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Strength and Conditioning Stuff you Should Read: 4/6/19

It's time for my first installment of recommended reading for April of 2019. Here goes...

EC in St. Louis Seminar Announcement - I'll be speaking in St. Louis on June 2, and I'd love to see you there.

Why Rotating Exercises is Critical for Long-Term Progress - Mike Robertson might have authored the top article of 2019 here. I can't possibly agree more with the points he makes.

The Dichotomy of Leadership - I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through this audiobook from Leif Babbin and Jocko Willink. If you liked "Extreme Ownership," you'll love this one, too.

Corey Kluber on the Elite Baseball Development Podcast - My first podcast was a great hit; be sure to listen to one of the best pitchers in the game share his thoughts on Pitch Design, Developing a Process, and Preparing for Long-Term Success.

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Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Corey Kluber

We're excited to welcome two-time American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to this week's podcast. A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 20-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Show Outline

  • Corey’s journey to MLB and the developmental years he spent in college and minor league baseball to grow into the player he is today.
  • The establishment and refinement of Corey’s process.
  • Corey’s creation of routines to inspire comfort on game day.
  • The pre-pitch routine and mental approach Corey implements when he toes the rubber.
  • Having a feel for pitches, reading hitters, and building a relationship with the catcher to have the ability to make adjustments on the fly and compete at the highest level.
  • The design of Corey’s pitching arsenal, including: developing his slider, learning to throw a 2-seam fastball, and having confidence in the changeup.
  • A discussion of the throwing and training programs Corey relies on to remain durable.
  • The entertaining story of CSP-MA pitching coordinator Christian Wonders' first day throwing with Corey.
  • What advise current Corey would give to the teenage, college, and minor league Corey Kluber

You can follow Corey on Instagram at @ckluber28, and on Twitter at @CKluber. To learn more about The Kluber Foundation's charitable initiatives, be sure to check out www.CoreyKluber.org.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 20 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 33

It's time for this month's installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. In light of my ongoing 30% off sale (ending Sunday at midnight) on my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions resource (enter coupon code BASEBALL at checkout for the discount), I thought I'd focus this edition on the shoulder.

1. If you want a healthy shoulder, getting tobacco products out of your life is a good place to start.

The research is pretty clear: smoking is a bad idea (and an independent risk factor) if you're looking to stay healthy from a musculoskeletal standpoint, or have a good outcome in rehabilitation (whether conservative or post-surgical) . Here's an excerpt from a recent study with an excellent review of the literature:

"Cigarette smoking adversely affects a variety of musculoskeletal conditions and procedures, including spinal fusion, fracture healing, surgical wound healing, tendon injury and knee ligament reconstruction. More recently, smoking has been suggested to negatively impact rotator cuff tear pathogenesis and healing. Tobacco smoke contains nicotine, a potent vasoconstrictor that can reduce the blood supply to the already relatively avascular rotator cuff insertion. Furthermore, carbon monoxide in smoke reduces the oxygen tension levels available for cellular metabolism. The combination of these toxins may lead to the development of attritional rotator cuff tears with a decreased capacity for healing."

Many times, we're looking for the best exercise, rehabilitation protocol, soft tissue treatment, or volume amounts - but we really ought to be looking at lifestyle factors.

With a large baseball readership on this site, the logical next question: are these harmful effects also noted with smokeless tobacco (i.e., dip/chew)? The research is somewhat sparse, as it's harder to study a younger, active population than a bunch of middle-aged post-operative rotator cuff patients. However, it's hard to believe that the aforementioned carbon monoxide implications would cause 100% of the issues and that the nicotine would serve as just an innocent bystander. So if you're looking to check every box in your quest to stay healthy, it's not a bad idea to lay off the dip.

And, if healthy tendons aren't enough to convince you, do yourself a favor and read this article by Curt Schilling.

2. The 1-arm, 1-leg landmine press isn't a mainstay in your training programs, but can be a perfect fit in a few circumstances.

This looks like kind of a wussy exercise, but I actually really like it in two circumstances.

a. It's awesome in a post-surgery period when you can't load like crazy, but still want folks to be challenged in their upper extremity progressions. The single-leg support creates a more unstable environment, which means that antagonist activity is higher and there is more work going to joint stability than actual movement. In other words, it makes pressing safer.

b. Once we get to the inseason period, it allows us to check two boxes with a single exercise: single-leg balance and upper body strength (plus serratus activation/scapular upward rotation).

3. Posterior pelvic tilt increases lower trap activation.

I've written about it a lot in the past: core positioning has an incredibly important impact on shoulder function. Check out this study on how reducing anterior pelvic tilt increases lower trapezius activation during arm elevation and the return from the overhead position.

In my experience working with extension-rotation athletes (particularly baseball players), one of the biggest risk factors for shoulder injury is when the lower trapezius can't keep up with the latissimus dorsi. Just consider the attachment points of the lat in the picture below; as you can imagine, if you posteriorly tilt the pelvis, the lat is inhibited, making it easier for lower trap to get to work.

The lower trapezius is very important for providing posterior tilt (slight tipping back) of the scapula and assisting in upward rotation. These two functions are key for a pitcher to get the scapula in the correct position during the lay-back phase of throwing.

By contrast, the lat has more of a "gross" depression effect on the scapula; it pulls it down, but doesn't contribute to posterior tilting or upward rotation. This might help with an adult rotator cuff pain patient who has an aggressive scapular elevation (shrug) substitution pattern, but it's actually problematic for a thrower who is trying to get his scapula up and around the rib cage to make sure that the ball-on-socket congruency is "flush" when it really matters: the maximal external rotation position.

As such, you can say that the lat and lower trap "compete" for control of the scapula - and the lat has a big advantage because of its cross-sectional area and multiple attachment points. It's also much easier to train and strengthen - even if it's by accident. Upper body work in faulty core positioning (in this case, too much anterior pelvic tilt and the accompanying lumbar extension) shifts the balance to the lats.

We'll often hear throwers cued "down and back" during arm care drills. The intention - improving posterior tilt via lower trap activation - is admirable, but the outcome usually isn't what's desired. Unless athletes are actually put in a position of posterior tilt where they can actually feel the lower traps working, they don't get it. Instead, they pull further down into scapular depression, which feeds the lat-dominant strategy. This is why we teach almost all our throwers to differentiate between depression and posterior tilt early on in their training at Cressey Sports Performance.

If you're looking to learn more about how I assess, program, and coach at the shoulder, be sure to check out my popular resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. It's on sale for 30% off through Sunday at midnight; just enter the coupon code BASEBALL at checkout to get the discount. Learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Opening Day Sale!

It's Opening Day, which is basically my favorite "holiday" of the year. I'm a huge baseball fan, and it means there is plenty of awesome Major League Baseball action to watch, including 39 Cressey Sports Performance athletes on MLB rosters to kick off the season.

To celebrate, I've put my resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, on sale for 30% off through Sunday at midnight. This has been one of my most popular resources of all time, so don't miss out on this great chance to pick it up at an excellent discount. Just head to www.SturdyShoulders.com and enter the coupon code BASEBALL at checkout to get the discount.


 

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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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Free Presentation: Hip Shoulder Separation in Rotational Athletes: Making Sense of the Thoracic Spine

We're really proud of what we've created with the CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast. And, we're confident you will really like it, too - so we'd love it if you'd subscribe to the opt-in box below so that we can notify you each time a new episode goes live. To sweeten the deal, o start, everyone will receive free access to my 35-minute presentation, Hip Shoulder Separation in Rotational Athletes: Making Sense of the Thoracic Spine. I delivered this presentation to a packed house at the popular Pitchapalooza seminar, and it's yours free when you opt in.

Only email address is required; you'll be emailed the access link right away (be sure to check your junk mail folder): 

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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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5 Great Kettlebell Exercises for Baseball Players

Today's guest post comes from Seattle-based physical therapist, Dan Swinscoe. Enjoy! -EC

Kettlebells have come a long way since they were used as weights on scales in the open air markets of eastern Europe about two hundred years ago. For exercise purposes, they’ve been called everything from an ancient Russian tool against weakness to a cannonball with a handle. One thing is for sure, though: since Pavel Tsatsouline introduced them to the US about 20 years ago, they have become staples in most gyms and rehab centers, including my own.

Physical therapist Gray Cook once said, “Dumbbells will make you strong, but kettlebells will make you efficient.” It’s the shape that makes them great. Because of the offset handle, when gravity acts upon the bell, you are forced to control it in two planes of motion, not just one (as with a barbell or dumbbell). It’s for this reason that they are one of my favorite tools to rehabilitate and train baseball players.

Which exercises will be the best for you depends on your individual needs – which are determined by a good assessment. However, my list below should have you pretty well covered – even if many good exercises didn’t make the list. In particular, I’m leaving out the single arm and double arm swing on purpose because they are so well known. I think they are awesome and I recommend them, but with this article I am hoping to bring some lesser known but invaluable kettlebell exercises to light. The KB snatch is also a great and popular exercise, but I don’t teach it to my pitchers.

Based on research from OnBase University, no matter how they throw or what pitch they’re throwing, pitchers have to do five things well to be successful. They need to 1) control their upright posture, 2) stride 85% of their height, 3) interact with the ground, 4) control their core, and 5) control their arm. Not every pitch is perfect and no pitcher is perfect, but the more we improve those five things, the better the performance and the more protected they are against injury.

Because injuries to pitchers are more common than to position players, I am biasing my list to what pitchers need most. Here are my top five kettlebell exercises to help the pitcher.

1. Pivot Lunge/Pivot Clean.

This is a great drill for training leg strength and control over momentum (as needed for pitching). We speak in terms of the lead leg, but we have athletes go both directions. Master the skill with the pivot lunge before progressing to the pivot clean. Once the athlete knows how to do both, we usually program it so that they combine them in one set. As an example, for a set of 10, the first five reps are pivot lunges and the next five reps are pivot cleans – and then switch sides. This is a unique advantage to the kettlebell. Lunges are okay with a dumbbell, but once you begin cleaning, the KB is distinctly better.

Trains: stride, upright posture, ground interaction, core control, arm control):

2. Turkish Get-up with Screwdriver

This exercise has a lot going on. To help simplify things, we first teach them separately. When we isolate the screwdriver, we teach it first supine (face up), then progress to side-lying, and then into the side plank position. Each version is slightly more challenging than the previous one because each version adds another body segment to have to control. The TGU and the screwdriver each have value on their own. We will combine them once the fundamentals are mastered and the athlete has demonstrated the ability to handle the complexity of this challenge. More than anything else, this exercise trains the player to improve rotator cuff control of the ball on the socket. However, it also demands scapular control and challenges the cross body patterning connecting that shoulder to the opposite hip via the core. Oblique abdominals and serratus anterior are huge with this drill. Once the movement is mastered, the load can be progressively increased so strength can be gained.

Trains: upright posture, stride, interaction with ground, core control, arm control)

3. Offset Kettlebell Front Squat

With this exercise, we get a nice challenge to scapular stability on the side holding the kettlebell, especially as the bell gets heavy. However, the real benefit of this squat version is how we also get contralateral stability challenges in the frontal plane for both the core and hips (in addition to the usual sagittal plane challenges with other squats). I especially like this style of squat because the challenge is very high with weight that seems small compared to barbell squat variations. This way, I get high muscle stress with low joint stress. For this reason, it’s my #1 squat choice for players when training in season.

Trains: upright posture, interaction with ground, core control, arm control


 

4. Dynamic Rows

This exercise has the athlete in a hinge position, which challenges the posterior chain. However, while maintaining that hinge, rotation of the torso is accelerated and decelerated bilaterally. The dynamic nature is an additional challenge from standard rowing exercises. It also forces the rotator cuff and scapula stabilizers to work and work quickly.

Trains: upright posture, core control, arm control

5. Open Half-Kneeling Hip Mobility

Improving stride length is something a lot of pitchers need to do. Improving this mobility so that it sticks can sometimes be a challenge. I think the reason this drill works so well is because of the load of the kettlebell. The weight of the bell assist the player into “depth,” and because he’s doing this actively, the weight seems to give the nervous system more to feel. The gains seem to stick. Players also seem to universally like how it feels to them. Any exercise that is liked gets done more often. This one feels good.

Trains: upright posture, stride

I hope you find these kettlebell exercises useful. If this is your first exposure to kettlebell training I would recommend you seek professional coaching when you are able. Keep in mind some of these exercises take time to master. But like other investments they are worth the payout in the end.

A special thanks to Cardinals pitcher Ian Oxnevad (@ioxnevad) and University of Washington commit Cole Fontenelle (@cole.fontanelle) for their modeling services.

About the Author

Dan Swinscoe, MPT, CSCS is a physical therapist in Issaquah, WA. He practices at Peak Sports and Spine Physical Therapy and teaches his own class, Kettlebells for Clinicians. You can follow him on Instagram (@danswinscoe) and email him at baseballrehab@gmail.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/25/19

I hope you had a great weekend. Here's a little strength and conditioning content from around the 'Net to get your week started on the right foot:

Mastering the Basics MUST Precede Embracing a Specific Methodology - John O'Neil is our Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance - MA, and with that role, oversees our internship program. In this article, he discusses a trend he's observed in up-and-coming coaches. This is one of the most important articles I've read this year.

15 Static Stretching Mistakes - This is one of my most popular articles of all-time, and I wanted to reincarnate it from the archives in light of a conversation I had the other day.

The Top 19 Nutrition Myths of 2019 - The crew at Examine.com never disappoints, and this article is no exception.

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