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2017 CSP Elite Baseball Development Shirts Now Available!

I’m excited to announce that the 2017 edition of the Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Development t-shirts (powered by New Balance Baseball) are now available for sale.  Here's the design:

These shirts are insanely comfortable and run true to size.

Each shirt is $24.99 + S&H. Click the links below to add shirts to your cart:

XXL

Extra Large

Large

Medium

Small

These usually sell very quickly, so don’t delay if you’re interested in picking one up. Enjoy!
 

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes – Part 3

Today is part 3 of Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil's look at periodization for teenage athletes. In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 now. -EC

Programming for athletes that have a higher training age, skill level, and level of maturity becomes much more complex than the methods I outlined in part two of this series. Before some of the concepts I’ll be discussing are even worthwhile, the athlete needs to have achieved close to everything they possibly could from performing basic training OR be at such a high level of athletic skill that we need to weigh several more variables. In this final installment, I’ll outline the main variables that we need to consider and the execution of the programming itself.

Outlining The Variables

1. Athlete Type
2. Athlete Performance Level
3. Time of Offseason & Congruency With Skill Development

Athlete Type: It’s assumed that you’ve either had this athlete for a period of 1+ years or have the ability to figure out what type of athlete he is within a fairly short period of time. Analyzing an athlete’s needs isn’t just checking out how many degrees of motion are in individual joints; it’s about weighing where they fit on the force-velocity curve and figuring out their best avenue for exploitation. Is this athlete incredibly strong, but not fast? Put more of your eggs towards training elasticity/reactive qualities. Is this athlete incredibly fast-twitch, but struggles to deadlift 1.5xBW for sets of 3 to 5? Sounds like someone who needs to put more time into developing maximal strength. While your training should cover all ends of the spectrum, different athlete types need to emphasize different qualities.

Athlete Performance Level: What athletic achievements does the athlete expect to gain from training? How much playing time or what level of competition they are getting recruited to play at next often answers these questions. In our setting, throwing velocity and the fact that college recruiters often bank on it is the determinant of if our training is working. If a HS kid only throws 75 and wants to be recruited to play in college, training needs to be more markedly different than it is for the HS kid who throws 95.

Time of Offseason and Congruency with Skill Development: How much time does the athlete have to train consistently with you before the season begins, and, how does your program align with their skill development? At CSP, our offseason programming is directly aligned with our throwing programs for pitchers. It’s important to appreciate the stress that skill practice can have on your athletes and how this can affect qualities you are trying to train in the gym. All inputs are inputs, all stress is stress.

Programming Principles

At CSP, we use a conjugated periodization scheme with elements of Charlie Francis’ High/Low model. While these posts between concurrent and conjugated periodization schemes are separated, there is a huge gray area between the two. Concurrent periodization doesn’t abruptly end and conjugate periodization begins. Instead, programming becomes slightly more complex as the answers to the questions I outline in part 2 of this series begin to change: they’ve acquired more of a training age, they’ve likely become better at their sport, and hopefully they’ve gained some level of personal maturity. There is a difference between a strictly conjugate and a strictly concurrent program, but many athletes will live in the middle. It’s important to understand what you would do with someone at one extreme, from a raw, 13 year old beginner to an 18-yr old who throws 96 and has been training with you for years.

Within this conjugated scheme, exact exercise selection matters less. This athlete doesn’t need multiple sessions to figure out how to work up to a load that actually creates an adaptation. This concept was originally popularized by Westside Barbell, where their powerlifters changed max effort day lifts as frequently as every 1-2 weeks. With our athletes, people will see the same exercises for at least 4 and often 8 weeks. It’s assumed that the athlete can perform a progression all the way up the chain on a progression/regression scale.

We need to pick exercises that allow the athlete to endure stress that will create a favorable adaptation while avoiding biomechanically offensive positions. That’s it.

[bctt tweet="How we scale stressors in the week and month matter more than the squat/deadlift variation we use."]

In this video, I elaborate on the differences between beginner and advanced periodization within our model and how we address the variables listed above in conjunction with our programming:

I hope this look into our periodization model with teenage athletes gives some insights that help you to manage the training of your up-and-coming athletes.

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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Periodization for Teenage Athletes: Part 2

This is part 2 of Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil's look at periodization for teenage athletes. In case you missed part 1, you can check it out HERE. -EC

When assessing a youth athlete, the most important information we can gather isn’t the only the specific or general movement-based assessments we run. The importance lies in the questions we ask and our ability to judge what kind of training program for which the athlete is ready. If we assume too simple, it’s easy to still see progress and transition to a more advanced program. Conversely, if we assume too complex, we’ve not only stalled progress, but we’ve potentially caused a host of issues – both physically and psychologically – that we will have to address. The industry is full of people using overly complex methods with people who haven’t earned them yet. Don’t be that guy.

Here are the main points I focus on in making this distinction:

  • Age
    • Actual age: If they’re under 16, it’s definitely going to be a concurrent program, and 16-18 year olds maybe approached the same, based on the answers to the following questions:
    • Biological age: How physically mature are they? Do they present like their actual age?
    • Training age: Have they trained for any period of 6 months – or multiple 3-month periods?
  • Athletic Skill Level
    • How far off from being an elite athlete are they? In our setting, throwing velocity for pitchers is often the determinant of this question.
    • At what level do they compete athletically? Chances are that your middle school, freshman, and JV level players don’t need anything fancy.
  • Personal Maturity
    • This one is much harder to quantify, but a typical fail in this category would include the kid who has his/her mom do the talking for them, or, someone who has no quantifiable goals and has no idea why they’re training.
    • Will they follow a program to a “T?” Or, is this an individual who’ll cut corners and omit the items he/she doesn’t enjoy?

Concurrent Programming Overview

If we look at a force/velocity curve, it’s our job as strength coaches to shift the curve up and to the right as much as we can. When we have a beginner athlete, every quality needs to move in that direction, independent of their sport or time in their competitive calendar. If we look at each quality as a bucket, all of these are empty and we need to fill each of them up. With advanced athletes, we need to assess which buckets are already filled and which buckets are the most empty. The empty buckets need to be filled up for the person to become a better athlete, and we need to consider their competitive calendar. The later in the offseason it is, the more closely the exercises we choose and speeds we prescribe will we need to reflect the movements they’ll actually encounter in sports. With beginner athletes, this doesn’t matter as much.

Strength-speed and speed-strength are also not qualities that we’ll focus on in beginner concurrent model programming. These are more advanced concerns. In beginners, we’ll stick with strength, power, and speed as our big three. Each of these three qualities are going to be trained somewhat equally during an athlete’s first 3-6 months. Chances are these athletes aren’t coming in six days per week, so we will hit each of these qualities every time they walk in the door. A typical session will include a dynamic warm-up, speed work, power work, 1-2 technical lifts, and 4-6 GPP style movements done in a more circuit-based fashion.

In block periodization, there is a phase of accumulation, a phase of transmutation, and a phase of realization. In concurrent periodization, our goal is to accumulate, accumulate, and continue to accumulate strength, power, and speed until we have deemed the athlete ready for more advanced programming.

Exercise Selection

When selecting exercises, there needs to be some form of linear exercise progression that begins with the exercise that is easiest for the athlete to not only learn quickly, but to load in the safest and most efficient manner possible. Lowest barrier to entry is a great term to summarize the exercise selection for this period. Pick movements that are hard for the athlete to screw up. We are looking to pick the exercise that combines the two following principles:

1) Can the person master the technique in an efficient and timely manner? How quickly can we make this exercise safe?

2) Can the person load the exercise in a way that progresses their main performance qualities - strength, power, speed – without technical difficulty of the exercise itself stalling progress?

External load should be the limiting factor for an appropriate exercise progression, as opposed to an athlete being held back by an inability to handle the implement being used (dumbbell, kettlebell, bar).

[bctt tweet="Limiting the learning curve may be the safest and most effective way to maximize the loading curve."]

There’s nothing wrong with keeping a main exercise the same for 12-16 weeks in a beginner. Provide variety in your dynamic warm-ups and unloaded exercises, not your staple loaded exercises. If your reason for programming variety is fun, maybe you should look at your training environment and your personal relationships with the athletes instead of choosing loaded variety to make the athlete enjoy training more. Especially in beginners, everything involving external loading should have a reason; picking a loaded exercise for fun is an asinine reason to program it.

I have these progressions mapped out for each main movement, with a theoretical end point before you change an exercise. For a squat, my progression is as follows:

• Goblet Squat to Box – until the person has awareness of and has owned the bottom position
• Goblet Squat – until the grip becomes the limiting factor towards loading the lower body
• 2KB Squat – until the person can complete sets of 8-10 with 16/20kg bells
• Safety Squat Bar (SSB) Squat – until someone can load 1.5xBW for sets of 3-5

*An athlete might do a front squat in the same spot as an SSB, but I usually find that the SSB is easier for athletes to learn first. We don’t back squat our baseball guys, but other athletes may progress up the chain to that exercise, especially if they’ll have to do it at school.

While these guidelines of progression don’t need to be adhered to strictly, sometimes I will veer off the Goblet or 2KB squat if I think the athlete is either ready for something else for or has stalled on an exercise. My point is simply that it’s important to have general guidelines for progressing exercises in beginners. The key is to make sure you’re not putting someone under a bar when they’re not comfortable with the technique of both the setup and the action.

This is not only true on loaded exercises, but for sprints, jumps, and throws as well. Many sport coaches these kids will have will crush them with lactic work: repeated sprints with inappropriately assigned rep schemes, distances, and rest times – but very few athletes we evaluate have ever been taught a thing about how to sprint more efficiently. As an industry, I think that we have a good understanding of lifting progressions, but power and sprint work isn’t as highly prioritized. If we look at the qualities of the best athletes – the fastest and most powerful with the best rate of force development, but not necessarily the highest strength – this doesn’t make any sense. We need to prioritize these qualities from a young age, at least from a technical proficiency standpoint.

The same principles of technical mastery, erring on the side of too simple and then progress, and lowest barrier of entry apply to sprint, jump, and throw training. While these concepts open up another broad topic, my initial block progressions in a beginner concurrent model are as following:

• Sprints: Work on mastering arm action, marching, and skipping
• Jumps: Learn how to decelerate bilaterally in the sagittal plane before getting into unilateral work, frontal/transverse plane, accelerative and reactive jumps
• Throws: Stationary sagittal plane work, focus on intent and outcome-oriented throwing before going transverse plane and increasing complexity

In part three of this series, I’ll take a deeper dive into how we program using a conjugate method of periodization for our athletes with a higher training age.

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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Periodization for Teenage Athletes: Part 1

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) coach, John O'Neil. This post was inspired by my Instagram post from 9/1; check it out HERE. Enjoy! -EC

There’s a big flaw in the way we as an industry (myself included) try to learn things. We assume that we have control of all of the variables and often times assume that an athlete is far more advanced than they really are. I get it: it’s fun and exciting as strength coaches to learn a new advanced technique and try to decipher how to best fit it into your model. In this series, I will attempt to define how we differentiate periodization schemes for our beginner and advanced athletes at Cressey Sports Performance CSP). Part one will focus on separating the different types of periodization used at CSP.

At CSP, we use a concurrent/conjugate style of programming that doesn’t strictly adhere to principles of block periodization. The more advanced an athlete is, the more their program might look like it’s block periodization, but there are still elements of it that are far more similar to a concurrent model. The reasons are simple: we train primarily athletes who need to train a multitude of qualities in off-seasons ranging 3-6 months – and they don’t need to be peaked for any individual event. Rather, they need to be ready to perform for periods of greater than half the calendar year. For our high school athletes, this could mean 40-50 games, and for our pro guys, this could be as many as ~190 (spring training, regular season, and post-season). We refer to this hybrid concurrent/block periodization scheme as a conjugate model.

First, let’s define these terms. Taken from Supertraining (Siff, Verkoshansky), a concurrent model “involves the parallel training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed, and endurance, over the same period, with the intention of producing a multi-faceted development of fitness.” A conjugated sequence, as defined by Periodization (Bompa), is a “method of sequencing training to take advantage of training residuals developed within periods of concentrated loading.” We will distinguish between these terms by using concurrent to refer to our athletes with a lower training age, and conjugate to refer to the periodization used with our higher training age athletes. The same book defines block training as “a sequential approach to structuring training in which individual blocks of training which have a distinct focus are linked together.”

(Author’s Note: In researching for this article, I found conflicting definitions of these terms. For the sake of consistency in this series, I will be using the terms as defined in this paragraph.)

Put simply, concurrent is where there is no one main focus; conjugate periodization will have one main focus but will also be training other qualities as supplementary work; and block periodization is a period where we are training one quality at a time. Concurrent periodization will be for athletes who need more general physical preparation (GPP), and conjugate periodization will be for athletes who have earned the right for more specific physical preparation (SPP).

For our beginner athletes, usually ages 13-15, it’s our job to develop and train a multitude of qualities, so the programming will be in a concurrent model. In addition, this could include slightly older athletes (16-18) who don’t have much training experience. While a youth baseball player’s program might look slightly different than someone playing another sport, this is where the greatest overlap between programs for athletes of different sports occurs. If they have something in their program that looks baseball-specific (e.g., a rotator cuff exercise), it’s mainly so they can learn good technique on it for when they’re ready for a more specialized program. It’s also generally used during rest periods from a more important exercise for this age group.

These athletes need everything: strength, speed, hypertrophy, power development, and a host of other things. Everything is in a GPP phase. They need to learn technique on basics such as sprinting, jumping, and changing directions. They need to learn technique on basic lifts: squats, deadlifts, lunges, pushes, and pulls. Most of these athletes only train with us anywhere from 3-6 hours a week, meaning we have a lot of possible information to fit into a concentrated time period.

Using the speed-strength continuum, these athletes will train in every facet of it. They will sprint, throw med balls, move weights relatively fast, and move heavier weights slower. We don’t yet consider time of the competitive season as there doesn’t need to be anything resembling peaking.

Programming for these athletes won’t have anything resembling a block; instead, it will focus on mastering the fundamentals of training so that by the time they’re able to have higher levels of output, they won’t need to spend immense amounts of time learning technique. Loaded exercise selection will be kept within a narrow scope, and they might stay relatively the same for 12-16 week periods. Instead of changing exercises, the variables we’ll change are intensity and volume: basic progressive overload techniques will win. We need to pick the exercises that allow the person to progress towards a position where we need to consider having a more specialized.

When someone is more specialized, the programming will become more of a conjugate model. Exercise selection will be more geared towards training qualities needed for the specific sport. We might change loaded supplementary exercises more frequently to give athletes more exposure to joint positions they need to be strong in, and, each phase will have a specific focus.

Using the strength-speed continuum, the phases will reflect the competitive season. In early offseason, weights might be heavier and the speed of movement will generally be slower. The focus will be closer to the absolute strength end of the spectrum. Late in the off-season, weights may decrease as speed of movement increases, and the focus becomes mimicking speed of sport. Actually playing the sport will start to coincide with training and we have a new host of variables to consider.

Programming for these athletes will be more built around their actual sport training; for example, a baseball pitcher’s throwing program begins to become primary to his training program as the offseason progresses. Exercise selection, while more variable and through a much wider selection than the beginner athletes, will all have a specific purpose that relates back to performing at their sport. Instead of changing intensity/volume primarily and exercise selection secondarily, the intensity/volume will be scaled directly with the offseason of the sport. The exercise selection might vary more because we don’t want our athletes to become specialists at exercises they can load exceptionally well like deadlifts and squats.

In part two of this series, I’ll take a deeper dive into how we program using a concurrent model for our athletes with a lower training age – and when we might consider switching their programming to a conjugate based scheme.

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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What Happened to “Global” Athleticism?

Back in my high school sports career, I was much more quick than I was fast. Actually, I wasn't fast at all.

Apparently, the combination of not eating great and not having any organized strength and conditioning programming doesn't exactly do wonders for building speed that cripples your competition. So, regardless of the sport in question, I was left to fall back on my skills for any success I had.

Looking back, though, it fascinates me that I was actually still pretty quick, and it was readily apparent. In the sports I played - soccer and tennis in high school - I was a much better indoor soccer player (smaller field = more change of direction) and doubles player (cut the court in half = more change of direction). When the field of play opened up and top, straight-ahead speed mattered, I didn't show as well.

In hindsight, I still think it's intriguing that I was still able to develop a strong proficiency in change of direction work without any specific quickness or agility training. I didn't see an agility ladder until I was well into my 20s, and only time we ran "shuttles" in practice was for punishment, not developing quickness.

What I did do, though, is play every single kind of sport possible: soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, football, ultimate frisbee, wiffle ball, street hockey, dodgeball, volleyball, you name it. I grew up next to a church, and it had a large grass parking lot that was only used a few hours each week - and the rest of the time, it was a field for all the kids in our neighborhood to play pick-up anything and everything. In high school, some buddies and I even started a weekend rugby pick-up game even though we had no idea how to play rugby. I was the kid who was soaked with sweat at the end of gym class and I wore it like a badge of honor.

Before I drift off into an Uncle Rico moment, let's talk about what this means for you.

Kids don't do this anymore. I don't want to sounds like an old man complaining about how generations have changed, but there isn't the same kind of day to day free play that previous generations have had. Moreover, even the athletes who do have a daily "training" stimulus of some sort have less variety in that stimulus. Instead of playing touch football on Sunday, wiffle ball on Monday, volleyball on Tuesday, basketball on Wednesday, etc., they just play soccer every day for the entire year. This obviously has injury and burnout ramifications, but even beyond that, it reduces the likelihood that these athletes will "accidentally" develop athletic qualities like I did. Variety served me well, even if it wasn't intentional. 

Earlier this week, Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil and I carved out some time to discuss speed and agility progressions for our offseason baseball programming, and we touched in this point in some detail. If athletes have a "global athleticism" foundation like I did, they can probably thrive on just 2-3 days per week of true speed, agility, and quickness work as part of their strength and conditioning program.  However, since we're losing out on this variety at the youth levels now, we have to make a more dedicated effort to getting it with our training. In the past, we could assume some baseline of "reactive ability" and just initially focus on getting them strong (and don't get me wrong; that is still the most important thing).

Nowadays, however, the untrained, specialized kids need to do something "athletic" every day. They need to skip, hop, jump, and throw medicine balls every single time they come to the gym. It's not enough to take the "Just get them strong!" mentality.

[bctt tweet="Kids must train power daily now since they don't have free play like previous generations did."]

And if you're going to program more "global athleticism" - speed, agility, quickness - work, you better understand how to coach it. To this end, there is no better resource on this front than Lee Taft's Certified Speed and Agility Coach course. It's on sale for $100 through the end of the day today, so I'd definitely encourage you to check it out at this great discount.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/25/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. My kids are officially old enough that we can actually fill an entire weekend with friends' birthday parties, so that's what we did. Before I get to the recommended reading and listening for the week, I wanted to give you a quick heads-up that we'll be doing a baseball development workshop at our Jupiter, FL facility on October 19. It's only $20 to attend, and all proceeds will benefit charity. You can learn more at the following link:

The Building a Better Baseball Athlete Workshop

Certified Speed and Agility Specialist Course - Lee Taft is a go-to guy when it comes to speed and agility education, and this awesome certification demonstrates why. It was filmed at Cressey Sports Performance and was mandatory viewing for our entire staff. It's on sale for $100 off this week, so I wanted to give you a heads-up.

The Ideal Business Show with Andy McCloy - This Pat Rigsby podcast with Andy McCloy was outstanding. If you're interested in the business side of fitness, definitely give it a listen.

5 Things That Might Surprise You About Our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs - With the professional baseball offseason at hand, it seemed like a good time to reincarnate this from the archives.

Top Tweet of the Week

Top Instagram Post of the Week

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Building a Better Baseball Athlete: October 19 – Jupiter, FL

On Thursday night, October 19, the Cressey Sports Performance - Florida staff will be presenting a three-hour workshop, "Building a Better Baseball Athlete," at our Jupiter, FL location.

This seminar will run from 7pm-10pm and be targeted toward coaches, scouts, parents, and players. Registration is only $20, with all proceeds going to Volunteer Florida, "the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during, and after disasters." This organization has been heavily active in light of the recent hurricane season in Florida, and we're excited to do our part to help the cause.

Here's an agenda for the evening:

7-8pm: Eric Cressey - "Identifying and Addressing Windows of Adaptations in Baseball Athletes"

8-9pm: Brian Kaplan - "The What, When, and Why of Weighted Ball Training"

9-10pm: The CSP Staff - "Building a Better Warm-up for Baseball Athletes"

Given the low price point and limited space available, we expect this event to sell out quickly - so please register early to reserve your spot.

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance - Florida
880 Jupiter Park Dr.
Suite 7
Jupiter, FL 33458

Click here to register!

Questions? Please email cspflorida@gmail.com.

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Progress Doesn’t Happen in Isolation

I've got an important point to make today, and I think it's best illustrated with a hypothetical story.

Let's say that a 14-year-old, 6-0, 140-pound kid - we'll call him Joey - comes in to Cressey Sports Performance and does an evaluation with me in September. He says that he currently throws 70-72mph, but wants to hit 80mph by the start of the upcoming spring baseball season - and that he's willing to do anything to reach that goal.

We put Joey on a great strength and conditioning program - lifting, sprint/agility/jumping challenges, medicine ball drills, arm care exercises, self-myofascial release, and mobility work - and he crushes it with his nutrition. Joey gets on a solid throwing program, and fine-tunes his grip on the baseball and some mechanical flaws with our pitching coordinator.

Joey gets manual therapy with our massage therapist, and also makes a dedicated effort to improve his sleep quality and quantity. He hangs out with a bunch of professional baseball players in a motivating environment, and even reads some sports psychology books to prepare himself mentally. Joey crushes his offseason with us - and puberty is still kicking in to help the cause.

And, the results show up in the spring: Joey is consistently pitching harder than 80mph, surpassing his goal.

It must have been the lifting, right? Or the medicine ball work? Or the arm care? Or the nutrition improvements and weight gain? Or the mechanical changes? Or a simple grip adjustment on his fastball? Or better sleep? Or just the gains associated with puberty?

What I also failed to mention is that Joey was taking algebra in school. He also shoveled his driveway whenever it snowed. And he stopped eating gluten because he felt like it made him bloated. And he got a new pair of sneakers. And his mother switched from a minivan to a SUV. Joey even developed a weird ritual of half-naked shadow boxing in the mirror every night with the Spice Girls playing in the background. You've got to have a routine, right?

Of course, everyone takes note of Joey's crazy progress and asks him what the "secret" was. How does Joey respond? Puberty, gluten, the minivan, and his Spice Girls infatuation are all sensitive subjects he doesn't want to publicly discuss, so those are off the table. Nobody gets excited hearing about algebra, sneakers, grip adjustments, or mobility work, so those are lame discussion points for the local newspaper interview. Hanging out with professional baseball players seems like a cooler story line, though, so that's what he goes with: his progress all had to do with environment.

Nevermind the fact that Joey gained 30 pounds and started sleeping more than six hours per night. And, forget that he can actually touch his toes and do a body weight lunge without tipping over. And, overlook the fact that he is no longer throwing accidental cutters on every pitch because his delivery was so out of whack. Heck, those old shoes may have been terribly constructed and put Joey into horrible positions in his pitching delivery. 

 

If you want to throw hard, you have to firm up on the lead leg...and at the right time and in the right direction. Cleats can definitely help athletes "get away" with a bit more in this regard, as they guarantee a larger base of support (foot stays on the ground) and generally have a lot more medial/lateral support than normal sneakers. It's one reason why many pitchers throw considerably harder outside than they do off indoor (turf) mounds. That said, if you're going to pitch off a turf mound, do yourself a favor and make sure that you've got a sneaker that isn't too flimsy - especially side to side. You shouldn't roll out of the shoe (which we see in the right video). Take note of the same pitcher on the left in the @newbalance #mx20v6, a minimalist sneaker that is lightweight but still provides adequate medial/lateral support. Exact same delivery, but markedly different outcomes. Full disclosure: I helped design this shoe - but the lessons are the same regardless of what you're wearing. Thanks for the demos, @joeryan34! #cspfamily #pitching #pitchingdrills #minimalistshoes

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

I know what you're saying: this is an extreme example - and you're right. However, we see a modified version of it all the time. Tom Brady refuses to eat tomatoes. Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles during games. Chris Sale needs to eat fast food to keep his weight up.

Usually, progress is incredibly multi-factorial. The results come not just from a lot of different directions, but from the synergistic interaction of many factors. And, sometimes there are other factors that may confound how we evaluate the path to success.

Tom Brady is still going to be an elite NFL quarterback if he has tomatoes for dinner the night before a game.

The 40 calories worth of Skittles Marshawn Lynch eats on gameday probably have zero impact on his performance.

Chris Sale's slider is going to be absolutely filthy even if he chooses pizza over chicken, broccoli, and rice.

And, in our example above, Joey's progress was completely unrelated to a myriad of things that took place. But, that doesn't mean we can ever really know what percentage was related to strength and conditioning vs. pitching instruction vs. nutrition vs. a host of other factors. We just know that success comes for a variety of reasons, so you have to check a lot of boxes to determine what contributed to that success. And, you have to recognize that unless you have perfectly controlled research studies, you'll likely have a very hard time isolating where the success really originated.

A perfect example of this is the debate on posture's impacts on pain and performance. Anecdotal evidence tells us that it does make a difference, but the research is actually shockingly inconclusive in this regard; we just don't know exactly how big a role (if any) that it plays in one's ability to stay healthy.

With that in mind, I'll be digging a lot deeper on the topic with my presentation, "How Posture Impacts Pain and Performance," at this year's Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar. It will take place on October 22 at our Hudson, MA location - and the early bird registration discount ends tonight (Friday, September 22) at midnight. Click here for more details.

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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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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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