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Quad Pulls in Baseball

Q: There have been a few quadriceps pulls in MLB this year. Have you seen these before in baseball players? What gives? A: This is why I love baseball; it's probably one of the most at-risk sports you'll ever see (particularly in pitchers). Here's a little excerpt from a slide in a recent presentation I gave on training for overhead athletes: -Very Long Competitive Season >200 games as a pro? >100 College/HS? -Unilateral Dominance/Handedness Patterns Asymmetry is a big predictor of injury Switch hitters – but no “switch throwers!” -The best pitchers – with a few exceptions – are the tallest ones. The longer the spine, the tougher it is to stabilize. -Short off-season + Long in-season w/daily games = tough to build/maintain strength, power, flexibility, and optimal soft tissue quality Specific to the quad pulls, I'd add to this list that baseball guys rarely hit top speed; all of their sprint work is done in acceleration, where the quads are dominant. Factor in that they spend a lot of time sitting on airplanes/buses, and it's no surprise that they'd get tight anteriorly. It's why it's so important to really hammer on hip mobility in any population that sits a lot.

The stop and go nature of the sport also dictates that strains would be common, whether they are groins, hip flexors, hamstrings, or quads (likely rectus femoris, which is a hip flexor that can get overactive, particularly alongside poor psoas function). So, all that said, before anyone jumps to conclusions and tries to criticize some strength coach, it's important to consider: a) the certain amount of happenstance that occurs with any baseball player due to the nature of the game and the season b) what that athlete does on his own in the off-season In terms of "b," I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff, unfortunately. For many guys, it becomes a leg extensions and curls off-season if they're on their own - or they do nothing. I'd like to think that our success in working with baseball guys is not just in the fact that we've made the programming good, but also in the fact that we've changed the culture a bit in our guys: they appreciate what lifting is doing for them and look forward to getting after it in the gym. Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1 By: Eric Cressey The management of pitchers between starts is one of the most debated topics in the world of baseball training.  Some pitching coaches want multiple throwing sessions between starts, while others insist that a single bullpen is sufficient.  Athletic trainers debate on whether or not a pitcher should ice after a throwing session.  And, specific to my realm of expertise, there are differing opinions on what kind of running programs are appropriate for pitchers between bouts of throwing. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm a pretty well-read guy - and I can honestly say that I've never read anything along the lines of a truly logical argument for or against a specific running program for pitchers.  So, I guess that's where I come in with this piece. With that in mind, I'll be very blunt with you: I despise distance running for pitchers (and the overwhelming majority of other athletes, for that matter).  While many pitching coaches are probably reading this and cursing my name already for going against the norm, I'd encourage you all to hear me out on this.  Below, I'll outlined NINE reasons why distance running is not the correct course of action - and then, in my next installment, outline a new model for training between starts that we've used with great success at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels. Why Distance Running is Not the Answer Reason #1: Immunity Concerns As a strength and conditioning coach, my number one priority in working with athletes is to keep them healthy.  This refers not only to musculoskeletal health, but also general health.  In an outstanding 2006 review, Gleeson wrote that "postexercise immune function depression is most pronounced when exercise is continuous [and] prolonged."  Interestingly, this review also noted that many of these symptoms are "attributable to inflammation of the upper respiratory tract rather than to infectious episodes (1)."  In other words, distance running between starts is more likely to cause and spread sickness in your clubhouse than that tramp in the right field bleachers who wants to hook up with every guy in your bullpen.  Strike 1. Reason #2: Endocrine Concerns Here's a little excerpt from an email I got from a minor league guy I work with in the off-season: Yesterday might have been the roughest day of my career. It started by getting back from our game Sunday night at 11:30PM.  I couldn't fall asleep until at least 12:30AM, and then we had a 3:30AM wake up call to catch a bus to the airport for our flight at 6:15AM. We had a layover for an hour and a half, then got to the next city at 11AM. We drove to our hotel and I got to my stinky room at the Sleep Inn and tried to catch some sleep - except we had to be at the field at 4PM. Days like this are the norm for many professional (and particularly, minor league) pitchers: late nights, early wake-up calls, red-eye flights, long bus rides, and - as a result - completely warped sleeping patterns.  And, as I'm sure you can imagine, the diet that accompanies these travels is less than stellar, particularly when clubhouse food isn't exactly gourmet or healthy.  And, let's just say that a lot of ballplayers at the collegiate and pro levels far too much alcohol, and that has direct negative consequences in terms of sleep and tissue quality. So, basically, we've got absurd sleeping hours, terrible dietary habits, too much alcohol - and one of the longest seasons in sports. Effectively, we've done everything we possibly can to reduce lower testosterone and growth hormone output, creating a mess of a hormonal environment.  Frankly, you could get this same hormonal response by forcing pitchers to watch Golden Girls reruns while sitting on bicycle seats and downing estrogen tablets - and you wouldn't have any incidences of plantar fasciitis. Instead, you know what's done instead?  Distance running!  Yes, the same distance running that is responsible for the markedly lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol levels in endurance athletes.  It's like putting a new engine in a car with square wheels: studying for the wrong test. It almost makes you wonder if some guys used performance-enhancing drugs just to counteract the negative effects of their running programs! Strike 2. Reason #3: Mobility Concerns As I wrote in a previous newsletter, one of the issues with distance running is that it doesn't allow for sufficient hip flexion to truly activate all the hip flexors.  Specifically, we get a lot of rectus femoris recruitment, but not much activation of psoas, which predominately is active above 90 degrees of hip flexion.  Likewise, you really aren't getting much hip extension at all. So, on the whole, by using a repetitive motion like jogging for an extended period of time, pitchers are losing mobility in their hips - and that's the very mobility they depend on so much to generate stride length and, in turn, velocity. Frankly, runners are the athletes I see with the most marked lower extremity dysfunctions due to the lack of range-of-motion in the jogging stride - and the fact that they pile so much mileage on this faulty movement pattern.  I am a firm believer that we were made to sprint, not jog. Strike 3.  The batter's out! Reason #4: Negative Effects on the Stretch-Shortening Cycle Here, I need to get a bit geeky for a second so that I can explain the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC).  The easiest analogy I can use is that when you want to shoot a rubber band at someone, you pre-stretch it before you release your shot.  Muscles work the same way; pre-stretching them (eccentric action) prior to shortening them (concentric action) stores elastic energy and helps that muscle generate more force.  Anecdotally, I've heard estimates that as much as 25-30% of pitching velocity is attributed to elastic energy - or how effectively someone makes use of the stretch-shortening cycle. Where we're different from rubber bands is that we can actually train those elastic qualities to make our tendons more efficient at collecting, temporarily storing, and releasing that elastic energy to help us run faster, jump higher, and throw harder.  It's why doing plyos, sprinting, and throwing medicine balls can do wonders for a player's performance. With the stretch-shortening cycle, we need three things, according to Komi (2): 1. a well-timed muscle preactivation before the eccentric phase 2. a short, fast eccentric component 3. immediate transition (minimal delay) between stretch (eccentric) and shortening (concentric) phases.  This period is known as the amortization phase, and the shorter it is, the less elastic energy we lose (as heat). To be honest, #1 takes care of itself.  For #2 and #3, though, we are definitely working against ourselves with distance running, as the importance of the SSC rapidly diminishes as exercise duration continues.  In fact, the vertical jump only predicts sprinting performance up to 300m (3). In other words, the longer exercise goes, the more we "muscle" it instead of being relaxed.  What do we know about guys who try to muscle the ball to the plate?  They don't throw hard because it impairs pitching specific mobility and they don't let the arm whip through. I will take a guy with a good vertical jump over a guy with a high VO2max anyday.  Distance running conditions guys to plod instead of bounce - and this definitely has implications in terms of chronic overuse conditions. Strike 1. Reason #5: Strength and Power Reductions As just one example of how stressful the pitching motion is on the body, the humerus internally rotates at 7,500°/second during the acceleration phase of throwing.  It takes a lot of strength and power to generate this kind of velocity, but just as importantly, it takes a lot of strength and power - and in a timely fashion - to decelerate it.  We need to not only be able to generate enough force to resist and control this acceleration at end-range, but also be able to generate this force quickly (power).  To that end, you would think that conditioning for pitchers would be similar to that of strength and power athletes, who avoid distance running altogether. Instead, most pitchers run several times a week.  When was the last time you saw a marathoner throw 95mph? Additionally, in many cases, coaches encounter Latin American players who have never had access to weight-training equipment - and this is a huge window of untapped potential.  Using distance running when these athletes could be devoting more time to getting stronger is a huge hindrance to these players' development, as it conditions them to go longer instead of faster.  At some point, you have to put more horsepower in the engine instead of just changing the oil. We know that when we first get young athletes started with weight training, there is a huge transformation to make them more athletic in the 8-10 weeks that follow.  You would be surprised at what good training can do for many advanced pitchers in the initial phases, too.  The reason is that, unlike position players, many pitchers are (to be blunt) one-trick ponies.  They know how to throw a nasty cutter, a crazy 12-to-6 curveball, or a slider with a funny arm-slot.  So, it's always been "okay" for them to be completely unathletic outside of their delivery.  They might get guys out, but they're long-term gambles teams because of their increased risk of injury; weak, immobile bodies break down the fastest - just like distance runners.  Additionally, being able to quickly recruit muscles (and do so powerfully) is crucial for rapidly stiffening joint complexes to create stability and prevent acute injuries like ankle sprains and ACL ruptures.  Strength and power athletes are much better off in this regard than endurance athletes. Strike 2. Reason #6: Inappropriate Intensities In what was - at least in my eyes - a landmark study, McCarthy et al. (1995) looked at "compatibility" of concurrent strength training and endurance training.  Traditionally, the attenuation of strength and power gains has been a big issue when endurance exercise is added to a strength training program.  As I noted in Cardio Confusion, these researchers found that strength and power loss was only an issue when the intensity of the endurance exercise was greater than 75% of heart-rate reserve (HRR) (4).  I can guarantee you that the majority of pitchers who are running distances are doing so at well over 75% HRR. As I'll note in my recommendations at the conclusion of this article, I strongly feel that the secret is to stay well above (circa-maximal sprinting, in other words) or below (70% HRR, to play it safe) when implementing any kind of running.  The secret is to avoid that middle area where you don't go slow and don't go fast; that's where athletes get SLOW!  And, ideally, the lower-intensity exercise would be some modality that provides more mobility benefits. Strike 3.  The batter's out! Reason #7: Nobody likes to babysit. Simply put, running is babysitting.  Catcher is actually the position that requires the most endurance in baseball, but we don't run catchers extra, do we?  Nope - and it's because we have bullpens for them to catch, batting practice for them to take, and all the other responsibilities associated with handling a pitching staff and being a pseudo coach on the field. My business partner actually was a division 1 pitcher almost ten years ago, and when I brought up this argument, he smiled and nodded, replying with, "When I was a pitcher, all we did was shag fly balls and run poles."  Meanwhile, 57% of pitchers suffer a shoulder injury during a competitive season (5) - and that doesn't even include elbow, lower back, or lower-extremity injuries!  At the major league level, pitchers are 49% of the players, but they account for 68% of the time on the disabled list league-wide (6).  Running isn't going to prevent these problems; it's going to exacerbate them. Strike 1. Reason #8: Distance running ignores existing imbalances. Baseball is an at-risk sport for a number of reasons.  You've got an extremely long competitive season, overhead throwing, and - possibly most significantly - unilateral dominance.  Switch hitters and guys who bat right and throw left (or vice versa) tend to be a bit more symmetrical, but the guys who bat and throw on the same side tend to have the most glaring issues.  Many really smart dudes - most notably, Gray Cook - note that asymmetry is quite possibly the best predictor of injury.   When we get pitchers after a long season, our first goals are to address range of motion deficits in: 1. lead leg hip extension (tight hip flexors) 2. lead leg hip internal rotation (tight external rotators) 3. lead leg knee flexion (tight quads) 4. Throwing arm shoulder internal rotation (tight posterior rotator cuff and capsule) 5. Scapular posterior tilt (tight pec minor and levator scapulae) 6. Throwing arm elbow extension (tight elbow flexors) I knocked back some caffeine, splashed some water on my face, and really put my thinking cap on to see if I could come up with a rationale for how distance running addresses any of these issues.  In the end, I had nothing.  I came to the realization that jogging negatively affects the majority of them - and pitchers would be better off just shagging fly balls instead of splitting time between that and long runs.  At least they move side-to-side when they're chasing fly balls. Strike 2. Reason #9: It's really boring! I am a firm believer that the best coaches are the ones who engage their athletes.  The best coaches I had in my athletic career were the ones who made me look forward to each training session.  With that said, the only people who look forward to distance running are - you guessed it - distance runners! Most of the ballplayers you're coaching have always seen running as a form of punishment for doing something wrong; they hate it as much as I do (okay, maybe not that much).  And, truth be told, they'd hate it even more if they realized it is limiting their development as athletes. Strike 3.  The batter's out - and the side is retired. Conclusion I have always disliked it when people criticize the status quo, but fail to offer solutions of their own.  With that in mind, the next installment of this series will outline my personal perspective on how to attack the time between pitching outings. References 1. Gleeson, M. Immune systems adaptation in elite athletes. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2006 Nov;9(6):659-65. 2. Komi, P.V. Stretch-shortening cycle.  In: Strength and Power in Sport (2nd Ed.) P.V. Komi, ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003. pp. 184-202. 3. Hennessy L, Kilty J. Relationship of the stretch-shortening cycle to sprint performance in trained female athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Aug;15(3):326-31. 4. McCarthy JP, Agre JC, Graf BK, Pozniak MA, Vailas AC. Compatibility of adaptive responses with combining strength and endurance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1995 Mar;27(3):429-36. 5. Ouelette, H, Labis J, Bredella M, Palmer WE, Sheah K, Torriani M. Spectrum of shoulder injuries in the baseball pitcher. Skeletal Radiol. 2007 Oct 3. 6. Fleisig, GS.  The Biomechanics of Baseball Pitching.  Spring 2008 Southeast ACSM Conference. Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Cressey Athlete Finishes 10th at Ford Ironman World Championship

Cressey Performance Athlete, Dede Griesbauer Finishes 10th at Ford Ironman World Championship! This was Dede's second consecutive podium finish.  Awesome job, Dede!

EricCressey.com Subscriber-only Q&A

Q: Could you please explain the rationale for the wall triceps stretch you used in a previous blog post? A: Here’s a photo of that stretch, for those who missed it:

We find that this stretch can relieve shoulder issue in a lot of the guys who come to us with typical pitcher problems – particularly posterior/superior shoulder pain (and sometimes medial elbow pain – but no glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD). Posterior cuff/capsule stiffness will cause the humeral head to translate superiorly and posteriorly during the late cocking phase of throwing. And, this stiffness also has huge implications on humeral head position during the deceleration and follow-through phases of throwing.

Most throwers with shoulder problems will have the most pain at:

a. maximal external rotation/late cocking phase (usually the worst type of problems, SLAP 2 lesions, that warrant a great consideration of surgery)

or

b. follow-through/deceleration (usually something that’s more easily fixed with good posterior cuff/capsule stretching and good scapular stability work, so conservative treatment is the name of the game)

Of course, all this depends on symptoms, degree of mechanical pain, and what the MRI says. Sometimes, though, if the stiffness isn't present posteriorly, but you're still seeing these kind of symptoms, you have to look to the inferior capsule. The shoulder capsule is large and relatively “loose” to allow for the wide range of shoulder movements present. When tightness kicks in somewhere, you can see some noteworthy problems. So, the roundabout answer to your question is that the truth is that this is as much an inferior capsular mobilization/stretch as it is a triceps stretch. As a general rule of thumb, you always migrate opposite capsular tightness. Inferior tightness leads to superior migration. Inferior tightness is the big problem in regular ol' weekend warriors, and definitely moreso in those who have had surgery and been immobilized with the arm at the side As an aside to this, rarely will someone need JUST inferior capsule mobilizations; they usually need other attention to areas such as

thoracic spine mobility work.

Feedback on The Truth About Unstable Surface Training

Here’s a quote from Leigh Peele of avidityfitness.com on my new e-book,

The Truth About Unstable Surface Training:

“This e-book, regardless of if they have to break out a dictionary, is for every trainer/coach/physical therapist out there. Period. If you are a trainer or if you plan on being a trainer or physical therapist, then you need to own this manual. This isn’t just about doing things “right,” either; this puts you ahead of the pack. Your teams, clients, and patients will thank you for the increase of knowledge.

“I also feel that this e-book is for those who are really serious about training and applying the best methods to their program. If you don’t have a good coach and you need one, sometimes yourself is all you have. If that is the case, go to the education. Coach yourself. “In short, if you design programming, be it for yourself or for others, you should get this e-book for a learning resource.”

Click here to purchase The Truth About Unstable Surface Training.

Blog Updates

Detailed Feedback on Maximum Strength Random Friday Thoughts A Little Monday Update Random Friday Thoughts All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!

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Oblique Strains and Rotational Power

On Monday night, Josh Hamilton put on an amazing show with 28 homeruns in the first round of the MLB Homerun Derby. While he went on to lose to Justin Morneau in the finals of the contest, Hamilton did smash four 500+ ft. shots - and stole the hearts of a lot of New York fans. It's an incredible story; Hamilton has bounced back from eight trips to rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol to get to where he is today.

Geek that I am, though, I spent much of the time focusing on the incredible hip rotation and power these guys display on every swing. According to previous research, the rotational position of the lead leg changes a ton from foot off to ball contact. After hitting a maximal external rotation of 28° during the foot off “coiling” that takes place, those hips go through some violent internal rotation as the front leg gets stiff to serve as a “block” over which crazy rotational velocities are applied.

How crazy are we talking? How about 714°/s at the hips? This research on minor leaguers also showed that stride length averaged 85cm - or roughly 380% of hip width. So, you need some pretty crazy abduction and internal rotation range-of-motion (ROM) to stay healthy. And, of course, you need some awesome deceleration strength – and plenty of ROM in which to apply it – to finish like this.

Meanwhile, players are dealing with a maximum shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s, respectively. All of this happens within a matter of 0.57 seconds. Yes, about a half a second.

These numbers in themselves are pretty astounding – and probably rivaled only by the crazy stuff that pitchers encounter on each throw. All these athletes face comparable demands, though, in the sense that these motions take a tremendous timing to sequence optimally. In particular, in both the hitting and pitching motions, the hip segment begins counterclockwise (forward) movement before the shoulder segment (which is still in the cocking/coiling phase). Check out this photo of Tim Hudson (more on this later):

Many of you have probably heard about a “new” injury in major league baseball – oblique strains – which have left a lot of people looking for answers. In fact, the USA Today published a great article on this exact topic earlier this season. Guys like Hudson, Chris Young, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran (among others) have dealt with this painful injury in recent years. You know the best line in this entire article? With respect to Hudson:

“After the 2005 season, he stopped doing core work and hasn't had a problem. Could that be the solution?”

I happen to agree with the mindset that some core work actually contributes to the dysfunction – and the answer (to me, at least) rests with where the injury is occurring: “always on the opposite side of their throwing arm and often with the muscle detaching from the 11th rib.” If I’m a right-handed pitcher (or hitter) and my left hip is already going into counter-clockwise movement as my upper body is still cocking/coiling in clockwise motion – both with some crazy rotational velocities – it makes sense that the area that is stretched the most is going to be affected if I’m lacking in ROM at the hips or thoracic spine.

I touched on the need for hip rotation ROM, but the thoracic spine component ties right into the “core work” issue. Think about it this way: if I do thousands of crunches and/or sit-ups over the course of my career – and the attachment points of the rectus abdominus (“abs”) are on the rib cage and pelvis – won’t I just be pulling that rib cage down with chronic shortening of the rectus, thus reducing my thoracic spine ROM in the process?

Go take another look at the picture of Tim Hudson above. If he lacks thoracic spine ROM, he’s either going to jack his lower back into lumbar hyperextension and rotation as he tries to “lay back” during the late cocking phase, or he’s just going to strain an oblique. It’s going to be even worse if he has poor hip mobility and poor rotary stability – or the ability to resist rotation where you don’t want it.

Now, I’m going to take another bold statement – but first some quick background information:

1. Approximately 50-55% of pitching velocity comes from the lower extremity.

2. Upper extremity EMG activity during the baseball swing is nothing compared to what goes on in the lower body. In fact, Shaffer et al. commented, “The relatively low level of activity in the four scapulohumeral muscles tested indicated that emphasis should be placed on the trunk and hip muscles for a batter's strengthening program.”

So, the legs are really important; that 714°/s at the hips has to come from somewhere. And, more importantly, it’s my firm belief that it has to stay within a reasonable range of the shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s (respectively). So, what happens when we give a professional baseball player a foo-foo training program that does little to build or even maintain lower-body strength and power? And, what happens when we have that player run miles at a time to “build up leg strength?” How many marathoners do you know who throw 95mph and need those kind of rotational velocities or ranges of motion? Apparently, bigger contracts equate to weaker, tighter legs…

Meanwhile, guys receive elaborate throwing programs to condition their arms – and they obviously never miss an upper-body day (also known as a “beach workout"). However, the lower-body is never brought up to snuff – and it lags off even more in-season when lifting frequency is lower and guys do all sorts of running to “flush their muscles.” The end result is that the difference between 714°/s (hips) and 937°/s and 1160°/s (shoulders and arms) gets bigger and bigger. Guys also lose lead-leg hip internal rotation over the course of the season if they aren’t diligent with their hip mobility work.

So, in my opinion, here’s what we need to do avoid these issues:

1. Optimize hip mobility – particularly with respect to hip internal rotation and extension. It is also extremely important to realize the effect that poor ankle mobility has on hip mobility; you need to have both, so don’t just stretch your hip muscles and then walk around in giant high-tops with big heel-lifts all day.

2. Improve thoracic spine range of motion into extension and rotation.

3. Get rid of the conventional “ab training/core work” and any yoga or stretching positions that involve lumbar rotation or hyperextension and instead focus exclusively on optimizing rotary stability and the ability to isometrically resist lumbar hyperextension.

4. Get guys strong in the lower body, not just the upper body.

5. Don’t overlook the importance of reactive work both in the lower and upper-body. I’ve read estimates that approximately 25-30% of velocity comes from elastic energy. So, sprint, jump, and throw the medicine balls.

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Thoracic Spine Issues

Fantasy Day at Fenway Park

I’ll be making my Fenway Park debut on Saturday. I know it’s hard to believe, but it won’t be for my catching abilities, base-stealing prowess, or 95-mph two-seam fastball. Rather, I’ll be speaking on a panel at the annual Fenway Park Fantasy Day to benefit The Jimmy Fund. And, if people don’t give a hoot about listening to me, they’ve got a skills zone with batting cages, a fast-pitch challenge, and accuracy challenge on top of loads of contests and tours. I’ll be sure to snap some photos for you.

This is an absolutely great cause, and while I know most of you won’t be in attendance, I’d highly encourage you to support the cause with a donation to the Jimmy Fund. What they are doing is something very special, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Subscriber Only Q&A Q: One quick question. As a trainer, I'm sure you've come across certain clients who have a problem with their thoracic spine (mild hump) and need to work on mobilizing this region. Other than foam rollers, are there any other techniques or methods that can be used? Maybe there's a book or video out there I could purchase that gives me a better understanding of how to implement some new methods?

A: Thanks for the email.  It really depends on whether you're dealing with someone who just has an accentuated kyphotic curve or someone who actually has some sort of clinical pathology (e.g. osteoporosis, ankylosing spondylitis, Cushing’s Syndrome) that's causing the "hump."  In the latter case, you obviously need to be very careful with exercise modalities and leave the “correction” to those qualified to deal with the pathologies in question.

In the former case, however, there’s quite a bit that you can do. You mentioned using a foam roller as a “prop” around which you can do thoracic extensions:

Thoracic Extensions on Foam Roller

While some people think that tractioning the thoracic spine in this position is a bad idea, I don’t really agree. We’ve used the movement with great success and absolutely zero negative feedback or outcomes.

That said, I’m a firm believer that the overwhelming majority of thoracic spine mobilizations you do should integrate extension with rotation. We don’t move straight-ahead very much in the real-world, so the rotational t-spine mobility is equally important. Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman do an awesome job of outlining several exercises along these lines in their Inside-Out DVD; I absolutely love it.

With most of these exercises, you’re using motion of the humerus to drive scapular movement and, in turn, thoracic spine movement.

The importance of t-spine rotation again rang true earlier this week when I had lunch with Neil Rampe, director of corrective exercise and manual therapy for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Neil is a very skilled and intuitive manual therapist, and he had studied extensively (and observed) the effect of respiration. He made some great points about how we can’t get too caught up in symmetry. Neil noted that we’ve got a heart in the upper left quadrant, and a liver in the lower right. The left lung has two lobes, and the right lung has three – and there’s some evidence to suggest that folks can usually fill their left lung easier than their right. The right diaphragm is bigger than the left –and it can use the liver for “leverage.” The end result is that the right rib winds up with a subtle internally rotated position, which in turns affects t-spine and scapular positioning. Needless to say, Neil is a smart dude – and once I got over how stupid I felt – I started scribbling notes. I’m going to be looking a lot more at breathing patterns as a result of this lunch.

Additionally, it’s very important to look at the effects of hypomobility and hypermobility elsewhere on thoracic spine posture. If you’re stuck in anterior pelvic tilt with a lordotic spine, your t-spine will have to compensate by rounding in order to keep you erect. And, if you’ve shortened your pecs and pulled the scapulae into anterior tilt and protraction, you’ll have a t-spine that’s been pulled into flexion. Or, if you’ve done thousands and thousands of crunches, chances are that you’ve shortened your rectus abdominus so much that your rib cage is depressed to the point of pulling you into a kyphotic position.

On the hypermobility front, poor rotary stability at the lumbar spine can lead to excessive movement at a region of the spine that really isn’t designed to move. It’s one reason why I like Jim Smith’s Combat Core product so much; he really emphasize rotary stability with a lot of his exercises. Lock up the lumbar spine a bit, and you’ll get more bang for your buck on the t-spine mobilizations.

As valuable as all the t-spine extension and rotation drills can be, they are – when it really comes down to it – just mobility drills. And, to me, mobility drills yield transient effects that must be sustained and complemented by appropriate strength and endurance of surrounding musculature. Above all else, strength of the appropriate scapular retractors (lower and middle trapezius) is important. You can be very strong in horizontal pulling – but have terrible posture and shoulder pain – if you don’t row correctly.

Not being cognizant of head and neck position can lead to a faulty neck pattern:

Cervical hyperextension (Chin Protrusion) Pattern

Here, little to no scapular retraction takes place. And, whatever work is done by the scapular retractors comes from the upper traps and rhomboids – not what we want to hit.

Then, every gym has this guy. He just uses his hip and lumbar extensors to exaggerate his lordotic posture and avoid using his scapular retractors at all costs.

Another more common, but subtle technical flaw is the humeral extension with scapular elevation. Basically, by leaning back a bit more, an individual can substitute humeral extension for much of the scapular retraction that takes place – so basically, the lats and upper traps are doing all the work. This can be particularly stressful on the anterior shoulder capsule in someone with a scapula that sits in anterior tilt because of restrictions on pec minor, coracobrachialis, or short head of the biceps. Here is what that issue looks like when someone is upright like they should be. A good seated row would like like this last one – but with the shoulder blades pulled back AND down. We go over a lot of common flaws like these in our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD series.

Finally, don’t overlook the role that soft tissue quality plays with all of this. Any muscle – pec minor, coracobrachialis, short head of the biceps – that anteriorly tilts the scapulae can lead to these posture issues. Likewise, levator scapulae, scalenes, subclavius, and some of the big muscles like pec major, lats, and teres major can play into the problem as well. I’ve always looked at soft tissue work as the gateway to corrective exercise; it opens things up so that you can get more out of your mobility/activation/resistance exercise.

Hopefully, this gives you some direction.

All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Youth Sports Injuries

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that – at age 27 – I’d ever use the phrase “when I was young.” However, I found myself doing exactly that earlier this week in response to a question posed by a parent of one of our athletes.

Somehow in conversation, we got on the topic of the alarming rates of youth sports injuries – everything from ACL ruptures, to stress fractures, to Tommy John surgeries – at hand today. He asked very simply, “Why has it gotten so bad – and seemingly so fast?”

My response was, “Well, there are a lot of reasons. First – and most significantly – when I was young…”

I nearly swallowed my tongue when I caught myself saying that, but continued on.

Over the next few minutes, I talked a bit about what my buddies and I did every day after school when I was growing up. I lived next door to a church that had a big grass parking lot that was only used on Sundays. The rest of the week, it was a football/baseball/wiffleball/soccer/dodgeball/any-other-ball-you-can-think-of extravaganza. We played until our mothers called us home to dinner. There were days when I was so dirty when I got home that my parents just threw my clothes away rather than try to wash them.

In terms of organized sports, we never played a sport for more than six months consecutively – and even that time period would be a stretch. I can remember being involved in organized soccer, basketball, flag football, tennis, and baseball around fourth grade.

You know what’s wild? From that little churchyard in little Kennebunk, Maine came six eventual NCAA athletes and seven NCAA coaches (four in lacrosse, two in strength and conditioning, and one in football). There was a D1 All-American/professional lacrosse player, 500-pound raw bench press, and world record in the deadlift. There were no ACL tears, stress fractures, ulnar collateral ligament ruptures, or cases of plantar fasciitis. I didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was until I was a sophomore in high school.

The point – which may be hackneyed to many of my newsletter subscribers by now – is that we stayed healthy and came into some athletic success by playing a lot at a young age, but participating a little. And, personally, it wasn’t until I specialized more and started playing tennis nine months out of the year (November-August) that I started dealing with chronic shoulder problems. Had I known then what I know now, it would have been manageable – especially with my diverse athletic background.

So, this brings me to several points…

First, there are more opportunities than ever to participate year-round and without restrictions. Most sport coaches know only tactics and not physiology, so at a time when recognizing the warning signs of injury and burnout is most important, those supervising the system are the least prepared.

Second, to take it a step further, we are an increasingly sedentary society. Kids sit all day in school, then go home to sit at home and talk on instant messenger or surf the web. They don’t ride bikes or walk to their friends’ houses; they drive or get rides. Heck, they don’t even call their friends anymore; they just text them because human interaction is just too fatiguing! Taking a more sedentary population and combining it with an increased volume of participation in a more specialized athletic scenario is a recipe for injuries. It’s like entering this hunk of junk in the Daytona 500.

Third, in spite of the fact that kinesiology, exercise science, biomechanics, and related health and human performance fields are actually courses of study at academic institutions and beyond – and all the information on training young athletes is out there, if you know where to look – there really aren’t many people doing it correctly. Thanks to some wretched attempts at franchising youth sports training, we’ve been left with a lot of parents and kids that think “running cones” is where it’s at. Many others have just written the idea of youth performance training off altogether because they’ve had bad experiences in these situations. Kids can run cones on their own; they need to be taught how to run, jump, land, lift, and throw.

So, what to do to remedy the situation?

First off, I wish more people would read Brian Grasso’s stuff at DevelopingAthletics.com. Brian’s at the forefront of youth fitness training and really gets it.

Second, while I’d like to think that it’s possible to “undo” the specialization trend, it’s simply not going to happen, folks. The best we’re going to do is learn to recognize the symptoms of burnout/injury early on – and encourage kids to hold off until later in high school before choosing one specific sport. Kirk Fredericks, head coach of the Lincoln-Sudbury High School varsity baseball team (Massachusetts State Champs in 2005 and 2007), is the single-best coach with whom I have worked at any level. I was at his team’s award banquet two weeks ago to hear Kirk credit the success of his only three sophomores on the varsity squad to playing multiple sports and focusing on getting stronger. He didn’t rave about how they took batting practice 365 days of the year – or all the time they spent running cones. Versatility, athleticism, and strength were what differentiated them from their peers.

Third, kids need to move – and be taught how to move. Call me biased, but organized strength and conditioning settings are, in my opinion, the best way to provide young athletes with the favorable outcomes and fun through the inherent variety featured in any appropriate S&C program. You can train mobility, activation, strength, stability, reactive ability, sprint mechanics, you name it – all in a single session.

Fourth, I would like to see physicians become more proactive with encouraging young athletes to seek out effective training. Having communicated with some excellent physicians myself, I’ve come to realize that the best doctors know that their recommendations to young athletes go beyond simply protecting sutures. It is also about setting an athlete up for future health and success.

Fifth, those training young athletes have to not only get more in-tune with how to do it well, but also structure their business models to accommodate leveraging this knowledge. I can only speak to what I have practiced with Cressey Performance:

1. Grow slowly and hire extremely carefully.

2. Know every bit of each athlete’s health history.

3. Program individually.

4. Put young athletes in an environment in which they can thrive on each other’s energy.

5. Provide specific, quantifiable markers of progress to foster further motivation.

6. Communicate regularly with sport coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves.

7. Appreciate that young athletes are not simply smaller adults.

8. Recognize the imbalances inherent to particular sports.

9. Treat every athlete as if he/she is your own son/daughter (assuming you are not a psycho parent).

10. Keep it FUN.

Audio Interview with EC

About a month ago, I did a phone interview with Kaiser Serajuddin on the topic of the business of personal training. You can listen to it HERE.

Blog Updates

Maximum Strength: Working Around Equipment Limitations

Heavy Lifting to Wussy Music: Why Not?

Ignorance is Bliss

A special thanks goes out to Chris Poirier, the entire Perform Better staff, and all the attendees from this year’s PB Summits. Thanks for making them such great events!

I’ll be at the 2nd Annual Distinguished Lecture Series in Sports Medicine this Friday at Northeastern University – and hopefully have some newsletter tidbits for you from it next week. It’ll be nice to do the listening instead of the lecturing this time – although I may be available for guest shadow puppet and magic trick exhibitions in the lobby on request!

All the Best,

EC

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Baseball Pitchers: “Laying Back”

Q: I am a 18-year-old Division 1 college baseball pitcher, and I have a baseball mechanic/ biomechanical question for you. I've been trying to get my arm to "lay back" like in this picture of Billy Wagner.
wagner
When I pitch, my arm is not parallel to the ground like most major league pitchers. I am trying to throw with a more relaxed arm which helps it "lay back" more efficiently to help me throw harder, but I am struggling to get it to resemble the picture of Billy. Basically, I am just looking for suggestions on how to help my arm lay back from a biomechanical standpoint. Am I "too tight?" What are the possible reasons for it? Scar tissue? Flexibility? What are some solutions? A: Okay, I have a bunch of thoughts on this – and hopefully I can relate them pretty clearly and concisely. Want to know the biggest difference between you and Billy Wagner? 19 years of pitching! Seriously, there are just disgusting forces put on the shoulder and elbow joints over time in throwing a baseball. And, as a result, you can actually get changes in the structure of the bone. For instance, the research has shown that pro pitchers have on average 13.3° less total arc of elbow flexion-extension. To recreate the forces on Wagner's elbow in that picture, you'd have to take a plumb line and hang it down from his throwing hand with a 40-pound weight attached. Crazy, eh? The shoulder isn't much different; most of the pros have thickened posterior glenohumeral (shoulder) joint capsules. This can be advantageous for getting more external rotation to generate added velocity, but disadvantageous in terms of injury prevention, as the glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) that results causing posterior, superior translation of the humeral head during the late cocking phase of throwing. Ever heard of a SLAP lesion? It’s superior-labrum-anterior-posterior. It’s no wonder that the guys with symptomatic labrum problems are the ones who have the least amount of internal rotation ROM. Younger guys are different. Little leaguers have little to no shoulder stiffness, and present with lateral elbow issues (compression type issues from the stress in the cocking to acceleration transition). As guys get to 14/15+, you start seeing more muscular stiffness in the posterior shoulder girdle, and the elbow problems are more medial and related to valgus-extension overload (the acceleration to deceleration transition). Take a look at what valgus-extension overload can do to a 16-year-old’s elbow when he throws a lot while developing:
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Can you tell that he’s right-handed? And, more specifically, can you see how the alterations to bony structure can make it easier to “lay back?” Just imagine his right arm in the cocking position; he’s got an extra 10° of ROM over the rest of us. This doesn't speak to the flexibility limitation you refer to directly, but what it does show is that one of the best ways to develop pitching-specific flexibility is to throw as you develop - and at age 18/19, you're still headed in that direction. Now, with that said, you're probably wondering why some kids can pop 90+ mph while still in high school, but you can't. First, there is a big genetic component to flexibility; some guys just have crazy laxity. I've found that long spines can be extremely advantageous in pitchers, as they allow guys to go into lumbar flexion in the follow-through without hitting end range (where disc issues present). As long as an athlete like this doesn’t get lazy and leave out his lumbar stabilization exercises, he’ll thrive with such a build. As for stuff you can fix, you could be looking at: 1. Soft tissues and flexibility restrictions in pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, or subscapularis – all of which would limit shoulder external rotation range of motion. I don’t normally like to stretch pecs in baseball pitchers simply because it’s a bit too much stress on the anterior capsule (alongside the crazy stress they get from throwing all the time), but it does have merit in some guys, particularly those who care too much about their bench press… 2. Restrictions in levator scapulae, pec minor, and rhomboids alongside weakness of lower trap and serratus anterior. These issues would interfere with effective upward rotation and posterior tilting of the scapula on the throwing side. 3. Poor thoracic spine extension and rotation. This is one more reason that doing thousands of crunches is a stupid idea; you’re chronically shortening your rectus abdominus and pulling your rib cage into depression, making it hard to extend your thoracic spine to lay back. Watch how much thoracic extension and rotation Nolan Ryan gets HERE. 4. Poor mobility of the opposite hip and ankle. If you take a look at the pitcher of Wagner above, you’ll see that the lead leg hip is flexed almost completely as the shoulder is in maximal external rotation. If you’re trying to lengthen on the front side, you’ll lose it on the back side. Kibler et al. found that in 49% of arthroscopically repaired SLAP lesions, there was a weakness or range of motion deficit in the opposite hip. 5. Poor core stability. This sounds like a buzz word, but there is actually merit to it. I got to thinking about it when I watched two athletes do overhead med ball stomps to the floor alongside one another. The first – one of our most experienced high school athletes – maintained a neutral lumbar spine and only a small amount of thoracic flexion as he stomped; the position of the rib cage was pretty constant. The second guy, who was in his first week, really “caved over;” the rib cage dropped as he stomped. Sure, this relates considerably to #3, but it also speaks to the weakness of the lumbar and thoracic erectors to resist the flexion momentum. These same erectors are going to be the ones that allow a pitcher to post-up, stand-tall, and throw gas downward. They don’t recruit predominantly tall guys for nothing, you know… Obviously, this just speaks to the direct flexibility issues affecting velocity. There are a ton of strength and power measure you have to take as well. We tell our guys that you have to “train ass to throw gas.” In other words, posterior chain strength is huge for the push off on the back leg and for the deceleration on the front leg. It takes a ton of glute and hamstrings strength to decelerate a 95mph fastball that ends like this: And, to take it a step further, if you’re a guy who throws more across your body (more rotation), you better have some excellent rotary stability at the lumbar spine to resist that destabilizing torque at follow-through – and the hip rotation range of motion to ensure that you’re rotating at the right places. Otherwise, your back will get chewed up pretty quickly. A lot of the movements in Jim Smith's Combat Core Manual are great for preventing this problem. So, all that said, to the naked eye, they’d say you just need to stretch your pecs to more effectively “lay back.” There’s actually a lot more to it – and the pec stretching could even give you problems if done too aggressively or if that isn’t your particular need. For more information, I strongly encourage you to check out the 2008 Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp DVD set. Blog Updates Confessions of an Ex-Ironman A Great Read on Being Barefoot Just Another Afternoon at Cressey Performance (my personal favorite for the week) Maximum Strength Update To those who have purchased Maximum Strength, all pre-orders have now shipped out. To those who haven’t, what are you waiting for? Check it out here: Maximum Strength. “The Maximum Strength program took me to the next level of performance with my lifting. After using a variety of programs focusing on fat-loss and hypertrophy and having limited results from them it was great to see such solid increases in strength and physique changes from the program. In addition, the program focus on dynamic flexibility and foam rolling has resulted in an injury free training cycle and major flexibility and posture improvements. I would highly recommend this program and book to anyone wanting to make real progress with strength, performance and body composition.” Dan Hibbert – Calgary, Alberta Increased body weight by 14 pounds, broad jump by seven inches, box squat by 80 pounds, bench press by 30 pounds, deadlift by 70 pounds, and 3-rep max chin-up by 27.5 pounds. All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Newsletter #95

Inefficiency vs. Pathology

Q: I read with great interest your baseball interview at T-Nation, as I have two sons who play high school baseball. More interestingly to me, though, was this statement:

“Pathology (e.g., labral fraying) isn't as important as dysfunction; you can have a pathology, but not be symptomatic if you still move well and haven't hit "threshold" from a degenerative or traumatic standpoint.”

Is this something that can be applied to the rest of the body?

A: Great question – and the answer is a resounding “Absolutely!”

Many musculoskeletal issues are a function of cumulative trauma on a body with some degree of underlying inefficiency. People reach threshold when they do crazy stuff – or ignore inefficiencies – for long enough. Here are a few examples:

Lower Back Pain

As I touched on in a recent newsletter, we put a lot of compressive loading on our spines in the typical weight-training lifestyle – and you’d be surprised at how many people have spondylolysis (vertebral fractures) that aren’t symptomatic. But there’s more…

A 1994 study in the New England Journal of Medicine sent MRIs of 98 "healthy" backs to various doctors, and asked them to diagnose them. The doctors were not told that the patients felt fine and had no history of back pain.

80% of the MRI interpretations came back with disc herniations and bulges. In 38% of the patients, there was involvement of more than one disc.

It’s estimated that 85% of lower back pain patients don’t get a precise diagnosis.

Shoulders

You’d be amazed at how many people are walking around with labral fraying/SLAP lesions, partially torn rotator cuffs, and bone spurs. However, only a handful of people are in debilitating pain – and others just have a testy shoulder that acts up here and there. What’s the issue?

These individuals might have a fundamental defect in place, but they’ve likely improved scapular stability, rotator cuff strength/endurance, thoracic spine range-of-motion, soft tissue quality, cervical spine function, breathing patterns, mobility of the opposite hip/ankle, and a host of other contributing factors – to the point that their issues don’t become symptomatic.

Elbows

They do a lot of Tommy John surgeries and ulnar nerve transpositions for elbow issues that can often be resolved with improving internal rotation range-of-motion at the shoulder, or cleaning up soft tissue restrictions on flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi radialis, pronator teres, etc.

According to Dr. Glenn Fleisig, during the throwing motion, at maximal external rotation during the cocking phase, there is roughly 64 Nm of varus torque at the elbow in elite pitchers. This is equivalent to having a 40-pound weight pulling the hand down.

The other day, I emailed back and forth with my good friend, physical therapist John Pallof about elbows in throwing athletes, and he said the following:

“Over the long term, bone changes just like any other connective tissue according to the stresses that are placed on it.  Most every pitcher I see has some structural and/or alignment abnormality – it’s just a question of whether it becomes symptomatic.  Many have significant valgus deformities.  Just disgusting forces put on a joint over and over and over again.”

Makes you wonder who is really "healthy," doesn't it? Carpal Tunnel

I can’t tell you how many carpal tunnel surgeries can be avoided when people get soft tissue work done on scalenes, pec minor, coracobrachialis, and several other upper extremity adhesion sites – or adjustments at the cervical spine – but I can tell you it’s a lot.

Knee Pain

Many ACL tears go completely undiagnosed; people never become symptomatic.

I know several people who have ruptured PCLs from car crashes or contact injuries – but they work around them.

Some athletes have big chunks of the menisci taken out, but they can function at 100% while other athletes are in worlds of pain with their entire menisci in place.

Many knee issues resolve when you clear up adhesions in glute medius, popliteus, rectus femoris, ITB/TFL, psoas, and the calves/peroneals; improve ankle and hip mobility; and get the glutes firing.

I’m of the belief that all stress on our systems is shared by the active restraints and passive restraints. Active restraints include muscles and tendons – the dynamic models of our bodies. Passive restraints include labrums, menisci, ligaments, and bone; some of them can get a bit stronger (particularly bone), but on the whole, they aren’t as dynamic as muscles and tendons.

Now, if the stress is shared between active and passive restraints, wouldn’t it make sense that strong and mobile active restraints would protect ligaments, menisci, and labrums? The conventional medical model – whether it’s because of watered-down physical therapy due to stingy insurance companies or just a desire to do more surgeries – fixes the passive restraints first. In some cases, this is good. In other cases, it does a disservice to the dynamic ability of the body to protect itself with adaptation.

I’m also of the belief that there are only a handful of exercises that are genuinely bad; upright rows, leg presses, and leg extensions are a few examples. The rest are just exercises that are bad for certain people – or exercises that are bad when performed with incorrect technique.

With these latter two issues in mind, find the inefficiency, fix it, and you'd be surprised at how well your body works when it moves efficiently.

Teleseminar Series Reminder

Just a reminder that this awesome FREE offer from Vince DelMonte starts next week, so don’t wait to sign up! My interview will be Monday, April 7.

Ultimate Muscle Advantage Teleseminar Series

All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Strength Coach Podcast

Strength Coach Podcast

I was recently interviewed by Anthony Renna for Strength Coach Podcast #6 – and there is also some good Q&A with Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Jamie Harvie of Perform Better. Check it out HERE.

New Article

I had a new article published at T-Nation last week. For those who missed it:

What I Learned in 2007

Q&A

Q: Are partial deadlifts (rack pulls) supposed to work your lower back harder than regular deadlifts? The reason I ask is that my lower back tends to be more sore when I do rack pulls; does it necessarily mean that my form is bad? Or, could it be that my lower back is weak?

A: No; they don’t hit the lower back harder in a relative (to the glutes and hamstrings) sense, but absolutely, sure. Assuming a pin setting close to the knees, rack pulls allow you to use more weight – so they’ll definitely hit the upper back and grip harder.  Like a regular deadlift, you still need to transfer force from the lower to upper body. However, the fact that your form falters with added load even with a reduction in range of motion tells me that the force transfer side of things is where you falter.

In reality, lower backs are rarely weak; most guys overuse them.  Research has shown that lower back injury risk is positively associated with lumbar spine range of motion. The more your lower back moves, the more likely it is to get hurt.

My sense is that it's multidirectional lumbar spine instability that only gets better with:

a) avoiding lumbar flexion and rotation, especially under load

b) training under PROGRESSIVELY heavier loads, meaning that you don't attempt a weight you can't lift in perfect form

c) keep focusing on anti-rotator/anti-sagittal-plane-motion training - side bridges, pallof presses, kneeling cable chops, bar rollouts, etc

d) optimizing range of motion at the hips and thoracic spine

Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman, Mike Boyle, and I have written quite a bit about strategies “C” and “D.”

“B,” however, might be the one issue that nobody seems to cover, so I thought I’d toss out an analogy in this regard. Just think of what I’m doing with my pro pitchers right now. Most report to spring training at the end of February or early March.

Right now, they're all throwing bullpens (2x/week) at 75-80% intensity with only 30-35 throws a session (mostly fastballs, just a few change-ups, and no breaking pitches).  Meanwhile, they’re just doing some long tossing on three “off-days” per week to help get their arms back in shape gradually and facilitate recovery.

During these bullpens, they take their time between pitches. The idea is technical perfection and precision.The guys won’t hesitate to talk mechanics (or watch videos of the previous pitches) for a minute or two between throws.  Apparently, they sometimes spend this time conspiring on how to throw fastballs at their strength coach while he tries to get videos for them, too.

How do you think their mechanics would improve with going out there and throwing 90mph+ every day from the get-go? It probably wouldn’t do much, and chances are that they’d chew up a shoulder, elbow, lower back, or knee in the process – either from faulty mechanics, excessive loading of tissues too early, or a combination of the two.

Now, why should improving deadlift technique be any different? As your “bullpen,” you do some technique work in the 75-80% range and keep it picture-perfect, adding 5-10 pounds a week.

Meanwhile, as your “long tossing sessions,” you do your assistance work (outlined above) and possibly some very light technique work to groove the movement pattern and facilitate blood flow.  Over time, these strategies bump that lift up.  Grinding against circa-maximal weights every week with poor technique won't get you anywhere except injured.

See you next week.

EC

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Off-Season Training Q&A

With the baseball playoffs (and associated late nights) wrapped up and my seminar schedule for 2007 winding down, it's time to put my nose to the grindstone and get a bit more writing done.  On that note, you can expect to see a new e-book from me in a few weeks (details to come soon) as well as the official release of my co-authored book with Matt Fitzgerald on May 5, 2008.  You can also check out some of the updated seminar dates for 2008 on my schedule page. With that said, let's get to the content; this weeks we're getting right to the content with a Q&A.

Q: I’ve seen both you and Kelly Baggett write a bit in the past about the static-spring continuum with respect to your work with basketball players; is this information also applicable to other athletes?  For instance, I know you work with a ton of baseball guys, and given that the Sox just won the World Series, it seems like a good time to ask how it would apply to such a population.

A: Sure; it’s definitely applicable to baseball – and pretty much every sport, in fact.  Believe it or not, I actually used baseball as the example in my Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, here it is (with some add-ons at the end):

The modern era of baseball is a great example, as we’ve had several homerun hitters who have all been successful – albeit via different means.

At the “spring” end of the continuum, we have hitters like Gary Sheffield and Vladimir Guerrero demonstrating incredible bat speed.  The ball absolutely rockets off their bats; they aren’t “muscling” their homeruns at all.  Doing a lot of extra training for bat speed (beyond hitting practice) would be overkill for these guys; they’ll improve their power numbers by increasing maximal strength alone.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have “static” homerun hitters like Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell, both of whom were well known for taking weight training very seriously.  These guys are the ones “muscling” baseballs out of the ballpark; the ball almost seems to sit on the barrel of the bat for a split-second before they “flip it” 500 feet.  Getting stronger might help these guys a bit, but getting more spring by focusing on bat speed with upper body reactive training (e.g., medicine ball throws, ballistic push-ups, etc.) would be a more sure-fire means to improvement.  With them, it’s all about using their force quicker – and doing so with more reflexive contributions (i.e., stretch-shortening cycle).

Then, we have the “middle-of-the-road” guys like Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez.  They possess an excellent blend of static and spring, so they need to train some of both to continue improving physically.

Bonds is actually a good example of how an athlete’s position on the static-spring continuum can change over the course of a career.  When he started out, he was definitely a “spring” guy, hitting most of his homeruns with pure bat speed.  As Bonds’ career progressed, his maximal strength improved due to neural adaptations and increased cross sectional area (more muscle mass).

In light of the media attention surrounding the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, I should mention how he increased his muscle mass isn’t the issue in question in the discussion at hand.  The point is that he did increase muscle mass, which increased maximal strength, which favorably affected performance.  The performance-enhancing substances question really isn’t of concern to this discussion.

Now, with all that said, you can take it a step further and present this to a sprinting discussion.

Strong guys are going to tend to try to muscle things when they sprint.  You’ll see longer ground contact times.  I’ve dealt with this myself as I attempt to transfer my powerlifting background to more sprinting.  I have to make a conscious effort to stay on the balls of my feet and think about how much force I put into the ground instead of just using my glutes and hamstrings to pull me forward.

Conversely, reactive guys have no problem minimizing ground contact time; they just don’t have the force to put into the ground in the first place.

If, however, you’re too weak on the whole to withstand the ground reaction forces that take place with sprinting (go to this recent newsletter for a little background on that), the static-spring discussion doesn’t really apply to you.  Get stronger, work on landing mechanics and technique, and you can think about it when the time is right.

Of course, the strength and reactive components of sprinting are just two pieces of the puzzle; you also need to consider dynamic flexibility, muscular balance, footwear, sprinting mechanics, body composition, and a host of other factors.

Just one last reminder that this week's sale ends at the end of the day today.  It includes:

Building the Efficient Athlete: Normally $199.99 Magnificent Mobility: Normally $49.99 The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual: Normally $99.99 Rugged T-Shirt of your choice: Normally $14.99 Total Value: $364.96 + shipping from multiple locations (roughly $25-$45, depending on your location) Through Wednesday at midnight, however, this World Series Package will only be $249.99 + shipping and handling. All you need to do is go to the following link and place your order: http://www.1shoppingcart.com/app/netcart.asp?MerchantID=84520&ProductID=3848347 Be sure to tell us in the comments box whether you'd like the black or white shirt and what size you'd like (black is available in M, L, and XL, and white is available in L and XL).  You can check out the shirts at: http://ecressey.wpengine.com/products.html All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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