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Pitching Mechanics: Is Lead Leg Blocking Enough?

Much more attention has been paid in recent years to the concept of the front hip pull-back/lead leg blocking in pitchers.

However, what gets overlooked is that there are a lot of athletes who do it well, but still struggle to consistently impart adequate force to the baseball and with the right direction. This can happen because of limitations further up the chain that interfere with transferring force to allow for clean ball release.

Foremost among these issues are adequate thoracic flexion and scapular upward rotation. These two attributes allow you to stay on the baseball longer. Imagine a car that has an extra runway to accelerate. As violent as it appears in still-frame photos, Max Scherzer is one of the best illustrations in the game for this - and it's remarkably well "synced up: 

Notice how the distance between his uniform number and belt increases early in the delivery, then decreases just prior to ball release. It isn’t this extreme for most pitchers, but it speaks to the interaction between the anterior core, thoracic spine, and scapular upward rotation. Is it any surprise that most anterior core exercises - rollouts, fallouts, flutters, inchworms, bear crawls, and stir-the-pot - are also great serratus anterior drills?

You can also challenge it in various ways with the chops aspect of your core stability program.

I also like this adjustment to a half-kneeling cable lift...which actually make it into a chop, but whatever!

It also opens up a great discussion on the role of infrasternal angle for another day (although we did delve in on it a bit with this podcast with Bill Hartman:

Have a great week!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Summer Training Strategies

We're coming out of a podcast hiatus to kick off a new season of the podcast, and the first episode back will be a collaborative effort among three Cressey Sports Performance -MA staff members: Pete Dupuis (Vice-President), John O'Neil (Director of Performance), and Jordan Kraus (Pitching Coordinator). They discuss the various options available to college pitchers in the summer, and highlight how we've attacked development in this population with our College Summer Development Program at CSP-MA.

A special thanks to this show’s sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you’ll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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Exercise of the Week: Supported Elbow CARs

The benefits of controlled articular rotations (CARs) are now well known in the strength and conditioning and rehabilitation realms, thanks to Functional Range Conditioning teachings. One way in which we've evolved this approach is by taking a closer look at the position at which we perform our elbow CARs. Historically, they've been performed with the arms at the sides, like this:

However, I think there's a lot more benefit to be gained by performing them with the upper arms supported at 90 degrees of flexion, particularly in an overhead athlete population.

Here's why:

1. With more shoulder flexion, we are able to lengthen the long head of the triceps over both joints it crosses (elbow and shoulder). In the seated position, the long head of the triceps is actually shortened as a shoulder extensor.

2. In throwing athletes, you'll commonly observe Bennett's lesions, areas of increased calcification along the posterior glenoid rim. For most athletes, they're incidental findings in asymptomatic shoulders, but in some cases, they can get too big and cause rotator cuff pathology (I relate it to a speed bump that the cuff has to go over). While the true cause of Bennett's lesions has been debated in the sports medicine world, many are of the belief that it results from traction stress from the long head of the triceps (LHOT) tendon. The tendon attaches on the supraglenoid tubercle (which is on the inferior aspect of the glenoid) and extends up to the labrum and joint capsule. LHOT also eccentrically prevents excessive elbow flexion during the cocking phase of throwing (think of it being heavily lengthened in a shorter catcher-like arm action).

So, whether you believe it's related to Bennett's lesions or not, there's a strong anatomical basis for us to say that the long head of the triceps is an extremely important - but heavily underappreciated - muscle for overhead athletes. I've seen a lot of throwers over the years who've benefited tremendously from manual therapy on the triceps - and this mobility drill is a useful proactive initiative that'll help the cause as well.

3. At positions of 90 degrees of shoulder flexion or more, we get greater serratus anterior recruitment to drive the rotational component of scapular upward rotation - but also a reduction in latissimus dorsi tone that can restrict it. This is particularly important in athletic populations that tend to carry a lot of extensor tone and live in scapular depression and/or downward rotation. It also gives these folks a break from competing against gravity, so it can actually reduce protective tension of the upper traps.

4. Building on this last point, serratus anterior also works to preserve the convex-concave relationship between the scapula and rib cage, which is particularly important to address in the aforementioned athletes who may have acquired flat (extended) thoracic spines over years of extension/rotation. These athletes crave reaching, rounding, and rotating.

You can add this to a warm-up, use it as a filler, or plug it into a cooldown. Take your time with each rep, and be sure to drive not only full elbow flexion/extension, but also pronation/supination of the forearm.

If you're looking to learn a bit more about long head of the triceps, I'd encourage you to check out my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions course, as I delve into it quite a bit as part of my upper extremity functional anatomy module.

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The Best of 2021: Podcasts

2021 marked year 3 of the Elite Baseball Development Podcast. In all, we released 26 episodes in 2021 - and I learned a ton from some great guests. That said, here are our top five episodes from the year:

1. Current Concepts in Performance Training with Dan Pfaff - Dan discussed the key principles that enable coaches to have success regardless of the sport in question. He also reflected on his beginnings as a teacher, and spoke to the areas that are the “next frontiers” for us to learn about as an industry. We pondered the question, “How strong is strong enough?” and also examined how training loads and time of year impact muscle vs. tendon injuries.

2. Understanding Asymmetry with Ron Hruska - Ron shared some excellent insights on the origins of the Postural Restoration Institute; how polyarticular chains impact human movement; and what to do when we observe some of the common postural adaptations we see in athletes – particularly baseball players.

3. High Performance Nutrition Principles with Brian St. Pierre - In a closer look at the essentials of high performance nutrition programs. Brian discussed the perks and drawbacks of several current nutrition trends, and highlighted strategies one can employ to “tune out the noise” and get down to key foundational principles.

4. Developing Pre- and Post-Throwing Routines with Tanner Allen - Tanner and I discussed the common mistakes we see baseball players make during both the pre- and post-throwing periods. And, we provided some strategies for optimizing your preparation for throwing sessions, and well as improving recovery after they’re done.

5. Should Pitchers Take Time Off From Throwing? - I flew solo to tackle this commonly debated question in the world of developing pitchers. This is something I’ve pondered a lot over the years, and my position on it has evolved considerably.

Finally, while I've got your attention, be sure to check out our foremost sponsor from the past year, Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

We're back to the regular EricCressey.com content this upcoming week. Thanks for all your support in 2021! We've got some great stuff planned for 2022.

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The Best of 2021: Strength and Conditioning Videos

With my last post, I kicked off the "Best of 2021" series with my top articles of the year. Today, we'll highlight the top five videos of the year.

1. Cross-Behind 1-arm Cable Row with Alternate Arm Reach - Courtesy of the imagination of Cressey Sports Performance – Florida co-founder Shane Rye, the cross-behind 1-arm cable row is a new horizontal pulling variation we’ve been using quite a bit in 2021. I elaborated on why that's the case here.

2. Band-Assisted Vertical Jump - Drew Cobin authored a great guest post on where this can fit into a power training program; check it out here.

3. 1-arm, 1-leg Kettlebell Swing with Rack Assistance - Published just lack week with an assist from CSP coach Josh Kuester, this one became an instant hit. Learn more about it here.

4. Prone External Rotation End-Range Lift-off to Internal Rotation - Many rotator cuff exercises focus on building strength/motor control/timing in positions that aren’t specific to the throwing motion, but this one forces overhead athletes to be proficient in positions that really matter.

5. Understanding and Measuring Passive Range of Motion - Measuring passive range of motion is a crucial step in any thorough movement assessment. However, it’s often – both intentionally and unintentionally – measured inappropriately.

I'll be back soon with the top podcasts of 2021!

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The Best of 2021: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2021 winding down, I'm using this last week of the year to direct you to some of the most popular content of the past 12 months at EricCressey.com, as this "series" has been quite popular over the past few years. Today, we start with the most popular articles of the year; these are the pieces that received the most traffic, according to my hosting statistics.

1. An Overlooked Function of Serratus Anterior - If you've followed my work for just about any length of time, you've probably quickly learned that I pay a lot of attention to serratus anterior for its profound impact on upper extremity function. And, this article was no exception.

2. 3 Shoulder-Specific Programming Principles - I ran a sale on my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions resource earlier in the year, and wrote up this piece to elaborate on some principles you'll find in that product.

3. 5 Lessons from a First-Round Draft Pick - In the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft, Cressey Sports Performance had 15 athletes selected – including three of the top 30 picks. Here are some important lessons you can learn from one of them.

4. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Medicine Ball Edition - This feature outlined some key medicine ball programming principles you can employ when designing strength and conditioning plans.

5. Thinking Beyond Diagnostic Imaging - In the past, I've written about the need for both "Medical" and "Movement" diagnoses. In reality, there might be a middle ground that helps to unify the two - and I discuss it in this article.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2021" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

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Exercise of the Week: 1-Arm, 1-Leg Kettlebell Swing with Rack Assistance

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida coach, Josh Kuester.

In some cases, baseball players (especially pitchers) are told that they are fragile, and consequently a heavy dose of “corrective exercises” are handed out. But throwing a baseball is the fastest motion in sports, and hitting a baseball might be the most challenging task in all of sports. Baseball players are not merely finesse athletes; they are power athletes. I love integrating exercises that challenge both of these ends of the spectrum to some degree, and the 1-arm, 1-leg Kettlebell Swing with Rack Assistance is a perfect example.

Here are four reasons why I like this exercises with some of my thoughts as to how I might implement this variation with athletes:

1. Beauty in Simplicity

For coaches who train large groups of athletes with limited time (and/or resources), you understand that there is beauty in simplicity. Additionally, for baseball players, I think simplicity in the weight room is really important because their sport is highly complex. For a long time, CSP has been implementing medicine ball training as a staple for power development. There are numerous benefits to medicine ball training: plane specific power, fascial system development, lower and upper half connection. However, one element that might be overlooked is that throwing a medicine ball is relatively simple, and simple exercises have higher intent. The learning curve on the 1-Arm, 1-Leg KB Swing with Rack Assistance is very low and allows athletes to move a moderate load on a single leg with high intensity.

2. Unilateral and Sagittal Power Development

While the 1-Arm, 1-Leg KB Swing with Rack Assistance is more of a sagittal plane exercise, it is a unilateral variation and baseball is a unilateral sport. Additionally, in the early to mid-off season, we are not aggressively going after large volumes of transverse plane power development. In many cases, we are re-establishing sagittal plane mechanics before progressing to more frontal and transverse plane power exercises later in the off-season.

3. Contrast Training

Contrast training is something that we use at CSP from time to time. In short, contrast training is using a variety of exercises (anywhere from 2-4) that hit different points on the force/velocity curve to potentiate the neuromuscular system to produce more force. I like this variation because it fits in the rather large gap between absolute strength and absolute speed on the force-velocity cure.

This variation will fit nicely in a contrast training cluster of:

1. Safety Squat Bar Split-Squat from Pins
2. 1-Arm, 1-Leg KB Swing with Rack Assistance
3. Split-Squat Cycle Jumps
4. Band-Assisted Split Squat Cycle Jumps

Or:

1. 1-Arm, 1-Leg KB Swing with Rack Assistance
2. 1-Leg Broad Jump with 2-Leg Stick

4. Heel Connection

Pitchers and hitters alike often discuss the concept of “heel connection” and wanting to feel the ground. Staying connected in the back hip allows for better sequencing of hip and thoracic rotation when throwing/hitting, which results in more efficient transfer of energy from back-side to front-side. If an athlete gets into the ball of their foot too early, it can influence the magnitude and direction in which they apply force. I love this variation because it forces the athlete to feel the ground, and because the load is moderate, it forces the athlete to have heel reference; otherwise they will lose balance.

Final Thoughts on Performing and Implementing this Exercise

1. This is an exercise that I would only use for an athlete with a moderate to high training
age.
2. Pick a weight that you would use for a single leg RDL.
3. The added stability of holding the rack allows for high intent/speed with a moderate load.
4. The stabilizing hand should be just above hip height.
5. I prefer to have athletes perform this barefoot or in minimalist sneakers so that the athlete can feel the ground.

About the Author

Josh Kuester serves as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at CSP-FL. He began his collegiate career playing baseball at DIII UW-Whitewater where he played middle infield. After an injury plagued freshman and sophomore season, he ended up pursuing his bachelors from the University of Wisconsin and his masters from UW-Stevens Point. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and a board-certified Athletic Trainer (ATC). He has been a strength coach at the high school and collegiate level. In addition, he has coached various ages of travel baseball for Impact Sports Academy, a club baseball program out of De Pere, Wisconsin. From the fall of 2020 to the spring 2021 he served as a Sports Medicine intern at Northwestern University where he primarily worked with the football team. You can follow him on Instagram at @JoshKuester.

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Programming Principles: Installment 6

I haven't updated this strength and conditioning programming series since March, so I figured it'd be a good time to squeeze something in before the end of the year. Here are a few guidelines I hope you'll find useful as you write up programs:

1. Power detrains the fastest.

Maximal strength and aerobic capacity "endure" pretty easily. You don't have to train them really frequently in order to preserve what you've built. Improving these qualities is a different story; unless you're an inexperienced trainee, you're going to have to make a much more dedicated effort to build them up.

Power might be the most stubborn quality to develop and maintain, though. It takes time to develop it the right way, as it's as much a function of elastic components (e.g., tendons, fascia) as it is about the muscular component of force (Bill Parisi was a great podcast guest on this front, if you're interested in digging deeper). Additionally, power detrains the fastest; athletes need exposures to it on a more regular basis to preserve it. What programming implications does this have?

First, I like to preserve power training work at full volume in most cases during deload weeks. We can drop volume, intensity, and/or frequency from maximal strength and assistance work, but I typically want athletes continuing with their sprinting, jumping, and change of direction (assuming there are no injury concerns that would preclude them from doing so).

Second, I've gotten away from a true month-long deload from sprinting/jumping/aggressive med ball work at the start of the offseason for our athletes. We now get back to tempo runs, pogo jumps, foundational deceleration progressions, and medicine ball work right away.

This tendency of power to fall off quickly is also one reason why I think so many athletes take a big step back when they take too much time completely off at the end of a competitive season. They're confusing rested with ready - and preparing the more elastic components of athleticism the right way requires time, patience, and consistency over several months. As an example, if you're a MLB player whose season ends in early October, but you don't start doing anything until January, you simply don't have time to establish these qualities to sustain you for a season that stretches from mid-February until the following October. 

3. It's easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.

Speaking of power, here’s a quick example of how we are using the Cressey power test on Proteus to drive training decisions.

On initial off-season evaluation (top row), this pro pitcher proved to be more fast than strong. Players will typically shift in this direction over the course of a season, but this would be one of the more extreme examples of acceleration being considerably higher than power. The correct approach in this scenario is to chase strength to impact the force aspect of the power equation (power = work/time, and work is derived from force x distance).

As you can see from the retest about eight weeks later on the bottom row, by training strength hard to bring up the power number, we closed the gap and actually continued to drive his acceleration proficiency higher. Effectively, we made the glass (strength) bigger while continuing to add fluid (other strength qualities) to the glass. You can make the argument that this strength foundation also created a safer environment in which to demonstrate elastic qualities to accelerate faster.

It’s always easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast, so don’t miss this low hanging fruit that’s easily identified with this innovative technology. Here's a webinar I filmed on a few different scenarios you can see with this power test:

3. Combination medicine ball drills can be your best friend when you have a lot of qualities that need to be trained.

As the offseason progresses and baseball activity ramps up, there are a lot of competing demands for our athletes: increased intensity of throwing, hitting, and defensive work. To that end, we pare back on the frequency and volume of lifting, and try to get more efficient with our medicine ball work. One strategy I like to employ is the use of "combination" drills that combine overhead and rotational variations. Here's an example:

You'll see more of these integrated in January and February with our pro baseball crowd, and the medicine ball is typically 6-10pounds, as you have to choose a load that's suitable for both overhead and rotational work.

If you're looking to learn more about how I incorporate medicine ball training in our programs, be sure to check out my Medicine Ball Master Class at www.CresseyMedBall.com.

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CSP Clothing Stocking Stuffers!

With December upon us, we've got some new designs available for holiday gifts with CSP logos. Specifically, our classic Elite Baseball Development Home Plate Logo t-shirt is now available in four colors: black, military green, navy, and sand. They're $24.99 + shipping/handling:

Click the links below to add shirts to your cart:

Black XXL, Black Extra Large, Black Large, Black Medium, Black Small

Military Green XXL, Military Green Extra Large, Military Green Large, Military Green Medium, Military Green Small

Navy XXL, Navy Extra Large, Navy Large, Navy Medium, Navy Small

Sand XXL, Sand Extra Large, Sand Large, Sand Medium, Sand Small

You can also purchase our classic royal blue CSP Camo Shirt for $24.99:

Click the links below to add shirts to your cart:

XXL, Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small 

Finally, we recently introduced Cressey Sports Performance headbands. They're available in five different colors/styles (top to bottom, below): red camo, black/red blend, black camo, white, and black):

They are $15 each or five for $60. 

Purchase Individually: Please note the style you'd like in the comments/special instructions box at checkout.

Bundle Purchase (5 for the price of four, so one of each color)

Happy Holidays!

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2021 Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sales!

Just like everyone else on the planet, I'm offering some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. We're just going to kick it off a week early so you have time to sort through it all! From now through next Monday (11/29) at midnight, you can get 25% off the following resources by using the coupon code BF2021EC at checkout.

These eight resources can be purchased through my secure website:

Sturdy Shoulder Solutions - My most recent product release delves going into a ton of depth on some important topics with respect to upper extremity evaluation, programming, and training. Learn more HERE.

CSP Innovations - A collaborative effort by the Cressey Sports Performance staff about a variety of topics. Learn more HERE.

The Specialization Success Guide - A great resource for those looking to pursue strength gains on the big three (squat, bench press, deadlift). Learn more HERE.

The Ultimate Offseason Training Manual - This was the first book I wrote, and it's stood the test of time because of how much of the writing was based on principles that'll last forever. Learn more HERE.

Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core - A presentation that will bring you up to speed on an important aspect of core training for health and high performance. Learn more HERE.

The Truth About Unstable Surface Training - This e-book covers one of the more controversial topics in the training and rehabilitation worlds today. Learn more HERE.

Everything Elbow - A quick presentation that highlights the key aspects of taking care of throwing elbows. Learn more HERE.

The Art of the Deload - A special report that helps you sort through various approaches to deloading in training programs. Learn more HERE.

And, these two resources I co-created with Mike Reinold can be purchased through his website:

Functional Stability Training (includes Core, Upper, Lower, and Optimizing Movement) - We cover everything from assessment, to programming, to coaching cues, to bridging the gap between rehab and high performance.

Optimal Shoulder Performance - This is a great "primer" on the basics of the shoulder.

Remember, just enter BF2021EC to get the discount.

Enjoy!

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