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What Happened to “Global” Athleticism?

Back in my high school sports career, I was much more quick than I was fast. Actually, I wasn't fast at all.

Apparently, the combination of not eating great and not having any organized strength and conditioning programming doesn't exactly do wonders for building speed that cripples your competition. So, regardless of the sport in question, I was left to fall back on my skills for any success I had.

Looking back, though, it fascinates me that I was actually still pretty quick, and it was readily apparent. In the sports I played - soccer and tennis in high school - I was a much better indoor soccer player (smaller field = more change of direction) and doubles player (cut the court in half = more change of direction). When the field of play opened up and top, straight-ahead speed mattered, I didn't show as well.

In hindsight, I still think it's intriguing that I was still able to develop a strong proficiency in change of direction work without any specific quickness or agility training. I didn't see an agility ladder until I was well into my 20s, and only time we ran "shuttles" in practice was for punishment, not developing quickness.

What I did do, though, is play every single kind of sport possible: soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, football, ultimate frisbee, wiffle ball, street hockey, dodgeball, volleyball, you name it. I grew up next to a church, and it had a large grass parking lot that was only used a few hours each week - and the rest of the time, it was a field for all the kids in our neighborhood to play pick-up anything and everything. In high school, some buddies and I even started a weekend rugby pick-up game even though we had no idea how to play rugby. I was the kid who was soaked with sweat at the end of gym class and I wore it like a badge of honor.

Before I drift off into an Uncle Rico moment, let's talk about what this means for you.

Kids don't do this anymore. I don't want to sounds like an old man complaining about how generations have changed, but there isn't the same kind of day to day free play that previous generations have had. Moreover, even the athletes who do have a daily "training" stimulus of some sort have less variety in that stimulus. Instead of playing touch football on Sunday, wiffle ball on Monday, volleyball on Tuesday, basketball on Wednesday, etc., they just play soccer every day for the entire year. This obviously has injury and burnout ramifications, but even beyond that, it reduces the likelihood that these athletes will "accidentally" develop athletic qualities like I did. Variety served me well, even if it wasn't intentional. 

Earlier this week, Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil and I carved out some time to discuss speed and agility progressions for our offseason baseball programming, and we touched in this point in some detail. If athletes have a "global athleticism" foundation like I did, they can probably thrive on just 2-3 days per week of true speed, agility, and quickness work as part of their strength and conditioning program.  However, since we're losing out on this variety at the youth levels now, we have to make a more dedicated effort to getting it with our training. In the past, we could assume some baseline of "reactive ability" and just initially focus on getting them strong (and don't get me wrong; that is still the most important thing).

Nowadays, however, the untrained, specialized kids need to do something "athletic" every day. They need to skip, hop, jump, and throw medicine balls every single time they come to the gym. It's not enough to take the "Just get them strong!" mentality.

[bctt tweet="Kids must train power daily now since they don't have free play like previous generations did."]

And if you're going to program more "global athleticism" - speed, agility, quickness - work, you better understand how to coach it. To this end, there is no better resource on this front than Lee Taft's Certified Speed and Agility Coach course. It's on sale for $100 through the end of the day today, so I'd definitely encourage you to check it out at this great discount.

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How Survival Instincts Drive Speed Development

Today's guest post comes from Lee Taft, the creator of the Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) course. I'm a huge fan of this certification, and it's on sale for $100 off this week. Enjoy! -EC

As a kid, I was a big fan of “The Flintstones.” I loved how Fred and Barney could run so fast. I can remember when they were chased by a Sabretooth Tiger; it was amazing how they could escape so quickly. Hmm, maybe there is something to that…

Fast forward to 2017, I still love speed. But now, I actually study it. I continually ask myself the question; “Why were humans given the ability to have speed and quickness?” This question has taken me down a road not many speed coaches travel. Many of these coaches like the traditional route of current methods of training. That’s cool, and in most cases, proves to be quite successful. But…

What if coaches would investigate more down the road of our human history? What if they allowed themselves to be vulnerable to the ways of how we escaped or attacked for survival? How would they think differently about speed?

What if we asked the question, “Why were we given the ability to have speed and quickness?” What can we learn when we venture down that path?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Survival drives us through channels not so easily understood from a Central Nervous System (CNS) standpoint. We have to bow down to the subconscious effort that makes us move quickly on instinct or reflex. This is harder to understand, so we try to ignore it as a viable option for speed training.

2. Playing competitive sports actually taps into our CNS – or should I go deeper and say our “sympathetic nervous system?” This is where our heightened awareness of our surroundings kicks in. If I am caught in a rundown in baseball – or going to be tackled in football, or being chased during soccer i- it takes us to a level of effort we don’t commonly experience in our daily lives.

3. Our body kicks into what we call fight or flight: the survival mode. This occurs all the time during sports competition. It drives us to make incredible speedy plays. It forces us to react in such a way that our feet move quicker than our conscious mind can drive them. This is where I want to concentrate on for the rest of this article. I want to share with you strategies to make you faster!

Repositioning

Repositioning is a term I use to relate to how an athlete moves his or her feet quickly into a more effective angle to either accelerate or decelerate the body. Terms I have used to describe repositioning are:

Plyo Step: The plyo step is an action that occurs when one foot is repositioned behind, to the side, or at any angle behind the body. This act quickly drives the body in a new direction of travel.

Hip Turn: This is basically the same as the plyo step except the athlete turns and accelerate back away from the direction they were facing. Repositioning occurs to find an angle to push the body in that direction.

Directional Step: Think base-stealing. The athlete will face sideways but turn and run. The front foot opens to be in a greater supportive position to push down and back during acceleration steps.

The goal is to get into acceleration posture as quickly as possible to make a play when one of these repositioning steps occur.

A great drill to work on repositioning is what I call “Ball Drops.”

a. Simply have a partner or coach stand 10-15 feet away from the athlete with a tennis ball held out at shoulder height.

b. The athlete is in an athletic parallel stance facing the coach, turned sideways, or back facing- depending on the drill.

c. The coach will drop the ball and the athlete must accelerate to catch the ball before the 2nd bounce. I encourage the coach to use the command “Go” at the exact time of the drop to help when vision is not an option.

The action you will see 99.9% of the time is a repositioning or a hip turn or plyo step (the directional step is the act of preparing the front leg for push off; it angles in the direction of travel). Perform this drill facing forwards for four reps, sideways for four reps, and backwards for four reps (2 to eaach side for the side-facing and back-facing). Perform this drill 2-3x per week to tap into the "fight or flight" response.

Reactive Shuffle or Crossover

In this drill, the focus is on reacting to either a partner (like a mirror drill) or the coaches signal to go right or left.

a. The athlete gets in a great defensive stance and prepares to explode to her right or left.

b. The coach will quickly point in either direction.

c. The athlete will create quick force into the ground in the opposite direction of travel. Typically, there will be a repositioning step unless the athlete starts in a wide stance where outward pressure is effective in the current stance.

d. As soon as the athlete shuffles one to two times, he will shuffle back.

e. The same drill is repeated, but now using a crossover step.

Perform 3-4 sets of ten seconds of both the shuffle and crossover drill. Allow 40-60s of recovery between bouts.

Shuffle

Partner Mirror

Crossover with Directional Step

Hip Turn to Crossover

The final skill I want to write about might be one of the most important “survival” speed skills an athlete can have. It falls under the “retreating” set of skills where the athlete moves back away from the direction they are initially facing.

The hip turn can allow an athlete to escape or attack. The critical features are:

1. The athlete must “stay in the tunnel.” Do not rise up and down; stay level.

2. By staying level, the immediate repositioning that takes place allows for a great push off angle to move the body in a new direction.

3. The athlete should attempt to create length and cover distance quickly. Short choppy steps are not effective when in “survival mode.” GET MOVING!

4. In the snapshots below, the athlete is performing a hip turn based on the coaches command or signal. The athlete will perform a hip turn and either a shuffle, crossover, or run - and then recover back to the start position as soon as possible!

Perform 3-4 sets of 7-10s of work. If quickness/speed is the goal we want to do it in short bursts of time and not long duration where speed in compromised. Recover for roughly 45 seconds and repeat.

Now, I know it sounds kind of crazy to be talking about survival, cavemen, and “fight or flight” when we are referring to speed, but we have to always look at the genesis of all things. Animals that don’t have reactive speed have other ways to protect themselves. Humans have intelligence and the ability to escape or attack using systems derived out of our CNS to help us use our speed. Our job as coaches is to tap into this ability and use it to help our athletes “naturally” move fast!

Note from EC: As I mentioned earlier, Lee Taft is the creator of the Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) course. To say that it's excellent would be an understatement, and we're actually implementing it as part of our staff training curriculum; all CSP coaches go through the CSAC course. In fact, I think so highly of Lee's work that it was even filmed at our facility! This week, it's on sale for $100 off. 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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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/25/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. My kids are officially old enough that we can actually fill an entire weekend with friends' birthday parties, so that's what we did. Before I get to the recommended reading and listening for the week, I wanted to give you a quick heads-up that we'll be doing a baseball development workshop at our Jupiter, FL facility on October 19. It's only $20 to attend, and all proceeds will benefit charity. You can learn more at the following link:

The Building a Better Baseball Athlete Workshop

Certified Speed and Agility Specialist Course - Lee Taft is a go-to guy when it comes to speed and agility education, and this awesome certification demonstrates why. It was filmed at Cressey Sports Performance and was mandatory viewing for our entire staff. It's on sale for $100 off this week, so I wanted to give you a heads-up.

The Ideal Business Show with Andy McCloy - This Pat Rigsby podcast with Andy McCloy was outstanding. If you're interested in the business side of fitness, definitely give it a listen.

5 Things That Might Surprise You About Our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs - With the professional baseball offseason at hand, it seemed like a good time to reincarnate this from the archives.

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Building a Better Baseball Athlete: October 19 – Jupiter, FL

On Thursday night, October 19, the Cressey Sports Performance - Florida staff will be presenting a three-hour workshop, "Building a Better Baseball Athlete," at our Jupiter, FL location.

This seminar will run from 7pm-10pm and be targeted toward coaches, scouts, parents, and players. Registration is only $20, with all proceeds going to Volunteer Florida, "the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during, and after disasters." This organization has been heavily active in light of the recent hurricane season in Florida, and we're excited to do our part to help the cause.

Here's an agenda for the evening:

7-8pm: Eric Cressey - "Identifying and Addressing Windows of Adaptations in Baseball Athletes"

8-9pm: Brian Kaplan - "The What, When, and Why of Weighted Ball Training"

9-10pm: The CSP Staff - "Making Sense of Medicine Ball Training"

Given the low price point and limited space available, we expect this event to sell out quickly - so please register early to reserve your spot.

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance - Florida
880 Jupiter Park Dr.
Suite 7
Jupiter, FL 33458

Click here to register!

Questions? Please email cspflorida@gmail.com.

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Progress Doesn’t Happen in Isolation

I've got an important point to make today, and I think it's best illustrated with a hypothetical story.

Let's say that a 14-year-old, 6-0, 140-pound kid - we'll call him Joey - comes in to Cressey Sports Performance and does an evaluation with me in September. He says that he currently throws 70-72mph, but wants to hit 80mph by the start of the upcoming spring baseball season - and that he's willing to do anything to reach that goal.

We put Joey on a great strength and conditioning program - lifting, sprint/agility/jumping challenges, medicine ball drills, arm care exercises, self-myofascial release, and mobility work - and he crushes it with his nutrition. Joey gets on a solid throwing program, and fine-tunes his grip on the baseball and some mechanical flaws with our pitching coordinator.

Joey gets manual therapy with our massage therapist, and also makes a dedicated effort to improve his sleep quality and quantity. He hangs out with a bunch of professional baseball players in a motivating environment, and even reads some sports psychology books to prepare himself mentally. Joey crushes his offseason with us - and puberty is still kicking in to help the cause.

And, the results show up in the spring: Joey is consistently pitching harder than 80mph, surpassing his goal.

It must have been the lifting, right? Or the medicine ball work? Or the arm care? Or the nutrition improvements and weight gain? Or the mechanical changes? Or a simple grip adjustment on his fastball? Or better sleep? Or just the gains associated with puberty?

What I also failed to mention is that Joey was taking algebra in school. He also shoveled his driveway whenever it snowed. And he stopped eating gluten because he felt like it made him bloated. And he got a new pair of sneakers. And his mother switched from a minivan to a SUV. Joey even developed a weird ritual of half-naked shadow boxing in the mirror every night with the Spice Girls playing in the background. You've got to have a routine, right?

Of course, everyone takes note of Joey's crazy progress and asks him what the "secret" was. How does Joey respond? Puberty, gluten, the minivan, and his Spice Girls infatuation are all sensitive subjects he doesn't want to publicly discuss, so those are off the table. Nobody gets excited hearing about algebra, sneakers, grip adjustments, or mobility work, so those are lame discussion points for the local newspaper interview. Hanging out with professional baseball players seems like a cooler story line, though, so that's what he goes with: his progress all had to do with environment.

Nevermind the fact that Joey gained 30 pounds and started sleeping more than six hours per night. And, forget that he can actually touch his toes and do a body weight lunge without tipping over. And, overlook the fact that he is no longer throwing accidental cutters on every pitch because his delivery was so out of whack. Heck, those old shoes may have been terribly constructed and put Joey into horrible positions in his pitching delivery. 

 

If you want to throw hard, you have to firm up on the lead leg...and at the right time and in the right direction. Cleats can definitely help athletes "get away" with a bit more in this regard, as they guarantee a larger base of support (foot stays on the ground) and generally have a lot more medial/lateral support than normal sneakers. It's one reason why many pitchers throw considerably harder outside than they do off indoor (turf) mounds. That said, if you're going to pitch off a turf mound, do yourself a favor and make sure that you've got a sneaker that isn't too flimsy - especially side to side. You shouldn't roll out of the shoe (which we see in the right video). Take note of the same pitcher on the left in the @newbalance #mx20v6, a minimalist sneaker that is lightweight but still provides adequate medial/lateral support. Exact same delivery, but markedly different outcomes. Full disclosure: I helped design this shoe - but the lessons are the same regardless of what you're wearing. Thanks for the demos, @joeryan34! #cspfamily #pitching #pitchingdrills #minimalistshoes

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I know what you're saying: this is an extreme example - and you're right. However, we see a modified version of it all the time. Tom Brady refuses to eat tomatoes. Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles during games. Chris Sale needs to eat fast food to keep his weight up.

Usually, progress is incredibly multi-factorial. The results come not just from a lot of different directions, but from the synergistic interaction of many factors. And, sometimes there are other factors that may confound how we evaluate the path to success.

Tom Brady is still going to be an elite NFL quarterback if he has tomatoes for dinner the night before a game.

The 40 calories worth of Skittles Marshawn Lynch eats on gameday probably have zero impact on his performance.

Chris Sale's slider is going to be absolutely filthy even if he chooses pizza over chicken, broccoli, and rice.

And, in our example above, Joey's progress was completely unrelated to a myriad of things that took place. But, that doesn't mean we can ever really know what percentage was related to strength and conditioning vs. pitching instruction vs. nutrition vs. a host of other factors. We just know that success comes for a variety of reasons, so you have to check a lot of boxes to determine what contributed to that success. And, you have to recognize that unless you have perfectly controlled research studies, you'll likely have a very hard time isolating where the success really originated.

A perfect example of this is the debate on posture's impacts on pain and performance. Anecdotal evidence tells us that it does make a difference, but the research is actually shockingly inconclusive in this regard; we just don't know exactly how big a role (if any) that it plays in one's ability to stay healthy.

With that in mind, I'll be digging a lot deeper on the topic with my presentation, "How Posture Impacts Pain and Performance," at this year's Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar. It will take place on October 22 at our Hudson, MA location - and the early bird registration discount ends tonight (Friday, September 22) at midnight. Click here for more details.

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Are You Training Mobility or Just Mobilizing?

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Frank Duffy. With the early bird registration deadline for our fall seminar being this Friday (9/22), I asked Frank to give us a little glimpse into some of the stuff he'll be covering in his hands-on presentation. Enjoy!

(and you can learn more about the event and register HERE)

The word “mobility” gets thrown around a lot in the fitness industry, and rightfully so. However, the context in which we use it often doesn’t correspond properly with the movements we prescribe to our clients.

In order to appreciate what true mobility training is, I think it’s important to first understand what it isn’t. Wrapping a band around a squat rack and stretching your upper back might feel great and improve passive flexibility when done for long enough periods of time, but improvements in active mobility will not be an outcome. This goes for practically any drill you see within a warm-up prior to a training program. I prescribe a lot of mobilization drills to our athletes where the primary intent is to get them feeling good for their training session. I love Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations, but I’m not going to sit here and say that – by themselves – they are a great way to improve long-term hip abduction mobility.

When training to improve joint mobility, the goal is to improve active range of motion. Mobility, just like any training stimulus (strength, power, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity, etc.) we’re looking to improve follows the same principles of progressive overload in order to elicit an adaptation. Connective tissue, whether it’s a muscle, tendon, ligament, capsule, or bone (to name a few), needs to be placed under mechanical stress to remodel the tissue being addressed.

When implementing the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) system, I like to expose new clients to Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) in order to help them understand how to properly train for long-lasting joint range of motion improvements. While CARs will not directly improve our joint mobility, they do provide us with four main benefits that I’ve listed below.

1. Assessment: CARs are a great tool for assessing the overall ranges of motion at each joint. They allow us to move each joint throughout its full range of motion under voluntary muscular contractions. When active mobility is restricted and joint function is poor, CARs also allow us to determine what our mobility training goals should be.

2. Mechanoreception: The capsule of our joint articulations is home to a high concentration of mechanoreceptors. When stimulated through end-range movements, mechanoreceptors supply the Central Nervous System with afferent feedback with information about the joint’s position in space.

3. Injury Prevention/Training Stimulus: Because CARs are performed under active contractions, the force applied to the surrounding connective tissue is below the threshold for injury (amount of force a tissue could safely absorb). When done at high enough intensity via voluntary muscular contractions, CARs could also provide a strength training stimulus for force production at the targeted joint.

4. Maintenance of Joint Range of Motion: The primary goal of executing CARs daily is to move our joints throughout their full range of motion under some degree of force. This will allow us to maintain our current ranges over time due to consistent exposure.

As mentioned above, CARs are a great way to assess the quality of each joint because they isolate the articulation being moved. Of course, our joints move interdependently with virtually every movement we perform. However, if a joint doesn’t work effectively on its own, it’s not going to work well in a global system under load. A sure-fire way to induce injury is to repetitively load a position when you haven’t prepared the involved joints for force absorption.

To break out even further, the “sticking points” of your CARs allow you to determine the appropriate joint angles at which to perform isometric contractions for both the progressive (lengthened) and regressive (shortened) tissues. By figuring out your active range of motion limitations, you’re able to create positional isometrics to learn how to expand these ranges further.

With individuals that present osseous restrictions like Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI), I still recommend CARs on a daily basis. Regardless of structural orientation, it’s important to move through whatever active range of motion you currently own. As cliché as it sounds, if you don’t use it, you lose it. However, if CARs elicit pain, there’s an underlying issue that should be referred out to an appropriate rehabilitation specialist. Cranking a joint through a painful range of motion and hoping it will get better is just a recipe for further irritation – and an articulation that continues to function at less-than-optimal quality.

Whether you’re the most nimble yogi on the planet or a powerlifter that’s as stiff as a board, you should always seek ways to expand and control your mobility. Remember, mobility always comes back to active range of motion. With this in mind, it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as having “too much” mobility. The more range you can control, the better off you’ll be.

If you’re interested in learning more or finding a provider near you, check out the following links: FR/FRC and Kinstretch.

And, if you're interested in learning more from Frank and the rest of the Cressey Sports Performance team, be sure to check out the fall seminar on October 22. The early-bird registration deadline is this Friday.

About the Author

Frank Duffy is the Coordinator of Strength Camps at Cressey Sports Performance-Massachusetts. He is a Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist (FRCms) and Kinstretch Instructor. You can contact him via email at frankduffyfitness@gmail.com, check out his website, and follow him on Instagram.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/19/17

I hope you all had a good weekend. My wife and I spent a few days in Washington, DC as tourists and baseball fans, and then I gave a shoulder seminar in Virginia before we headed home on a very delayed flight last night.

Let's kick of the week with some recommended reading and listening I covered on my trip. Before we get to it, though, just a friendly remind that September 22 (Friday) is the early-bird registration deadline for the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar in Hudson, MA. You can find details HERE.

Now, let's get to the recommendations:

Complete Single-Leg Training - This is Mike Robertson's brand new resource, and I'm working my way through it right now. All early signs point to it being absolutely outstanding. You can save $50 this week on the introductory discount.

EC on the Pacey Performance Podcast - I joined Rob Pacey on his podcast to talk everything from rotational power development to movement assessments.

From Impossible to Inevitable - This book is largely focused on the growth of larger companies, but there are quite a few pearls of wisdom in there for folks in the fitness industry. It was a good listen; I especially liked the section on niche development.

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In Defense of the Hip Thrust

I've been a fan of barbell hip thrust and supine bridges for approximately seven years now. I'd encourage you to give my What I Learned in 2012 article a read, as it describes how our usage of these drills came about (and does so in an entertaining manner) following a meeting I had with Bret Contreras in 2009. Suffice it to say that initially, I was not a fan of these drills, but in-the-trenches experimentation eventually brought me around.

Recently, there has been some controversy over the utility of hip thrusts, as some newer research publications (here and here) have demonstrated that hip thrust training does not improve sprinting speed. Bret Contreras, the man who popularized the hip thrust, has written a detailed response to these publications. For the record, I think he's handled the situation admirably, and I commend him for all his work adding to the body of knowledge so that we can all have these discussions in hopes of fine-tuning our strength training programs.

That said, not surprisingly, these research findings have created an opportunity for hip thrust critics to say "I told you so" - and several articles have emerged to highlight its lack of efficacy on this front. That said, I found Doug Kechijian's article, 'Science' and the Barbell Hip Thrust, to be the best of the articles that have recently emerged. Doug doesn't utilize the hip thrust, but used this current situation as a means of discussing how we view exercise selection on the whole. I'd strongly encourage you to give it a read.

While I must admit that I wasn't particularly surprised at the lack of carryover to sprinting performance, I don't think it's time to throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. Why? As I've often said:

[bctt tweet="Want to put an exercise in a program? You must be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion."]

In this case, I still have plenty of justifications for including hip thrusts and supine bridges in our programs. I don't think they're ever a perfect replacement for a squat or deadlift, but I do see a role for them in special circumstances, and as assistance exercises. In today's post, I'll outline why I still find these drills to have great utility.

1. Zero Back Pain

Yes, you read that right. In close to a decade of using these drills with clients, athletes, and our coaching staff, I've never seen anyone injured during a hip thrust or supine bridge. For how many other exercises can you say that? Certainly squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, or even single-leg work. In hindsight, it's shocking that a drill that looks like it could be harmful (and this was my initial reluctance to include it) actually has such an excellent record on the safety front. Obviously, we're matching it to the individual and coaching technique, but this is still an impressive observation.

Moreover, I've sold more than 8,000 copies of my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook. It includes barbell supine bridges in phase 2, and barbell hip thrusts in phase 3. This is 8,000+ people who've performed these exercises without my supervision, and I've never had a single email from anyone about an injury. Conversely, I've answered a ton of emails over the years from customers who need modifications because squatting and/or deadlifting aren't drills they can perform pain-free. I think this is remarkably telling; hip thrusts have stood the test of time in terms of safety concerns.

Finally, I've actually seen quite a few individuals who couldn't squat or deadlift pain-free actually perform barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges with zero pain over the course of years. They've bolstered a training effect that otherwise would have been markedly attenuated.

2. Hip thrusts allow us to train the posterior chain without deadlifts in a population that may not do well with scapular depression and downward rotation.

One thing we know about throwing a baseball is that it makes you very lat dominant and tends to drive scapular downward rotation.

As I discuss in this video, scapular upward rotation is incredibly important for throwers.

Sometimes, we'll see athletes who sit in so much scapular depression or downward rotation that we choose to avoid lat dominant exercises and heavy carries/holds in their programs. So, drills like deadlifts, farmer's walks, KB swings, and dumbbell lunges are out of the mix. When you lose deadlifts from a program, you realize that you've lost a big bang exercise for training the posterior chain. Barbell hip thrusts have been a huge help to us in this regard, as they give us a bilateral option for training the posterior chain. Otherwise, it'd be just safety squat bar (SSB) squats and single-leg work, the goblet set-up, belt squats, and glute-ham raise (GHR) variations. And, a lot of people don't have a SSB, belt squat, or GHR!

Interestingly, I can actually think of several instances over the years where we dropped deadlifting from a pitcher's program - and replaced it with hip thrusts - and his shoulder pain went away. I don't think improvements like this happen in isolation, but I have no doubt that it contributed to the reduction in symptoms.

3. Hip thrusts prioritize terminal hip extension, which is actually far more important to baseball success.

I want you to watch these videos of the hips during the baseball swing (and while you're at it, check out Jeff Albert's great guest post for me: Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing).

What I'm hoping you noticed is that while hip extension is incredibly important (for both the front and back legs), there is very little of it occurring in terms of actual range of motion. The same can be said of the pitching delivery; very rarely would a pitching come close to being a 90 degrees of hip flexion on the back hip.

Tim Collins early in his career was the most extreme hip flexion I've seen, and he's not even all the way down to 90 degrees:

In other words, hips thrusts and supine bridges reflect the shorter range of hip flexion/extension motion we see in hitting and pitching than they do for a higher amplitude movement like sprinting.


Source: Darren Wilkinson

To be clear, I'm not saying that squats and deadlifts don't train this range (especially when accommodating resistances like bands and chains are utilized); I'm just saying that hip thrusts and supine bridges train it exclusively and may provide some extra carryover.

4. Hip thrusts allow us to train the lower body without a grip challenge.

Load of gripping can also be an issue during the baseball season. Guys obviously get plenty of it from their upper body work, but when you add in the stress of throwing on the flexor tendons, more work on lower body days can push some pitchers over the edge in terms of forearm symptoms. This can also be an issue during post-operative elbow scenarios, as some surgeons can "beat up" the flexor tendon a bit more during Tommy John surgeries. With these athletes, we'll often plug hip thrusts in to replace deadlifts for 4-8 week spans.

5. The hip thrust helps to maintain a training effect in post-operative elbow and shoulder situations.

Building on my last point, we utilize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges a lot with our post-op clients. If we are talking about a Tommy John surgery, you aren't using a safety squat bar until two months post-op, or deadlifting until closer to five months (and even then, the loading has to be severely restricted). Conversely, provided they have someone to load plates for them, these athletes can hip thrust as early as 4-6 weeks (assuming we aren't dealing with a lower extremity graft site), and loading appreciably by weeks 8-10. That's a huge deal.

Shoulder surgeries are a bit slower to come around, but you're definitely able to hip thrust well before you use the safety squat bar or integrate deadlifts. In short, if you want bilateral loading in a post-operative situation, hip thrusts below right up there in the discussion with glute-ham raises - and serve as a good complement to sled dragging with a belt/harness and various single-leg drills.

6. Hip thrusts don't create much delayed onset muscle soreness.

It's hard to really overload the eccentric (lowering) component of a hip thrust - and this may be one reason why it doesn't carry over to sprinting as much as a squat would. However, this non-soreness-inducing quality can actually be of benefit, as we often want to avoid it with in-season athletes or those trying to achieve a higher volume of work in their training programs. This is actually a perk of several deadlift variations, too.

7. Hip thrusts are a safe way to get in higher-rep sets.

In the quest to put on some muscle, high-rep squatting and deadlifting often wind up getting pretty ugly by the end of the sets unless they're regressed in some fashion (e.g., goblet squats). And, on a personal note, any time that I deadlift for more than eight reps, I get a massive headache that lasts about three days. I've found that higher rep barbell supine bridge (moreso than hip thrusts) are a good option for sets of 12-15 at the end of a session to kick in some extra volume safely. It's pretty darn hard to screw this up, you know?

Thoughts on Loading

On several occasions, I've heard folks criticize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges because even seemingly untrained individuals can use so much weight. It's a valid assertion - but only to a point.

My experience has been that many individuals moving big weights are really short-changing themselves on the last 5-10 degrees of hip extension. They're either stopping short or getting lumbar extension (moving through the lower back). Often, when you fine-tune the technique and make them hold for a count at the top, they'll have to reduce the weight significantly. As a rule of thumb, though, I view the risk:benefit ratio with hip thrusts as being comparable to that of deadlifts in an athletic population; going heavier than 495 pounds probably isn't worth the risk or time involved. You're better off changing the tempo (longer pauses at the top) or switching to a different (and possibly more technically advanced) exercise that doesn't "come naturally" to the lifter. In short, find a different window of adaptation instead of just trying to move big weights through a short range-of-motion.

As an interesting aside to this, my deadlifts are actually significantly stronger than my hip thrusts. It's likely a function of "getting what you train," but I think it's an interesting argument against the idea that even weak people can automatically move big weights.

Last, but not least, remember that relatively untrained people can often push a lot of weight on sleds on turf, and rack pulls are usually substantially heavier than one's deadlift. Does that make them useless, too?

Closing Thoughts

New research is always warranted in any field, but particularly in strength and conditioning, a dynamic industry that has changed remarkably over the past few decades. In many cases, it takes a lot of time and experimentation to understand just how something fits (or doesn't fit) in our training approaches. Personally, I always come back to the "justifying the inclusion of a lift" question I noted earlier in this article. My experience has been that barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges have stood the test of time in this regard - and done so safely. I view them much more as an assistance exercise, as opposed to something that would ever replace squats or deadlifts. However, in the special circumstances I've outlined above, I think they will continue to fill in nicely.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/11/17

I hope that everyone had a good weekend - and that our readers who are all safe in light of Hurricane Irma. Here's a little recommended reading/listening to kick off your week. Before I get to it, though, I should give a friendly reminder that each month, Cressey Sports Performance staff and I upload webinars, in-services, exercise demonstrations, and articles to Elite Training Mentorship. This is a super affordable and thorough continuing education resource that is updated regularly, and I'd encourage you to check it out HERE.

Why "Just Stretch Your Hamstrings" is Bad Advice - This article is a few weeks old, but I'd forgotten to add it to our weekly collection when I first came across it in mid-August. As always, Doug Kechijian hit several nails on the head.

Hip CARs in the Push-up Position - This is a great video Cressey Sports Performance coach Frank Duffy posted recently. It's an excellent example of the interaction between hip mobility and core stability.

7 Ways to Get Strong Outside the Sagittal Plane - I reincarnated this old article from my archives yesterday, as I think it's a collection of important progressions for rotational sport athletes as they kick off the offseason.

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The Success is in the Struggle

Back in my graduate school days, I did some personal training at a gym not far from campus. My days were filled with work in the human performance lab and varsity weight rooms, but I felt like it was really important that I continued to train general fitness clients to become more proficient in that demographic – and help pay the bills.

Like most guys in my early 20s, I thought I had life all figured out. A few months in, my boss informed me that I was due for a performance review. She also mentioned that they were deviating from the “norm” a bit, and that my sit-down meeting would not be with her, but rather, with one of the more experienced trainers, Kris. I didn’t really think anything of it, and the meeting was scheduled for the following week.

Looking back, that meeting was profoundly impactful for me, even if I didn’t fully grasp just how important it was at the time.

Kris first complimented me on what I did well: work ethic, passion, attention to detail, coaching, and book smarts. Looking back, it was a perfect Dale Carnegie approach before I’d ever even read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Eventually, though, the conversation delved into the topic of empathy; she asked me what I thought most of my clients really wanted to get out of their personal training with me.

Here I was, a 22-year-old aspiring powerlifter who thought the world was out to train for a 600lb deadlift and get to 200 pounds at 6% body fat. My most loyal client, though, was a 68-year-old accountant who just didn’t want his neck and shoulder to hurt when he worked out and picked up his grandkids. Another was an elderly woman who was far more concerned about her risk of osteoporosis than her vertical jump.

That day, without telling me I sucked at relating to my clients, Kris taught me a ton about empathy and separating myself from personal biases. She just tactfully challenged me with a simple question. It wasn’t much different than the “guided discovery” approach we use with young athletes when we walk them into a little technique failure so that they can appreciate the wrong pattern.

“Where did you feel that?”

“Can you stop rowing when your elbow hits my hand?”

“See how your nose got to the floor before your chest on that push-up? Can you switch that up?”

Kris saw exactly what I needed to become a better coach, and she delivered the message perfectly. In hindsight, that lesson in empathy and separating myself from personal biases probably made a huge difference in enabling me to be successful in training baseball players even though I wasn’t a baseball player past eighth grade. I had to do a lot more listening and ask a lot more questions. Kris understood this all too well – and modeled it, too: she’d had clients for over a decade!

That was 2003. Now, 14 years later, Kris and I are still good friends. She sent us gifts when our twins were born. I help out with training her son, an up-and-coming pitcher. Of any of my co-workers at that time, she challenged me the most – and she’s the only one with whom I really keep in touch. How is that for impactful? 

I actually reached out to her before posting this blog, and her response included the following:

"I remember this conversation well. I dreaded giving this performance review! I remember thinking that I knew how smart you were (probably smarter than I) and I knew that this trainer job was ultimately not your end point. I wanted to make sure you knew how valuable your knowledge was when applied correctly. How do you tell someone their delivery is not as sensitive as it needs to be??

"I'm so glad that I succeeded in my message and that this lesson has stayed with you. I am honored that you, who I respect immensely, learned something from me. You never really know how much you can impact a person's behavior and thought process."

Now, imagine she’d never spoken up. Or, even worse, if she had – but I wasn’t ready to accept that constructive criticism. I wouldn’t be the coach (or person) I am today. This is why we should be massively grateful to those who not only have constructive criticism to offer, but choose to provide it with the correct approach.

When it really comes down to it, people struggle or fail to improve for one of three reasons.

a) They don’t know what they’re doing incorrectly.

b) They don’t have actionable strategies to address these issues; don’t understand how to employ these strategies; or haven't had enough consistency or success with these strategies.

c) They aren’t willing to change.

In terms of A, it’s important to challenge people tactfully and make them aware of their blind spots. Particularly in the youth sports realm, this is getting to be a very dicey situation. Many kids think they have it all figured out, and more concerning, many parents think coaches “have it in” for their kids, so they block constructive criticism. If we protect kids from understanding their weaknesses, they don’t grow. If we challenge kids, let them know failure isn’t a big deal, and then provide strategies to improve, they thrive. It’s been demonstrated in motor learning research, the educational realm, and social settings. As has often been said, “the success is in the struggle.”

Conversely, some people need help with B. This is the kid who is always late for practice, or always misses breakfast because he oversleeps. He needs time management strategies, and people around him to whom he can be accountable.

Scenario C is far and away the most challenging dynamic. These are situations where you may actually cheer against someone in hopes that they’ll struggle mightily and come to their senses on what needs to change. In an athletic context, it’s usually the kid who is the best player in the history of his town even though he eats fast food at every meal, skips training sessions, and stays up all night. It’s just a matter of time until he runs into genetically gifted competition that is far more prepared and motivated than he is.

Aroldis Chapman throws 105mph – harder than anyone in baseball history – and he has a 4.12 ERA this year. Mike Trout struck out three times in a game earlier this year. Ultimately, no matter who you are, sports and life will humble you in some capacity. Athletes are better off learning these struggles at a young age so that they’ll have strategies for dealing with them for the decades that follow.

What are the take-home messages?

1. Always be open to constructive criticism. In fact, seek it out. You can’t see your blind spots like others can.

2. Don’t protect your kid from constructive criticism, or immediately discredit criticisms of you. Process them before reacting. And remember the person delivering the criticism may actually be really nervous about doing so.

3. If you deliver constructive criticism, be cognizant of matching your approach to the personality of the one who’s receiving it.

4. Always reiterate that failure is part of life and not a big deal. And, if it seems like a big deal – particularly with young athletes – find ways to minimize consequences.

5. If you know why you’re struggling, find and employ strategies to address your weaknesses.

6. Thank you, Kris!
 

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