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Are You Training Mobility or Just Mobilizing?

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Frank Duffy. With the early bird registration deadline for our fall seminar being this Friday (9/22), I asked Frank to give us a little glimpse into some of the stuff he'll be covering in his hands-on presentation. Enjoy!

(and you can learn more about the event and register HERE)

The word “mobility” gets thrown around a lot in the fitness industry, and rightfully so. However, the context in which we use it often doesn’t correspond properly with the movements we prescribe to our clients.

In order to appreciate what true mobility training is, I think it’s important to first understand what it isn’t. Wrapping a band around a squat rack and stretching your upper back might feel great and improve passive flexibility when done for long enough periods of time, but improvements in active mobility will not be an outcome. This goes for practically any drill you see within a warm-up prior to a training program. I prescribe a lot of mobilization drills to our athletes where the primary intent is to get them feeling good for their training session. I love Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations, but I’m not going to sit here and say that – by themselves – they are a great way to improve long-term hip abduction mobility.

When training to improve joint mobility, the goal is to improve active range of motion. Mobility, just like any training stimulus (strength, power, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity, etc.) we’re looking to improve follows the same principles of progressive overload in order to elicit an adaptation. Connective tissue, whether it’s a muscle, tendon, ligament, capsule, or bone (to name a few), needs to be placed under mechanical stress to remodel the tissue being addressed.

When implementing the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) system, I like to expose new clients to Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) in order to help them understand how to properly train for long-lasting joint range of motion improvements. While CARs will not directly improve our joint mobility, they do provide us with four main benefits that I’ve listed below.

1. Assessment: CARs are a great tool for assessing the overall ranges of motion at each joint. They allow us to move each joint throughout its full range of motion under voluntary muscular contractions. When active mobility is restricted and joint function is poor, CARs also allow us to determine what our mobility training goals should be.

2. Mechanoreception: The capsule of our joint articulations is home to a high concentration of mechanoreceptors. When stimulated through end-range movements, mechanoreceptors supply the Central Nervous System with afferent feedback with information about the joint’s position in space.

3. Injury Prevention/Training Stimulus: Because CARs are performed under active contractions, the force applied to the surrounding connective tissue is below the threshold for injury (amount of force a tissue could safely absorb). When done at high enough intensity via voluntary muscular contractions, CARs could also provide a strength training stimulus for force production at the targeted joint.

4. Maintenance of Joint Range of Motion: The primary goal of executing CARs daily is to move our joints throughout their full range of motion under some degree of force. This will allow us to maintain our current ranges over time due to consistent exposure.

As mentioned above, CARs are a great way to assess the quality of each joint because they isolate the articulation being moved. Of course, our joints move interdependently with virtually every movement we perform. However, if a joint doesn’t work effectively on its own, it’s not going to work well in a global system under load. A sure-fire way to induce injury is to repetitively load a position when you haven’t prepared the involved joints for force absorption.

To break out even further, the “sticking points” of your CARs allow you to determine the appropriate joint angles at which to perform isometric contractions for both the progressive (lengthened) and regressive (shortened) tissues. By figuring out your active range of motion limitations, you’re able to create positional isometrics to learn how to expand these ranges further.

With individuals that present osseous restrictions like Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI), I still recommend CARs on a daily basis. Regardless of structural orientation, it’s important to move through whatever active range of motion you currently own. As cliché as it sounds, if you don’t use it, you lose it. However, if CARs elicit pain, there’s an underlying issue that should be referred out to an appropriate rehabilitation specialist. Cranking a joint through a painful range of motion and hoping it will get better is just a recipe for further irritation – and an articulation that continues to function at less-than-optimal quality.

Whether you’re the most nimble yogi on the planet or a powerlifter that’s as stiff as a board, you should always seek ways to expand and control your mobility. Remember, mobility always comes back to active range of motion. With this in mind, it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as having “too much” mobility. The more range you can control, the better off you’ll be.

If you’re interested in learning more or finding a provider near you, check out the following links: FR/FRC and Kinstretch.

And, if you're interested in learning more from Frank and the rest of the Cressey Sports Performance team, be sure to check out the fall seminar on October 22. The early-bird registration deadline is this Friday.

About the Author

Frank Duffy is the Coordinator of Strength Camps at Cressey Sports Performance-Massachusetts. He is a Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist (FRCms) and Kinstretch Instructor. You can contact him via email at frankduffyfitness@gmail.com, check out his website, and follow him on Instagram.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/19/17

I hope you all had a good weekend. My wife and I spent a few days in Washington, DC as tourists and baseball fans, and then I gave a shoulder seminar in Virginia before we headed home on a very delayed flight last night.

Let's kick of the week with some recommended reading and listening I covered on my trip. Before we get to it, though, just a friendly remind that September 22 (Friday) is the early-bird registration deadline for the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar in Hudson, MA. You can find details HERE.

Now, let's get to the recommendations:

Complete Single-Leg Training - This is Mike Robertson's brand new resource, and I'm working my way through it right now. All early signs point to it being absolutely outstanding. You can save $50 this week on the introductory discount.

EC on the Pacey Performance Podcast - I joined Rob Pacey on his podcast to talk everything from rotational power development to movement assessments.

From Impossible to Inevitable - This book is largely focused on the growth of larger companies, but there are quite a few pearls of wisdom in there for folks in the fitness industry. It was a good listen; I especially liked the section on niche development.

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In Defense of the Hip Thrust

I've been a fan of barbell hip thrust and supine bridges for approximately seven years now. I'd encourage you to give my What I Learned in 2012 article a read, as it describes how our usage of these drills came about (and does so in an entertaining manner) following a meeting I had with Bret Contreras in 2009. Suffice it to say that initially, I was not a fan of these drills, but in-the-trenches experimentation eventually brought me around.

Recently, there has been some controversy over the utility of hip thrusts, as some newer research publications (here and here) have demonstrated that hip thrust training does not improve sprinting speed. Bret Contreras, the man who popularized the hip thrust, has written a detailed response to these publications. For the record, I think he's handled the situation admirably, and I commend him for all his work adding to the body of knowledge so that we can all have these discussions in hopes of fine-tuning our strength training programs.

That said, not surprisingly, these research findings have created an opportunity for hip thrust critics to say "I told you so" - and several articles have emerged to highlight its lack of efficacy on this front. That said, I found Doug Kechijian's article, 'Science' and the Barbell Hip Thrust, to be the best of the articles that have recently emerged. Doug doesn't utilize the hip thrust, but used this current situation as a means of discussing how we view exercise selection on the whole. I'd strongly encourage you to give it a read.

While I must admit that I wasn't particularly surprised at the lack of carryover to sprinting performance, I don't think it's time to throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. Why? As I've often said:

[bctt tweet="Want to put an exercise in a program? You must be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion."]

In this case, I still have plenty of justifications for including hip thrusts and supine bridges in our programs. I don't think they're ever a perfect replacement for a squat or deadlift, but I do see a role for them in special circumstances, and as assistance exercises. In today's post, I'll outline why I still find these drills to have great utility.

1. Zero Back Pain

Yes, you read that right. In close to a decade of using these drills with clients, athletes, and our coaching staff, I've never seen anyone injured during a hip thrust or supine bridge. For how many other exercises can you say that? Certainly squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, or even single-leg work. In hindsight, it's shocking that a drill that looks like it could be harmful (and this was my initial reluctance to include it) actually has such an excellent record on the safety front. Obviously, we're matching it to the individual and coaching technique, but this is still an impressive observation.

Moreover, I've sold more than 8,000 copies of my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook. It includes barbell supine bridges in phase 2, and barbell hip thrusts in phase 3. This is 8,000+ people who've performed these exercises without my supervision, and I've never had a single email from anyone about an injury. Conversely, I've answered a ton of emails over the years from customers who need modifications because squatting and/or deadlifting aren't drills they can perform pain-free. I think this is remarkably telling; hip thrusts have stood the test of time in terms of safety concerns.

Finally, I've actually seen quite a few individuals who couldn't squat or deadlift pain-free actually perform barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges with zero pain over the course of years. They've bolstered a training effect that otherwise would have been markedly attenuated.

2. Hip thrusts allow us to train the posterior chain without deadlifts in a population that may not do well with scapular depression and downward rotation.

One thing we know about throwing a baseball is that it makes you very lat dominant and tends to drive scapular downward rotation.

As I discuss in this video, scapular upward rotation is incredibly important for throwers.

Sometimes, we'll see athletes who sit in so much scapular depression or downward rotation that we choose to avoid lat dominant exercises and heavy carries/holds in their programs. So, drills like deadlifts, farmer's walks, KB swings, and dumbbell lunges are out of the mix. When you lose deadlifts from a program, you realize that you've lost a big bang exercise for training the posterior chain. Barbell hip thrusts have been a huge help to us in this regard, as they give us a bilateral option for training the posterior chain. Otherwise, it'd be just safety squat bar (SSB) squats and single-leg work, the goblet set-up, belt squats, and glute-ham raise (GHR) variations. And, a lot of people don't have a SSB, belt squat, or GHR!

Interestingly, I can actually think of several instances over the years where we dropped deadlifting from a pitcher's program - and replaced it with hip thrusts - and his shoulder pain went away. I don't think improvements like this happen in isolation, but I have no doubt that it contributed to the reduction in symptoms.

3. Hip thrusts prioritize terminal hip extension, which is actually far more important to baseball success.

I want you to watch these videos of the hips during the baseball swing (and while you're at it, check out Jeff Albert's great guest post for me: Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing).

What I'm hoping you noticed is that while hip extension is incredibly important (for both the front and back legs), there is very little of it occurring in terms of actual range of motion. The same can be said of the pitching delivery; very rarely would a pitching come close to being a 90 degrees of hip flexion on the back hip.

Tim Collins early in his career was the most extreme hip flexion I've seen, and he's not even all the way down to 90 degrees:

In other words, hips thrusts and supine bridges reflect the shorter range of hip flexion/extension motion we see in hitting and pitching than they do for a higher amplitude movement like sprinting.


Source: Darren Wilkinson

To be clear, I'm not saying that squats and deadlifts don't train this range (especially when accommodating resistances like bands and chains are utilized); I'm just saying that hip thrusts and supine bridges train it exclusively and may provide some extra carryover.

4. Hip thrusts allow us to train the lower body without a grip challenge.

Load of gripping can also be an issue during the baseball season. Guys obviously get plenty of it from their upper body work, but when you add in the stress of throwing on the flexor tendons, more work on lower body days can push some pitchers over the edge in terms of forearm symptoms. This can also be an issue during post-operative elbow scenarios, as some surgeons can "beat up" the flexor tendon a bit more during Tommy John surgeries. With these athletes, we'll often plug hip thrusts in to replace deadlifts for 4-8 week spans.

5. The hip thrust helps to maintain a training effect in post-operative elbow and shoulder situations.

Building on my last point, we utilize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges a lot with our post-op clients. If we are talking about a Tommy John surgery, you aren't using a safety squat bar until two months post-op, or deadlifting until closer to five months (and even then, the loading has to be severely restricted). Conversely, provided they have someone to load plates for them, these athletes can hip thrust as early as 4-6 weeks (assuming we aren't dealing with a lower extremity graft site), and loading appreciably by weeks 8-10. That's a huge deal.

Shoulder surgeries are a bit slower to come around, but you're definitely able to hip thrust well before you use the safety squat bar or integrate deadlifts. In short, if you want bilateral loading in a post-operative situation, hip thrusts below right up there in the discussion with glute-ham raises - and serve as a good complement to sled dragging with a belt/harness and various single-leg drills.

6. Hip thrusts don't create much delayed onset muscle soreness.

It's hard to really overload the eccentric (lowering) component of a hip thrust - and this may be one reason why it doesn't carry over to sprinting as much as a squat would. However, this non-soreness-inducing quality can actually be of benefit, as we often want to avoid it with in-season athletes or those trying to achieve a higher volume of work in their training programs. This is actually a perk of several deadlift variations, too.

7. Hip thrusts are a safe way to get in higher-rep sets.

In the quest to put on some muscle, high-rep squatting and deadlifting often wind up getting pretty ugly by the end of the sets unless they're regressed in some fashion (e.g., goblet squats). And, on a personal note, any time that I deadlift for more than eight reps, I get a massive headache that lasts about three days. I've found that higher rep barbell supine bridge (moreso than hip thrusts) are a good option for sets of 12-15 at the end of a session to kick in some extra volume safely. It's pretty darn hard to screw this up, you know?

Thoughts on Loading

On several occasions, I've heard folks criticize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges because even seemingly untrained individuals can use so much weight. It's a valid assertion - but only to a point.

My experience has been that many individuals moving big weights are really short-changing themselves on the last 5-10 degrees of hip extension. They're either stopping short or getting lumbar extension (moving through the lower back). Often, when you fine-tune the technique and make them hold for a count at the top, they'll have to reduce the weight significantly. As a rule of thumb, though, I view the risk:benefit ratio with hip thrusts as being comparable to that of deadlifts in an athletic population; going heavier than 495 pounds probably isn't worth the risk or time involved. You're better off changing the tempo (longer pauses at the top) or switching to a different (and possibly more technically advanced) exercise that doesn't "come naturally" to the lifter. In short, find a different window of adaptation instead of just trying to move big weights through a short range-of-motion.

As an interesting aside to this, my deadlifts are actually significantly stronger than my hip thrusts. It's likely a function of "getting what you train," but I think it's an interesting argument against the idea that even weak people can automatically move big weights.

Last, but not least, remember that relatively untrained people can often push a lot of weight on sleds on turf, and rack pulls are usually substantially heavier than one's deadlift. Does that make them useless, too?

Closing Thoughts

New research is always warranted in any field, but particularly in strength and conditioning, a dynamic industry that has changed remarkably over the past few decades. In many cases, it takes a lot of time and experimentation to understand just how something fits (or doesn't fit) in our training approaches. Personally, I always come back to the "justifying the inclusion of a lift" question I noted earlier in this article. My experience has been that barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges have stood the test of time in this regard - and done so safely. I view them much more as an assistance exercise, as opposed to something that would ever replace squats or deadlifts. However, in the special circumstances I've outlined above, I think they will continue to fill in nicely.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/11/17

I hope that everyone had a good weekend - and that our readers who are all safe in light of Hurricane Irma. Here's a little recommended reading/listening to kick off your week. Before I get to it, though, I should give a friendly reminder that each month, Cressey Sports Performance staff and I upload webinars, in-services, exercise demonstrations, and articles to Elite Training Mentorship. This is a super affordable and thorough continuing education resource that is updated regularly, and I'd encourage you to check it out HERE.

Why "Just Stretch Your Hamstrings" is Bad Advice - This article is a few weeks old, but I'd forgotten to add it to our weekly collection when I first came across it in mid-August. As always, Doug Kechijian hit several nails on the head.

Hip CARs in the Push-up Position - This is a great video Cressey Sports Performance coach Frank Duffy posted recently. It's an excellent example of the interaction between hip mobility and core stability.

7 Ways to Get Strong Outside the Sagittal Plane - I reincarnated this old article from my archives yesterday, as I think it's a collection of important progressions for rotational sport athletes as they kick off the offseason.

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The Success is in the Struggle

Back in my graduate school days, I did some personal training at a gym not far from campus. My days were filled with work in the human performance lab and varsity weight rooms, but I felt like it was really important that I continued to train general fitness clients to become more proficient in that demographic – and help pay the bills.

Like most guys in my early 20s, I thought I had life all figured out. A few months in, my boss informed me that I was due for a performance review. She also mentioned that they were deviating from the “norm” a bit, and that my sit-down meeting would not be with her, but rather, with one of the more experienced trainers, Kris. I didn’t really think anything of it, and the meeting was scheduled for the following week.

Looking back, that meeting was profoundly impactful for me, even if I didn’t fully grasp just how important it was at the time.

Kris first complimented me on what I did well: work ethic, passion, attention to detail, coaching, and book smarts. Looking back, it was a perfect Dale Carnegie approach before I’d ever even read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Eventually, though, the conversation delved into the topic of empathy; she asked me what I thought most of my clients really wanted to get out of their personal training with me.

Here I was, a 22-year-old aspiring powerlifter who thought the world was out to train for a 600lb deadlift and get to 200 pounds at 6% body fat. My most loyal client, though, was a 68-year-old accountant who just didn’t want his neck and shoulder to hurt when he worked out and picked up his grandkids. Another was an elderly woman who was far more concerned about her risk of osteoporosis than her vertical jump.

That day, without telling me I sucked at relating to my clients, Kris taught me a ton about empathy and separating myself from personal biases. She just tactfully challenged me with a simple question. It wasn’t much different than the “guided discovery” approach we use with young athletes when we walk them into a little technique failure so that they can appreciate the wrong pattern.

“Where did you feel that?”

“Can you stop rowing when your elbow hits my hand?”

“See how your nose got to the floor before your chest on that push-up? Can you switch that up?”

Kris saw exactly what I needed to become a better coach, and she delivered the message perfectly. In hindsight, that lesson in empathy and separating myself from personal biases probably made a huge difference in enabling me to be successful in training baseball players even though I wasn’t a baseball player past eighth grade. I had to do a lot more listening and ask a lot more questions. Kris understood this all too well – and modeled it, too: she’d had clients for over a decade!

That was 2003. Now, 14 years later, Kris and I are still good friends. She sent us gifts when our twins were born. I help out with training her son, an up-and-coming pitcher. Of any of my co-workers at that time, she challenged me the most – and she’s the only one with whom I really keep in touch. How is that for impactful? 

I actually reached out to her before posting this blog, and her response included the following:

"I remember this conversation well. I dreaded giving this performance review! I remember thinking that I knew how smart you were (probably smarter than I) and I knew that this trainer job was ultimately not your end point. I wanted to make sure you knew how valuable your knowledge was when applied correctly. How do you tell someone their delivery is not as sensitive as it needs to be??

"I'm so glad that I succeeded in my message and that this lesson has stayed with you. I am honored that you, who I respect immensely, learned something from me. You never really know how much you can impact a person's behavior and thought process."

Now, imagine she’d never spoken up. Or, even worse, if she had – but I wasn’t ready to accept that constructive criticism. I wouldn’t be the coach (or person) I am today. This is why we should be massively grateful to those who not only have constructive criticism to offer, but choose to provide it with the correct approach.

When it really comes down to it, people struggle or fail to improve for one of three reasons.

a) They don’t know what they’re doing incorrectly.

b) They don’t have actionable strategies to address these issues; don’t understand how to employ these strategies; or haven't had enough consistency or success with these strategies.

c) They aren’t willing to change.

In terms of A, it’s important to challenge people tactfully and make them aware of their blind spots. Particularly in the youth sports realm, this is getting to be a very dicey situation. Many kids think they have it all figured out, and more concerning, many parents think coaches “have it in” for their kids, so they block constructive criticism. If we protect kids from understanding their weaknesses, they don’t grow. If we challenge kids, let them know failure isn’t a big deal, and then provide strategies to improve, they thrive. It’s been demonstrated in motor learning research, the educational realm, and social settings. As has often been said, “the success is in the struggle.”

Conversely, some people need help with B. This is the kid who is always late for practice, or always misses breakfast because he oversleeps. He needs time management strategies, and people around him to whom he can be accountable.

Scenario C is far and away the most challenging dynamic. These are situations where you may actually cheer against someone in hopes that they’ll struggle mightily and come to their senses on what needs to change. In an athletic context, it’s usually the kid who is the best player in the history of his town even though he eats fast food at every meal, skips training sessions, and stays up all night. It’s just a matter of time until he runs into genetically gifted competition that is far more prepared and motivated than he is.

Aroldis Chapman throws 105mph – harder than anyone in baseball history – and he has a 4.12 ERA this year. Mike Trout struck out three times in a game earlier this year. Ultimately, no matter who you are, sports and life will humble you in some capacity. Athletes are better off learning these struggles at a young age so that they’ll have strategies for dealing with them for the decades that follow.

What are the take-home messages?

1. Always be open to constructive criticism. In fact, seek it out. You can’t see your blind spots like others can.

2. Don’t protect your kid from constructive criticism, or immediately discredit criticisms of you. Process them before reacting. And remember the person delivering the criticism may actually be really nervous about doing so.

3. If you deliver constructive criticism, be cognizant of matching your approach to the personality of the one who’s receiving it.

4. Always reiterate that failure is part of life and not a big deal. And, if it seems like a big deal – particularly with young athletes – find ways to minimize consequences.

5. If you know why you’re struggling, find and employ strategies to address your weaknesses.

6. Thank you, Kris!
 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/4/17

Happy Labor Day! I hope you're all enjoying the long weekend and not laboring too hard. In the event you're laying low and relaxing today, here are a few reading/listening recommendations for your weekend.

Upcoming Atlanta Seminar - Just a quick heads-up that I announced a new date for my one-day shoulder course. it'll be in Atlanta on November 5.

Game Changer - I'm just 60 pages into this new release from Fergus Connolly (Performance Director for the University of Michigan football team) and it's excellent. If sports science intrigues you, I'd definitely recommend you give it a read. I got an advanced copy, but it officially publishes on 9/5 and is well worth the pre-order.

Gym Owner Musings: Installment 7 - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, always has some good thoughts to share in these features.

My Favorite "Catch-All" Assessment - A discussion last week reminded me to "reincarnate" this popular article I wrote a few years ago about the overhead lunge walk.

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*Narrow exercise selections make for impressive lifters, but less impressive athletes.* 👇 With our typical minor league baseball player, we may actually have time to get through six 4-week programs over the course of an offseason. In six months - especially if we happen to have an athlete who is genetically gifted for strength development - we *could* get guys freaky strong on a few big lifts. We choose not to, however. Why? 🤔 A narrow exercise selection can lead to some very impressive weight room performances on a few lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, clean, etc. This specificity can be great if you want to be a one (or three) trick pony (powerlifter), but not quite as helpful if you're an athlete who actually needs to change directions, demonstrate motor control at extreme ranges of motion, and handle a variety of sport-specific loads and velocities. ⚾️ Here, @ryancusick33 demonstrates some of the "athletic versatility" that made him a 95mph arm and @wakebaseball commit in the 2018 class. Additional thoughts in the comments below. #cspfamily #sportsperformance #pitching #SportsMedicine #strengthtraining #strengthandconditioning #deadlift #turkishgetup

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Should You Play Fall Baseball?

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, John O'Neil.

We know that playing baseball year-round is a bad idea, but how do you determine if it’s a good idea for youth athletes to skip fall baseball and focus on developing themselves for the spring? Societal pressures – parents, coaches, scouts, recruiters - have dictated that if you’re a player and not doing as much total work as your competition is, you won’t keep up with the curve, but we know that’s not the case. Intelligent work will always trump total volume of work. The tough part lies in the action of identifying which athletes are better off sitting out a supplementary competitive season for the sake of success in the main season. Here are three questions to ask if you’re considering fall baseball and long-term baseball success is your goal:

1) How many innings did you throw during the spring and summer?
2) Are you playing another sport?
3) Are you adequately prepared for success within the fall season?

1) If you’re a pitcher and have thrown greater than 100 innings during the spring and summer seasons, fall baseball is highly contraindicated. A February 2011 study from Fleisig et al. provided the data for us that a youth pitcher, ages 9-14, is 3.5 times more likely to need an elbow or shoulder surgery down the road if they throw more than 100 innings in a calendar year. We can theorize and maybe think that a high school pitcher can afford slightly more innings, or, we could ask the question, what does a high school pitcher really gain out of throwing more than that? If they haven’t attracted recruiting attention in their first 100, you’re either not good enough to pitch at the next level OR have a very poor strategy for exposure. As CSP-FL co-founder Brian Kaplan has often said:

I’m in favor of shutting down pitchers at 100 innings, and I will provide more detail about when 100IP might not be the ideal number in point 3.

2) If you’re currently playing another sport, how does playing baseball as a secondary sport impact your long-term development? What is the goal of fall baseball? If the goal is skill acquisition and repeated exposure in a game environment, how does your commitment to the other sport detract or enhance from playing baseball?

Let’s take the high school soccer or football schedule. Most teams will have some type of organized activity six days per week, leaving one day a week where baseball can be the priority. From a skill standpoint, I would consider it more detrimental to both swing and throwing mechanics to be doing those in a fatigued state. Moreover, not providing the athlete with a true off day for the duration of the fall will lead to a much greater likelihood of an injury in the primary fall sport they’re playing. For position players, how much baseball skill work do you expect to get in only playing on weekends? A typical game might only involve a dozen swings and a handful of plays in the field, and that includes pre-game warm-ups.

If you’re not going to take a day off, maybe work on qualities in the gym that will ensure more long-term success. If you have the time given the constraints of the other sport, get to the cage/field multiple times per week if you feel the need to get more reps at the plate or in the field. Early specialization is not the answer for youth athletes. From a physical preparation standpoint, we know that specific physical preparation (SPP) is only as good as the general physical preparation (GPP) that underlies it. Even if baseball is the long-term primary goal, allow kids to develop GPP through other sports and specialize at the latest possible moment.

3) If fall ball is productive, what are the reasons? There are several: repeated  game exposure can ensure success on a baseball field from a perspective of tension and arousal, as we can’t simulate those in the cage.

However, if the competitive season is already close to six months long, when does the athlete have time to develop other athletic skills that will carry over to success within the competitive season? Fall ball may be a time where you gain exposure to scouts/recruiters, or great for the northeast athlete who only played 30 games in spring/summer. But, if you can’t set the athlete up for success in the short fall season, why bother? Specifically, how much skill work can the athlete get in to be set up for productive game play?

For pitchers, this means getting in multiple throwing sessions per week outside of competitive throwing days within the fall season. It also means that the pitcher needs to have been ramped up and be ready to throw in game situations in the weeks prior to the season, making it tricky when the gap between summer and fall baseball is anywhere from 2-6 weeks. For every week off of throwing, I’d like to see pitchers ramp up for at least an equal, if not a double amount of time prior to getting back out there (one week off = 1-2 weeks ramping, 2 = 2-4, etc.). It doesn’t matter if you’re only throwing a few innings every Sunday. Be prepared to be successful every time you toe the rubber. This is a case where even if the pitcher only threw 50-80 innings – far short of the 100 recommended in point 1 – it’s not a good idea to throw them into the fire if they can’t play catch, long toss, and throw bullpens during the week.

If you fall into the three categories I outlined above, I’d advise against playing fall baseball and instead working on physical qualities that will ensure success from a more long-term perspective. Get to the gym, get stronger, faster, more athletic, work on durability, take time off from throwing, and prepare yourself for a successful spring and summer season.

Who Definitely SHOULD Play Fall Baseball?

If you do not fall into the categories above, you may still be asking if playing fall baseball is right for you. There are two categories of high school players who need to be playing fall baseball if they expect to move on and play at the collegiate level. As outlined above, even these players need to prepare for the fall season as if it were their main competitive season. In other words, they need to be sure they are throwing, taking BP, and training regularly even if only playing on weekends.

1) High School Seniors who don’t yet have a collegiate commitment
2) Players who didn’t play much during the spring/summer seasons

1) If you have a chance to be recruited to play in college, but haven’t yet received the right opportunity for any multitude of reasons, fall baseball can be a last-ditch effort to get in front of coaches and scouts. Many Ivy League and D2/D3 schools recruit well into the fall. Make sure you are picking the right spots, though. Get out to showcases/tournaments/camps where these coaches will actually be in attendance, given that it is your last chance to play in front of them. This will require far more advanced than (definitely) the spring and (usually) the summer season will. You can’t just play in any local weekend fall ball league and expect coaches to come find you if they haven’t already. For senior pitchers, you can be a little more aggressive with your workload during this time because the summer after senior year of high school will most likely be a low workload or complete dead period. For underclassmen, stick more stringently to the guidelines given above.

2) If you are a player that missed significant time during your main competitive season, regardless of grade, fall baseball is a very good idea. This could be in the case of someone who was injured and had to sit out, or, someone who was buried on the bench and only got half the amount of action as some of his teammates. In this case, keeping up with what everyone else is doing in terms of yearly workload is a very important thing. This will make you better on a physical level, as repeated exposure to better pitching and facing better hitters will have carryover to the main competitive seasons. Additionally, your comfort level in a competitive game experience could make or break your ability to play at the varsity high school level in the spring, or your ability to be good enough to get recruited in the summer that follows. Identify the biggest areas of need that will drive your ability to be successful long-term and address them. If you haven’t played in real games very much, this could be the limiting factor.

As you can see, the decision on whether or not to play fall baseball is a very individual one. Be sure to consider all these factors as you make that decision.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Atlanta Seminar Announcement: November 5, 2017

I just wanted to give you a heads-up on one-day seminar with me in Atlanta, GA on Sunday, November 5, 2017.

Cressey scapula

We’ll be spending the day geeking out on shoulders, as the event will cover Shoulder Assessment, Corrective Exercise, and Programming.  The event will be geared toward personal trainers, strength and conditioning professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and fitness enthusiasts alike.

Agenda

9:00AM-9:30AM – Inefficiency vs. Pathology (Lecture)
9:30AM-10:15AM – Understanding Common Shoulder Injuries and Conditions (Lecture)
10:15AM-10:30AM – Break
10:30AM-12:30PM – Upper Extremity Assessment (Lecture/Lab)
12:30PM-1:30PM – Lunch
1:30PM-3:30PM – Upper Extremity Assessment Case Studies (Lab)
3:30PM-3:45PM – Break
3:45PM-4:45PM – Upper Extremity Mobility/Activation/Strength Drills (Lab)
4:45PM-5:00PM – Q&A to Wrap Up

Location

Rapid Sports Performance
105 Smoke Hill Lane
Building 105, Suite 120
Woodstock, GA 30188 

Continuing Education Credits

The event has been approved for 0.7 CEUs (7 contact hours) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Cost:

$149.99 Early Bird (Before October 5), $199 Regular (After October 5)

Note: we'll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction, so be sure to register early. Each of the previous two offerings of this seminar sold out well in advance of the early-bird registration deadline.

Click here to register using our 100% secure server! 

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Questions? Please email ec@ericcressey.com (organizer) or mike.berenger@go-rapid.com (host).

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Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule

Last week, I Tweeted out the following statistic:  

As can pretty much be expected, this Tweet was met with a thumbs up from frustrated coaches and parents who know a skinny pitcher who could really benefit from weight gain, but still refused to crush calories. That was the 98% of interaction with these numbers.

The other 2% - as can also be expected, after years of social media "exposures" - was people who wanted to disagree. An example:

"Not true. My 6'0 180 pound son throws 93 and threw 90 when he was 5'10 165."

Another:

"So you're encouraging guys to just get fat and they'll throw harder? Why isn't Bartolo the hardest thrower in MLB then?"

In the research world, these exceptions to the rule are called outliers and are nixed from the data set. In the magical world of social media, they are liked, retweeted, celebrated, enshrined, put up on a pedestal - and ultimately almost become the rule. Unfortunately, those who try to replicate the exceptions wind up woefully inferior.

Remember the generation of kids who thought that they could a) abstain from lifting weights and b) go to really up-tempo, cross-body deliveries in hopes of becoming the next Tim Lincecum? With a few exceptions, they become the skinny guys who couldn't throw strikes - or convince anyone to be their catch partners because they were so erratic. And, they really didn't put themselves in great positions to throw hard, in most cases.

Lincecum himself faded as he approached 30 years old, due in part to hip surgery. After a short comeback attempt in 2016, he hasn't pitch in almost 1.5 years and currently sits at 1,682 career innings. Currently, 27 active pitchers have more career innings pitched than that - and only two weigh less than 195 pounds.

This isn't a vilification of Lincecum, either; he recognized he was an outlier and made it work for a successful career that included multiple Cy Youngs and world championships. That's a lot different than the 16-year-old with no track record of success insisting that he can throw 2,000 innings in the big leagues at 140 pounds. That's not backed by demonstrable results or even the slightest bit of logic. Need further proof that you're better off following the masses (pun intended)? 

1. The size of the average MLB player has increased from ~186 to ~210 now (really good analysis here). Not surprisingly, average fastball velocity in MLB has increased dramatically during that same period.

2. Go check out this list of active leaders in innings pitched. Take note of how few are under 200 pounds.

3. Go check out this list of active leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Take note of how few are under 200 pounds. This guy is eighth on that list (and rapidly climbing). He's 6-3 and 210-215 pounds, but not the "absurdly bulky" many naysayers insist will happen if a 16-year-old kid adds a few hundred calories per day. Max is just big enough to use gravity effectively while remaining athletic.

4. We have loads of studies demonstrating that heavier pitchers throw hard. If you want to pick just a few, use this one and this one. Hopefully, the N=1 Twitter researchers can appreciate that their studies don't have quite as much validity as the peer-reviewed research that is published in the Journal of Biomechanics and Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.

5. This recent study reported that larger individuals signed professional contracts earlier and made it to the big leagues at a younger age. It also reaffirmed that bigger guys throw harder. Go figure.

6. Go to any powerlifting meet - or simply peruse some records online - and it won't take you long to realize that the heavier guys are the stronger guys. Strength is force. Power is work divided by time. Throwing a baseball is a sport-specific application of power.

Strength is also a foundation for stability: active control of joints. If you lack it, you'll rely more on passive restraints: ligaments, menisci, intervertebral discs, labrum, etc.

If you want to be successful in anything in life - sports, business, education, relationships, you name it - you are better off looking at what has worked for the majority of individuals who have previously been successful.

And, the research, anecdotal evidence, and logic is very much in support of gaining good weight being a wildly effective method for most pitchers to gain velocity, be more successful, and become more durable. You might be the exception to that rule, but chances are that you haven't actually tested the weight gain waters enough to know for sure. Eat up. 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/28/17

This week's recommended reading/listening has a bit more of a lifestyle/chronic disease theme to it, but I'm sure you'll still find these resources very useful.

Physical Preparation Podcast with Nick Littlehales - This podcast might have been the best one I've listened to ion 2017. This is an outstanding discussion on sleep strategies from one of the best in the world on the topic.

Can Supplemental Vitamin D Improve Sleep? - This was an insightful post from the Examine.com crew in light of some research that was recently published.

25 Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies to Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer's Disease - I read this article from Precision Nutrition with great interest, as there is some family history for me in this realm. This is an excellent review of the research we have at our fingertips.

August 25 Facebook Live - I did this Q&A on Wednesday afternoon; you can watch the recording of it here:

Top Tweet of the Week

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