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Why You Shouldn’t Look Up When You Lift

To tuck the chin or not? It's one of the most debated topics in the world of strength and conditioning and sports medicine these days. If you've read any of my stuff, you'll know that I prefer tucking it - the so-called "packed neck position" - to preserve a more neutral cervical spine positioning, whether it's on deadlifts, squats, or push-ups.

One of the most common arguments against this packed neck position is that Powerlifter X and Olympic Lifter Y looks up during lifts, and they're really strong. I'd encourage you to consider that:

1. Most of your clients/athletes have no interest in being Powerlifter X or Olympic Lifter Y. They just want to be fit, healthy, proficient in their sport. They value quality of life over weight room PRs - so movement quality takes place over absolute loading.

2. Good outcomes don't necessarily equate to good movements, so it's difficult to always draw population-wide conclusions from elite athletes. As an example, Cressey Sports Performance athlete and Cubs pitcher Steve Cishek is an accomplished MLB pitcher, yet he has some "high maintenance" pitching mechanics that you would never teach to another up-and-coming pitcher. He's just found a way to make them work, even if they do put his body in some funky positions. 

 

Slooooooow moooooo Cisshhheekkk. #cspfamily #cubs

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Just because someone is strong doesn't mean that they're getting to those big numbers via the most efficient or healthy avenues.

3. We have no idea what Powerlifter X or Olympic Lifter Y's necks will look (or feel) like in their 60s.

4. Especially under load, it's never a great idea to take one joint close to its end-range at the expense of motion at other joints. A common example is getting too much low back movement when the hips are stiff. Well, when it comes to cervical extension, most people get far too much in the upper cervical region and far too little in the lower cervical spine. So, not all "look ups" are coming from the same place - and some will certainly create more pathology than others.

5. When you go into upper cervical/head extension, you're shortening levator scapulae, which is a downward rotator of the scapula.

If you're looking to set up an overhead squat or snatch, it's probably not a great idea to encourage downward rotation of the scapula when you need upward rotation for quality overhead motion. Here's a video that delves into this a bit further:

6. You're also shortening sternocleidomastoid, which is one of the biggest muscular contributors to chronic headaches.

So do yourself a favor and just tuck your chin a bit.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/18/18

Happy Friday! I'm a few days late with this post in light of our spring sale as well as some speaking-related travel I had this week. The good news is that the travel gave me some time to do some reading/viewing/listening and come up with some additional recommendations for you. Check them out:

Complete Youth Training - This is Mike Boyle's great new resource for those who work with young athletes. He touches on everything from the problems with early specialization to age-specific training stages. It's a good investment for parents and coaches alike. I loved how his perspective as a parent coalesced with his commentary as a strength and conditioning coach and business owner. It's on sale for $50 as an introductory discount.

The Best Team Wins - This was a recommendation from my buddy Josh Bonhotal, who's spent the past several years at the Purdue basketball strength and conditioning coach. Whether you're a coach or involved in a business in any way, this is a great book that'll teach you a lot about your interactions with athletes, fellow coaches, employees, and co-workers.

Prioritization and Success for Strength and Conditioning Success - I was reminded of this older post of mine this week when chatting with an up-and-coming strength and conditioning coach about how I've approached career development since I entered the industry.

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I think the long head of the triceps is a really overlooked structure in the development of both shoulder and elbow pain in throwers. Many people forget that it crosses the shoulder joint - and therefore effectively links the scapula to the lower arm. 🤔 In the late cocking phase of throwing, it's working eccentrically to prevent excessive elbow flexion while storing elastic energy that can be released on the subsequent elbow extension of the delivery. In other words, you can view the long head of the triceps as somewhat of a "mini-lat," as the lat serves this similar store-release function (albeit with different functions) - and they both work as shoulder extensors. 💪 It's also interesting in that it's one of the few muscles where the trigger point referral patterns can work up and down, as opposed to just down. I've seen some throwers where treating triceps has been a game changer in terms of everything from elbow, to shoulder, to neck pain. 👇 The long story short is that you have to give the triceps some love with quality self-myofascial release/manual therapy and make sure that you preserve tissue length (by stretching into shoulder flexion and elbow flexion simultaneously). Swipe right for some ideas. Thanks to @andrewmillettpt for the dry needling and manual therapy and @oneilstrength and @sooo_deep for the exercise demos. #cspfamily

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Spring Sale: Final Day!

In case you haven't already heard, I'm running my spring sale right now, with four of my products for sale at 40% off. Just enter the coupon code SPRING (all CAPS) at checkout to apply the discount. The discount runs until tonight (Tuesday) at midnight. You can learn more at the following links:

Cressey Sports Performance Innovations

The Art of the Deload

Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core

The Truth About Unstable Surface Training

Enjoy!

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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Hip Abduction End-Range Lift-off

Today, I wanted to introduce you to a mobility exercise we're utilizing a lot these days at Cressey Sports Performance. Here's a great demonstration from Cressey Sports Performance coach Frank Duffy :


Speaking of Cressey Sports Performance, as part of my spring sale, I'm putting Cressey Sports Performance Innovations on sale for 40% off through Tuesday at midnight. This resource features webinars on a variety of topics that will help coaches and fitness enthusiasts improve their training, programming, and coaching. Just enter the coupon code SPRING (all CAPS) at checkout to apply the discount. You can add it to your cart HERE.

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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5 Important Lessons on Balance Training

You'll hear the terms "stability" and "balance" thrown around a lot in the personal training, strength and conditioning, and rehabilitation communities, but they're often covered in very vague terms - and with hastily thrown together exercise progressions. With this week's spring sale on The Truth About Unstable Surface Training (enter coupon code SPRING for 40% off), I thought I'd cover some things you need to appreciate to be more informed in this regard.

1. Balance and stability are not the same thing.

In Basic Biomechanics, Susan Hall (2003) defined stability as "resistance to both angular and linear acceleration, or resistance to disruption of equilibrium.” Conversely, she defined balance as "the ability to control equilibrium” or “the process of maintaining the center of gravity within the body’s base of support within a given sensory environment.”

In other words, stability is  a state, and balance is a proficiency. Your level of stability is constantly changing based on environmental factors, external influences working on you, and your positioning. Balance is something you have (or lack) to varying degrees; neural factors such as muscular strength, kinesthetic awareness, coordination, and proprioception all contribute to one’s balancing proficiency.

In training, we often reduce stability (e.g., go to unilateral instead of bilateral stance) in order to train to improve our balancing proficiency.

2. Static and dynamic balance are only loosely correlated.

All the way back in 1967, Drowatzky and Zuccato observed little carryover from static to dynamic balance skills, and it was proven again decades later by Tsigilis. With that in mind, it makes sense to train a "continuum" of balance challenges ranging from static to dynamic:

3. Balance is an easy and "free" adaptation to acquire.

If you watch all of the exercises I just outlined along that static-to-dynamic continuum, none of them are particularly taxing. In other words, they can be trained every day without having to remove a lot of other stuff from your programs out of concern for exceeding recovery capacity. The best way to improve balance is to train it frequently and with small exposures, even if it's as simple as telling athletes to brush their teeth on one foot. Nobody will overtrain on balance work.

4. Balance is skill specific.

Having great balance on hockey skates doesn't mean that you'll have elite balance on a basketball or tennis court. This is why it's so important to challenge balance in a variety of ways (by manipulating stability scenarios) in training; it increases the likelihood of "overlap" to the chaos that athletic participation throws at us.

5. Unstable surface training is simply one means of modifying stability in a given situation - but that doesn't mean that it's an appropriate or safe method of training balance.

I spent two years of my life studying unstable surface training (UST) for my master's thesis, which was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2007. Suffice it to say that there are a few scenarios in which UST can be very useful, most notably the rehabilitation of functional ankle instability. Usually, however, over avenues of stability manipulation are much better ways to enhance balance.

With that in mind, if you'd like to learn more about not only unstable surface training, but all the different ways you can alter stability to enhance balance in your training programs, I'd strongly encourage you check out my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training. It's on sale for $40 off as part of our spring sale; just enter the coupon code SPRING at checkout to get the discount.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/9/18

I hope you're having a great week. Stay tuned to EricCressey.com, as we started up my spring sale yesterday and will be running it for a good chunk of May. The first product featured is...

Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core - This presentation covers an incredibly important topic, and is now on sale for 40% off. Just enter the coupon code SPRING (all CAPS) at checkout to apply the discount. This is some great continuing education material for under $9.

The Physical Preparation Podcast with John O'Neil - Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts Director of Performance John O'Neil hopped on Mike Robertson's podcast to long-term athletic development in baseball players. There are some great pearls of wisdom for anyone who works with middle and high school athletes.

Caffeine Consumption: How Much is Safe? - The crew at Examine.com pulled together some of the latest research on caffeine consumption to outline how much is considered safe for various individuals across the population.

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How to Win 99% of High School Baseball Games

I've never coached a high school baseball game - or any game, for that matter. I have, however, worked alongside some tremendous high school coaches - from my time with Team USA, to our five staff members who've coached, to various close friends. And, I've watched more high school baseball games than I can possibly count (my fourth date with my wife was a high school state championship game in 2007). So, I feel reasonably qualified to comment on this topic - and I've run this theory by several accomplished coaches who have all agreed.

I'm of the belief that high school baseball games are rarely won; rather, they are lost. Usually, the mistakes far exceed the outstanding play, and the team who makes fewer mistakes invariably ends up on top. As Cressey Sports Performance - MA pitching coordinator Christian Wonders has said, "you have to win the free base war."

With that said, bear with me as I outline five things that virtually guarantee you wins in high school baseball.

1. Have a catcher who can receive/block.

There is nothing more painful to watch than a CATCHer who can't CATCH or block. It derails an entire game because you immediately take away a pitcher's confidence (impacting #5 from below) and have him worried about the running game all the time. The good news is that receiving and blocking is highly trainable - and in a relatively short amount of time - with good instruction as long as you have a player who isn't afraid to put in the work and roll around in the dirt. And, elite arm speed isn't necessary behind the plate at the high school level. This quality is highly trainable.

2. Make the throws and catches you're expected to make - and don't throw the ball around.

You don't need to have Andrelton Simmons' range or arm to be a good high school defender; you just need to be intelligent enough to not make big mistakes in overestimating your abilities. I'm a huge believer that paying strict attention to good, aggressive catchplay during the warm-up period pays big dividends in this regard. Most high school kids just shoot the breeze during inattentive catchplay, and most coaches rush the long toss period because they're anxious to get to other stuff during practice. This quality is highly trainable.

3. Have strong kids that can hit the ball hard.

This is where I'm going to nerd out a bit.  If you hit the baseball hard, you will get on base more often. It's follows logically, but with the increased focus on exit velocity in MLB in recent years, we can more easily quantify it. Take a look at the huge, linear relationship between exit velocity and batting average (not to mention the concurrent increase in HR percentage):

This shouldn't surprise you: a greater exit velocity will always enable balls to find more holes and gaps, and put more pressure on the defense to induce more errors (especially in high school baseball, where many young athletes are still legitimately afraid of the ball). I can guarantee you that the averages probably go up an additional 150-200 points in the high school game because defenders don't have as much range, parks are smaller, infields aren't as smooth, and a host of other factors. How realistic is it for high school hitters to attain these exit velocities? I asked my buddy Bobby Tewksbary, and he sent this along to me:

"High school exit velocities vary greatly depending on many factors like weight, strength, speed and skill. Using HitTrax, we see high school freshmen who are still prepubescent and struggle to break 70 mph. On the upper end, we recently had a high school junior hit a ball 108 mph. This is on par with - or higher than - our pro clients. Most varsity players are in the upper 80s to low 90s. Anything above 100 mph is usually reserved for D1 caliber players. As an example, we recently had a senior D1 commit (on HitTrax) hit a ball 106.4 mph and 481 feet."

Obviously, this doesn't take into account that you actually have to face live pitching, but if you're a high school hitter consistently hitting the ball 90mph+ in games, you can bet that you'll be hitting at a .400 clip.

As a frame of reference, the best Cressey Sports Performance "attendance" from a single team was the 2011 Lincoln-Sudbury (L-S) Regional High School baseball team that won the Massachusetts state championship. Of the 25 kids on the roster, 24 trained at CSP - and they hit .361 on the season. They scored 61 runs in six games in the playoffs. Strong players who prioritize strength and conditioning - especially in-season - hit balls hard and win a lot of games. This quality is highly trainable.

4. Run the bases aggressively/intelligently.

This is the single biggest window of adaptation and untapped competitive advantage in a high school population because a) very few coaches understand how to teach it, b) even fewer prioritize it, and c) 99% of players have easy adjustments they can make to set-up, sprint mechanics, and strategy that differentiate them quickly. With the number of walks, dropped third strikes, errors, passed balls, wild pitches, and balks we see in high school baseball, having a relatively fast, intelligent athlete on the bases is a game changer. The best athletes run wild on mediocre defenses. As a frame of reference, that same L-S team I highlighted above actually stole 81 bases in 28 games (seven innings each); that basically works out to a stolen base almost every other inning. This quality is highly trainable.

5. Have strike throwers on the mound.

Velocity is awesome and it's great to train it. The problem is that a lot of hard throwing high school arms have no idea how to harness it to command the baseball. I've seen a lot of 86-88mph arms get yanked in the second inning after seven walks while getting outpitched by a 70-poo mph arm that throws strikes. Don't misinterpret what I'm saying, though: velocity is really useful (especially at the next level), but in high school, it doesn't impact outcomes nearly as much because other teams rarely have hitters that accomplish #4 from above (hitting the ball hard). In other words, you see far more games lost by crappy teams than you do games won singlehandedly by elite arms. The L-S team from earlier took 127 walks in 196 innings while only striking out 110 times. Meanwhile, their pitching staff (which included two D1 arms, including future Vanderbilt closer and 4th round draft pick Adam Ravenelle) punched out 254 guys while walking 110. If you put up a 2.5: 1 K:BB ratio in high school baseball, you're going to win a lot more games than you lose. This quality is highly trainable, although not quite as much as some of the others from above.

Bringing It Together

Go to most high school practices, and you'll see a lot of time wasted. You'll see a lot of guys standing around in the outfield shagging BP. You'll watch the mind-numbing slow jog around the field during the warm-up, or some underwhelming static stretching in a circle. You'll want some pre-throwing drills - wrist flicks and half-kneeling work - that can probably be skipped. It may be excessive time spent on every obscure situational defense scenario with lots of guys standing around. In other words, there is a lot of time that can be "repurposed."

How do you use this time better?

1. Work with your catchers. Don't just beat them like rented mules; challenge them and teach them.

2. Teach baserunning and sprint mechanics, and run the bases hard.

3. Prioritize and coach the heck out of catch play. Don't rush long toss.

4. Emphasize strength and conditioning year-round, and don't let it fall off inseason.

5. Give pitchers consistent developmental challenges. Actually schedule bullpens and have an expectation for what is to be worked on and achieved in each one.

You win games focusing on big rocks, not majoring in the minutia where there aren't large windows of growth possible.

*A special thanks to Coach Kirk Fredericks for not only pulling all these statistics together for me, but for teaching me a lot of these things over the years. Kirk went 269-68 with three state titles in 14 years as a head coach at L-S and is one of the best coaches I've seen at any level. I'm lucky to have him as a resource.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/3/18

I hope you're having a great week. Here's some recommended reading from around the 'net to finish it off on a high note.

11 Deadlifting Tips - I contributed to this deadlift compilation for T-Nation, and it covers this big lift from a number of different perspectives.

The Biggest Change in Strength Coaching - This quick post from Dave Tate was spot-on with where I see the industry headed in future years.

Vernon Griffith on Communication, Mindset, and Lasting Impact in Youth Athletics - I love learning from coaches who understand how to get through to athletes and create long-term positive changes. This podcast is a great example.

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When we coach our overhead medicine ball stomp variations, I never want athletes to try to "deaden" the rebound by catching the ball as it comes right off the floor. This approach is shown in the video on the right, and you'll notice that I'm already in deceleration mode (in anticipation of "protecting" against the rebound) rather than powering through the entire range of motion. Contrast it to the better technique on the left, where I just "let it eat" and then "regroup" with a catch at torso height. 👇 Another downside to trying to stop the rebound closer to the floor is that it markedly increases the likelihood that you'll jam a thumb. And, where there really aren't any benefits to stopping the rebound lower down, it's really not worth the risk. #cspfamily

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/27/18

It's a rainy day in Massachusetts - which is the perfect time to compile some recommended reading for the week. Check it out:

Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes - I'm throwing this one in there because it's probably been the single most influential book on my development as a coach. It was first published 17 years ago, but I still finding myself referencing it regularly - including this week. If you're in the fitness or rehabilitation worlds, give it a read.

Behold the Transformation of Noah Syndergaard - This was an excellent Sports Illustrated article that took a look at the pitch selection modifications that Cressey Sports Performance athlete and Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard has made over the years.

Are Health and Aesthetics Mutually Exclusive? - A question I got this week reminded me of this blog I wrote back in 2014, so I thought I'd bring it back to the forefront.

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On the left, you’ll see one of the biggest mistakes we see with the landmine press: the scapula (shoulder blade) dumps forward at the bottom position - and it winds up setting an individual up for not being able to upwardly rotate the scap during the pressing phase. 🤔 In the position of “elbows close to the side,” you’re right in the line of pull of the lats and pec minor, which both directly or indirectly oppose upward rotation and good overhead motion. These suckers like to turn on and stay on. 👎 With that in mind, getting the elbow off the side can be a game changer for driving good scapular motion around the rib cage. Note how much “cleaner” the shoulder blade moves in the video on the right. A cue i like on this front is to “draw half of the letter U.” 👍 Thanks to @lala_salt for the Stella demos! #cspfamily

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The Study EVERY Trainer and Coach Should Read and Understand

There are very few absolutes in the world of health and human performance. The answer to just about every question that's asked is "maybe." Even in the debate between anecdotal observations and exclusively evidence-based practice, there are gray areas that can sometimes be heavily debated. 

There is one study, however, that I think every trainer, coach, rehabilitation specialist, and fitness enthusiast should read and understand. My long-time friend Dr. Stu McGill - arguably the world's premier spine authority - is one of the lead authors as well:

Frost DM, Beach TA, Callaghan JP, McGill SM. Exercise-Based Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention for Firefighters: Contrasting the Fitness- and Movement-Related Adaptations to Two Training Methodologies. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sep;29(9):2441-59.

I know what you're thinking: "What can I learn from how firefighters train? My sport, life, and occupational demands are entirely different."

To understand why this study matters so much to you and how you train, we need to look at the methods of it.

Basically, the researchers took 52 firefighters and plugged them into one of three groups:

1. a movement-guided fitness (MOV) group that received both programming and coaching on how to move correctly

2. a conventional fitness (FIT) group that only received programming, but not coaching

3. a control (CON) group that didn't do any exercise intervention

Before and after the 12-week training (or no training, in the control group) intervention, all the firefighters went through a series of fitness test and laboratory screens. They looked at things like body composition, aerobic capacity, grip strength, muscular endurance (max push-ups, planks for time), lower body power (vertical jump), and flexibility (sit-and-reach test).

Of particular importance was the fact that the pre- and post-tests included "five whole-body tasks" that were NOT included in any part of the training intervention. These challenges were a box deadlift, squat (body weight), lunge, split-stance 1-arm cable press, and split-stance 1-arm cable row. The goal was to evaluate how well the training actually transferred to creating more efficient, high-quality movements in whatever chaos life (or, more specifically, firefighting) threw at them. On these tasks, researchers looked at spine and knee motion with reflective markers to scrutinize movement quality under various conditions of low and speed of movement. The researchers noted (bolded section is from me for emphasis):

FIT and MOV groups exhibited significant improvements in all aspects of fitness; however, only MOV exhibited improvements in spine and frontal plane knee motion control when performing each transfer task. FIT exhibited less controlled spine and frontal plane knee motions while squatting, lunging, pushing, and pulling. More MOV participants (43%) exhibited only positive posttraining changes (i.e., improved control), in comparison with FIT (30%) and CON (23%). Fewer negative posttraining changes were also noted (19, 25, and 36% for MOV, FIT, and CON).

So what the heck does this mean for you? Quality training matters.

Those in the high-quality coaching group moved significantly better on average and had substantially fewer negative outcomes. In the training without coaching group, the average "upside" was lower - and there were more incidences of negative adaptation.

This is a study that proves that coaching a quality single-leg RDL will carry over to our pitchers controlling themselves safely into landing.

It shows that the "true" hip extension we train in the gym will also be there when our athletes run and jump.

It shows that the lateral lunge we coach helps our athletes to change direction safely on the lacrosse field.

It demonstrates that deadlift hip hinge technique we coach so hard in the gym reduces my likelihood of hurting my back when I pick up a squirming toddler.

It means that the 90/90 rotator cuff strength and timing position we meticulous coach and train protects our guys when they lay the arm back during the external rotation phase of throwing.

It also shows that quality strength and conditioning outcomes are about so much more than just a program or even a good training environment; they're about hammering home loads of consistently high quality reps to markedly increase the likelihood of favorable movement quality adaptations - while protecting against the downside.

This study also demonstrates why ready-to-print rotator cuff programs often fail shoulder pain patients. That one-size-fits-all approach - combined with inattentive coaching - often keeps patients on a painful path, when a little bit of technique and programming adjustments could be a game changer. And, it shows why some otherwise healthy people can wind up injured when they do the exact same program as the friend who had no problems at all with it. We see it all the time in individuals who come our way for one-time consultations; just a little coaching or program tinkering makes a huge difference in keeping them asymptomatic and enjoying their training.

The pride you take in your coaching - and the pride individuals take in their training technique - matters. Don't ever forget it!

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