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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Supine Banded Shoulder Flexion on Roller

The supine banded shoulder flexion on roller is a new shoulder mobility drill I came up with that is really growing on me quickly. Effectively, it's an alternative to a back to wall shoulder flexion for those who may struggle to "compete against" gravity as they take the arms overhead in the standing position.

In this drill:

1. The foam roller provides feedback for posterior pelvic tilt, thoracic extension, and a more neutral cervical spine posture.

2. Gravity assists the individual into overhead motion to overcome stiffness through the lats, teres major, long head of triceps, inferior capsule, pec minor, etc.

3. The fact that the roller doesn't impede scapular motion (like the wall or floor would) makes it easier to achieve some scapular posterior tilt as the arms go overhead.

4. The supinated grip drives some shoulder external rotation, placing the lats on stretch in the transverse plane so that folks can't "cheat" the movement by letting their hands drift toward the midline.

5. The band creates some posterior rotator cuff recruitment,

I'll take this over a few sets of ugly band pullaparts any day. What's not to like?

Looking for more cutting-edge shoulder strategies like these? Check out my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Stop Thinking About “Normal” Thoracic Spine Mobility

Two years ago, I published a post, Tinkering vs. Overhauling - and the Problems with Average, where I discussed the pitfalls of focusing on population averages, especially in the world of health and human performance. I'd encourage you to give it a read, but the gist is that you have to be careful about overhauling a program because you see someone as being outside a "norm" that might have been established for an entire population when they are unique in so many ways.

Thoracic spine mobility is an excellent example. What would be considered acceptable for an 80-year-old man would be markedly different than what we'd want from a 17-year-old teenage athlete in a rotational sport. This athlete, for instance, had some marked negative postural adaptations that contributed to two shoulder surgeries during his time as a baseball pitcher. If he was far older with different physical demands, though, he might have never run into problems.

Lumbar locked rotation is a great thoracic spine rotation screen I learned from Dr. Greg Rose at the Titliest Performance Institute. Briefly, you put the lumbar spine in flexion (which makes lumbar rotation hard to come by) and the hand behind the back (to minimize scapular movement). This allows you to better evaluate thoracic rotation without compensatory motion elsewhere. Check out the high variability among three athletes who are all roughly the same age:

On the left, we have a professional baseball pitcher. In the middle, we have an aspiring professional golfer. And, on the right, we have a powerlifter who's moved well over 600 pounds on both the squat and deadlift. Adaptation to imposed demand is an incredibly important part of this discussion of "normal." The hypertrophy (muscle bulk) that benefits the powerlifter could possibly make the baseball pitcher and golfer worse, but at the same time, I wouldn't necessarily say that the powerlifter is "lacking" in thoracic rotation because you don't need a whole lot of movement in this area for a successful, sustainable powerlifting career.

I should also note that these are all active measures. If we checked all three of these guys passively, we'd likely see there's even more thoracic rotation present than you can see here. And, that can open up another can of worms, as having a big difference between active and passive range of motion can be problematic, too.

The take-home message is that if you're going to call someone's movement quality "abnormal," you better have a clear designation of what "normal" is for their age and sport, as well as what's required for their athletic demands.

For more information on how we assess and train thoracic mobility, I'd encourage you to check out my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/9/18

Happy Saturday! This edition of "stuff to read"is a few days late in light of the Major League Baseball Draft and release of my new resource, Sturdy Shoulders Solutions. As a quick reminder, it's on sale for $50 off through the end of the day tomorrow (Sunday). You can learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

With it being a shoulder product, I figured I'd use this week to "reincarnate" some upper extremity content from my archives:

Are You Packing the Shoulder Correctly? - Most people don't appreciate the relevant anatomy involved in packing the shoulder, so that may actually utilize the wrong muscles to get the job done. This webinar delves into the topic in detail.

3 Tips for Improving Your Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion - This video demonstrates a few quick and easy cues to improve your capacity for overhead reaching.

Exercise of the Week: Standing External Rotation Holds to Wall - This exercise is a great fit for everyday lifters and baseball players alike, as it builds rotator cuff strength without any equipment.

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Have a great weekend!

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Are You Getting Shoulder Motion in the Right Places?

With this week's release of my new project, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, I thought I'd give you a little sampling of what's included. In this TRX serratus anterior exercise video excerpt, I talk about the importance of getting good scapulothoracic (shoulder blade on rib cage) movement so that you don't have to find extra glenohumeral (ball on socket) motion.  Check it out:

This is a key shoulder health principle I cover in great detail in my new resource - and it's on sale for $50 off through Sunday at midnight. You can learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Shoulder Health: Where Small Hinges Swing Big Doors

The shoulder girdle is a complex series of joints unified by subtle movements in perfect timing. If you need proof, just check out this slide from my new release, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

This study looked at the difference between the empty can and full can in terms of both muscular recruitment and actual movement in folks with symptomatic impingement vs. healthy controls. Not surprisingly, the empty can exercise hurt more. Just looking at this picture hurts my shoulder (and my shirt is wildly fitting).

To me, though, that's not the most significant takeaway from these study results. Rather, take a look at some of the numbers included in their findings: 1-3 degrees (joint movement) and 1-4% (muscular activation). These are subtle, subtle quantifiable differences between those in pain and those who are pain free - and most of them really can't be perceived "on the fly."

What does this mean for how you assess, program, and coach?

First, from an evaluation standpoint, we have to truly understand what quality movement should look and feel like. If you can't truly define "normal," then how can you ever truly appreciate "abnormal?"

Second, not all exercises are created equal (as we learned from the empty vs. full can discussion). 

Third, in coaching, we have to constantly solicit feedback from our athletes on where they feel exercises.

These are all key principles on which I focus in my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions - and it's on sale for $50 off through Sunday at midnight. You can learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

 

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“Sturdy Shoulder Solutions” is Now Available!

I'm super excited to announce the release of my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, which will be on sale for $50 off through Sunday. This product has been years in the making, and it includes over six hours of cutting edge assessment, coaching, and programming strategies. You can learn more at the following link:

http://www.SturdyShoulders.com

Here's what you'll experience:

  • Simplifying Shoulder Health (Webinar)
  • How Posture Impacts Pain and Performance (Webinar)
  • Important Upper Extremity Functional Anatomy Considerations (Webinar)
  • The Proximal-to-Distal Principle (Webinar)
  • Nuances of the Neck (Webinar)
  • Rethinking the Thoracic Spine (Webinar)
  • Making Sense of Serratus Anterior (Webinar)
  • Is Upper Trapezius the Devil? (Lab)
  • The Myth of Normal Range of Motion (Lab)
  • Rethinking the Thoracic Spine (Lab)
  • Making Sense of Serratus Anterior (Lab)
  • Good Exercises Gone Bad (Lab)
  • The Myth of Balancing Pushes and Pulls (Lab)

It's a great fit for personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, sports coaches, and rehabilitation specialists. Additionally, many fitness enthusiasts will appreciate the focus on individualizing programming recommendations and technique coaching strategies.

In particular, it’s a tremendous fit for anyone who has previously been exposed to our Optimal Shoulder Performance and Functional Stability Training products. Sturdy Shoulder Solutions serves as an up-to-date companion to the educational material covered in those previous offerings.

You'll get instant online access to this digital-only product after purchase. Just head to http://www.SturdyShoulders.com to pick it up.
 

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What (Physically) Goes Into a Good Swing

Cressey Sports Performance athlete Chris Taylor had a big go-ahead 2-run HR last night for the Dodgers - and the second I saw this photo of his swing on Instagram, I immediately got to thinking about how great a representation it is of the demands of the swing.

 

CT3 for the lead! #LADetermined

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As a right-handed hitter, the pelvis rotates counterclockwise toward the pitcher during the swing. However, "counterclockwise" doesn't really do justice to the fact that it's actually hip movement in three planes: rotation (transverse), abduction (frontal), and extension (sagittal). Additionally, earlier in the swing, the torso actually rotates clockwise to create the separation that allow for greater storage of elastic energy and sets the stage for the barrel getting to the zone at the right time and angle - and for as long as possible. This reminds us that you can't have good swing mechanics if you don't have mobility in the hips and thoracic spine, and adequate stability in the core to prevent any energy leaks.

More specific to this photo, though, is the fact that all that motion from the trailing leg has taken place, which means all the force has been transferred forward - and something has to "accept it." We often use the analogy of riding a bike into a curb; if the curb isn't hard, the kid doesn't get launched over the handlebars. In this case, the "firm curb" is the front leg creating a blocking effect as the hip extensors and external rotators (glutes!) eccentrically control that aggressive force transfer into the lead leg. As you'll see in this photo, sometimes the tri-planar forces are so significant that guys might even roll to the lateral aspect of their shoes. And, unless they're in a great pair of New Balance cleats, they might even "swing out of their shoes" (yes, you'll sometimes see guys fold over the side of cleats that don't have good lateral stability).

Anyway, let's take this example to an untrained 15-year-old who doesn't have the strength, motor control, and mobility foundation that Chris has here. There's a good chance he's going to go to the wrong places to find a lot of this motion to generate, transfer, or accept force - and the most common spot is the lower back. You'll commonly see stress fractures and annoying tightness in this region in these kids because the lumbar spine isn't conditioned to produce force or go through significant rotational motion. Watch one of these kids go through a simple bowler squat and they usually fold up line a lawn chair.

In my experience (both in pitching and hitting), the kids most at risk are the ones who grow quickly at a young age. They have long levers that help them to generate velocity, but insufficient physical strength and range of motion to dissipate these aggressive patterns as they get to this position and beyond. They're all gas and no brakes.

Chicks can't dig the long ball if you're in a back brace because you ignored your hip and thoracic mobility and core stability. Take as much pride in your physical preparation as you do in your swing. Chris sure does!

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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: 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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