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Get Up to Get Down: The Impact of Scapular Movement on Pitch Location

Today's guest post comes from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg. Eric is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

Every baseball player on the planet has heard their coach say “stay on top of the ball”, “get out in front”, and/or “throw downhill”. It is an easy thing to say, but a little more difficult to teach. A common response that I hear from players that I work with is: “I understand what the coach is saying, but I don’t know how to actually get my body to do it”.

There are many mechanical reasons why a pitcher will struggle to create this downhill plane. (e.g. front leg stability, trunk tilt angle). However, on the movement side of things, one of the main culprits that we see is a lack of scapular upward rotation. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you know that EC has hit on this topic for years. I wanted to add some thoughts to this critical concept.

If a pitcher lacks the ability to “get up” (insufficient scapular upward rotation and/or elevation), he will not be able to effectively get his hand out in front to maximize velocity. Pitchers will describe this feeling as “cutting the ball off” or “feeling stuck”. The result is a decrease in velocity and difficulty “getting down” in the zone. It is very common for this to occur later in the season once the off-season training effect has been lost and the predictable loss of range of motion (shoulder flexion, upward rotation, hip and thoracic mobility) kicks in.

ScapularDownwardRotation

The most effective pitchers share three things in common: consistent velocity, consistent location, and health. None of these are possible with faulty scapular movement patterns.

The best time to establish proper scapular upward rotation is in the off-season (NOW!). The challenge comes with educating the athlete on how to not lose this motion during the season.

By now, we are aware of the importance of wall slide variations, back to wall shoulder flexion, and trap raises. However, the message of consistency with these exercises EVERY DAY during the season cannot be overstated. This is akin to brushing your teeth. A habit needs to be established and it then needs to be repeated. Every baseball player that I see in my office for elbow or shoulder pain comes in with faulty scapular movement. This is certainly not the only thing that leads to pain in pitchers, but it is certainly a good place for us to be looking early on.

A great exercise that we have been using to emphasize “getting up and out in front” is the One-Arm Band Rotational Row from a Low Setting.

This drill is much more about the deceleration phase than the actual rowing pattern, however all phases of the movement are important. I prefer to use a band instead of a cable due to the increased velocity of the recoil. This is a great drill to use in a training or warm-up program. With that said, I find the best application is to be used in a pre-throwing program (preferably the last drill before a pitcher picks up the ball to begin throwing).

Set-Up: Wide base to emphasize hip mobility. Front foot should mimic where the land foot is in the delivery. Back foot and hips are rotated fully so the athlete is “squared up” in the sagittal plane. Coaching from the Posterior View will give you a good vantage point to see this.

Instruction: Initiate the rowing motion from the hips first, then the thoracic spine, then the scapula, and finally the humerus. Make sure the athlete’s elbow doesn’t end up behind the line of his body. Back foot should rotate to mimic the position on the rubber with the hip hinged and loaded. Cue the athlete to decelerate the band with his body (core, front hip) and not just with his arm. Coaching from a 90 degree angle to the side will show this the best.

A key component for a pitcher to develop/maintain velocity and location is to make sure that their body is in a stable position to deliver their arm (and the baseball). The One Arm Rotational Row accomplishes this by via the following avenues:

1. Single Leg Strength

a. Land Leg: Proper stability and balance to accept weight, stop forward momentum, and translate force from the ground up the chain.

b. Drive leg: Ability to hinge back into drive hip and not translate forward (toward 3rd base for a RHP) or collapse into valgus. Keeping weight through the whole foot and not just on the toe

2. Stable core throughout delivery – especially as trunk and hips start to separate

Leaking into anterior pelvic tilt or lumbar extension will drive scapular downward rotation and depression (resulting in the hand moving under or around the ball, as opposed to staying behind the ball).

3. Optimal Thoracic Positioning

This drill drives thoracic flexion moment to allow for a congruent platform for the scapula to ride up and create the desired extension at ball release.

Give this drill a try with your athletes (make sure to train both sides) and emphasize consistency with their scapular upward rotation exercises in order to develop a more durable arm with improved velocity and location.
If you are interested in learning more about our approach to managing baseball athletes, we'd love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next three-day course is June 23-25, with May 23 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. 

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Troubleshooting the Side-Lying External Rotation

The side-lying external rotation is one of the most popular rotator cuff exercises in rehabilitation and "pre-habilitation" history, but in spite of its apparent simplicity, there are a few common mistakes I see folks make with it. Check out today's video to learn more:

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/2/15

With holiday travels and product sales, I skipped our recommended reading last week. Here is some good stuff to make up for it! 

What awaits in negotiations for Major League Baseball's next labor deal? - Jayson Stark wrote up this great piece about the various items that will be discussed by MLB owners and players in anticipation of the new collective bargaining agreement. If you train baseball players, a number of these issues - from roster size, to potentially shortening the season, to the outrageous travel scheduling - all can have a significant impact on how you prepare players and educate them on taking care of themselves during the season. And, this doesn't even speak to how it might change the draft for amateur athletes with whom you interact. In short, if you want to understand the training of professional baseball players, you better understand the business of baseball!

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6 Healthy Habits You're Already Doing (and Don't Even Know It) - The crew at Precision Nutrition wrote up this article on how many people who think they're struggling with their fitness goals actually already have some great habits working on their side.

Poor Business Advice from Training and Business "Gurus" - David Allen wrote up a great article for EliteFTS on the bad business advice that's out there in the strength and conditioning and personal training world. I absolutely loved the quote, "Try not to take too much business advice from people whose only business has been giving business advice."

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Serratus Anterior Activation: Reach, Round, and Rotate

I'm a big fan of serratus anterior activation drills for upper extremity health and performance, but one only gets great benefits if exercise technique is on point. Check out these three key coaching cues you'll want to get serratus anterior engaged during your wall slides:

I should note that "exhale" would be a fourth cue, but it doesn't being with a "R" and therefore would've ruined the good blog title. That said, adding an exhale can help to establish better rib position and enable the individual to "feel" the serratus anterior working a bit more. 

If you're looking for more upper extremity assessment and training insights - particularly with respect to serratus anterior - be sure to check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Black Friday Reminiscing (and Sales!)

On Black Friday 2014, my wife and I got a 2-for-1 special at the hospital when our twin daughters were born.

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Needless to say, we're expecting a much more mellow Black Friday 2015! I do want to kick up the excitement here a bit by announcing a few sales that will run through Cyber Monday (11/30) at midnight, though:

Collaborations with Mike Reinold: The entire Functional Stability Training Series and Optimal Shoulder Performance can be purchased for 25% off using the coupon code BF2015. 

Collaborations with Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman: Building the Efficient Athlete, Assess and Correct, and Magnificent Mobility can be purchased for 20% off. No coupon code is necessary; you can find them all HERE.

My Digital Products; Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core, Everything Elbow, The Art of the Deload, and The Truth About Unstable Surface Training can all be purchased for 40% off using the coupon code BF2015. You can find all four at my Products Page.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MobilityCircuitsHR

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

Graph1

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

Graph2

To that last point, I should also note that this approach only works if an athlete is cognizant of not taking too long between sets. If he chats with his buddies and heart rate dips too much between "bouts," you're basically doing a lame interval session instead of something truly continuous. Jake did 44 sets of low-intensity work in 38 minutes. You can't get that much work in if you're taking time to tell a training partner about the cute thing your puppy did, or pondering your fantasy football roster.

Think about the implications of this....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 Barbell Hip Thrust Coaching Cues

We utilize both barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges on a regular basis in our programming. Popularized by Bret Contreras, we started utilizing these exercises in 2011 - and haven't looked back since.

They're great alternatives to squatting and deadlifting for those with a history of back pain, and can be awesome options for training the posterior chain in those with upper body conditions that may be exacerbated by certain squat and deadlift variations. They don't create a ton of soreness, so they can be awesome in-season exercises for athletes. And, they'll build bigger, stronger glutes that seem to carry over better to athletic performance because of the horizontally directed force (as opposed to the vertically directed force we see with squats and deadlifts). In short, I think they're awesome on a number of fronts - and they're here to stay.

While even the most inexperienced athlete can pick these drills up relatively quickly, that's not to say that there aren't a few common technique mistakes for which you need to watch out. Check out this video to learn how to correct these issues:

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Is Your Strength and Conditioning Internship a One-Way Street?

Just the other day, my Cressey Sports Performance business partner, Pete Dupuis, ran a live fitness business Q&A on my Facebook page, and he delivered some great insights on a number of fronts. I chimed in on one question that jumped out at me as worthy of an entire article, so here is my "expansion" on my initial response:

Q: We have had struggles trying to find a decent referral source for quality interns. How have you had success finding them?

Certainly, there are ways that you can “recruit” new interns. Establishing a good relationship with a nearby college with an exercise science program is a good place to start. Or, you can even look to your former high school athletes who have pursued a degree in a related field; they know your systems and can definitely hit the ground running.

However, I’d argue that the absolute best way to grow your internship is the same way that you’d grow your “normal” training clientele: deliver a high-quality product and generate great word of mouth buzz. In other words, as Cal Newport’s popular book’s title suggests, Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

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The problem, unfortunately, is that a lot of internships in the fitness industry aren’t very good. Before we delve into the “why” behind this, I’m going to let the numbers do the talking for a few paragraphs.

Each year at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), we receive roughly 200 internship applications; this corresponds to roughly “accepted” 25-30 interns per year between the Massachusetts and Florida facility. In other words, we only accept about 10-15% of applicants.

As a frame of reference, in 2015, the acceptance rate of Ivy League schools ranged from 5.33% (Harvard) to 14.9% (Cornell). Have you ever heard of an Ivy League school saying that they just don’t have enough smart, talented, hard-working kids on campus? Absolutely not – and it’s because their reputation precedes them; this reputation generates a lot of “leads.”

Regardless of whether your issue is not having enough applicants, or not having enough “good” interns, the answer is the same: you need to deliver a better product. It sounds kind of like running a training business (or any business), doesn’t it?

We get 200+ applicants per year for internships because we go out of our way to deliver a quality experience. As a frame of reference, every incoming CSP intern goes through a 10-week online course and a video database of close to 800 exercises. In other words, they effectively have 60-80 hours of studying that needs to take place before they arrive. That’s roughly the equivalent of two college courses.

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On the first day of the internship, during their 90-minute orientation, they are handed about $250 worth of head-to-toe New Balance gear. Over the first three weeks, there are daily 30-minute "onboarding" workshops to cover a specific coaching topic. Thereafter, each week, there is a 60-90-minute in-service delivered by one of our staff members. Over the course of the internship, they receive free admission to any seminars we host. They can sign out books/DVDs from the large training/nutrition library in the office. Finally, we are always looking for part-time employment opportunities for them during the internship – and full-time employment opportunities after the internships end. We also have a closed Facebook group for all former interns that keeps them connected for everything from sharing employment opportunities, to brainstorming on tough client/patient cases, to finding good referrals in different areas. Over the years, it's led to positions in professional and college sports, plus a host of private facilities around the country.

Above all else, though, we do our best to empower our interns as soon as they’ve proven they’ve capable of taking on more challenging roles. In other words, the internships evolve to allow their coaching responsibilities to expand as they become more proficient. As an example, in the past year alone, we’ve had two interns who were so awesome during their internships that they “forced our hand” to create positions for them as full-time staff members.

To me, this still doesn’t seem like enough. These folks are putting their lives on hold to work unpaid internships – and in many cases, moving across the country to do so. They become part of our “CSP Family” for life and we want to treat them accordingly.

cspfamily-300x56

Unfortunately, we are an exception to the rule. There are still a lot of fitness internships that are “observation only.” If you don’t empower a young coach to grow, how can you truly evaluate whether he/she will be a great employee? Supervisors shouldn’t stay as supervisors; they should ultimately become “peers.” In this regard, I owe tremendous credit to coaches Chris West and Teena Murray (now of Louisville) for not only giving me an opportunity to help out during my University of Connecticut years, but for continuing to challenge me in different ways as my internship experience progressed. Great coaches bring their athletes along the right pace, but they also do so for those they mentor on the coaching side of things.

Sadly, a lot of people in the industry view internships as a one-way street, treating up-and-comers as just cheap or free labor. Cleaning may be a responsibility, but it shouldn’t be the only responsibility.

I know I can speak for our staff when I say that we take a lot of pride in trying to go out of our way to help them all develop. We really enjoy teaching.

To that end, a lot of our intern applicants are referrals from previous interns. And warm introductions from previous interns make it easier for us to select the best applicants, too. Just like building and managing a successful training business, it’s a continuous cycle:

CustomerLifecyle

With that in mind, I reached out to our former interns to get their “hindsight insights” on the CSP internship experience. Specifically, I asked "What part of the CSP internship experience did you a) enjoy the most and b) find the most crucial to your longer term success?" I apologize for the lengthy copy and paste, but I think the sheer volume of similar responses speaks volumes (skip ahead to my point after the last testimonial, if you want):

Doug Kechijian, Physical Therapist at Resilient Performance in NYC:
“A) Being surrounded be people who challenged me to think critically (this included the other interns).
B) The network you have access to upon completion of the internship/the communication skills you develop from the volume of coaching you accumulate‬‬‬.”

Connor Ryan, Physical Therapist for the Phoenix Coyotes:
“A) Gaining family and friends through means of collaboration, learning, and helping be a part of something genuinely special. You can feel the hard work around you from the staff and the athlete's. The environment breeds a standard of excellence.
B) The most crucial component is having network to lean on, having a growing team to learn from, and have people to identify with and push you and help you find others that want to get better and hold standards of performance and progress to a very high level.”

Dave Rak, Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Minnesota Twins:
“A) My time interning at CSP put me in an environment where I was always learning whether it was from a staff in service, learning hands on through coaching, or even staff training sessions. I was surrounded by professionals who wanted to see me be successful and always pushed me to be better. ‬‬
‪B) The relationships I built at CSP have been the most crucial to my success. They have opened doors I never would have imagined. I can easily reach out to the CSP community of coaches/former interns for guidance with career advice, training/coaching advice, and anything in between. I feel like I am never on my own because I always have someone to reach out to for help when needed.”‬

Tim Geromini, Director of Performance at CSP-Florida:
“A) The most enjoyable part of my experience as a CSP intern was the people I got to work with and for on a daily basis. Clients become friends when you take the time to get to know them and find out their backgrounds. Same goes for the coaches. Everybody has their own style from past experiences and it was fun to see how many different ways you can gain results with the same intent.‬‬
‪B) The most crucial part of a successful CSP internship was being open minded and making the atmosphere a true family feel. If you're not open to learning new styles or open to different personalities, then you won't be successful in this field. It always keeps you hungry. The experience is more fun when you and your fellow interns get along, go to dinner, lift together, and get to know each other. It's a life experience, not just learning to coach.‬”‬

Molly Caffelle, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at The University of North Carolina:
“A) Gaining lifelong friendships with the staff and intern group. The whole CSP environment in general, creates a very welcoming and learning atmosphere. All around best internship experience for any new young professional‬‬.
‪‬B) Learning how to connect one on one with clients. Understanding the true meaning of ‘they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.’”

Rob Rabena-Director of Sports Performance at Maplezone Sports Institute in Garnet Valley, PA.:
“A) I enjoyed being treated like I was on staff as a strength coach and not just an intern. ‬‬
‪B) for my long term success the most important aspect that I learned was every little detail matters from a brand perspective, marketing, coaching, evaluations, facility design, customer service, program design etc. ‬”‬‬

John O’Neil, Director of Performance at CSP-MA:
“A) Being part of something special, because of the culture that CSP has created, when you put on the logo, you feel like it's a shield and your job becomes important...
B) professional connections, both in job searching and in a network of bright, motivated individuals. As a coach, seeing a high volume of athletes and needing to appreciate cuing different people differently has had great carryover to my every day work.”

Roger Lawson, Personal Trainer at Mark Fisher Fitness in NYC:
“A) The people, both staff and clients, without a doubt. With all the different personalities and backgrounds coalescing into a giant melting pot of awesomeness, there is never a boring day. The strong sense of community that forms when you spend several hours a week with someone is undeniable. It's a two way street; everyone has something to give and everyone has something to learn.‬‬
‪B) Being around a group of individuals who are striving to better themselves. It's impossible to stay bottom tier of knowledge when you're surrounded by those who are constantly evolving. That kind of environment creates the attitude where betterment isn't "work," but something that you actually want to seek out.”‬

Do You See a Trend?

Every single former intern refers back to becoming part of a family, or something special. They reflect fondly on being around people that empowered them and challenged them to be better, holding them to a higher standard of professional excellence. A good internship welcomes strength and conditioning up-and-comers as an integral part of a team.

Closing Thoughts

You wouldn’t spend a ton of money on marketing your training facility if you didn’t know that your training product was solid, would you? Of course not!

With that in mind, before you start going out to find interns, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because you love to teach and feel a responsibility to deliver a great product to benefit the future of the industry? If so, make sure a quality product is in place and then have at it. However, if you’re just looking for someone to help you sweep the floors, maybe you’re not meant to run an internship program.

To learn more about CSP's internship opportunities, click here.

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Steer Clear of this “Shoulder Health” Exercise

Call me a traditionalist, but I still love using prone (on the stomach) drills to teach good scapular (shoulder blade) control. However, we never teach these drills face-down on the floor. Check out today's video to learn why:

If you're looking for a detailed tutorial on how to perform this exercise off a table, give this a watch:

If you're looking to learn about how I assess, program, and coach at the shoulder, be sure to check out my resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Breaking Bad Bench T-Spine Mobilization Habits

I've spoken at length about how much I love the bench t-spine mobilization. Candidly, it's far more than an upper back mobility exercise - but you only can get the myriad of benefits it offers if you coach this drill correctly and prevent all the common compensations that can occur. Check out today's video for more details:

If you're looking for more information on these classic "extension posture" exercise technique compensations, I would encourage you to check out my presentation, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core.

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