Home 2019 March

Vertical Shin and the Pitching Delivery

I came across this picture of Cressey Sports Performance athlete Corey Kluber on the Cleveland Indians Instagram feed the other day, and it reminded me to write this blog that I've had on my mind for quite some time.

It's not an exactly perfect measure, but a vertical shin on the push-off leg during the pitching delivery is a pretty good indicator of pitchers having good direction to the plate.

When the knee drifts forward over the toes, it's a pretty good sign that hip loading isn't optimal in the sagittal plane (hip flexion). Rather, the pitcher is "dumping" into the quad on the support leg. Additionally, unless you have really good ankle mobility (into dorsiflexion) it's hard to preserve a large base of support (i.e., the entire foot) through which you can apply force to the ground. The more the knee drifts forward, the more likely the heel is to come up off the ground.

Corey is a great example of a vertical shin, and it's particularly impressive because he has quite a bit of extra "coil" in his leg lift, which can often make pitchers spin out of the hip and get rotational early. His ability to load back into hip flexion and apply force into the ground improves his direction to the plate and, in turn, his consistency and command (only 34 walks in 215 innings last year).

Some great pitchers - Chris Sale and Jake Arrieta, for instance - will sacrifice good direction to the plate in order to optimize deception and/or stuff. In spite of the fact that they don't preserve heel contact along the rubber quite as long, they still preserve stability long enough into the delivery to make it work. You'll also notice these pitchers use their glove sides and "aggressive" stiffness into the front leg to bring them back on line. It's a higher maintenance delivery, but it can still be nasty. And, chances are that the success will be more related to the stuff than pristine command.

My feeling is that with young pitchers, we want to coach to improve direction. They don't have a body of work to support the legitimacy of putting themselves into bad positions. This is where good footwork and intent during catch play is so imperative; it's where they hammer home direction and learn to load into the hip instead of drifting into the knee. Long-time Cressey Sports Performance athlete Tim Collins might be the best I've ever seen in this regard, and this is one reason why he's pitched in the mid-90s at a height of 5-7 throughout his pro career.

In more advanced pitchers, you have to ask whether they've a) had success and b) stayed healthy. If the answer to both these questions is "yes," then my feeling is that you leave the direction alone and instead focus on taking care of optimizing their physical preparation.

As example, a pitcher with a less vertical shin and more closed off delivery will need more hip internal rotation, thoracic rotation, and scapular upward rotation to get to consistently throw to the glove side. And if they can't do these things well, they'll often rip off accidental cutters to the glove side, have balls run back over the plate, or just sail fastballs up and armside.

Last, but not least, my business partner (and CSP pitching coordinator) Brian Kaplan made a really good point recently: pitch "tunneling" is generally going to be significantly better for pitchers who have better direction. It makes sense, as less moving parts equates to more consistent vertical and horizontal release points, and a more direct delivery to the plate likely makes it harder for hitters to gauge depth (even if they are likely sacrificing some deception). If there is one thing our Major League hitters have told me about facing Kluber, it's that everything looks exactly the same until the split-second.

 


So, long story short, you can't separate direction from pitch design and physical preparation; they all work together. And if you're looking for a good measure of direction, vertical shin (or something close to it) is a pretty good place to start.

If you're looking to learn more about how we assess, program, and coach pitchers - both in terms of strength and conditioning and mechanics - - you won't want to miss our Elite Baseball Mentorship Upper Extremity course. Our next offering will take place at our Hudson, MA location on June 23-25. You can learn more HERE.

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Baseball Athleticism: It’s Probably Not What You Think It Is

A few weeks ago, I was in Ft. Myers to deliver an in-service for the Minnesota Twins sports medicine staff, and one of the strength and conditioning interns asked me a question:

"I'm new to baseball. If there was one important reminder you'd give to someone in my position with respect to working with baseball players, what would it be?"

My response:

"You have to emotionally separate yourself from your perception of what makes athletes successful. Often, baseball players are successful because of traits and characteristics as much as they are actual athleticism."

Think about it...

We've seen position players who are phenomenal athletes who didn't make it to the big leagues because they couldn't hit breaking balls.

We know of absolutely electric arms who never panned out at higher levels of pro ball because they didn't have effective secondary offerings to complement their fastballs.

We've watched underwhelming physiques hit mammoth homeruns, and we've watched bad bodies on the mound dominate hitters because they've mastered a knuckleball.

Do you think these absurdly long fingers might be able to learn an elite changeup faster than ones that are, say, six inches shorter?

And, do you think this insanely long middle finger might impact how well he can throw a slider?

Don't you think this freaky hypermobility might be advantageous for this pitcher to contort his body in all sorts of directions to create deception and get way down the mound?

Hitters with 20/10 vision are going to stand a better chance of making it to the big leagues than those with 20/40.

I'm not saying you should encourage baseball players to be sloppy fat or weak, or to encourage them to avoid stretching or lifting. I'm just telling you that you need to appreciate that every athlete is successful for different reasons. Some of these traits will impact how you train that player, and others won't matter much at all. Either way, appreciate that baseball players rarely look, run, or jump like chiseled NFL wide receivers. And, more importantly, figure out how to heavily leverage and protect the exact characteristics that make them great.

If you're interested in learning about how your own unique structural and functional characteristics - and how they relate to your on-field performance and training preparations - I'd strongly encourage you to consider a visit to a Cressey Sports Performance facility to get a thorough evaluation to determine where your deficiencies exist. When you put a video evaluation of pitching/hitting alongside a thorough movement screen, it can be a very powerful combination to unlock hidden potential. For both amateur and professional players, we offer both short-term consultations and a more extensive Elite Baseball Development Summer Collegiate Program.

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Exercise of the Week: Heiden with Medicine Ball

Here is a good frontal plane power development exercise that Cressey Sports Performance - FL co-founder Shane Rye introduced recently. Because we aren’t very creative, we just call it a Heiden with Med Ball.

Important coaching cues:

1. The medicine ball (usually 6-10lbs) is held (but NOT bear-hugged) as a counterbalance that helps an athlete load back into the hips on the eccentric component. As such, this is an awesome drill for rotational athletes who tend to drift into the knee instead of loading back into the hip. This side angle should help you to appreciate it better:

2. You’ll notice that the arms still move side to side in conjunction with the lower body pushoff. If the arms aren’t moving, it’s a sign that you are holding the ball too rigidly. You should actually be able to see hip-shoulder separation.

3. Make sure that you are wearing sneakers that provide good lateral support.

4. We’ll usually program 3-6 sets of 4-6 reps, and perform these after a warm-up, but before more aggressive sprint and agility work.

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The 4 Most Common Barbell Hip Thrust Technique Mistakes

As I've written previously (see In Defense of the Hip Thrust), I'm a fan of barbell hip thrusts (and supine bridges). Like most exercises, though, there are some common technique pitfalls. This week, on my Instagram, I featured the four most common mistakes I see in this regard. Check them out: 

 
 
 
 
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This is my second installment of this week's series on coaching cues for the barbell hip thrust. Today, we'll focus on weight distribution through the foot. 👇 Often, you'll see individuals go up to the balls of the feet and toes when they're at the top position. This can occur because the individual has either set up with the feet too far away from the hips, or because a quad-dominant individual is actually trying to extend the knees to lift the weight. 🤔 In the former instance, the quick fix is to move the heels a bit closer to the body in the starting position so that the knees end up at a 90-degree angle at the top position (hip extension w/knee flexion). In the latter instance, it can help to a) tell the athlete to go barefoot (more heel contact = more posterior chain recruitment) or b) imagine grabbing the floor as if you're trying to pick up a basketball with your arch. 👍 Thanks to @nickcioffi_14 for the demo and @pete_dupuis for the design work. #cspfamily #hipthrust #glutebridge

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This is my third installment of this week's series on coaching cues for the barbell hip thrust. Today, we'll cover head/neck posture. 👇 Often, you'll see individuals go into a forward head posture at the top position. As a result, they wind up jacking up their neck when they're trying to train the lower body. This can occur because the individual has tried to preserve the line of sight from the starting position even though the torso angle has changed due to the hip extension further down. 👎 A quick "make a double chin" cue usually cleans it up, especially with athletes who've built up a lot of context for neutral neck posture with other exercises. If it doesn't, however, I like to just put the palm of my hand an inch in front of their face on warm-ups as an external focus cue; if they make contact with it, they're slipping into forward head posture. 👍 Thanks to @nickcioffi_14 for the demo and @pete_dupuis for the formatting. #cspfamily #hipthrust #glutebridge

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This is my fourth and final installment of this week's series on coaching cues for the barbell hip thrust. Today, we'll look at hip/spine positioning at the finish position. 👇 Often, you'll see individuals substitute extension of the lumbar spine (lower back) for hip extension, especially at the top position. The gluteus maximus is a terminal hip extensor, which means that those last 10 degrees of hip extension are crucial. It's very easy to load up a lot of weight and come up short on this exercise - or just find bad motion through the wrong place (spine). 👎 The correct finish position has a straight line from the knees to the top of the head, with the glutes activated in the top position. When done correctly, this exercise should lead to zero lower back discomfort (or soreness the next day). 👍 Thanks to @nickcioffi_14 for the demo and @pete_dupuis for the formatting. #cspfamily #hipthrust #glutebridge

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/4/19

I'm working on getting back on an every Monday schedule with this recommended reading feature. Here goes!

8 Training Tips for the New Dad - My wife is scheduled for a C-section this Friday as we make the Cressey crew a party of five. It seemed like a good time to bring this article I wrote back in 2016 (two years after our twin daughters were born) to the forefront again.

Dr. Stu McGill on the Strongfirst Podcast - Interviews with Stu never disappoint, and this is a great example.

Assessments: Can Your Clients Actually Do What You Want Them To Do? - This was an excellent post from my long-time friend, Tony Gentilcore.

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*LANDMINE PRESS PROGRESSIONS* 👇 If you’ve followed my work for any length of time, you know all too well that I’m a huge fan of landmine press variations as shoulder friendly upper body pushing options. Here’s how we progress them (be sure to swipe left for a demonstration of each one): 💪 1️⃣Standing Landmine Press – I like this option first for most athletes because the standing position provides for a more horizontal line of pressing, which allows folks to get away with a bit less scapular upward rotation. It can also be helpful in untrained clients who don’t have the strength to press the bar “strictly” from the upper body yet. They can use a bit of lower body contribution (similar to a push press) to get the weight moving. 2️⃣Half-Kneeling Landmine Press – It’s a slightly narrower base of support than in the standing position, and requires more scapular upward rotation to get the job done. And, you can’t use any body English to get the bar moving; it has to be strict. 3️⃣Split-Stance Landmine Press – This builds on the standing landmine press, but with a narrower base of support. And, it’s more challenging stabilization-wise than the half-kneeling landmine press because there are fewer points of contact with the floor, and the center of mass is further up away from the base of support. 4️⃣Low to High Rotational Landmine Press – This is an opportunity to get more athletic with the motion and really focus on transferring force from the lower body to the upper body. 5️⃣Squat to Landmine Press – This one challenges whole-body mobility and an athlete’s ability to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body. 6️⃣Reverse Lunge to 1-arm Landmine Press – There are a few moving parts to this, but most athletes who have solid single-leg strength, good core control, and a grasp on the basic landmine press variations will do well on it. There are other options (e.g., tall kneeling, seated) on the landmine press that we’ll occasionally use, but these six constitute ~95% of all the landmine presses you’ll find in @cresseysportsperformance programs. What other variations do you like? Thanks to @nickcioffi_14 for great demos! #cspfamily

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Why Fitness Industry Hiring is Different Than What You Think It Is

In the past, I've written a few times about how when we want to expand our staff at Cressey Sports Performance, we only hire from our internship program. In hiring, the goal is to get someone who is both competent for the job AND a good fit for your culture. We can teach that competency in an internship, but just as importantly, an internship give us 3-5 months to evaluate whether an individual is the right fit from a personality standpoint. We actively involve our current staff in hiring to make sure that they're the ones helping to shape this culture. I can't recall exactly, but I believe I initially heard the competency/fit discussion in a book from Richard Branson and his hiring practices at Virgin.

This is an important lesson for all businesses, but I'd argue that the fitness industry is unique in that the pendulum swings much more in the direction of "fit." Why? My theory is that it's because the barrier to entry in this industry is so low that very few candidates show a level of competency so overwhelming that they're "must-hires."

Just last week, my theory was put to the test when a large company reached out to me on a reference check on one of our former interns who'd applied for a job. Here was the email I received:

Hi Eric,

I was given your information from <name removed> regarding a professional reference. Would you be able to answer the following questions, in a timely manner?

How long have you know him or her?

What is him or her work ethic?

What management style is conducive to their success?

What is one strength and one opportunity for improvement?

Strength:
Improvement:

Eligible for rehire?

Thank you!

You see where I'm going with this? Not a single one of those questions was specific to this candidate's competency for the position? She didn't ask me whether he had memorized the Krebs Cycle or could differentiate between linear and conjugate periodization.

It's crazy, but competency is actually either a) assumed or b) viewed in a way that the organization thinks they can teach a candidate everything they need to know to be successful...as long as they're a good fit.

What does this mean for up-and-coming fitness and strength and conditioning professionals? Let your resume speak to your competencies, but utilize interviews and your references to show just how awesome you are from a fit standpoint. And, if you're looking for a job at a particular location, get in front of your potential employer in person before applying. That might mean doing a facility visit to observe, dropping off your resume in person, or actually doing a lengthier internship at that location.

Our hiring processes are one of the subjects Cressey Sports Performance co-founder Pete Dupuis and I cover in great detail in our Business Building Mentorship. Our next offering is April 7 at our Jupiter, FL location. For more information, click here

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