just about anyone who has ever picked up a baseball.  While I'm proud of all 15 guys, there was one guy in particular whose story is particularly valuable for up-and-coming baseball players to read.  Kevin Brown was drafted in the 22nd round by the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, and you can learn a lot from him - but need to hear his story first.

This was the first time I ever saw Kevin play baseball.

No, Kevin wasn't among those celebrating.  He was the unfortunate sophomore who struck out looking while down a run in the ninth inning with men on base to end the Massachusetts Division 1 State Championship game.  I was there to see a bunch of other guys I trained from the other team, including the pitcher, who was the Massachusetts State Player of the Year in 2007.  They celebrated right in front of him.

Two weeks later, Kevin started training at Cressey Sports Performance - right alongside most of the guys from the winning team.  It was somewhat of an awkward moment, to say the least (particularly when Kevin recognized the other team's catcher in the middle of a set of push-ups).  Our entire staff quickly realized that this kid meant business, though.  Whether it was the way he was "wired" or just that he was extra motivated from the tough loss and the way that it ended, Kevin quickly became a "facility favorite" for his outstanding work ethic.  He was a kid who would always show up on time with a smile on his face, and then he'd flip a switch and get after it.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that even as a 16 year-old, Kevin would have run through a wall for me if I'd asked him to do so.

The next year, as a junior, he led the state in home runs.  Still, he didn't get many looks on the college recruiting front.  Even some of the bigger name schools in New England alone said that they didn't think he was good enough to play for them.  Fortunately, Bryant University - which had just made the move up to Division 1 from the D2 ranks - saw something in him and offered him a scholarship.  A few weeks after he accepted it, he went to play down South for the first time.  In a fall ball tournament, he went 8-14 against some of the best high school prospects in the country at the World Wood Bat event in Jupiter, FL.  Quite a few college coaches came out of the woodwork to ask, "Who is this kid?"  Uh, he was the kid you either ignored or overlooked.

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At Bryant, Kevin went on to be named Northeast Conference Freshman of the year, and was one of only 15 freshman All-Americans in the country. He started all 56 games and hit .355.  He was one of the better hitters in the New England Collegiate Baseball League the following summer, and eventually went on to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League.  This year, Kevin hit .367 with a .498 on-base percentage.  In the process, he set a bunch of hitting records at Bryant, and this year, he reached base safely in 16-straight at-bats, falling just two short of the NCAA record. The team advanced to their first ever NCAA Regional and won a game in the process. In addition to being named Bryant's Male Athlete of the Year, "Brownie" was awarded the Omar Shareef Spirit Award, which is voted on by student-athletes themselves. In short, Kevin was tremendously successful - and he did it the right way, earning the respect of coaches and teammates/peers.

I also should note that in a game this year against a college that refused to recruit him, Kevin went 3-3 with a 3B, HR, 2BB, 4RBI, a SB, and 2 runs scored. I guess they didn't see what we did.

As an interesting aside, we had another player, Carl Anderson, commit to play baseball at Bryant two years after Kevin did.  When he left for school, I told Carl to just follow Brownie around and do everything he did.  They trained together at CSP and in the cages all winter. Carl went on to hit .341 with a .405 OBP and stole 20 bases this year. I guess he picked a good training partner.

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If you walked in to Cressey Sports Performance, you'd never find a person who could say a bad thing about Kevin. They'd rave about his work ethic and unconditionally positive and polite demeanor.  And, they'd tell you that Kevin was a "do-er" and not a "talker."

I see far too many kids that worry about what others think of them.  They'll post on Twitter about how they're in "beast mode." And, they'll make sure that all their baseball "eyewash" - flat brims, upside-down sunglasses, silly bracelets, necklaces, and arm sleeves - are all in place before they walk in to the gym...only to take them off to train.  And, they'll check their cell phone for text messages between sets. Then, they'll complain when people don't recognize their "talent."  It's like they expect things to be handed to them on a silver platter. They'll insist that they have to attend a big-name Division 1 school when they really ought to be picking a school where they can actually play and develop.  They'd rather "talk" than "do."

Meanwhile, there is a very small minority of players out there who are busting their butts, appreciating that they need to work to earn what comes their way. They're the Kevin Browns of the world who have experienced failures, been overlooked, and flown under the radar.  They don't want to draw attention to themselves because they are too modest and, frankly, they don't want any distractions.  It's a lot easier to run through the wall if there isn't anything in the way.  They absolutely love the game, so the hours of training feel a lot more like "fun" than "work," as they enjoy the process as much as they covet the destination. In fact, just listen to what Kevin's Dad had to say at the 5:23 mark of our Elite Baseball Development video.

They're guys like Steve Cishek and Tim Collins, who've made it to the big leagues and played for Team USA when nobody even thought they could play D1 college baseball.

CresseyCishekCollins

And, guys like this are why you can be sure that I just became a little more of a Chicago Cubs fan - and you probably ought to be a little more of one, too.  And, it's why you should think long and hard about whether you're more of a "talker" or a "doer." You might just realize that you aren't working quite as hard as you could be.

Congratulations, Kevin, and bust of luck...not that you need it.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 44

Today, Greg Robins is back with five tips for your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Regress TRX fallouts.

At CP, we often use TRX fallouts in our programming. They are a phenomenal choice for training the anterior core in an “anti-extension” fashion. That being said, they can also be quite difficult for many people. The good news is that these bad boys are easily regressed by moving to your knees, rather than the feet. In order to do these seamlessly make sure to adjust the straps so the handles hang to just below your waist, or slightly further for those with longer arms.

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2. Do paused deadlifts.

Paused deadlifts are an awesome way to work on proper technique. I’ll be honest with you, though, the first time I saw them my initial reaction was “that can’t be safe!” In fact, I chalked it up as one of those powerlifting staples that would definitely make you brutally strong, but only at a very high risk of injury. In reality, any exercise has a high risk if done incorrectly, and this variation is not something I would advocate just anyone try, or prescribe to their clients/athletes.

That being said, I don’t think it’s inherently dangerous. In fact, I don’t think it’s dangerous at all when executed well. In an effort to correct my own bad habit of coming forward in the deadlift, I decided to give them a shot. I was frustrated because my deadlift had seemingly regressed, and weights that generally felt fast were becoming a grind.

My very first rep sent me way forward and I bailed out and dropped the bar. I was only using about 45% of my 1RM. Reality check; my initial pull from the ground was awful. Through training this variation I was able to re-learn where my weight needed to be upon breaking the bar from the ground, and in about three weeks of using this lift after my regular work sets I was right back to pulling the weight I had before my technique relapsed.

If you have issues staying back in the deadlift, hit a sticking point around mid shin, or just want to do “authenticity” check to your deadlift, I highly recommend these. Here is a video of a set of three from a recent training session.

3. Use a bar pad when incline pressing.

Putting a bar pad on to squat is foolish. If there is a good reason you can’t have steel pressing into your back, then choose a better way to load the exercise. There is, however, a good use for this cylindrical piece of foamy goodness. One would be to pad the hips during barbell supine bridges; that’s old news. Another is to cut out a little range of motion on the bench press, specifically an incline barbell bench press. 

Before you call me as soft as the foam pad of which I speak, hear me out. Incline pressing is a great pressing exercise, but there’s one thing I don’t like about it: it tears apart the front of my shoulders. Because the inclined torso position increases range of motion, you won’t find to many people barrel chested enough to pull the lift off, chest to bar, without getting a considerable amount of humeral anterior glide in the shoulder joint. See the picture below:

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One way to avoid this is by creating an arch in the back to meet the bar before this becomes a player, in a similar fashion to the flat bench press:

IMG_9001

My problem with this is that: 1) the more you arch on an incline press, the less it becomes an “incline press,” and 2) the incline press can be strategically used to supplement the bench press because it removes some of the added help from leg drive and hard arching.

Instead, adding the bar bad to the middle of the bar will effectively cut a good 1.5 inches off the range of motion. This way, we can press a little more safely. It’s nice to not have to think about cutting it short, and focus on pressing the weight, knowing that when the pad touches the chest we have hit an appropriate distance. If you have a “fat” bar this would also be a nice choice to use when you incline press.

4. Remember that mayonnaise can actually be a solid condiment.

Mayo gets a bad rep. Somehow, it has become synonymous with being fat. That might be because, well, it is fat! That’s also why I like it as a condiment. Most condiments are packed with sugar, and if you’re looking to keep the sugar to a minimum, you might be running out of ways to sauce up your grub.

Unfortunately, store bought mayo is generally full of crap. Additionally it’s usually made with less than ideal ingredients. However, with a little searching you can find some brands that keep the ingredients very basic (egg yolks, oil, lemon, vinegar). Alternatively, you can easily find a solid recipe online with a quick search for “real mayonnaise recipe.” I suggest you find one that uses olive oil.

5. Make sure you have the right bench height for hip thrusts.

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8 Tips for Not Wasting Away During Summer Baseball

The summer baseball travel season is in full swing, and that means more and more of our athletes are starting 1-2 week trips to play all over the country. This is a really important experience for the majority of players, as it's when they get in front of the most college coaches for the sake of recruiting, and they often head south to face more talented opponents.  There are more college camps taking place, as well as tryouts for the East Coast Pro and Area Code teams.  In short, summer ball is important, and you don't want to screw up in how you approach it, as doing so can mean that you'll miss out on both skill development and opportunites to get "seen" by a coach who'll have you playing at the next level.

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Unfortunately, though, this is also a time of year when a lot of things change for young baseball players.  Instead of five minute drive to school for practice and games, they're hopping on 15-hour bus rides to get to a weekend tournament. Instead sleeping in their own beds and eating Mom's home cooking, they're staying in hotels and stopping for fast food. Instead of having a predictable weekly schedule of MoWeFr games, they might play five in three days. Instead of enjoying moderate Northeast spring weather of 50 degrees in the morning and evening and 75 degrees in the afternoon, they get East Cobb in July, when it's 95 degree weather with 95% humidity. In short, they get a taste of what minor league baseball will be like if they make it that far in their careers!

The end result, unfortunately, is that many players wind up coasting into July and August on fumes because they've lost weight, strength, throwing velocity, bat speed, ninja skills, and overall manliness.  They expected their biggest challenge to be "simply" pitching against a 5-tool hitter or hitting a 95mph fastball, but instead, they get absolutely dominated by the lifestyle off the field. 

Guys who don't handle the summer season well are the ones who stumble back in to Cressey Performance at the end of August, making their first appearance since February.  And, in spite of the great off-season of training they put in before the high school season began, they usually look like they've never trained before, and they're often asking me to help them bounce back from some injury.  Sound familiar?  If so, read on.

Below, I've listed seven tips for avoiding this common summer baseball deterioriation.  You'll notice that many of them are completely to do with maintaining body weight; as I've written before, weight loss is a big reason why performance drops in baseball players both acutely (dehydration) and chronically (loss of muscle mass).  Also worthy of note is the fact that the majority of these tips could also apply to professional baseball.  Anyway, let's get to it.

1. Make breakfast big.

When traveling, breakfast is the only meal over which you have complete control.  You can wake up earlier to make sure that you have a big and complete one, or you can sleep in and grab a stale bagel on the way out the door.  When I travel to give seminars, I intentionally pick hotels that have all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets and I absolutely crush them.  Basically, I'll eat omelets (with veggies), scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit until I'm so full that I contemplate renting a fork lift to get me back to my room.

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This is because things always get hectic at mid-day.  Seminar attendees want to ask questions, get assessed, or just "pick my brain" during the lunch hour.  So, if I get something, it's usually quick and not really that big.  Does this sound similar to how you eat prior to games? You don't want to eat too much, but know you've got to have something or else you'll be dragging by the 7th inning.

If I've packed away a big breakfast, I can power through the day pretty well regardless of what lunch looks like.  Traveling baseball players with day games can do the exact same thing.

As an interesting aside to this, I'm always amazed at how many young baseball players talk about how nobody outworks them, and how they're always in "beast mode."  Yet, across the board, very few players will be "beastly" enough to wake up a few minutes earlier to eat a quality breakfast, always complaining that they don't like to get up early, or that they aren't hungry at that time of day.  Well, just because your stomach doesn't like food at that time of day doesn't mean that it won't benefit from having it.  You think your shoulder and elbow like throwing a baseball? Nope...but they do it. 

[bctt tweet="Working hard isn't just about the hitting cage or weight room; it's also about the kitchen."]

I'll get off my soap box now.

2. Appreciate convenient calories.

Remember that in the quest to keep your weight up, your body doesn't really care if you're sitting down for an "official" meal.  Rather, you might be better off grazing all day.  Mixed nuts, shakes, bars, and fruit will be your best friends when it comes to convenience foods out on the field - or on a long bus ride when you have no idea when you'll be stopping for food.

3. Make the most of hotel gyms.

Let's face it: most hotel gyms are woefully under-equipped.  You've usually got dumbbells up to 40 pounds and a treadmill, if you're lucky.  That should be plenty, though, as you're not trying to make a ton of progress in these training sessions; you're just trying to create a training stimulus to maintain what you already have.  Here's an easy example of a hotel gym workout you can use in a pinch:

A1) DB Bulgarian Split Squat from Deficit: 3x8/side

A2) Prone 1-arm Trap Raise: 3x8/side (can do this bent-over if no table is available, or do it off the edge of your hotel room bed)

 

B1) 1-leg DB RDL: 3x8/side

B2) 1-arm KB (or DB) Turkish Get-up: 3x3/side

C1) Yoga Push-up: 3x10

C1) 1-arm DB Row: 3x10/side

D1) Prone Bridge Arm March: 3x8/side

 

D2) Standing External Rotation to Wall: 3x5 (five second hold on each rep)

Another option, obviously, is to try to find a gym near your hotel while you're on the road.  That can obviously be tough if you don't have a car handy, though, so it's always good to have these "back-up" minimalist equipment options at your fingertips.  And, of course, you can always rock body weight only exercises.

4. Have portable training equipment.

You aren't allowed to complain about the lack of equipment in the typical hotel gym if you haven't put any thought into what training implements you can bring on the road with you.  Things like bands, a foam roller, a TRX, and a number of other implements can make your life easier.  I've brought my TRX on numerous vacations with me and it always proves useful. The scenery usually isn't bad, either.

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5. Pack quality training into short bursts.

If you know you're going to be on the road for week-long trips here and there throughout the summer, it's important to get your quality training in when you're at home in your "consistent" environment.  Think of it as managing a bank account.  You make deposits when you're at home with good equipment and quality nutrition, and you're taking withdrawals when you're on the road and the circumstances are less than stellar.

6. Bring noise-canceling headphones.

There's nothing better than when you're dreading a long flight or bus/train ride, and then you fall asleep the second the trip begins, and you wake up to find out that you're at your destination.  That's awesome.

What's not awesome is that every single team in the history of baseball has at least one schmuck who likes to blare music, yell, and dance around at 6AM when everyone else is trying to sleep. Dropping him off and leaving him for dead in the middle of nowhere isn't an option, so you're better off rocking some noise-canceling headphones.

7. Bring a neck pillow.

Falling asleep on a plane or bus and then waking up with a stiff neck is no fun.  Doing so and then having to go out and throw 90 pitches the next day will be absolutely miserable. And, this cool article about research at Vanderbilt University on the negative effects of fatigue on strike zone management over the course of a baseball season should get hitters' attention, too! A neck pillow will cost you less than $20.  It's an absolute no brainer.  Besides, you probably spent double that amount on the 15 silly Power Balance bracelets you own.*

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8. Hydrate!

You know the old saying about how if you sense thirst, you're already dehydrated?  It's especially true when you're out on the field at 1PM in the middle of July in Florida. So, drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.  We know that dehydration reduces strength and power - so you can bet that fastball velocity and bat speed will dip - but did you know that it also negatively affects cognitive performance? In a 2012 review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Adan wrote,

[bctt tweet="Even 2% dehydration impairs performance in tasks requiring attention, psychomotor and memory skills."] 

So, if you're a guy who is always missing signs, ignoring your cutoff man, or forgetting how many outs there are, it might be wise to evaluate your hydration status.

Wrap-up

These are just eight tips to guide you as you approach this important summer season, and there are surely many more strategies athletes have employed to make it as productive a time of year as it should be.  That said, I'd encourage you to monitor your body weight on a regular basis to make sure that it's not dropping.  If it is, it's time to get in more calories, hydrate better, and hit the gym.  Good luck!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/3/13

It's time for this week's installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Half of College Grads Are Working Jobs That Don't Require A Degree - This article ran at Forbes.com the other day, and while it doesn't speak directly to the fitness industry, I thought it drew some interesting parallels to this old two-part series of mine:

----> Is An Exercise Science Degree Really Worth It? - Part 1
----> Is An Exercise Science Degree Really Worth It? - Part 2

Functional outcomes following revision ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in Major League Baseball pitchers - It's well documented that UCL reconstructions (Tommy John surgeries) have a very high success rate when it comes to returning to previous (or better) levels of competition.  However, they've been around long enough that surgeons are sometimes seeing the same throwers back again for a second UCL reconstruction on the same elbow. Guys like Joakim Soria and Brian Wilson are the most recognized examples of late. As would be expected, the results aren't quite as good the second time around, but there is still a solid success rate, and it's better among relief pitchers than starters.

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(if you're interested in learning more about the injury mechanisms for UCL tears as well as my experiences working with post-op Tommy John cases, be sure to check out my Everything Elbow in-service)

Rack Hip Thrusts - This was a short, but very useful article by Ben Bruno over at T-Nation.  If you've ever had problems with the set-up on barbell hip thrusts, it's a must-read.  Plus, I found it wildly entertaining that Ben referred to the male reproductive anatomy as "tackle."

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