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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/16/17

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend. The baseball off-season is in full swing and I have several evaluations today, so we'll be sharing some good content from around the web to keep you entertained until I have a spare moment to pull together some content. Check it out:

Resilient Performance Podcast with Dr. Fergus Connolly - Doug Kechijian interviewed Fergus in light of the release of his new book, Game Changer. There's some excellent discussion of the current state of sports science.

Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action - In light of a few recent conversations, I thought it was a good time to reincarnate this guest post from my good friend Eric Schoenberg.

The Older You Are, The Worse You Sleep - I thought this essay from Dr. Matthew Walker for The Wall Street Journal was intriguing. At the very least, it was nice to see a well-researched article on a health topic in a more mainstream publication. 

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2017 CSP Elite Baseball Development Shirts Now Available!

I’m excited to announce that the 2017 edition of the Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Development t-shirts (powered by New Balance Baseball) are now available for sale.  Here's the design:

These shirts are insanely comfortable and run true to size.

Each shirt is $24.99 + S&H. Click the links below to add shirts to your cart:

XXL

Extra Large

Large

Medium

Small

These usually sell very quickly, so don’t delay if you’re interested in picking one up. Enjoy!
 

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes – Part 3

Today is part 3 of Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil's look at periodization for teenage athletes. In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 now. -EC

Programming for athletes that have a higher training age, skill level, and level of maturity becomes much more complex than the methods I outlined in part two of this series. Before some of the concepts I’ll be discussing are even worthwhile, the athlete needs to have achieved close to everything they possibly could from performing basic training OR be at such a high level of athletic skill that we need to weigh several more variables. In this final installment, I’ll outline the main variables that we need to consider and the execution of the programming itself.

Outlining The Variables

1. Athlete Type
2. Athlete Performance Level
3. Time of Offseason & Congruency With Skill Development

Athlete Type: It’s assumed that you’ve either had this athlete for a period of 1+ years or have the ability to figure out what type of athlete he is within a fairly short period of time. Analyzing an athlete’s needs isn’t just checking out how many degrees of motion are in individual joints; it’s about weighing where they fit on the force-velocity curve and figuring out their best avenue for exploitation. Is this athlete incredibly strong, but not fast? Put more of your eggs towards training elasticity/reactive qualities. Is this athlete incredibly fast-twitch, but struggles to deadlift 1.5xBW for sets of 3 to 5? Sounds like someone who needs to put more time into developing maximal strength. While your training should cover all ends of the spectrum, different athlete types need to emphasize different qualities.

Athlete Performance Level: What athletic achievements does the athlete expect to gain from training? How much playing time or what level of competition they are getting recruited to play at next often answers these questions. In our setting, throwing velocity and the fact that college recruiters often bank on it is the determinant of if our training is working. If a HS kid only throws 75 and wants to be recruited to play in college, training needs to be more markedly different than it is for the HS kid who throws 95.

Time of Offseason and Congruency with Skill Development: How much time does the athlete have to train consistently with you before the season begins, and, how does your program align with their skill development? At CSP, our offseason programming is directly aligned with our throwing programs for pitchers. It’s important to appreciate the stress that skill practice can have on your athletes and how this can affect qualities you are trying to train in the gym. All inputs are inputs, all stress is stress.

Programming Principles

At CSP, we use a conjugated periodization scheme with elements of Charlie Francis’ High/Low model. While these posts between concurrent and conjugated periodization schemes are separated, there is a huge gray area between the two. Concurrent periodization doesn’t abruptly end and conjugate periodization begins. Instead, programming becomes slightly more complex as the answers to the questions I outline in part 2 of this series begin to change: they’ve acquired more of a training age, they’ve likely become better at their sport, and hopefully they’ve gained some level of personal maturity. There is a difference between a strictly conjugate and a strictly concurrent program, but many athletes will live in the middle. It’s important to understand what you would do with someone at one extreme, from a raw, 13 year old beginner to an 18-yr old who throws 96 and has been training with you for years.

Within this conjugated scheme, exact exercise selection matters less. This athlete doesn’t need multiple sessions to figure out how to work up to a load that actually creates an adaptation. This concept was originally popularized by Westside Barbell, where their powerlifters changed max effort day lifts as frequently as every 1-2 weeks. With our athletes, people will see the same exercises for at least 4 and often 8 weeks. It’s assumed that the athlete can perform a progression all the way up the chain on a progression/regression scale.

We need to pick exercises that allow the athlete to endure stress that will create a favorable adaptation while avoiding biomechanically offensive positions. That’s it.

[bctt tweet="How we scale stressors in the week and month matter more than the squat/deadlift variation we use."]

In this video, I elaborate on the differences between beginner and advanced periodization within our model and how we address the variables listed above in conjunction with our programming:

I hope this look into our periodization model with teenage athletes gives some insights that help you to manage the training of your up-and-coming athletes.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes: Part 2

This is part 2 of Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil's look at periodization for teenage athletes. In case you missed part 1, you can check it out HERE. -EC

When assessing a youth athlete, the most important information we can gather isn’t the only the specific or general movement-based assessments we run. The importance lies in the questions we ask and our ability to judge what kind of training program for which the athlete is ready. If we assume too simple, it’s easy to still see progress and transition to a more advanced program. Conversely, if we assume too complex, we’ve not only stalled progress, but we’ve potentially caused a host of issues – both physically and psychologically – that we will have to address. The industry is full of people using overly complex methods with people who haven’t earned them yet. Don’t be that guy.

Here are the main points I focus on in making this distinction:

  • Age
    • Actual age: If they’re under 16, it’s definitely going to be a concurrent program, and 16-18 year olds maybe approached the same, based on the answers to the following questions:
    • Biological age: How physically mature are they? Do they present like their actual age?
    • Training age: Have they trained for any period of 6 months – or multiple 3-month periods?
  • Athletic Skill Level
    • How far off from being an elite athlete are they? In our setting, throwing velocity for pitchers is often the determinant of this question.
    • At what level do they compete athletically? Chances are that your middle school, freshman, and JV level players don’t need anything fancy.
  • Personal Maturity
    • This one is much harder to quantify, but a typical fail in this category would include the kid who has his/her mom do the talking for them, or, someone who has no quantifiable goals and has no idea why they’re training.
    • Will they follow a program to a “T?” Or, is this an individual who’ll cut corners and omit the items he/she doesn’t enjoy?

Concurrent Programming Overview

If we look at a force/velocity curve, it’s our job as strength coaches to shift the curve up and to the right as much as we can. When we have a beginner athlete, every quality needs to move in that direction, independent of their sport or time in their competitive calendar. If we look at each quality as a bucket, all of these are empty and we need to fill each of them up. With advanced athletes, we need to assess which buckets are already filled and which buckets are the most empty. The empty buckets need to be filled up for the person to become a better athlete, and we need to consider their competitive calendar. The later in the offseason it is, the more closely the exercises we choose and speeds we prescribe will we need to reflect the movements they’ll actually encounter in sports. With beginner athletes, this doesn’t matter as much.

Strength-speed and speed-strength are also not qualities that we’ll focus on in beginner concurrent model programming. These are more advanced concerns. In beginners, we’ll stick with strength, power, and speed as our big three. Each of these three qualities are going to be trained somewhat equally during an athlete’s first 3-6 months. Chances are these athletes aren’t coming in six days per week, so we will hit each of these qualities every time they walk in the door. A typical session will include a dynamic warm-up, speed work, power work, 1-2 technical lifts, and 4-6 GPP style movements done in a more circuit-based fashion.

In block periodization, there is a phase of accumulation, a phase of transmutation, and a phase of realization. In concurrent periodization, our goal is to accumulate, accumulate, and continue to accumulate strength, power, and speed until we have deemed the athlete ready for more advanced programming.

Exercise Selection

When selecting exercises, there needs to be some form of linear exercise progression that begins with the exercise that is easiest for the athlete to not only learn quickly, but to load in the safest and most efficient manner possible. Lowest barrier to entry is a great term to summarize the exercise selection for this period. Pick movements that are hard for the athlete to screw up. We are looking to pick the exercise that combines the two following principles:

1) Can the person master the technique in an efficient and timely manner? How quickly can we make this exercise safe?

2) Can the person load the exercise in a way that progresses their main performance qualities - strength, power, speed – without technical difficulty of the exercise itself stalling progress?

External load should be the limiting factor for an appropriate exercise progression, as opposed to an athlete being held back by an inability to handle the implement being used (dumbbell, kettlebell, bar).

[bctt tweet="Limiting the learning curve may be the safest and most effective way to maximize the loading curve."]

There’s nothing wrong with keeping a main exercise the same for 12-16 weeks in a beginner. Provide variety in your dynamic warm-ups and unloaded exercises, not your staple loaded exercises. If your reason for programming variety is fun, maybe you should look at your training environment and your personal relationships with the athletes instead of choosing loaded variety to make the athlete enjoy training more. Especially in beginners, everything involving external loading should have a reason; picking a loaded exercise for fun is an asinine reason to program it.

I have these progressions mapped out for each main movement, with a theoretical end point before you change an exercise. For a squat, my progression is as follows:

• Goblet Squat to Box – until the person has awareness of and has owned the bottom position
• Goblet Squat – until the grip becomes the limiting factor towards loading the lower body
• 2KB Squat – until the person can complete sets of 8-10 with 16/20kg bells
• Safety Squat Bar (SSB) Squat – until someone can load 1.5xBW for sets of 3-5

*An athlete might do a front squat in the same spot as an SSB, but I usually find that the SSB is easier for athletes to learn first. We don’t back squat our baseball guys, but other athletes may progress up the chain to that exercise, especially if they’ll have to do it at school.

While these guidelines of progression don’t need to be adhered to strictly, sometimes I will veer off the Goblet or 2KB squat if I think the athlete is either ready for something else for or has stalled on an exercise. My point is simply that it’s important to have general guidelines for progressing exercises in beginners. The key is to make sure you’re not putting someone under a bar when they’re not comfortable with the technique of both the setup and the action.

This is not only true on loaded exercises, but for sprints, jumps, and throws as well. Many sport coaches these kids will have will crush them with lactic work: repeated sprints with inappropriately assigned rep schemes, distances, and rest times – but very few athletes we evaluate have ever been taught a thing about how to sprint more efficiently. As an industry, I think that we have a good understanding of lifting progressions, but power and sprint work isn’t as highly prioritized. If we look at the qualities of the best athletes – the fastest and most powerful with the best rate of force development, but not necessarily the highest strength – this doesn’t make any sense. We need to prioritize these qualities from a young age, at least from a technical proficiency standpoint.

The same principles of technical mastery, erring on the side of too simple and then progress, and lowest barrier of entry apply to sprint, jump, and throw training. While these concepts open up another broad topic, my initial block progressions in a beginner concurrent model are as following:

• Sprints: Work on mastering arm action, marching, and skipping
• Jumps: Learn how to decelerate bilaterally in the sagittal plane before getting into unilateral work, frontal/transverse plane, accelerative and reactive jumps
• Throws: Stationary sagittal plane work, focus on intent and outcome-oriented throwing before going transverse plane and increasing complexity

In part three of this series, I’ll take a deeper dive into how we program using a conjugate method of periodization for our athletes with a higher training age.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes: Part 1

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) coach, John O'Neil. This post was inspired by my Instagram post from 9/1; check it out HERE. Enjoy! -EC

There’s a big flaw in the way we as an industry (myself included) try to learn things. We assume that we have control of all of the variables and often times assume that an athlete is far more advanced than they really are. I get it: it’s fun and exciting as strength coaches to learn a new advanced technique and try to decipher how to best fit it into your model. In this series, I will attempt to define how we differentiate periodization schemes for our beginner and advanced athletes at Cressey Sports Performance CSP). Part one will focus on separating the different types of periodization used at CSP.

At CSP, we use a concurrent/conjugate style of programming that doesn’t strictly adhere to principles of block periodization. The more advanced an athlete is, the more their program might look like it’s block periodization, but there are still elements of it that are far more similar to a concurrent model. The reasons are simple: we train primarily athletes who need to train a multitude of qualities in off-seasons ranging 3-6 months – and they don’t need to be peaked for any individual event. Rather, they need to be ready to perform for periods of greater than half the calendar year. For our high school athletes, this could mean 40-50 games, and for our pro guys, this could be as many as ~190 (spring training, regular season, and post-season). We refer to this hybrid concurrent/block periodization scheme as a conjugate model.

First, let’s define these terms. Taken from Supertraining (Siff, Verkoshansky), a concurrent model “involves the parallel training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed, and endurance, over the same period, with the intention of producing a multi-faceted development of fitness.” A conjugated sequence, as defined by Periodization (Bompa), is a “method of sequencing training to take advantage of training residuals developed within periods of concentrated loading.” We will distinguish between these terms by using concurrent to refer to our athletes with a lower training age, and conjugate to refer to the periodization used with our higher training age athletes. The same book defines block training as “a sequential approach to structuring training in which individual blocks of training which have a distinct focus are linked together.”

(Author’s Note: In researching for this article, I found conflicting definitions of these terms. For the sake of consistency in this series, I will be using the terms as defined in this paragraph.)

Put simply, concurrent is where there is no one main focus; conjugate periodization will have one main focus but will also be training other qualities as supplementary work; and block periodization is a period where we are training one quality at a time. Concurrent periodization will be for athletes who need more general physical preparation (GPP), and conjugate periodization will be for athletes who have earned the right for more specific physical preparation (SPP).

For our beginner athletes, usually ages 13-15, it’s our job to develop and train a multitude of qualities, so the programming will be in a concurrent model. In addition, this could include slightly older athletes (16-18) who don’t have much training experience. While a youth baseball player’s program might look slightly different than someone playing another sport, this is where the greatest overlap between programs for athletes of different sports occurs. If they have something in their program that looks baseball-specific (e.g., a rotator cuff exercise), it’s mainly so they can learn good technique on it for when they’re ready for a more specialized program. It’s also generally used during rest periods from a more important exercise for this age group.

These athletes need everything: strength, speed, hypertrophy, power development, and a host of other things. Everything is in a GPP phase. They need to learn technique on basics such as sprinting, jumping, and changing directions. They need to learn technique on basic lifts: squats, deadlifts, lunges, pushes, and pulls. Most of these athletes only train with us anywhere from 3-6 hours a week, meaning we have a lot of possible information to fit into a concentrated time period.

Using the speed-strength continuum, these athletes will train in every facet of it. They will sprint, throw med balls, move weights relatively fast, and move heavier weights slower. We don’t yet consider time of the competitive season as there doesn’t need to be anything resembling peaking.

Programming for these athletes won’t have anything resembling a block; instead, it will focus on mastering the fundamentals of training so that by the time they’re able to have higher levels of output, they won’t need to spend immense amounts of time learning technique. Loaded exercise selection will be kept within a narrow scope, and they might stay relatively the same for 12-16 week periods. Instead of changing exercises, the variables we’ll change are intensity and volume: basic progressive overload techniques will win. We need to pick the exercises that allow the person to progress towards a position where we need to consider having a more specialized.

When someone is more specialized, the programming will become more of a conjugate model. Exercise selection will be more geared towards training qualities needed for the specific sport. We might change loaded supplementary exercises more frequently to give athletes more exposure to joint positions they need to be strong in, and, each phase will have a specific focus.

Using the strength-speed continuum, the phases will reflect the competitive season. In early offseason, weights might be heavier and the speed of movement will generally be slower. The focus will be closer to the absolute strength end of the spectrum. Late in the off-season, weights may decrease as speed of movement increases, and the focus becomes mimicking speed of sport. Actually playing the sport will start to coincide with training and we have a new host of variables to consider.

Programming for these athletes will be more built around their actual sport training; for example, a baseball pitcher’s throwing program begins to become primary to his training program as the offseason progresses. Exercise selection, while more variable and through a much wider selection than the beginner athletes, will all have a specific purpose that relates back to performing at their sport. Instead of changing intensity/volume primarily and exercise selection secondarily, the intensity/volume will be scaled directly with the offseason of the sport. The exercise selection might vary more because we don’t want our athletes to become specialists at exercises they can load exceptionally well like deadlifts and squats.

In part two of this series, I’ll take a deeper dive into how we program using a concurrent model for our athletes with a lower training age – and when we might consider switching their programming to a conjugate based scheme.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/9/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. I forgot how awesome the playoff baseball time of year was - in spite of the sleep deprivation! Here are a few good reads from around the 'net to kick off your week:

Unplugged - I'm currently working my way through this book from Dr. Andy Galpin, Brian Mackenzie, and Phil White. It's a fascinating, expansive look at technology in our lives, particularly with respect to how we monitor and train for fitness.

Market Toward One Audience and You'll Enjoy the Perks of Many - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, made some awesome points in this recent blog. Effectively, on the road to becoming an accomplished specialist, you have to first be a good generalist.

Thoughts on MLB Player Development - This was a Facebook post I put up later in the day yesterday that could have been a separate blog post.

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Video: Why Serratus Anterior Matters

I've written and spoken a lot about the importance of proper serratus anterior function for shoulder health. In today's video, I want to demonstrate this importance in a non-traditional way: by showing what happens when serratus anterior isn't able to do its job. Check out the impact of long thoracic nerve palsy on shoulder function:

Speaking of shoulder health, today is the last day to get the early bird registration discount on my November 5 shoulder course in Atlanta. You can learn more HERE.

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Video: How to Solidify Your Safety Squat Bar Set-up

We utilize the safety squat bar a ton at Cressey Sports Performance. However, you'll see a lot of variability in how individuals set up their arms while utilizing it. I weigh in on the subject in today's video tutorial:

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/2/17

Happy Monday! The MLB regular season ended yesterday, so you could say that this is yet another reminder that the Cressey family "inseason" has begun. Our craziness starts when all the players' lives slow down a bit. Here's a little recommended reading for you:

Dr. Andy Galpin on How to Unplug from Tech and Social Media - This was a fascinating podcast with Dr. Galpin from Mike Robertson, where they critically review the role of technology and data collection in the training process. The points on the need to unplug from technology and social media really hit home for me, too, and I'll be checking out his book soon!

My Body Let Me Down...Again - This was a great article from Gray Cook on all the potential causative factors for why we may hurt. Many people default to the explanation that their bodies simply fail them, when in reality there were likely a lot of things "missed" on the path to that declaration. Aside from trauma, injuries are rarely just "happenstance."

Breaking Down the Quadruped Thoracic Rotation - Dean Somerset outlines the most common mistakes seen with this common upper back mobility drill.

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*Put the elbows in your pockets.* 👇 When doing chin-ups and pull-ups, you want to be careful about extending the humerus past neutral at the top position. If the elbow moves behind the body, the humeral (upper arm) head can glide forward, irritating the structures at the front of the shoulder. Additionally, the thoracic spine (upper back) becomes excessively kyphotic (rounded), and the scapula may anteriorly (forward) tilt, closing down the subacromial space and exacerbating impingement on the rotator cuff tendons. 👎 On the left, you'll see what this bad position looks like. On the right, you'll see the corrected version. 👍 I’ve found that encouraging athlete to put the elbows in the pockets also makes athletes get the chest to the bar instead of just reaching with the chin and creating a forward head posture. Conversely, if you encourage many young athletes to “just get your chin to the bar,” you get some garbage kipping concoction that looks like Quasimodo on the monkey bars with his pants on fire. So don't do that. #cspfamily #sportsperformance #chinup #pullup #hudsonma #SportsMedicine #shoulderpain

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