Home 2013 (Page 2)

Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 1

As you probably already know, I see a ton of baseball players on a weekly basis.  And, the majority of them come in with some pre-existing perceptions on what good arm care really is.  These ideas relate to exercise selection, coaching cues, frequency, timing, load, and a host of other factors.  I'm a firm believer that just about everyone does some things that are appropriate, and some things that are wrong. 

This may be "right vs. wrong" in a general sense. An example would be that it's always right for baseball players to strengthen their rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.  And, it's always wrong to do so many arm care exercises before throwing that the cuff is actually fatigued before a thrower picks up a ball.

There are, however, specific cases of right and wrong.  For instance, if someone has a ton of congenial laxity (joint hypermobility), it's wrong to stretch their shoulders out, as you're making unstable joints more unstable.  However, if it's a very stiff individual, stretching may very well be completely indicated and productive.

To that end, I want to kick off this series to educate my baseball audience on how to evaluate arm care options so that you can ensure that they're the best fit for you.  Here's our first mistake:

Assuming all shoulder blades start in the same position.

There are tens of millions of throwing shoulders around the world, and each one of them responds slightly differently to a throwing stimulus - and this has been well documented.  The problem, however, is that when creating arm care programs, not a lot of people take into account that scapular (shoulder blade) position is going to differ - sometimes dramatically - from one throwing athlete to the next.  As examples, check out these two resting scapular positioning photos:

depressionanteriotiltadductedscap

 

 

 

 

 

On the left, you have an anteriorly tilted, abducted, and depressed scapular presentation.  This is what we often expect to see with throwers (usually with a bit more asymmetry, though). On the right, though, we have a very adducted scapular posture; the shoulder blades are almost touching the spine (the medial border of the scapula should be roughly three inches away from it).

The classic "down and back" cue that gets thrown out to just about everyone for every exercise could give both of these guys issues, but for different reasons.  The left example would potentially preferentially recruit lat (which is already cranking the shoulder girdle down) over lower trapezius, so we'd get more scapular depression instead of the posterior tilt and adduction we're seeking.  The right example would yank aggressively toward the spine with the rhomboids and "fight" the shoulder blades as they try to upwardly rotate.  Down and back isn't a good cue for this scapular presentation because he's literally as far back as he can possibly go.

This goes to show you that resting posture governs function, and function (or lack thereof) governs whether or not you're going to get hurt.  If you don't take resting posture into account, how can you be sure that you're creating the type of movement that you seek?

Thsi is just one more reason why I don't believe in "organizational arm care programs."  If every posture presentation and subsequent functional performance is different, why are we painting them all with the same broad stroke instead of giving them the individual attention they need?  Check out this video example, where I talk about how different folks might need different cues for the prone 1-arm trap raise, a commonly prescribed arm care exercise. 

Looking for more insights like this?  Check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, where we discuss scapular posture and movement evaluation techniques (along with many other topics) in great detail.  We just announced our next Phase 1 (Upper Extremity) event: June 14-16.

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Hunger and Fullness Cues, and the Story of Hyper-Rewarding and Hyper-Palatable Food

Today's post is an excerpt from The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide, written by Precision Nutrition's Brian St. Pierre; this guide is available as part of the "gold package" version of the product. This section has received a lot of positive feedback, so I thought I'd share it as an example of what you can expect.

Eating Slowly and Only Until Satisfied
 
Many of us eat far too quickly.  And, at each meal we expect to eat to the point of fullness.  Unfortunately, eating in this manner – quickly and until full – will always present challenges to your performance, health, and body composition goals.  This is true even if you eat the right foods (though eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods makes it much easier to tune into these powerful appetite cues).
 
Learning to tune into and follow your hunger and fullness cues will be paramount to your long-term success.  It will teach you to slow down, to listen to your body and its needs and to stop eating when you are satisfied, not full.  This is actually one of the most important skills you need to build for long-term nutrition success.
 
Why is this so?  It takes about 20 minutes for our satiety mechanisms to work.  What this means is that the signal from our gut takes time to get to our brain.  So, if you eat quickly, it is more than likely that you will eat far more in that 20-minute window than you need, and before your brain can tell you that you have eaten enough.  Regardless of food quality and macronutrient composition, over-eating is over-eating.  Unless you are trying to gain weight, learning this skill is critical (and even then it is still critical, because you won’t be trying to gain weight forever).
 
An excellent goal is to aim for about 15-20 minutes per meal, at a minimum.  If this is too big of a change for you, simply aim to take a little longer for now, slowly stretching out your meals until you are able to reach that 15-20 minute mark.  
 
To do this, simply utilize the following strategies:
 
• take a seat when you eat
• turn off the TV and eliminate distractions (though some light reading can be okay)
• take smaller bites
• chew your food more completely
• put your fork down after every few bites
• drink some water
• share some witty banter with your dining partner(s)
 
Slowing down your eating will help in many capacities.  When you eat slowly, you tend to eat fewer calories with each meal (because your brain has time to tell you enough has been eaten), drink more water (improving hydration status and health), improve digestion (because it starts in the mouth), and tune into your hunger and fullness cues more effectively.
 
Hyper-Rewarding and Hyper-Palatable Food
 
This is also one of the reasons that eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods is so powerful.  When you eat these whole foods, which tend to be fibrous, full of water and tasty (but not overly-so), your brain is also better able to signal to you that you have eaten enough.
 
 
However, when you eat highly processed foods, they tend to be what are called hyper-palatable and hyper-rewarding.  In essence, what happens when you eat these foods, is that your brain becomes over-excited, and it can’t “hear” the signals coming from your GI tract on how much food you have eaten, which delays the signal telling you enough has been consumed.  This leads to over-consumption, addictive-like behaviors, obesity, inflammation and diabetes.
 
While a full discussion on hyper-palatable and hyper-rewarding foods is outside the scope of this resource, just realize that food products have been specifically engineered to get you to eat a lot of them.  Food companies have a limit on how much of their product can be purchased; this limit is called the human stomach.  The only way to increase sales is to get you to eat more.
 
And they do this by systematically testing exactly how their foods affect our hedonic and reward systems in our brains.  Basically, think of it like this: hyper-rewarding foods are foods that you will strongly seek out.  Your brain has associated them with awesomeness (because they over-stimulate and over-excite your reward centers in your brain), so you will go to great lengths to find them and consume them.  Reward is what drives you to find a food (among other elements).
 
On the other hand, hyper-palatable food is food that tastes so good at that moment that you eat more of it than you should, even if you aren’t hungry.  It’s like Thanksgiving.  You have already eaten a ton, and are stuffed – but then the pies come out.  You put some in front of you and you eat a whole big slice, maybe two.  The hyper-palatability of the pie over-excites the hedonic (or pleasure) centers of your brain, so you ignore satiety cues and eat even though you aren’t hungry.  Where reward drives you to seek out food, palatability dictates how much you eat in a sitting (again, among other elements).
 
While these two elements are intertwined, they aren’t always together.  For example, let’s say you want ice cream.  Your brain knows how delicious it is, and associates it with an awesome time.  So you seek some out (reward).  But, when you start eating it, it is not very good.  You take a handful of licks – because you did pay for it, after all – but you discard half of it.  That element was palatability, or in this case, lack thereof.  If it had tasted like the ice cream your brain was envisioning, you would likely have eaten it all, even past the point of fullness.
 
You might be wondering how exactly these processed foods can be so palatable and rewarding. This is because food companies carefully manage three elements:
 
• fat
• salt
• sugar (or refined carbohydrates)
 
donut800px-Donuts_(Coffee_An),_Westport,_CT_06880_USA_-_Feb_2013
 
These three elements rarely exist in nature together, but when combined with other chemical additives and flavor enhancers, they create foods that our brains never evolved to handle.  They override our satiety mechanisms, screw up our hunger and fullness cues, and generally cause us to make poor food choices and overeat.
 
Conclusion
 
With all of this in mind, this is why I so highly recommend eating mostly real, whole, minimally processed foods.  They tend to provide normal levels of palatability and reward, and because of their high water content and fibrous nature, make it easier to eat them slowly, chew them fully, and stop when you are satisfied, but not full.
 
Looking for more great nutrition lessons, practical recommendations, and sample meal plans?  Check out Brian's Nutrition Guide as part of The High Performance Handbook Gold Package.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/9/13

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

Crossfit: The Good, Bad, and Ugly - I enjoyed this candid look at a controversial topic, courtesy of Mark Rippetoe.

I Know What to Do; Why Am I Still Not in Shape? - Precision Nutrition delves into a discussion about how knowledge doesn't really matter without application - and they help you to make application happen with easy-to-apply strategies.

Strength Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift - I discussed this exercise in quite a bit of detail with our Elite Baseball Mentorship attendees this morning, and it reminded me of this post from last year.  It's a great exercise we like to use with our throwers.

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Strength Training for Women: 7 Myths

The regular frequenters of EricCressey.com are typically more "hardcore" training enthusiasts and fitness professionals, but we also must recognize those among us who are newer to the iron game and may need to be brought up to speed.  Additionally, we all know a female in our life who can benefit from hearing about the virtues of appropriate training for women in spite of what the mainstream media tells them. With that in mind, today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, Sohee Lee, who specializes in this realm. Please help spread the good word! -EC

This much I know is true: I’ve been strength training for six years now. I can rock out chin-ups, pull heavy weight off the floor, and squat more than some guys I know. I drink protein shakes almost daily and sometimes take creatine as well.

This much is also true: I’m still small. I’m still petite. Still lean. My muscles aren’t big and, when fully dressed, no one has ever asked me, “How much do you bench?” And I’ve never been called “too bulky” in my life.  

There are a myriad of myths regarding females and strength training – too many to count. Yet despite the growing number of women out there slowly converting to lovers of iron and ditching their cardio bunny ways, there are even more women who still believe that strength training is for men only, and that no proper lady would touch anything more than a pretty pink dumbbell.

I don’t blame them, really. We have certain celebrity trainers touting their 3lb dumbbell hour-long workouts to develop long, lean muscles – and others claiming that squatting with a barbell will make your thighs explode overnight. The celebrities themselves rave about these special methods - and we believe them, naturally.

My job today is to convince you amidst all the buzz that the grass is truly greener on the other (strength training) side. At best, I’ll talk you into getting under that barbell today. At worst, I hope to plant a single inkling of curiosity and that you will soon find yourself venturing over to the heavy weights.  

Below I crush a number of the most common myths out there surrounding females and training.

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Myth #1: You should steer clear of heavy weights because it will make you look like a man.

Ah, this is the King (or Queen) of all myths and is one that I am convinced will unfortunately never effectively die out.

There are a number of biological differences stacked against us as women. First and foremost, we only have approximately 5% of the of testosterone men possess. This means that the average male has twenty – twenty! – times as much testosterone than the average female. And given that testosterone is the hormone primarily responsible for muscle gain, we’re facing a major uphill battle if we are truly striving to look like The Hulk (1).

But, you claim, last time I lifted heavy for a month and I got thicker and looked gross! The culprit is very likely inadvertent increased caloric consumption that came along with the new change in exercise. What I mean is that typically, the culprit is increased bodyfat – not necessarily increased muscle mass – that is responsible for what many women call the “big and bulky” look. Often, increased bodyfat “coated” on top of muscle is mistaken for muscle mass, which turns many women away. Can you honestly tell me, though, that when you began lifting weights, your caloric consumption didn’t spike?

There’s this notion out there that after a tough workout, we need to fuel our muscles – which is true, but not to the tune of one large pizza and three protein shakes. It’s too easy to convince yourself that your body is all of a sudden devoid of nutrients and that you have to feed it at all times of the day. But when your body takes in more calories than is needed to maintain your current bodyweight, that’s when weight is gained in the form of fat mass and/or lean mass, depending on how you go about it.

If you can dial in your nutrition while simultaneously lifting hard in the gym, what will result is a leaner, tighter, stronger version of your former self. 

Myth #2: Women can’t do pull-ups.

The word “can’t” implies that all females, regardless of how hard they try, are physically incapable of performing a single pull-up. But while it’s true that women tend to have less upper body strength relative to that of males, that doesn’t mean that all is lost. So what do you do when you have a weakness? You work on it to turn that weakness into a strength.

Simply put, the solution to weak(er) upper body strength is to improve it. In the gym, upper body pulling movements will help: think row variations (barbell rows, cable rows, inverted rows) as well as pullup variations (band-assisted, negatives, chin-ups). Working on your grip via farmer’s walks and the like will also help in this regard. In the remaining 23 hours of each day, work on nailing your nutrition, as decreasing bodyfat will help increase your strength proportionally.   

Pretty soon, you'll be banging out not just one rep, but possibly even double-digit reps, just like the First Lady of Cressey Performance does here (in office attire, no less):

Myth #3: Protein powder is bad for women because it will make them huge.

There’s this idea floating around in mainstream society that protein powder is only for meathead bodybuilders who want to get yoked. So when a lady comes around and plops a five-pound tub of protein powder on the counter at Vitamin Shoppe or GNC, eyebrows are raised. She might as well be shooting steroids into her veins, huh?

As much as I wish this were the case (as it would make my job a whole lot easier), there’s nothing inherently magical about protein powder. It’s simply a portable, tasty way to get in some protein. Its biggest perk? Convenience. And perhaps taste.

But really, the average scoop of protein powder will yield 20 to 25 grams of protein. 

I will say this, however: protein powder is typically ingested in liquid form. Since liquid calories are much easier to take in than solid food, the calories can quickly add up – so you need to alter the rest of the day’s nutrition to account for the calories you’ve already taken in with these shake(s). Just like any other food, if protein powder is consumed in excess, then yes, it can make you gain weight.

Myth #4: All the fitness models and fitness competitors are on steroids; the average woman could never achieve that look.

Before I go any further, I will qualify this point by emphasizing the fact that yes, there are very few people out there who are able to maintain a lean, stage- or photoshoot-ready physique year-round. I’ll also argue, however, that that’s not because it’s impossible. Rather, many choose to switch over into the offseason, during which time they likely intentionally put on some weight in an effort to make improvements to their physiques and dial even sharper than before come next season.

But all of that aside, here’s a cool fact: we all have abs. They’re there. That six-pack? Yes, you’ve been sporting it. The only thing separating them from showing themselves off to the world is a cozy coat of fat.

If you’re looking to achieve the look of a bikini competitor or fitness model, chances are good that you have most, of it not all, of the muscle mass necessary to start off. This is great, because all that means that is you have to lose bodyfat in order to unveil that coveted physique. Easier said than done, I’m aware, but think of it as an art. Over a period of several weeks and months, you’ll chip away at your body, slowly uncovering the sculpted arms and curvy legs you’ve been after.

Myth #5: When you work out, your fat will transform into muscle.

Oh.

Very creative.

Unfortunately, the body doesn’t quite work this way. What it can do, however, is shed and gain bodyfat, as well as strip away or pack on muscle. And while these two processes may be related, they are not one and the same.

Muscle is active soft tissue that is responsible for creating physical movement. Body fat, on the other hand, serves as an energy reserve for the body and helps cushion our joints and organs as well as maintain the integrity of healthy skin and nails.

So while it may seem as though fat magically turns into muscle when you begin training, the truth is likely more along the lines of, you’re losing bodyfat, or you’re putting on muscle (or both).

Myth #6: You should switch up your training routine every week to keep your muscles guessing.

I recommend a minimum of four to six weeks on any given training program before moving onto something different. By this I don’t necessarily mean utilizing the exact same exercises for the same reps and sets week after week. There are multiple ways to go about implementing progressive overload besides increasing the load on the bar: varying speed, shifting body position in relation to the load, changing stability, and so on.

With that said, sticking to the same program gives you time to become better at the prescribed exercises by providing more opportunities for repetition.

I know what you may be thinking. “But I need to confuse my muscles and keep them guessing!” Unfortunately, muscles do not get confused, nor do they participate in guessing games. And if you’re afraid you might get bored, then I ask you, what is so boring about making improvements from one workout to the next? What’s dull about going to the gym and lifting 10lbs more than the week prior or to mastering perfect technique? 

Myth #7: To lose fat, you need to crank up the cardio.

Actually, doing more cardio is the best way to… do more cardio. Doing it for the calorie burn will ultimately leave you disappointed, cranky, and tired.

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but steady-state cardio burns surprisingly fewer calories than you’d think. One study found that it takes an average of 86 hours’ worth of aerobic exercise to lose 1 whopping kilogram (2), and a meta-analysis revealed that steady-state cardio in and of itself is not an effective weight loss therapy (3).

I don’t know about you, but I can think of about a thousand other more useful things I could be doing with those 86 hours than peddling away on a bike.

Rather than steady-state cardio, then, interval training is the way to go. Other names for this include metabolic conditioning, circuit training, or high-intensity training. These short bursts of high intensity activity alternated with periods of active have been found to produce equal, if not better, results as traditional steady-state cardio with just “a fraction of the time commitment” (namely, 0.75 hours versus 13.5 hours [4]). This is likely due to the increased excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or energy expenditure in the time following the workout.

Where do we go from here?

I hope I’ve demonstrated to you that women can lift heavy weights and perform metabolic conditioning workouts with great success.  And, as long as they dial in their nutrition, they can absolutely achieve a strong, lean look without bulking up.

Note: If the ladies in the crowd are looking for some direction on the programming front, I'd recommend Neghar Fonooni’s resource, Lean and Lovely, which is an outstandingly thorough option focusing on kettlebell techniques early on. An advantage of these workouts is their portability; you can do them just about anywhere, including at home – if you’re in a situation where you need to build some confidence and momentum before you head to an actual gym to train.  -EC

About the Author

Sohee Lee graduated from Stanford University in June 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Biology. She now trains clients in New York City, and in an online context.  You can learn more on her website and Twitter.

Note: References will be posted as the first comment below.

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What Santa Can Teach You About Sports Medicine

Last weekend, I was watching the Patriots game and this commercial came on during a timeout. I have to admit: it almost made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. 

Don't get me wrong; I'm in the holiday spirit just fine. My point of contention with it was that the commercial represented everything that is wrong with our pathology-based approach to getting people out of pain - or avoiding it in the first place.  Rather than cleaning up that terrible hip hinge pattern, building some thoracic mobility, or losing the spare tire that was leading to aberrant core stabilization patterns, Santa opts to pop some Aleve.  In other words, he treated the symptoms rather than addressing the movement fault.

Now, I get it: delivering toys to every kid on the planet in a 24-hour span is tough.  And, crawling down chimneys is no easy task, either. However, I have to think that if you have the magic to make reindeer fly, you can figure out a way to work some hip mobility drills into your schedule - especially when you have 364 days per year off from work altogether.  And, while we're at it, you probably ought to swap the cookies and milk for some vegetables and a nice warm cup of "get off your duff and teach your body to move correctly."

It really is the classic example of what we see all the time in both the sedentary population and folks who get injured in strength and conditioning programs, too.  They move poorly, then they move a lot - whether it's squatting 315 for ten reps or trying to cram 500 new X-Box units into an undersized sleigh.  Eventually, they either develop symptoms or structural changes (or both). As Gray Cook has wisely said, you never want to put fitness on top of dysfunction.

If you bang your head against the wall all day and take NSAIDs to get rid of your headache, are the NSAIDs really the solution? Or, is removing the harmful stimulus (banging the head against the wall = bad movement) the best course of action?  With this analogy in mind, it's easy to see that improving movement quality is the name of the game.

Unfortunately, what you often see in the weight training world is that people throw out their back squatting or deadlifting with terrible technique and a lack of physical preparation, then come back as soon as they're asymptomatic to attempt those same movements again.  Meanwhile, the underlying movement faults still exist.  It's not much different than Santa going ham every December 25th after nothing more than a rigorous training program of sugar cookie curls.

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If you've had injuries in your training, don't just treat them; work backward from them to determine why they occurred.  Then, address the "why."

If you haven't had injuries, be proactive and think about what movement flaws you have that you can address so that they don't reach a symptomatic threshold or lead to chronic wear and tear.  It's not just how you feel now; it's how you feel in 20, 30, or 40 years, too. 

Looking for a versatile strength and conditioning program that takes the guesswork out of programming and allows you to select a course of action that's right for your body? Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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10 Ways to Progress Inverted Rows

I'm a big fan of inverted row variations, as they not only build a strong, functional upper back, but also challenge core stability at the same time.  Unfortunately, for more advanced lifters, they can become too easy very quickly.  With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's post to introduce ten ways that you can progress these variations to increase the difficulty.

1. Do them correctly!

The first progression for most people is to simply perform the exercise with correct technique.  The most common errors I see in most folks' technique are:

  • forward head posture
  • elbows drifting behind the body (scapula doesn't retract, so the lifter substitutes extra movement of the humerus)
  • hip sagging (the body doesn't stay in a straight line)

If you'd like some quick refreshers on how to make these look good, check out these three posts from Greg Robins:

2. Change the grip.

Just as we see with pull-up variations, going to a pronated (overhand) grip will increase the difficulty of inverted rows, as compared to neutral (palms facing one another) and supinated (underhand) grips.

3. Try some mechanical advantage drop sets.

While we're on the topic of which grip set-ups are harder than others, we can use this to our advantage to do some drop-off sets.  If you're someone who can bang out inverted reps pretty easily and want a crazy challenge, try doing the first half of your set pronated, and then switching to supinated for the second half when you fatigue.  I like suspension trainer variations for this approach, as it's easiest to go pronated, to neutral, to supinated without having to let go of the handle.

4. Add isometric holds at the top.

The top position is without a doubt the most challenging, so you can increase the time under tension - and therefore the difficulty - by adding 1-3 second pauses at the top of each rep.

5. Elevate the feet.

This progression is somewhat "assumed," but most people overlook the fact that you can elevate the feet a lot further than you might think.  I like to use the 24" box.

You can also utilize various elevations for mechanical advantage drop sets.  Go from a more extreme elevation, to a subtle elevation, to no elevation, and then even to a more upright position to finish things off.  A set of 20-25 inverted rows can be a fantastic finisher.

6. Load with chains.

Chains might be the single greatist luxury one almost never gets in commercial gyms.  We're fortunate to have them at Cressey Sports Performance, and they're a complete "game changer" if you can get your hands on them.  They're also a great way to add extra loading to inverted rows:

7. Wear a weight vest.

This one seems logical, but there's a problem: there still isn't what I'd consider to be a great weight vest on the market.  The heaviest ones are too bulky and always seem to fall apart.  The lighter one are simply too light, and the velcro straps always seem to stop working in a matter of months of use.  If you've got one, by all means, use it - but I actually prefer #7...

8. Load with a backpack.

About 5-6 years ago, I bought a Dell computer that came with a padded backpack.  The computer was mediocre at best, but the backpack proved to be really useful in the gym!  You see, the extra padding made it conducive to adding extra loading, as you can slide plates up to 25 pounds (the diameter on anything heavier is too much to fit).  Just strap it on your chest and wear it in reverse for your inverted rows. I've got two 25-pound plates in for this demonstration:

9. Use Fat Gripz.

Adding load and range of motion aren't the only way to increase the difficulty of inverted rows; you can also challenge the grip more aggressively.  I really like Fat Gripz for this purpose, as they're super affordable and wrap over any barbell, dumbbell, or suspension trainer to make for a thicker handle.

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10. Go to one-arm variations.

You can do inverted row variations one arm at a time, too.  In doing so, you add a little more of a challenge to rotary stability of the core.  Here's the basic version, although you can expand upon it by adding a reach at the bottom (toward the floor) and top (toward the rack) with the non-working arm.

Inverted rows are a staple exercise, but that doesn't mean that they need to be boring!  Try these progressions - and even combine some of them - and you'll find that you're able to include an inverted row variation in just about every strength training program you complete.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/27/13

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

Food is Not Fuel - This was a fantastic post from the crew at Precision Nutrition.  In it, they demonstrate that quality nutrition is about a lot more than just calories or energy.

Throwing Programs: Not One-Size-Fits-All - With a lot of our pro baseball guys starting up with throwing in mid-to-late November, it seemed like a good time to reincarnate this post from the archives.  I talk about a lot of the considerations that go into writing up a throwing program.

5 Hacks for Half-Kneeling - Mike Robertson does a good job of discussing the benefits of half-kneeling exercises, and provides coaching cues and examples you can use.

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Big Sales This Week!

We're just short of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two big holiday shopping days when a lot of stores offer great prices.  If you're like me, you'd rather take your time making your holiday purchases, rather than rushing out with the crowds to do it in a small window of time.  With that said, we've decided to put a bunch of our products on sale from now through next Monday (12/2) at midnight.  Here are the details:

Collaborative Products with Mike Reinold

Enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2013 to get 20% off on Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body, Functional Stability Training of the Core, and Optimal Shoulder Performance.

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Collaborative Products with Mike Robertson

The 20% off discount is already applied on Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility.  No coupon code needed!

Solo Products

Enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2013 to get 20% off on on Everything Elbow, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core, The Art of the Deload, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training, and The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.  All of these are 100% digital products that you'll be able to download immediately after purchase.  Just head over to my Products Page to get more information on each individual product.

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Finally, whether you purchase any products this week or not, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you very much for your support over the past year.  EricCressey.com wouldn't be what it is without my great readers, customers, and contributors.  I hope you all have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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How to Set Up the Shoulders for Optimal Back Squat Technique

There are a lot of people out there who struggle to get the upper back, shoulders, and arms in the right position for the back squat - whether it's because their technique actually causes pain, or simply puts them in a bad technical position.  With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's video to touch on why it can be a problem for some folks, and some quick technique modifications you can make to clean things up.

These cues can work hand in hand with a lot of the shoulder mobility drills you've seen here at EricCressey.com and on my YouTube page.

If you're looking for a collection of mobility drills and strength and conditioning progressions - as well as detailed coaching videos like this - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, a versatile resource you can tailor to your individual needs and training goals.

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The Truth About CC Sabathia’s Weight

Earlier this week, the New York Times published Joe Brescia's article, For Yankees' Sabathia, It Appears Less (Weight) is Less (Success).  It stirred up quite a bit of controversy among those "in the know" in the baseball world, particularly those with a knowledge of how the body actually works.  As is often the case with articles targeted toward the lay population, this piece didn't delve into the specifics in too much detail, so I thought I'd use this post to do so.  Be sure to read the article before proceeding, if you haven't already.

The Body Mass - Pitching Velocity Relationship

To begin, research has demonstrated a clear relationship between body mass and pitching velocity, so this is at least a question that has to be asked.  However, I think it needs to be answered fairly - via a compilation of anecdotal reports and actual research. And, most importantly, nobody except CC Sabathia knows how he feels at different body weights - and certainly nobody can speak to his injury history better than he can. Instead, we got some heavily dated and biased opinions with some cherry-picked interviews by Mr. Brescia.

CC_Sabathia_2009

The problem with cherry-picked interviews in this realm is that they always seem to fall back on a sample size of just a few pitchers.  "Greg Maddux did this, so everyone has to do this."  The problem is that not everyone has Greg Maddux's abilities with respect to pitching location, movement, and sequencing.  Other guys need to make it up with athleticism, especially in today's game - where fastball velocities blow those of yesterday out of the water. The game has changed dramatically; it's played with faster throwing, running, and swinging velocities than ever before (one of MANY reasons for the increase in injuries, contrary to what Lou Piniella and Leo Mazzone seem to think) - and if you want to compete at the MLB level, you don't have the option of not pushing your body to be better.  With that in mind, we have to look at what the majority of players have done to get to improve their bodies. To speak to Piniella's assertions, players don't get hurt or fall off in performance simply because they train; these problems occur when they train incorrectly, whether it's poor exercise technique, excessive volume, imbalanced programming, inappropriate loading, lack of attention to mobility and soft tissue quality, or any of a host of other factors. 

I've devoted my career to helping players get better and stay healthy by avoiding these common errors. To that end, at Cressey Performance, I work with over 100 professional players each off-season on top of a large college, high school, and middle school clientele - so I feel that I'm in a good position to give valid anecdotal evidence in the context of this weight gain vs. weight loss discussion. 

ECtable

While weight gain is almost universally beneficial at the younger ranks, as kids get past ages 17-18, things shift a bit.  As an example, in our professional pitchers crowd, I'd estimate that about 70% can really benefit from gaining weight.  Roughly 20% are at a good weight - and need to focus on improving body composition rather than actually making the scale go up or down.  Finally, only about 10% need to actually lose weight.

As it relates to throwing, weight gain is a perfect example of the Inverted-U curve.  In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell writes,

Inverted-U curves have three parts, and each part follows a different logic.  There's the left side, where doing more or having more makes things better.  There's the flat middle, where doing more doesn't make much of a difference.  And there's the right side, where doing more or having more makes things worse.

In other words, there is a weight that helps performance, but gaining more doesn't help past a point. Here's what the inverted U looks like graphically, with body weight on the x-axis and performance on the y-axis:

invertu

The 40 pounds Tim Collins has put on at Cressey Performance since he was drafted have had a profound impact on his pitching velocity, as he's gone from 82mph to the mid-90s.  So, as you can imagine, I look to take advantage of this weight gain window whenever possible.

TimCollins250x_20110610

The Body Mass - Pitching Stress Relationship

Unlike examples like Collins, I don't think Sabathia is a candidate to thrive with weight gain. You see, pitching is a combination of absolute and relative strength and power. From an absolute standpoint, more body weight equates to more force to push off the mound, and more momentum moving downhill; that's why gaining weight can have such a profound impact on pitching velocity.

On the other hand, from a relative strength and power standpoint, you eventually have to "accept" all the force you create.  We know that there are substantial ground reaction forces taken on by the front leg, and research has demonstrated that they are (not surprisingly) directly impacted by body weight.  Additionally, according to 1998 research on professional pitchers from Werner et al., at ball release, the distraction forces on the shoulder are approximately 108% of body weight.  You could also make the argument that these forces are even higher now, as average fastball velocity has crept up significantly since 1998, and the subjects in that study averaged only 89mph.  As is the case with body weight increases, as arm speed rises, so do shoulder distraction.  With this research in mind, there should be no question that carrying extra body weight at this critical instant in the delivery wasn't helping his cause:

CCSabathia

And, at risk of playing Monday Morning Quarterback, if you look at his recent injury history, you shouldn't be surprised. He had torn meniscus in his right (landing) leg repaired in 2010, and bone spurs removed from his left elbow in 2012.  Both are ball release/deceleration mechanism injuries to passive restraints.  In other words, they take place because the active restraints (muscles and tendons) can't keep up with the workload placed on them.  If you can't keep up with shoulder distraction forces, you only have two options, when you're in panic mode and trying to get big league hitters out:

1. Let your arm fly off your body.

2. Crank your elbow into more aggressive extension, increasing the likelihood of bony injury (loose bodies) or protective adaptation (spurs).

Clearly, gaining weight won't do much for his longevity - and, to be fair, the New York Times piece did discuss that. I'd also argue that it'd make it more difficult to field his position and run the bases during interleague play. Plus, his fat loss will make any future diagnostic tests - MRIs, x-rays, etc. - more accurate, should he encounter additional musculoskeletal problems. Here's what radiologist Dr. Jason Hodges had to say when I interviewed him five years ago:

By far, the biggest limitation is obesity. All of the imaging modalities are limited by it, mostly for technical reasons. An ultrasound beam can only penetrate so far into the soft tissues. X-rays and CT scans are degraded by scattered radiation, which leads to a higher radiation dose and grainy images. Also, the time it takes to do the study increases, which gives a higher incidence of motion blur.

I also found it interesting that there was no mention of the reduced risk of chronic problems like heart disease and diabetes; I give him a ton of credit for getting the weight off so that he can be a healthy role model for his kids (not to mention fans who've witnessed his transformation).

Your velocity doesn't matter if you're on the disabled list...period.  However, we have to ask the question of whether CC's velocity drop in 2013 was really just a function of him losing weight.

Finding the Right Body Weight to Maximize Velocity

If there are two thing I've learned over years of working with pitchers, it's that no two deliveries are alike, and every body is unique.  What works for Steve Cishek (6-6, 220lbs) won't work for Tim Collins (5-7, 170lbs).

CresseyCishekCollins

Beyond just height and weight differences, some guys have more joint laxity than others.  Each pitcher has a unique injury history. Some throwers have more retroversion in their throwing shoulders, or a larger valgus carrying angle at the elbow. 

crazyvalgus

I could go on and on about these individuals differences, but the point is that it's dangerous to assume that all guys will respond exactly the same to a given stimulus - whether it's a mechanical adjustment, modified throwing program, added athleticism, a change in body weight, or something else.

On the body weight side of things, I've had a few years to develop a sample size of where pitchers seem to fit in best weight-wise.  Obviously, there are individual differences in body weight distrubtion, limb length, and body composition, but we can generalize a bit if you think about the average build of a professional pitcher.  Being about 220-225 pounds for a 6-3 pitcher, as an example, seems to be a sweet spot.  If their weight drops, so does their velocity.  If their weight climbs, they don't necessarily benefit - and may actually feel worse.

By contrast, go to someone who is 6-5, and 240-245 pounds seems to be a good spot - so you could make the argument that each inch equates to about 10 pounds.  At 6-7, I'd estimate 260-270 pounds.  This is something that's been reflected in my conversations with the really tall guys I've trained over the years:

Really tall guys simply don't thrive with weight gain like shorter guys do.

While there are obviously exceptions to this rule, in the 6-7 and above pitchers I've encountered, we're usually focusing a lot more on improving body composition (dropping some body fat while gaining muscle mass, even if the scale weight doesn't change).  It all depends on their starting points - but I can't say that I've ever pushed hard for a guy to go from 250 to 270 pounds.

I should also note: interpreting online height/weight listings in MLB pitchers is tricky, as guys are always listed about an inch tall without a change in body weight. Plus, they are rarely updated - and guys don't grow much after they enter pro ball, but they do gain weight.  As an example, Felix Doubrant is currently listed at 165 pounds by Yahoo Sports, but ESPN.com and MLB.com have him at 225 pounds.

Obviously, there are exceptions to the "norms" I just set forth.  As an example, Cishek is more comfortable slightly lighter than typical 6-6 guys because he drops down and throws across his body, landing really closed off.  This gives him more deception and movement, but also requires a lot more mobility and athleticism than a big donkey who just stands upright and throws downhill. That same argument could be made for Jered Weaver and Andrew Miller, who are both listed at 6-7, 210 pounds.

Based on what I've heard and seen in his delivery, Sabathia is also a super athletic guy - and you can tell from the way he really gets down the mound.  I'd argue that he's better off at 270; it's a happy medium between velocity and health, in my eyes - and that's the Holy Grail of pitching we're always working to find.

The Mathematics of Sabathia's Weight Loss

According to the New York Times piece, Sabathia has lost 45 pounds over the past two years - effectively bringing him from 315 to 270 pounds. If these numbers are accurate, he lost 14% of his body weight over the course of 24 months - and that's certainly a notable reduction that has to raise his eyebrows.

However, those eyebrows are only raised if you look at things in absolute terms.  A 14% loss for a 6-3, 225-pound pitcher would be 31.5 pounds - and would certainly equate to a huge drop in velocity.  However, that 225-pound pitcher wasn't starting out from a point of what could actually be classified as obesity.  The 45-pound drop brought Sabathia back to a more normal range, whereas the 31.5-pound drop would put a 6-3 pitcher far too light to thrive. Unless he's got an insanely quick arm, it's not going to work.

This parallels my own experiences in cutting weight as a competitive powerlifter.  Losing 5-10 pounds would lower my lifts dramatically, but I knew guys in the 242-, 275-, 308-pound weight classes (and super heavyweights) who could do it in a matter of minutes without noticing a thing.  The heavier you are, the less sensitive you are to changes - especially when they happen over the course of two years.

Heavy people (especially taller ones) who diet don't experience the serious lethargy and lack of satisfaction lighter-weight dieters notice because of the total amount of calories that are still being taken in.  I remember talking to a world-class bench presser who wanted to stay above 350 pounds to shorten the distance the bar had to travel while pressing.  He told me he was drinking three gallons of Powerade a day on top of his normal diet just to keep his weight up - and was absolutely miserable.  He also couldn't go for a 1/4 mile walk without his lower back tightening up.  So, we can kill off the myth that CC was starving himself to take the weight off; he was probably just making better food choices - which actually meant he probably ate a higher volume of food.

Regarding mechanical changes that occur with significant weight gain or loss, I simply haven't seen it.  I've put 25 pounds on guys in off-seasons on countless occasions, and can't ever recall someone saying it interfered with their mechanics.  I've also had guys lose that same amount, without ever complaining about it throwing them off.  It's a much more dramatic change at these lighter weights, too.  Losing 20 pounds during an off-season when you're 320 pounds doesn't dramatically change your mechanics. And, even if it did, a high-level, intelligent athlete like Sabathia would sort it out, particularly with the video analysis resources at his fingertips.

In fact, I'd actually argue that his weight loss would improve his ability to get to the positions he needs to be successful with his delivery, as Sabathia lost a lot of abdominal fat. 

CChomeplate

When you carry a lot of weight in your midsection, there is a tendency to slip into lumbar extension (lower back arching) to counteract it.  This is one reason why pregnant women often have back pain; beyond the mechanical impingement on the posterior aspect of the spine, the muscles of the anterior core are excessively lengthen as the pelvis tips forward and rib cage slides up.  CP pitching coordinator Matt Blake and I discussed this common fault in our recent series, Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike (part 1, part 2, and part 3).  A larger belly would shift a guy like Sabathia into a more extended (arched) posture - similar to what we see with Lincecum on the right - as opposed to to the more neutral core positioning we see on the left with Zach Greinke.

grelin

Greinke is older and has thrown more innings over the past two years than Lincecum, yet his average fastball velocity this year was 1.5mph higher. According to Fangraphs (Lincecum vs. Greinke), since 2007, Lincecum has dropped from 94.2mph to 90.2mph, while Greinke has dropped from 94.0mph to 91.7mph.  This is one of many factors that may contribute to Greinke's ability to sustain his velocity better than Lincecum has, but I'll take a neutral core posture and clean drive line over the long haul over a heavily extended one - and that's where CC's larger abdomen was shifting him.

Finally, from a common sense standpoint, I don't think anyone would call 6-7, 270 pounds "light" - especially when we're talking about a guy who still looks pretty damn intimidating on the mound. His body weight is fine, people - as much as that doesn't sell controversy in the New York Times.

How, then, do you explain his loss in velocity? Read on.

Fatigue Masks Fitness

As the Lincecum vs. Greinke example demonstrates, getting older and throwing a lot of innings means a velocity drop. Sabathia's average fastball velocity is consistent with this trend, going from 94.7mph in 2005 to 91.1mph in 2013. Let's have a look at the active leaders in innings pitched (courtesy of Baseball Reference):

IP

As you can see, Sabathia is an outlier.  He was among the youngest on this list (if not THE youngest) to make the big leagues - and he's certainly the only one with a track record of sustained success without missing considerable time due to injury. 

Throwing a baseball is the single-fastest motion in all of sports, and CC Sabathia has done it at the highest level more than anyone else on the planet over the past 13 years.

It's virtually impossible to compare him to anyone on this list in terms of both innings pitched, admirable health, age and consistently. The only four parallels who can help for the sake of this discussion are Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, and Mark Buerhle.

Haren is the same age as Sabathia and also made his MLB debut at age 21. While he's averaged 186 innings per year over the past 11 years, he's thrown 729 innings (almost four full seasons worth) less than Sabathia, who has averaged 213 over the past 13.  Haren's average fastball velocity has declined from a peak of 91.9mph in 2005 to 88.9mph in 2013.

Beckett, like Sabathia, was an absolute stud in his early 20s and threw a ton of innings over his first decade in the big leagues - but his 149IP/year rate can't touch CC's because of the amount of time he's spent on the disabled list, especially in light of this year's season ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.  He is a good comparison for Sabathia in terms of velocity, though, as Beckett's average fastball velocity dropped from 94.7mph in 2006 to 91.4mph in 2012 (his last full season). 

Jake Peavy is the same age as Sabathia, but got to the big leagues a year later than CC, and like Beckett, Peavy has missed too much time with injuries to really be a valid comparison (averaging 162IP/year). Peavy's average fastball velocity drop has been more subtle - 92.5mph in 2007 down to 90.7mph in 2013 - but you have to wonder where it would be if he'd thrown over 800 innings more during that time period - as Sabathia has.

Buerhle is a bit different, though, as he's averaged 205IP per season over the past 14 years - making him the only guy who can touch Sabathia's streak of longevity and performance.  The main difference?  Sabathia throws a lot harder than Buerhle, and that's a lot more stress.  Make no mistake about it: you don't pull your hamstrings if you don't run fast (even Lou Piniella's strength and conditioning approach supports that) - and the same applies to pitching.  Still, Buerhle's average fastball velocity has dropped from a peak of 87.1mph in 2004 to 84.2mph in 2013.

I've often heard that many front office people in baseball consider the prime of a player to be age 26-31. It's the point at which increased knowledge of the game coincides with peak athleticism and recovery ability.  After 31 - as each of these examples shows, things start to decline.  It stands to reason that power pitchers like Beckett and Sabathia, who rely heavily on athleticism, will fall off faster than those like Buerhle and Peavy, who rely more on location and movement.  I'd also add that those with considerable congenital laxity (loose joints) will fall off the fastest (more strength = more stability = better force transfer) - and based on what I've seen of Beckett and Sabathia, they are both freakishly flexible. Getting old sucks.

CCBack

What do these examples - and literally hundreds more in guys who weren't even close to as successful as Sabathia - show us?  Fatigue masks fitness.  If you throw a ton of innings (impose fatigue) and get older (reduce recovery capacity), your performance suffers. We saw it early this season after Justin Verlander's heavy workload in the playoffs last year.  And, this is true of every single sport in the history of mankind. 

That is, of course, unless you're CC Sabathia, in which case it's only because you lost some fat, at least according to a few of Brescia's cherry-picked interviewees.  To me, it's proof that there are scenarios where professional athletes can never win with the media.  Sabathia should be lauded for taking control of his health - and for taking the ball every time his team needed him to do so, pitching in some cases on three days rest.  We hear complaining all the time about how today's pitchers are soft and can't do what the pitchers of yesterday did.  How about praise for a guy who has made more sacrifices on the mound for his teams than anyone in MLB over the past 13 years?

And, who is to say that he would have pitched at all in these past few years if he hadn't taken the weight off?  If he'd come back and reaggravated the meniscus, then everyone would have been calling him too fat to perform.  There's literally no way to win without having the ability to predict the future - and that's why you have to apply common sense, anecdotal evidence, and research - none of which support the idea that being over 300 pounds is healthy or productive for a pitcher.

I, for one, am a huge CC Sabathia fan and think he can be a successful pitcher at this body weight given the right management in the years to come.  It's unfair, however, to expect him to throw 200+ innings per year in perpetuity and not anticipate a velocity loss to ever kick in.

And, more specific to the New York Times piece, it's incredibly shortsighted and borderline irresponsible to even attempt to to blame it on weight loss - which in all likelihood was necessary for him to continue to be able to perform at a high level in spite of the insane physical demands placed on him.

Note: A big thanks goes out to Matt Blake for the great photos from Right View Pro, and to the good folks at Fangraphs.com, who provide awesome stats info in the baseball world.

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