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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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Strength and Conditioning for Combat Sports

We’ve got lot of exciting stuff this week, so let’s get right to it.  So much content, but so little time…

Impressive Results with Magnificent Mobility

This week on the forums, I accidentally stumbled upon one man’s journal of his results over the past 6-8 weeks with Magnificent Mobility.  It’s pretty cool stuff; check it out!

Magnificent Mobility Journal

You can pick up a copy at www.MagnificentMobility.com.

Product Review: Tap Out: Strength and Conditioning for Combat Sports

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve got a ton of respect for mixed martial arts (MMA) competitors and wrestlers.  Whether you enjoy watching the sports or not (and I definitely enjoy them), you’ve got to give a ton of credit to guys for not only the guts it takes to compete, but also for the extensive training these sports mandate.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of guys out there who are spinning their wheels with the conditioning aspect of things, and they’re getting beaten like rented mules in competition as a result.  Fortunately for them (if they’re smart enough to know where to look), Jason Ferruggia came along and introduced Tap Out: Strength and Conditioning for Combat Sports.

Up until now, I’ve seen a bunch of products for grapplers, and to be honest, I haven’t seen one that has really impressed me.  Usually, they’re just a collection of exercises put together by some guy who used to wrestle or fight.  There are no guidelines.  There is no structure.  There is no systematic fluctuation of training stress.  There are no nutritional guidelines.  Very simply, there’s no system.

Now, if you were involved in a sport where you could potentially get knocked senseless, and you knew that training was crucial to your success, which avenue would you pursue?

Option A: A results-backed system, comprised of training, nutrition, and supplementation guidelines specific to the athlete, complemented by several information-packed bonus interviews with guys who have been successful MMA competitors in their own right.  It teaches you how to get stronger, faster, and leaner while avoiding injury and completely dominating your opponents.


Option B: Pictures of some dirty sweatpants-wearing, has-been wrestler showing you the same exercises his high school coach taught him back in 1984.  It teaches you how to be mediocre (at best) and, if you work really hard, how to get fat enough to protect your internal organs from the beatings you’ll take in the ring or on the mat because you didn’t train correctly.

Jason is Option A.  The guys following Option A are probably the ones who roughed you up last time around.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the testimonials, and while you’re at it, pick up a copy of Jason’s fantastic manual.

Exclusive Interview: Michael Stare

As you’ve probably already surmised by now, I’m always looking to meet new physical therapists who are effective at bridging the gap between healthy and injured athletes.  The sad truth is that just as there aren’t many trainers/coaches who really understand musculoskeletal dysfunction and the resulting pathology, there aren’t many PTs who really understand what an athlete puts his/her body through on a daily basis.

Let’s just say that I’m lucky to have found Mike Stare, and it’s just my luck that he’s right up the road from me here in Massachusetts.  Mike is a brilliant PT and trainer from whom you can expect to hear a lot more in the months and years to come; we’re already brainstorming on some projects together.  Here’s a small sample of the great information Mike has to offer; as I told Mike, I think it’s some of the best information we’ve had in any interview at EricCressey.com thus far.

EC: Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to join us today.  Before we get cracking with the interview, could you tell us a bit about who you are, where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going?

MS: I’m a Physical Therapist and a CSCS, practicing with Orthopaedics Plus in Beverly, MA, as well as Director of Spectrum Fitness Consulting, also in Beverly.

My early years as an oft injured and undersized athlete landed me in the orthopedists’ office far too often.  After a serious neck injury from football, I found myself in Physical Therapy for several weeks.  That experience really opened up my eyes and I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a PT.

I studied kinesiology at the University of Illinois, and began working as a personal trainer for the division of campus recreation.  I also worked with the spinal cord athletes there, and had an opportunity to travel to the 1996 Paralympic games to work with spinal cord injured athletes.

I moved East to pursue a Masters of Science in Physical Therapy at Boston University. I continued to work as a personal trainer with the Boston Sports Clubs and obtained the CSCS while I was in grad school.  I also had the opportunity to help develop and teach a training curriculum for the trainers at BSC.

After graduation, I worked in an outpatient rehab hospital where I saw the full spectrum of conditions.  I treated a C5 quadriplegic who was more athletic the most people I know, a lady who had both legs amputated from her pelvis (best pair of arms on a 60 year old I ever saw and a heart of gold), bodybuilders with overuse injuries, chronic low back pain - you name it – I saw it.  It was a phenomenal learning experience, but I knew that I needed to focus in order to hone my expertise.  So I choose to concentrate on orthopedics, and jumped on board with Orthopaedics Plus.

I returned to graduate school part-time while working full time as a clinician to finish my Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and then completed a two-year fellowship in orthopaedic manual therapy.  That was an invaluable experience; I learned from what I truly believe to be the greatest minds in Physical Therapy.

I had moved away from personal training while pursuing my post-graduate studies, and I really missed it.  As a clinician, I grew frustrated with the fact that many of my patients were seeing me for injuries or conditions that could have been prevented if they had received the proper training or education.  I thought I was going to lose my mind if I saw another 16-year-old girl with excessive genu valgum and the glute strength of a mosquito limping in after ACL reconstruction waiting to get back to her three soccer leagues.

I decided that I needed to provide a service that would not only help people recover from their injury, but also reduce their injury risk and enhance their performance and health. As a result, in partnership with Orthopaedics Plus, I formed Spectrum Fitness Consulting this past January.  We focus on providing personal training services, as well as sports conditioning for young athletes.  Our studio is located adjacent to the PT clinic, which facilitates me working as both a clinician and a trainer.

We are rapidly growing and have some excellent new programs coming soon.  I’m looking forward to finding some quality trainers to help us grow, as well as expanding our reach throughout the North Shore region, developing more of a web presence, and hopefully perform some research in the near future

For now, I’m trying to stay focused on getting things done right, keep my head from spinning off, and enjoy hanging out with my new baby and my wife as often as possible.

EC: The first chapter of your memoirs is now officially complete; congratulations!  Moving on…you’ve done quite a bit of research on preventing elbow injuries in young pitchers; what have you got for us?

MS: Last fall I had the opportunity to mentor a Doctoral Student from BU.  We found some great info about elbow and shoulder injuries in young baseball pitchers. Among some of the most notable findings:

·         Injuries in young pitchers most often involve the growth plates, as opposed to the rotator cuff, labrum, or ligaments commonly seen in adults

·         The growth plates are the weakest link in the joint complex in young pitchers.

·         Growth plates in the elbow are open until about 16 and until 19-22 in the shoulder.

·         Injury to the growth plate is very difficult to detect, except in severe cases. Thus, early and appropriate response to pain is critical.

·         Pitch counts and pitch types are associated with risk of elbow and shoulder injury. Researchers from the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) have given specific recommendations for pitch type and count based on their findings.  For example, a sample of 476 9-14 year olds who threw curve balls had a 56% increased risk for shoulder pain and those who threw sliders had an 86% increased risk for elbow pain.  A sample of 330 9-12 year olds showed increased incidence of elbow and shoulder injury occurred with:

1) Those who threw >75 pitches/game or 600/season

2) Pitched in multiple leagues

3) Experienced arm pain during the season

4) Pitched less than 300 pitches per season.

EC: Very interesting; we often hear about throwing too much as being a problem, but some kids were actually having problems from not throwing enough pitches and then going out to “turn it loose?”  In other words, is that 300-600 pitches/season number precedent for a “golden pitch count rule?”

MS: No, I don’t consider it as a golden rule.  Rather, it should provide a basis from which coaches, clinicians, and researchers can begin to establish the boundaries between what is too much stimulus for a developing arm, and what is not enough stimulus to facilitate enhanced motor skill and optimal conditioning.

The research from ASMI and others is merely revealing initial data about factors that correlate with shoulder and elbow injury, not cause the injuries.  Pitch counts are a convenient way to quantify arm stress, but they are far from perfect.  The research regarding this topic is still very new and continues to evolve.  Pitch counts are just one of the many factors related to increased risk.

I think focusing on a firm pitch count for the season may be a problem in that it relieves the coaches, parents, etc., of responsibility of considering other variables that may also indicate increased risk, essentially, providing a false sense of security.

It still isn’t clear why pitching less than 300/season was associated with risk of arm injuries.  Perhaps those who threw less had less skill, and thus imposed greater stress upon their arms.  Maybe they were less conditioned.  Or perhaps, as you mentioned, they progressed their volume of throwing too quickly.  The higher risk with throwing greater than 600 seems more obvious – perhaps it was just too much?

Regardless, I think the problem is not simply about too many pitches or too few pitches in games over the season.  There seems to be a trend towards kids playing in less informal settings, and more often in competitive settings.  This has some significant implications.  Less informal play means less opportunity for honing the motor skill of throwing.  Motor learning is best developed by practicing frequently, in small chunks of time, at initially lower intensities.  This is what is typically done through informal play.

There is a big difference between how you throw in a competitive game situation versus while practicing or playing catch with friends.  Thus, kids are in more frequent situations that place higher stresses on the arm, while spending less time improving their motor skills.  Given this trend, I think it becomes clear why the incidence of arm injuries is one the rise.

Improving their conditioning and responding to the early warning signs of injury would substantially offset this higher risk.  Combined with coaches focusing more on teaching the skill of throwing, while gradually increasing the volume and intensity of throwing, the incidence of arm injuries could be greatly reduced.  Rather than just focusing on the pitch count, I suggest coaches and parents also simply rate velocity and control each inning, as well as observe any other signs of a change in mechanics or taking more time between pitches.  This will be more effective than just quantifying pitch count.

EC: Great stuff – sorry to interrupt.  What else have you got?


·         Certain flaws in pitching mechanics will predispose the shoulder or elbow to greater stress. For example, excessive shoulder rotation at initial contact of the stride leg, and a more cross body horizontal arm follow-through leads to increased torque on the elbow.

·         The humerus rotates up to 7000 degrees per second in from late cocking phase to acceleration phase, and the arm experiences a distraction force of up to 1.5 the athlete’s bodyweight during the deceleration phase

·         Clinicians and surgeons are reporting a 5-6 fold increase in pitching related elbow and shoulder injuries in youth pitchers.

I’ve seen too many kids devastated by realizing that their throwing careers are over at age 15, recovering from their second arm surgery. There’s too much information out there; we need to apply it.

EC: Agreed!  So why aren’t more trainers and coaches putting this information into practice?

MS: Although we found some great info about kinematics, kinetics, and epidemiology, there was very little information about conditioning or training strategies. It was implied by almost every researcher, but never thoroughly discussed. That is were my “Young Guns” program comes in.  Our program will be the only that I’m aware of that will emphasize not only the preventative strategies via pitch count, pitch type, and throwing mechanic alterations, but also implement specific conditioning strategies.  As with so many other conditions, the ability to generate and translate force through out the entire kinetic chain, as well as efficiently decelerate, correlates with improved performance and reduced injury.  I think this reasoning applies perfectly to throwing athletes, and they should be trained accordingly.

EC: Great stuff; I’m sure it’ll be fantastic.  How about correcting injuries once they’re in place?  Any rehab tips for those who already have bum elbows?

MS: The injured tissue must be identified first. This is especially important for young athletes, as growth plates are particularly vulnerable.  Treating a growth plate injury will be much different than treating a lateral epicondylopathy.  Seeing an orthopedist who specializes in elbows and shoulders – together with a PT with a manual therapy background – is your best bet.

Next, identify the cause of the problem. It’s always easier to investigate a crime closest to when it was committed.  The irritating factors must be modified or avoided.

Look at the shoulder, thoracic spine, and hips for mobility deficits.  Inadequate mobility at any of the joints along the kinetic chain can result in greater compensatory mobility demands upon the more vulnerable elbow joint, leading to excessive strain and ultimately injury.

If soft tissues of the elbow are involved, such as is the case with tendonopathy of the common extensor (lateral epicondylopathy) or common flexor (medial epicondylopathy) tendons, deep tissue massage is very effective.  It doesn’t feel so good initially, but it works.  Usually, you can do it yourself; just follow the tendons starting about ½ inch from the origin, and deeply massage with small amplitude parallel and perpendicular to the tendons.

Joint mobilization is also very effective at restoring normal mobility and promoting joint healing – but you’ll need a skilled therapist for that.

For less acute injuries, very high repetition, low load exercise can be effective at improving tensile qualities and promoting healing.

The common practice of applying ice shouldn’t be overlooked.  Ice massage is very easy and effective.  Freeze water in a Dixie cup, peel back the edges, and rub the effected area for about 5-10 minutes.

EC: My favorite part is that you never recommended non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  We know we’re dealing with degenerative, not inflammatory conditions, so these interventions have little merit aside of pain relief, which is better accomplished with ice anyway.  All those NSAIDs are just inhibiting the healing process and giving people a false sense of good health, leading them to throw the tissue back into the fire much too soon.  Would you agree?  (You’re not allowed to disagree, for the record; this is my newsletter!)

MS: I absolutely agree, and not just because I fear being chastised like your friend Hugo from a few newsletters ago!  Soft tissue injuries have often been labeled as tendonitis, the –itis suffix inferring an inflammatory pathology.  However, histological studies consistently fail to find markers indicative of inflammation with these conditions, leading to the increasing use of the appropriate term tendonopathy instead.

This is more than a semantics issue.  As you mention, taking an anti-inflammatory to treat something that does not have an inflammatory pathology may yield unnecessary risks and hinder healing.  Recent research has demonstrated impaired bone healing in conjunction with NSAID usage.  This is particularly important if bone pathology is suspected, as often is the case with young pitchers having a high incidence of growth plate injuries

EC: This has been fantastic stuff, Mike; thanks for taking the time.  Where can our readers find out more about you?

MS: It’s my pleasure Eric, anytime. I can be reached at mike@spectrumfit.net, and your readers can learn more about Spectrum Fitness Consulting, the Young Guns program, and myself at www.spectrumfit.net.

That’ll do it for this week, everyone.  Keep an eye out for some exciting news in the next few days…

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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Pressing and the Overhead Athlete

Many of you are going to hate me for what I’m about to say. I don’t let my overhead throwing athletes overhead press or bench press with a straight bar. There. I said it. Call me all the names you’d like but ask yourself this: “Am I cursing Eric’s name because I think that the cost-to-benefit ratio of overhead pressing and straight bar bench pressing justifies their use, or is it because I feel naked without these options? I have to bench press. I can’t start an upper body day with any other exercise.” Continue Reading... 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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The Round-Up Interviews: Eric Cressey

It's time to play catch-up with the T-Nation authors. Nate Green does the asking, and in this case Eric Cressey does the talking. Continue Reading... Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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