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When Do Strength and Conditioning and Fitness Certifications Really Matter?

It's a question I get all the time:

Is this certification worth it?

Unfortunately, while it is a seemingly simple question, the answer is far from simple. Not all certifications are created equal, and not all trainers, rehabilitation specialists, and strength and conditioning coaches have similar educational needs, certification requirements, and target populations.

Given that each scenario is unique, I'll do my best to give you multiple perspectives in the paragraphs that follow.

First, I'll speak from an employer's perspective. You absolutely, positively need a certification to get your foot in the door in this industry. It's a baseline requirement. Sure, some are better than others, but I would never consider actually hiring someone who didn't have a certification. That's not to say, however, that having multiple certifications makes you a more qualified candidate. Nobody likes that person who have 14 certifications and the resulting "alphabet soup" after his/her name. One certification might very well be enough.

Second, putting myself in potential clients' shoes, they really don't know the differences among NSCA-CSCS, NASM-CPT, QRSTUV, ASAP, and R2-D2. There isn't a certifying body out there who spends enough money and time marketing to the masses to educate them that one certification makes for a better personal trainer than others. It's like me trying to figure out what makes one architect better than another if you just throw a bunch of initials after their names; I'd have no clue. Potential clients turn into actual clients because they've perceived your expertise in some fashion - e.g., word-of-mouth from another client, reading an article, chatting with you, observing a training session, etc. - but it rarely has to do with them becoming familiar with what certification you have.

Third, and most importantly, I'll speak from my own experience. When it comes to certifications, the only questions I ask are:

1. Will this experience provide me with specific information I wouldn't otherwise have?

2. Will this experience provide information I can immediately apply in my interaction with my clients and staff?

3. Is the experience delivered by one of the best in the experience? Can these individuals speak from perspective? Or, are they academics who haven't worked with an actual human in years?

In other words, I'll do a certification for the knowledge, not for the resume building. And, I want to make sure there are practical strategies that have been implemented in the trenches, not in a magical theoretical paradigm.

This is what Dr. John Berardi and his team delivers with the Precision Nutrition Certification. It's what we've worked hard to deliver with our Elite Baseball Mentorships (even though it's not a certification).

EBM-Cressey

And, most recently, it's what Lee Taft has done with his Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) offering. I was actually one of the first people to go through the course, as Lee actually filmed it at Cressey Sports Performance and I got a sneak preview. To say that it's excellent would be an understatement, and we've actually implemented it as part of our staff training curriculum; all CSP coaches are CSAC. I really couldn't care less about the initials, though; it's about getting quality information from a guy who has dedicated the last 25 years of his life to teaching speed and agility to athletes from all different sporting disciplines. This program "correctly" answers all three of my questions from above, and that's why it's a go in my eyes.

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Lee's certification is actually on sale through the end of the week for $150 off the normal price. If you're looking for top notch direction in coaching movement training with your athletes, look no further. You can check it out HERE.

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4 Rules of Posture

Today's guest post comes from Physical Therapist Chris Leib. Enjoy! -EC

chrisl

Recently, there has been plenty of discussion regarding the efficacy of the idea of posture and whether attempting to improve it is a useful tactic for decreasing pain. This discussion has been perpetuated by research indicating that there is a surprisingly poor correlation between pain and posture. The evidence seems to be pretty damning on this topic, which raises questions about whether looking at pain as an outcome measure actually makes sense when discussing posture. Moreover, even more basic questions still need to be asked regarding the very definition of posture.

When discussing these inquiries, it’s important to understand that the current research has demonstrated that pain is far more complex than previously thought, and that a single model of physiological stress will not be sufficient to demonstrate why some people experience pain and some do not. A discussion of pain science is too complicated to be brushed over in the present discussion; however, it must be understood:

[bctt tweet="Just because proper posture hasn’t been highly correlated with pain doesn’t mean it’s not important."]

When looking deeper into the studies cited above, it becomes clear that there is not a consensus definition of posture. Instead of looking at the constantly changing nature of posture, many of these studies defined posture by using various markers of static structure. Taking this fact into consideration, one must ask the following question: If no agreement is reached as to what proper posture is, how can it be well studied?

In my experience over the past decade as both a strength and conditioning professional and physical therapist, my own definition of proper posture has evolved considerably. Utilizing these years of clinical experience and the current research, I would like to set forth the following 4 Rules of Posture.

Rule #1: Posture May Not Cause Pain, But Improving Posture Can Help to Decrease Pain.

Although there is poor evidence that various definitions of poor posture are associated with increased pain, it’s obvious through clinical assessment that a change in posture can decrease pain when it is present. Go to any physical therapy clinic and you will find patients in pain getting education regarding postural changes that improve their symptoms on the spot. Pain can be a great indicator of what the body feels is a stable position. Often, immediate positive changes are made just by getting the person into a different position.

A common example is the individual with neck pain who has pain when sitting slouched with his or her head forward. Frequently, a combination of education and ergonomic adjustment can abolish this excruciating pain in shorter order. Now, this isn’t to say that the quick fix always “cures” the problem, but it does gives the person more feelings of control over making change with regard to their pain, which actually goes a long way. This sense of control has been demonstrated to be a positive indicator of recovery from and the ability to cope with chronic pain .

Rule #1 is the only rule in which we’ll discuss pain. As I noted, the research on pain indicates that the science is far too complex to discuss isolated associations. Clinically, pain can be a good feedback indicator of postures and positions that a person’s body finds unsafe. This feedback helps determine the best positions for the person to train in and, with time, adopt.

The subsequent three rules will discuss posture in relation to functional and physical performance-based movement quality.

Rule #2: Support Yourself Actively and Passively.

This rule will illustrate the difference between passive and active postural stability, as well as the appropriate balance that’s needed between the two. Let’s get some definitions out of the way first.

Generally speaking, passive stability is using something other than balanced muscular effort to adopt and maintain a desired position. Passive stability can either be anatomical or external in nature. Anatomical passive stability utilizes one’s passive stability structures such as joint capsules, cartilage, and ligaments to find stability in a position, while external passive stability utilizes an external item for extra support when attempting to maintain a position. When dealing with passive stability of any type, the common denominator is finding a stable position while decreasing relative muscular effort.

Active postural stability, on the other hand, refers to the use of muscles to maintain a desired position. In order to optimize muscle activity during static and dynamic postures, the attachments of the muscles must be positioned so that the muscles contract in a balanced way. In addition, the position should minimize energy expenditure against the pull of gravity.

For clarification on how best to determine optimal positioning based on the above definitions, let’s illustrate a common static and dynamic example.

i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair

No matter what, this common static position will never be ideal for postural stability due to the severe muscle imbalances inherent to sitting with your hips and knees in 90 degrees of flexion. However, sitting with the head and shoulders substantially in front of the line of gravity makes a bad situation even worse. The further forward the head and shoulders travel out in front of this line, the more effort the muscles that hold up the head and trunk must exert. More importantly, because the muscles in this case are overstretched and in a poor position to function in a balanced way, less resilient structures such as ligaments and joint capsules/cartilages are forced to pick up the slack.

Thus, the most optimal default position in sitting is the one that minimizes the effort of your muscles and stress to your other more passive structures by allowing the head and shoulders to balance effortlessly in the line of gravity. (Feel free to take this opportunity to observe your own posture. Are your head and shoulders neatly stacked or forward like the pass from the 2000 Music City Miracle?)

NeckPosture

ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground

In this dynamic example, the muscles of the hips, lower back, abdomen, and thorax will be in the most balanced position to lift the load when the pelvis is in a neutral position. That is to say, the lower back should neither be flexed nor extended. In this position, the muscles of the lower back are well balanced with that of the abdomen, and the hip extensors have a better opportunity to contract during the lift.

If the lift were initiated with the lower spine in an extended position, the position can still indeed be stable; however, the stability would come from passive anatomical structures such as the lumbar facet joints and ligaments of the anterior spine. This position increases compressive forces to the lower back and decreases the contractile ability of both the abdominals and hip extensors, as both of these muscle groups are now in an over-lengthened position.

DL posture

Therefore, the optimal position for the dynamic movement of deadlifting is the one that allows for the hip/trunk flexors and hip/trunk extensors to work in the most balanced fashion (see video below). Moreover, setting up the movement and transitioning the bar in such a way that the load stays as close to the body as possible minimizes the downward pulling effects from gravity much like the head and shoulders staying over the midline of the body in the previous sitting example.

When attempting to understand how best to balance active and passive stability within a specific task, we must take into consideration four factors: (1) the available tissue mobility in order to get into the position required; (2) the external objects manipulated or used for positioning; (3) the duration of the task; (4) the intensity of the task.

Let’s return once again to our two examples:

i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair

For static sitting, we must first assess ranges of motion like thoracic extension, shoulder internal/external rotation, and scapular retraction/depression/posterior tilt. In doing so, we’re able to determine whether the desired position can be assumed without pain or excessive compensatory muscle effort. Moreover, we must know the type of seat the client will be utilizing and what activities he or she will be doing while sitting (i.e. typing, driving, etc.).

In terms of duration and intensity, sitting will typically fall under the category of a low intensity activity done for long durations. The longer the duration, the more muscular endurance necessary to maintain a desired position. If any of the above factors are not optimal, external passive support in the form of a lumbar cushion, posture shirt, or corrective tape may be necessary to enable the client to attain a more favorable posture without excessive effort.

seated

(Passively elevating the hips to decrease the effort to maintain an upright torso)

ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground

With deadlifting, mobility limitations in the hips and trunk can often limit an individual’s ability to adopt and maintain the optimal stable position described above. In addition, the intensity of the load or duration of the set must not exceed the amount of muscular force the individual is able to generate, or else even a solid initial position will be lost.

In cases where mobility restrictions are a limiting factor, passive support can come in the form of apparatuses that decrease the range of motion of the movement (i.e. elevating the load onto blocks or a rack). When approaching maximal loads or durations, passive support may take the form of stability belts and braces in areas most susceptible to positional failure.

2DLs

3. Posture is the Product of Your Movement Variability.

Posture is often discussed as a single static element that represents one’s lack of mindfulness or genetic misfortune. Clinical experience and the current scientific literature say this belief is not only wrong, but also a harmful notion to the process of making postural change. One shouldn’t feel guilty or unfortunate that he or she is demonstrating an unskillful posture. Instead, there should be an understanding that posture is not a single static entity, but rather task dependent and constantly changing.

The secret to good posture is that you shouldn’t need to work for it when you are at rest. You see, your static postures during sitting, standing, and walking are a product of your cumulative movement throughout the day. Our bodies are built to adapt to the positions and activities we take on most frequently. If any of these positions and activities are done is excess, all our positions and movement can become imbalanced. This imbalance is what is deemed by many as poor posture, but in reality it is just the body doing what it does best: adapting.

In order to prevent postural imbalances, it is unwise to attempt to simply make ergonomic adjustments to the positions we sustain too frequently. Instead, we must consider our whole body of movement throughout the day. If we focus on proper positioning in training, it will inevitably transfer to our static postures. In this way, programming for any strength, conditioning, or fitness routine must involve a strong focus on developing positions that promote muscular balance (active postural stability) and task transference, as opposed to simply task completion.

For example, there are many ways to push yourself up from the ground when doing a push-up, but there are positioning subtleties that can either promote balanced muscular stability or feed habits of chronic positioning that we already practice too frequently throughout the day (see video below). Thus, an individual’s movement practice should be about movement quality and variability as much as about cultivating strength and conditioning.

Mindless prescription of physical activity (i.e. 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercises; 3 sets of 10 of machine based resistance exercise) prioritizes strength and conditioning capacity over movement capability and variability, hoping that by blindly improving one’s quantity of routine movements the quality of movement will also improve. Don’t get me wrong, in moderation, more movement is better than less movement. However, too much of the same movements can create similar problems as too little movement.

4. Counterbalance Your Life.

The idea of increasing movement quality and variability goes way beyond one’s time at the gym. To allow for increased ease of active postural stability, the common patterns of one’s entire day need to be understood so that behavioral change can be implemented. This is not to say that if we sit all day at work then we need to get a new job. That’s just not practical. Nor does it mean that we must be obsessed with maintaining an upright posture or “drawing our abdomens in” all day long. It simply calls for awareness — awareness of the positions that are most frequently adopted and strategies for counterbalancing them.

Guidelines for this awareness are three-fold:

i. Understand the chronic positions you adopt.

Often postural counterbalances are subtle and developing improved body awareness becomes much more important than simply adjusting your position. This improved body education can come in many forms, such as independent reading on anatomy and physiology, advice from a movement professional, or cultivation of a versatile movement practice as discussed above. It’s important to know that ultimately YOU have the best opportunity to understand your own body. It can be a gradual process to refine this body awareness, but once developed, understanding the positions and movements that are healthy versus harmful to your specific body becomes much easier.

ii. Separate times you must be stationary and times you choose to be stationary.

It’s important to have a plan of attack for positioning throughout your day. Practically speaking, if you sit all day at work, acknowledge it, and then minimize the time you sit when in the comfort of your home. Likewise, if you are on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to spend some time vegging out on the couch. One stationary position is not necessarily better than the other (i.e. standing is not better than sitting). It’s the one that you do most frequently that will usually lead to problems.

iii. Expand your positional repertoire.

When attempting to adopt positions different from those in which you are most comfortable, it is important to have other positions at your disposal. For example, sitting in a chair is a completely different mechanical stress than sitting cross-legged on the ground, just as standing stationary on two legs is different than weight shifting effortlessly from one leg to the other. Similar to the idea of developing more movement variability in an exercise practice, it’s important that you’re able to adopt positions besides those you do most frequently. This may be another area where the help of a movement professional is necessary so that you can become comfortable with the mobility and stability necessary to adopt different variations of sitting and standing positions.

See the video playlist below regarding positional variations for sitting (chair and ground) and standing:

In conclusion, there is plenty of disagreement and misunderstanding around the topic of posture. In my experience, this controversy is unnecessary and overblown. Any respectable strength and conditioning professional would agree that proper positioning and technique is vital when undertaking various movements in a strength and conditioning program. Why should the importance of positioning be any different in our movements throughout the day? We must understand that our bodies are constantly changing; therefore, posture should be viewed as a dynamic, ever-changing journey — not a fixed destination. Hopefully the 4 Rules of Posture set forth above allow you to better understand how to embrace this journey!

About the Author

Chris Leib of MovementProfessional.com is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with nearly a decade of experience in treating movement dysfunctions and enhancing human performance. He has written for many popular training and rehabilitation websites, and has a versatile movement background with a variety of certifications as both a physical therapist and fitness professional. Chris considers physical activity a vital process to being a complete human being and is passionate about helping others maximize their movement potential. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

A special thanks to Travis Pollen of www.FitnessPollenator.com for his help with this article.

References

1. Grundy, Roberts (1984) Does unequal leg length cause back pain? A case-control study. Lancet. 1984 Aug 4;2(8397):256-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6146810

2. Pope, M., Bevins, T., Wilder, D., & Frymoyer, J. (1985). The Relationship Between Anthropometric, Postural, Muscular, and Mobility Characteristics of Males Ages 18-55. Spine, 644-648. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4071274

3. Grob, D., Frauenfelder, H., & Mannion, A. (2006). The association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain. European Spine Journal Eur Spine J, 669-678. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2213543/

4. Nourbakhsh, M., & Arab, A. (2002). Relationship Between Mechanical Factors and Incidence of Low Back Pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 447-460. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12322811

5. Dieck, G., Kelsey, J., Goel, V., Panjabi, M., Walter, S., & Laprade, M. (1985). An Epidemiologic Study of the Relationship Between Postural Asymmetry in the Teen Years and Subsequent Back and Neck Pain. Spine, 872-877. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2938272

6. Franklin, M., & Conner-Kerr, T. (1988). An Analysis of Posture and Back Pain in the First and Third Trimesters of Pregnancy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 133-138. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9742469

7. Lederman, E. (2010). The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 131-138. http://www.cpdo.net/Lederman_The_fall_of_the_postural-structural-biomechanical_model.pdf

8. Christensen, S., & Hartvigsen, J. (2008). Spinal Curves and Health: A Systematic Critical Review of the Epidemiological Literature Dealing With Associations Between Sagittal Spinal Curves and Health. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 690-714. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19028253

9. Evidence-Base for Explain Pain, Second Edition. (n.d). Retrieved October 2, 2015. http://www.noigroup.com/documents/noi_explain_pain_2nd_edn_evidence_base_0813.pdf

10. Control, culture and chronic pain. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2015.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0277953694900205

11. Garber, C., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M., Franklin, B., Lamonte, M., Lee, I., Swain, D. (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1334-1359. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/13/16

Here's a bit of recommended strength and conditioning reading to get you over "Hump Day:"

Is There a Recipe for a Great Gym Culture? - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, speaks to how the culture at CSP-Mass has evolved over the years, and how you can take the lessons we've learned and apply it to your unique training facility. 

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The Do and Don't of Coaching - This was an excellent post on a wide variety of important coaching points from Mike Robertson.

Weekly Meal Prep: Mastered - Dr. John Berardi presents a great infographic for those looking to plan their nutrition effectively. I love Precision Nutrition because they are all about specific, actionable items, as opposed to just handing out diet plans and simply telling people to follow them.

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Do Your Strength and Conditioning Progressions Create Context?

It goes without saying that some athletes pick up new movements faster than others. Usually, this occurs because they have context from which to draw. 

As an example, an athlete might have a great hip hinge because they've done it previously while playing defense in basketball. Having that hip hinge proficiency helps the individual to efficiently learn a deadlift pattern (among many other athletic movements).

Establishing context is just one of many reasons that children should be exposed to a wide variety of free play and athletic endeavors. The more movement variability we have at younger ages, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it once the time is right.

It's foolish to think, however, that every individual we encounter in personal training, strength and conditioning, or rehabilitation settings will have this broad foundation of context from which to draw. This is where appropriate training progressions become so important. You select exercises with which individuals can be successful not only to build confidence and achieve a training effect, but also to establish context for further progressions.

As an example, if you want to be able to do a quality lateral lunge with overhead reach as part of your warm-up, you've got to be able to string together several movement proficiencies: full shoulder flexion range-of-motion; sufficient thoracic extension and scapular posterior tilt/upward rotation; hip adductor range of motion; hip hinge proficiency; and good stiffness in your anterior core and deep neck flexors to prevent low back arching and forward head posture, respectively.

When I'm teaching this pattern for the first time, I'll always say, "It's just like your back-to-wall shoulder flexion, but with a long lunge to the side."

Back-to-wall shoulder flexion is big-time "context creator" for me because I can teach it to just about anyone really quickly. In fact, I've taught it to seminars with 100+ people without many challenges. More importantly, it creates quality movement from the core all the way up (five of the seven movement prerequisites I noted earlier) - and that has big payoffs later on when one wants to teach anything from a push-up, to a landmine press, to a snatch, to an overhead medicine ball variation.

 

#Orioles prospect Will Shepley with a little controlled chaos during this morning's pro crew. #cspfamily #medicineball

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

A lot of folks will read this article and think, "But these is just common sense progressions." I'd agree. However, as we've learned in recent years, in the world of larger group training without individualized programming, common sense isn't so common anymore - and as a result, folks wind up skipping steps and advancing to exercise for which they aren't ready. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, being able to effectively sequence coaching progressions will, in my opinion, become even more important in the years ahead. With the trend of early sports specialization, we're getting "less athletic athletes;" they don't have as much context in place, and wind up having to back-track. Additionally, we have an increasingly sedentary society, which certainly robs individuals of context.

All that said, just remember that if you want to have an exercise in your program, you have to think about how you're going to coach it with all the individuals that may come your way. And, that coaching might involve devising some exercise regressions that build context from which to draw.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/5/16

It's time for the first collection of recommended strength and conditioning reading in 2016 - and I've got some good ones for you!

Extreme Ownership - This leadership book was written by two Navy Seals who have moved on to the world of business consulting. They draw on lessons learned in training and combat, and the parallels with business and coaching success are quite strong. It was both entertaining and practical, and I would highly recommend it.

Back Mechanic - This is Dr. Stuart McGill's newest book, and it's an excellent resource more targeted at end-users (i.e., those with low back pain) than his previous works, which really catered to rehabilitation specialists and fitness professionals. There are some excellent pearls of wisdom in here and it's definitely something you should have in your library to remain current with a huge problem like low back pain.

Back-Mechanic

Natural Treatments for the Most Common Medical Problems - Precision Nutrition Drs. John Berardi and Spencer Nadolsky outline some lifestyle modifications that can make a big difference in your health - and potentially help you to avoid or reduce medications.

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Preventing Baseball Injuries: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

We're at a point in time where just about everyone knows that throwing a baseball year-round is a bad idea. Moreover, we know that it's best for kids to avoid early sports specialization. 

Dr. James Andrews has been outspoken against early specialization and year-round throwing for roughly a decade.

John Smoltz devoted a big chunk of his Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech in Cooperstown to discouraging kids and parents from early specialization and year-round baseball.

JohnSmoltz

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recently referred to the trend of kids playing only one sport as "an absolute crime."

USA Baseball launched their Pitch Smart campaign - featuring an advisory board of many MLB team doctors and athletic trainers - to prevent overuse in youth baseball.

All the way back in 2006, a landmark study by Olsen et al. clearly demonstrated strong associations between injuries requiring surgery and pitching "more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game" as well as showcase appearances during adolescence. Overuse is the one factor that predicts injury over and over again in the research.

A 2011 study demonstrated that players in warm weather climates had less shoulder strength and more problematic range-of-motion adaptations than those in cold weather climates. And, speaking from personal experience from having Cressey Sports Performance facilities in both states, it's been far more challenging to develop players in Florida than it is in Massachusetts. There is simply too much baseball competing with general athletic development.

These are just a few examples, too. Hundreds of professional athletes have spoken out against early sports specialization. College coaches have in some cases refused to recruit one-sport athletes. And, there are more anti-specialization posts and websites freely available on the Internet than one could possibly imagine. Yet, the problem isn't even close to going away, and injuries still at all-time highs.

Now, I can understand how some players, parents, coaches, and scouts don't stay on top of the American Journal of Sports Medicine and might have missed this important information. What I can't understand is how they'd miss it when the world's most recognized orthopedic surgeon is speaking out against it. Or how they can miss it when one of the most accomplished pitchers of the last century devotes the biggest media spotlight of his life to bashing early sports specialization. Or how they'd overlook one of the premier coaches in the NFL so vehemently putting down the practice. Or how a governing body like MLB would devote time, money, and resources to a problem that they think will have a significant negative impact on the future of the game beyond just the billions of dollars that are already being wasted on players on the disabled list.

The problem is not a lack of knowledge; the problem is a lack of action and consequences.

When you were a little kid and stole a cookie from the cookie jar - even after your mother told you it was off limits - you got punished for doing so. If you didn't have consequences, you'd keep stealing cookies. Unfortunately, this isn't an option with youth baseball. Really, the only consequence is injury, and it's surprisingly not that great a teacher.

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A lot of kids and parents continue to make the same mistakes even after an arm surgery and extended layoff. They've been brainwashed to think that the only way kids can succeed in baseball is to play year-round to keep up with other kids and get exposure to college coaches and pro scouts. There are too many coaches, showcase companies, and scouting services lining their pockets by lobbying hard to make these false assumptions stick. 

If knowledge ("eating too many cookies is bad for you") isn't working, and it's hard to deliver consequences, what's the next step? You've got to make it really hard to get to those cookies - and they better taste like crap if you do manage to do so. 

Stepping away from this analogy, the big governing bodies that matter need to step up their game. Here are six quick changes that I personally feel could have a profound impact on reducing injury rates across all levels:

1. Major League Baseball needs to implement a high school scouting "dead period" from October 1 through January 1. It is entirely hypocritical for MLB to push PitchSmart, but turn a blind eye when literally hundreds of scouts are showing up for October-December showcases and tournaments that directly compete with the PitchSmart initiative. Most of the highest-profile players aren't even attending these events anymore (advisors know it's an unnecessary injury risk), and there is absolutely nothing a scout would see in November that they can't see in the spring during the regular season.

2. MLB should also mandate that no pitcher can throw in more than three consecutive games - including "getting hot" (throwing in the bullpen, but not entering the game). Some might criticize me for this, but after extensive interaction with relievers at this level, I firmly believe that bullpen mismanagement is one of the biggest problems in MLB pitching injuries. Fans and the media only see the actual number of appearances, but when you factor in the number of times a pitcher "gets hot" without entering the game, you have relievers who are literally throwing over 120 times in a season.

3. The NCAA needs to implement innings limits on freshman and sophomore pitchers. Keep freshman pitchers to 120 innings and sophomore pitchers to 140 (combining the college season and summer ball). Additionally, any pitcher who throws more than 120 innings during the spring/summer should have a mandatory 60-day period of no throwing prior to starting fall ball.

4. The NCAA should also implement a conservative pitch count limit for college starters. I think 130 is a good place to start, and while I still think it's unnecessarily high, it reins in those coaches who'll leave a guy in for 150+ pitches. Sadly, this happens far too often in college baseball these days, and there are zero repercussions (although I do commend ESPN's Keith Law for always calling these coaches out on Twitter).

5. State athletic associations in warm weather climates need to structure high school seasons to allow for athletes to compete in multiple sports. As an example, in Massachusetts, the high school baseball season begins on the third Monday in March, while the first basketball practice is November 30. If a high school basketball player wants to play baseball, he might only have a 1-2 week overlap during that month - and it only happens if his team goes deep into the playoffs.

Conversely, the high school baseball season here in Florida begins on January 18, while the last regular season basketball game doesn't occur until January 30. The state championship games take place February 23-27 - which is roughly halfway through the baseball season! There is absolutely no reason for a high school baseball season (in which teams play about 30 games) needs to start prior to March 1.

CSP-florida-021

That extra six weeks would make a huge difference in getting more baseball players to also participate in winter sports and help to get a baseball out of young hands a bit longer. And, you'd see a lot more players well prepared on day 1 of baseball tryouts because they'd have more off-season preparation under their belts. It would simply force teams to play three games per week instead of two; this is exactly what's done in Northern states (and they'll sometimes play four, if weather interferes).

6. Similar to point #4, state athletic associations should also have regulations on permissible pitch counts for high school arms. I think 115 pitches is a good number.

Closing Thoughts

I should note that I actually think Little League Baseball does a solid job of disseminating information and including specific regulations within the game and between games. The changes - at least in my eyes - should rest with high school athletic associations, the NCAA, and Major League Baseball. Impact will come from the top down.

As you can see, with only two exceptions, I'm much more about managing the competitive year than I am about micromanaging pitch counts. And, the two pitch count recommendations I put out are remarkably conservative and just reaffirm common sense (which, unfortunately, isn't so common anymore). Pitch counts alone haven't proven to be tremendously effective, but do have a place when implemented alongside guidelines for managing the overall baseball calendar.

There is absolutely no reason for skeletally immature middle and high school baseball players to have longer competitive seasons than professional players.

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