Home 2017 October

Strength Training Technique: Why Neck Position Matters

A lot of people debate whether neutral neck positioning is important. I don't think it's even a debatable subject, though. Give today's video a watch to learn more:

As additional "ammo," check out this Tweet I came across the other day. Hat tip to Charlie Weingroff for sharing it. Would you want to put your spine in these extended positions while you squat or deadlift?

If you still think that hanging out in cervical extension all day - and then loading it up when lifting - isn't a problem, then I don't know what else to tell you.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/30/17

I hope you all had a great weekend and are enjoying these World Series games. You can't beat playoff baseball!

Here are some recommended resources for the week:

10 Daily Habits of Healthy Lifters - I contributed a few paragraphs for this compilation at T-Nation, and the end result included several excellent recommendations.

Bored and Brilliant - I had the long car ride from Massachusetts to Florida last week, and this is one of the audiobooks I covered to pass the time. Manoush Zomorodi took an outstanding look at how technology impacts our lives in negative ways. While it wasn't written from a strength and conditioning perspective, I could totally see how to apply its lessons to the fitness realm.

Should You Squat Tall Athletes? - Mike Robertson did a great job tackling this tall subject. Sorry, bad pun.

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Back in 2005, physical therapist John Pallof (@pallofpt) introduced me to an exercise he called the "belly press." It was an anti-rotation drill done with a cable or band in order to challenge rotary stability. 👍 It quickly became a mainstay in the programming at @cresseysportsperformance, and somehow became known as the "Pallof Press." We incorporated the traditional version (demonstrated here), as well as a host of other variations, including half-kneeling, tall kneeling, wide-stance, and split-stance. 👊 That same year, I signed my first book deal. And, as I wrote "Maximum Strength," including the Pallof Press was a no-brainer, as we used it every day in our programs. 👇 This picture was taken on September 16, 2007 for the exercise demonstration chapter. Look how much hair I had. 😲 The story could end here, but sadly, it doesn't. Not surprisingly, the Pallof Press caught on. In fact, if you Google "Pallof Press" today, you'll get 51,200 search results. 👊 Unfortunately, if you search for "Paloff Press," you'll also get 14,800 hits. 🤔 And "Palloff Press?" 18,100. 😕 And "Palof Press?" 5,310. ☹️ Just look at some of the well-known media outlets included in these hit counts, and you'll be embarrassed for them. 😠 This week, one of our college athletes sent me a copy of his program that included a "Pal Off Press." Thinking that there is no way anybody could possibly be this clueless, I Googled it. Sure enough, 512 hits (and 607 if you hyphenate it to "Pal-Off"). I've had enough. 😡 I learned this great exercise from John. And, if you're using it under that name, you learned it (directly or indirectly) from me. So - both as a favor to me and a measure of respect to him - how about you please spell his last name correctly? 🙏 (Sorry, John; thanks for your decade of patience.) #Pallof #NotPalof #NotPaloff #NotPalloff

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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How Rib Cage Positioning Impacts the Pitching Delivery

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders.

While it’s good to know little adjustment of mechanics in a delivery, most pitchers struggle with a few bigger rocks that need to be addressed. One of them that needs attention is rib cage position throughout the throwing motion.

Next to the lower half, the rib cage is probably the most important part of a pitching delivery. It is at the center of the body, and serves as a platform for the shoulder blades to move upon, which in turn, dictates where the hand will be at ball release. 

If you take in a large breath, you’ll realize that your thorax expands, and the opposite occurs when you blow out all your air. For this article, we will call the expansion of your rib cage inhalation/ external rotation, and the opposite exhalation/ internal rotation.

Often, we will see pitchers stuck in a state of inhalation bilaterally, where you can see the bottom of the rib cage popping through the skin. Along with this postural presentation comes an anterior (forward) weight shift, poor anterior core control, scapular depression and downward rotation, and even the possibility of a flat/extended thoracic spine.

From a pitching standpoint, the thorax is the center of the body, and is responsible for transferring force, along with assisting the thoracic spine (upper back) in delivering the scapula. When a pitcher presents an extended posture with an inability to control rib cage and pelvic position, it’s hard to make an efficient rotation at front foot strike, while still holding his line to home plate. The outcome is usually misses up in the zone, along with an inability to throw a sharp breaking ball (hanging curveball/backup slider.)

Furthermore, the anterior weight shift can create a quad dominant loading pattern of the back leg, which will feed into a pitcher stepping more across his body, and ruining the pitcher’s direction to the plate. I’m not saying that a pitcher stepping across his body is the worst thing in the world, but they must possess enough core stability, lead leg internal rotation, and thoracic flexion in order to get to a good position at ball release.

So now, the question becomes: how do I stop this from happening?

- Flexion-bias breathing drills to decrease extensor tone

- Anterior core control exercises like prone bridges, rollouts, fallouts, etc.

- Soft tissue work on accessory breathing muscles, lats, intercostals, etc.

- Educating the athlete to not feed into the pattern by standing/sitting/training in bad patterns

- Drills to drive scapular upward rotation, particularly by prioritizing serratus anterior

- Coaching

Coaching is last on the above list, because it’s by far the most important, and the challenge of coaching is figuring out what an individual needs to be consistent on the mound. If you're looking for details on coaching positioning of the anterior core, I'd highly recommend Eric's Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation. It's a one hour presentation that hits on all the important points you need to understand on this front.

When it comes down to it, positioning of the ribcage can have a serious effect on arm action, extension at ball release, and even lower half mechanics. Therefore, I think it’s important to check the big boxes of pitching mechanics proximal (center) to the body, before moving distally (extremities) to drive the best results on consistency and performance.

About the Author

Christian Wonders (@CSP_Pitching) is the pitching coordinator coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at christian.wonders25@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/24/17

Happy Tuesday! We're a day late with this recommended reading/listening/viewing list, as yesterday was a crazy one in light of the High Performance Handbook sale and a full day of evaluations at Cressey Sports Performance. Then, we wrapped up the day with our annual "Night with the Pros" event.

CSP Fall Seminar Live Tweeting - Frank Duffy was kind enough to live Tweet our annual fall seminar on Sunday, and you can see the "play by play" at this link.

A Roundtable of Rants - This was a compilation of responses from a collection of T-Nation contributors in response to the question, "What's pissing you off right now in the world of fitness or lifting?" As you'll see, my answer was in stark contrast to the rest of panel.

19 Ninja Tricks to Help Your Write Better Training Programs - Mike Robertson provided some outstanding lessons in this podcast. Any coach can benefit from listening to it!

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Versatility and Consistency for Strength and Conditioning Success

If you had to ask me what the single most important factor that makes or breaks someone's strength and conditioning success, I'd immediately answer, "Consistency." The ones who show up and put in the work are the most adherent to the programs, and they develop a host of habits conducive to long-term success. Nobody can really argue with that.

If consistency, then, is a huge goal in any training plan, then what are the objectives that underlay it?

A motivating training environment is obviously important. If you've got good people and energy in your culture, people will want to be consistent.

Novelty is something that inspires other people. People get excited when they experience something new, so subtle or not-so-subtle adjustments to the training program or environment can make a big difference for folks who need an extra boost for consistent attendance.

Progress is big as well. We like to do what we're good at doing - so when you're quantitatively aware of the progress you're making, it feeds back into the motivation that drives consistency.

These are all no-brainers, and I'm sure we could go on and list more key factors influencing consistency. However, one factor that is definitely overlooked is versatile programming.

In other words, you have to be able to modify things on the fly when life gets in the way. Maybe it's tinkering with training frequency/scheduling before a family vacation, shortening a training session when a young athlete is exhausted during final exams, or modifying exercise selection to work around a broken toe. The best programs are the versatile ones - and the best coaches are the ones who understand how to tinker on the fly as needed. If your program and coaching philosophy are too rigid to accommodate these necessary adjustments, consistency will definitely suffer.

What happens, however, when you don't have a coach overseeing your training? How do you make these adjustments?

First - and most obviously - you have to be honest with yourself on how you feel. This is certainly easier said than done, but in my experience, making correct choices on the most obvious decisions is the difference maker for most individuals. For instance, if your nose is running, head is throbbing, and every joint in your body aches, it's probably a much better idea to go home and sleep off the flu than it is to try to plow through a heavy deadlift training session. Most situations aren't this black and white, though. Usually, the tougher decisions are when to push for PRs, add/subtract sets, or make exercise modifications on the fly. "Feel" in this regard comes with experience, and it's usually constantly evolving as you get older and more highly trained.

Second, seek out mentors and training partners to help you along and push you to get better each day. I think this Tweet pretty much sums up this point.

Third, you can outsource. Don't know when you should deload? Adopt a program where deloading periods are already incorporated. Don't know how to design a warm-up that covers all your needs? Have someone else structure it for you so that you don't miss anything. Want something flexible enough to accommodate a busy travel schedule? Get a program where training frequency can be rotated from week to week.

These are all problems I worked hard to solve for my audience when I created The High Performance Handbook. This resource has different programming options based on assessment outcomes, and supplemental conditioning approaches that can be individualized to one's goals (fat loss, athletic performance, etc.). Each phase has 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week lifting options to provide options for various time throughout the training calendar, whether it's an in-season/off-season athlete or an accountant that needs something with less frequency during tax season. I include modifications for folks who may have equipment limitations, and also suggestions on how to tinker with the program if you're an overhead athlete, older lifter, or someone looking to add more muscle mass. In short, I worked hard to create what I believe to be the most versatile strength and conditioning resource available on the market today. And, I'm happy to say that it's on sale for $50 off - the largest discount we've ever offered - through this Monday at midnight. For more information, check out www.HighPerformanceHandbook.com.

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The Biggest High Performance Handbook Sale of All Time

I'm psyched to announce that my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook, is now on sale for $50 off the normal price. This is the largest discount I've ever offered on the product, and you can pick it up through the end of the weekend. Check it out HERE.

Don't miss out on this chance to pick up a super versatile training system at a huge discount!

 


 

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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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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series