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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 40

I'm long overdue for a new installment of this long-term series, so hopefully I've got a bit of something for everyone in this.

1. Strength and conditioning is a supportive discipline.

Skill almost always trumps fitness, but fitness is what allows you to optimize skill. You can't get in high quality reps if you're broken, and we have evidence to suggest that regular exercise optimizes cognition and motor learning. I think this is actually one more avenue via which early sports specialization eventually falls short after the initial gains of specificity wears off: you need more general fitness capacity to get in higher quality specific work.

The absolute best strength and conditioning coaches I know are awesome at understanding their role is to set skill coaches up for success with athletes. However, at the same time, they know how to recognize when fitness is the limiting factor and speak up to advocate for the appropriate physiological adaptation to take an athlete to the next level.

2. Maybe your sleep habits aren't so terrible - or maybe everyone's actually are that terrible?

This Brazilian systemic review of 11 studies looking at the sleep quality of Olympic athletes was pretty eye-opening (bad pun, huh?). The takeaways begin with this: "over half of the athletes have poor sleep quality and complaints." More specifically:

  • Total sleep time averaged 6 hours, 10 minutes per night
  • Sleep efficiency averaged 84%
  • Sleep onset latency averaged 28 minutes
  • Awakenings after sleep onset averaged 49 minutes

After I got over my initial shock that so many Olympic athletes are this bad with their sleep, I had to admit that this made me feel a bit better about myself as a 43-year-old father of three who's trying to fight off the dad bod in spite of my lack of sleeping prowess. However, it didn't make me feel great about today's athletes' (not just Olympians) prioritization of sleep. Travel for Olympic athletes isn't nearly as extensive as it is for in-season professional athletes, so it's fascinating to me that this class of athletes could struggle so much while typically being in one place to train. That said, I'm sure there are other factors - most notably the economic hardship of being an amateur - that could impact this dynamic, but that's a discussion for another day.

With respect to sleep, there's some very low hanging fruit for athletes who want to pick it and get a massive competitive advantage over their competition:

  • Make your room cold and dark.
  • Limit heavy meals in the hours right before bed.
  • Stop staring at phones, tablets, computers, and TVs in the hour before bed.
  • Wind down in the hours before bed: meditate, read, etc.
  • Limit caffeine intake after noon.

If you're looking for a detailed podcast on this topic, here's a great listen:

 

3. Strength and conditioning "spacing" is a lot like soccer.

A lot of young coaches struggle to make the adjustment from one-on-one coaching to scenarios in which they need to handle more than one athlete at a time, especially in large facilities/spaces. If you're not careful, you can get locked in to one conversation with an athlete while there's chaos - poor weight selection, bad technique, insufficient effort, etc. - all around you. A cue I'll often give to younger coaches is one that was always shouted in my youth soccer days: find space.

In other words, go to where other players aren't, and you'll be able to see the field better and provide an open passing option for your teammates. When everyone bunches up, you miss the big picture and limit your options to contribute.

4. Adductors have far reaching implications.

I wish more people had a true appreciation for what massive implications adductor (groin) length and strength has on overall lower extremity and lumbopelvic health. Adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, pectineus, and gracilis make up a huge portion of the cross-sectional area of the thigh, but they also have direct attachments on the pelvis, entire length of the femur, and lower leg (gracilis insertion on pes anserine as a conjoined tendon with sartorius and semitendinosis):

We've got research that shows that folks can get hurt when adductors are weak (hockey players) and if they're too strong (relative to weaker abductors in knee patients). There are implications in terms of sports hernia challenges in light of the adductor longus insertion on the pubis, and adductor density/length restrictions are clearly part of the bigger challenge that is anterior pelvic tilt/limited hip internal rotation/femoroacetabular impingement. The solution for most people is relatively simple, though: spend more time in the frontal plane.

Roll them out (or get some decent manual therapy in there).

Add some mobility drills.

Build some strength through a sizable range-of-motion.

Note: I talk about this a lot in Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.

Once you've done all that, mix in some "movement fun:" side shuffles, carioca, lateral runs, and sprinting and change-of-direction to preserve your frontal plane athleticism. Classic strength and conditioning programs spend far too much time in the sagittal plane, so the more you can mix it up with frontal and transverse plane work, the better your long-term health and performance outcomes will be.

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Cressey Sports Performance – Florida Job Posting: Social Media Coordinator (3/31/24)

Cressey Sports Performance – Florida is looking for the newest member of our team: a Social Media Coordinator.

This position will be heavily involved in CSP’s marketing efforts related to both our in-person training offering and online presence (newsletter, podcast, distance-based coaching). This is a full-time salaried position with benefits, and would require a regular presence in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

Responsibilities:

• Oversee Social Media accounts for Cressey Sports Performance
• Assist in creating the overall marketing plan for Cressey Sports Performance and related entities
• Organize Cressey Sports Performance newsletter
• Develop and implement new, fresh ideas to promote the CSP Experience
• Organize content to be used for corporate sponsorship fulfillment
• Assist in community outreach and coordinating events at CSP
• Editing and graphic design for the CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast
• Be constantly looking for new ideas and ways to help improve the CSP experience for our clients!
• Other duties as assigned

Qualifications:

• Experience in commercial social media and marketing experience is preferred
• Excellent communication and organization skills
• Familiarity with the game of baseball, preferably at the collegiate or professional level
• A “can-do” attitude that is willing to put in the work to set a high standard
• Graphic design and podcast editing experience is preferred

Applicants can submit resumes and cover letters as a single PDF document to CareersatCSP@gmail.com. The deadline for applications is April 20, 2024.


Cressey Sports Performance is an equal opportunity employer. Applicants will be considered regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, marital status, citizenship status, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or any other status protected under local, state, or federal laws.

 

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Artificial Light at Night: What You Need to Know

Today, I have a guest contribution from Examine.com researcher, Lucas Roldos. This is an adaptation of an Editor’s Pick from Examine (1), and it's especially timely, as Examine is celebrating their 13th anniversary with some great sales HERE.

The study in question: Artificial light at night suppresses the day-night cardiovascular variability: evidence from humans and rats

The 24-hour light/dark cycle is the most important factor affecting our circadian rhythm. As our exposure to light changes throughout the day, a region of the brain called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus” responds by modifying the release of hormones (like cortisol and melatonin), body temperature, blood pressure, and mental alertness. This physiological responsiveness to light makes sure that we are alert and ready to take on the day when the sun is out, and that we are able to rest when the sun is down. Of course, the sun isn’t our only source of light anymore. Exposure to light sources like computer screens and light pollution can cause our bodies to “feel” like it’s daytime, even when it’s late at night.

This study (2) was a narrative review that investigated whether exposure to artificial light at night (ALAN) had any negative effects on cardiovascular health or cortisol levels in adults (some of whom were night shift workers).

The included studies differed slightly in their findings (and certain confounders were hard to control for), but generally speaking, the more ALAN exposure a person had, the stronger their risk for high blood pressure, heart rate, autonomic nervous system activity, and carotid artery intima-media thickness (which can indicate higher risk of subclinical atherosclerosis) (3), as well as lower day-night heart rate variability and disrupted cortisol levels.

We still need more research to confirm the details of this relationship, but it’s worth paying attention to these results. If ALAN is as problematic as it appears in this study, it would certainly make a good case for reducing exposure to things like smartphones, computers, and televisions at night. What’s more concerning, however, is the implications it has for areas with light pollution. The Earth’s artificial light area and brightness has been increasing by 2% per year in recent decades (4), and it’s estimated that 83% of the world’s population lives in areas that have light pollution. (5) It’s recommended that people avoid exposure to light intensities above 10 lux in the evening, and even basic light pollution from sources like streetlamps, cars, and building lights can easily exceed this amount. (6,7)

Data from Brown et al. (2022) (7), Gaston et al. (2013) (8), and Wood et al. (2013). (9)

So how specifically does ALAN (and light generally) affect our circadian rhythms? As mentioned previously, the central pacemaker of the circadian system is the *suprachiasmatic nucleus* (SCN) found within the hypothalamus, which plays a role in the synchronization of almost all physiological activity (e.g., blood pressure, temperature, mental alertness).10 It is directly connected to the retina in the eye to ensure synchronization with the 24-hour light-dark cycle and projects to various internal “clocks”. Internal or local clocks are run by *transcriptional-translational feedback loop* (TTFL) mechanisms, which are essentially on/off switches that are triggered by certain cues, such as level of light exposure or quantity and timing of food intake, and generally oscillate between two states (e.g., wake/sleep, feed/fast).

The primary mechanism by which ALAN affects circadian rhythm is likely via the inhibition of [melatonin] secretion and downregulation of circadian-related genes involved in TTFLs that are both closely related to wake/sleep behavior. (11) In the specific case of cardiovascular disease, ALAN seems to inhibit melatonin secretion, which reduces mitochondrial recycling (mitophagy) and efficiency (e.g., fusion) (12), and circadian clock gene expression that disregulates the circadian rhythm and can lead to systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. Given that several cardiovascular parameters, like blood pressure and heart rate, are modulated by the circadian system and show clear 24-hour rhythms, it is not surprising that exposure to a cue that alters the rhythm will influence the cardiovascular parameter, especially when the external cue conflicts with internal clocks. (13) However, it should be noted that ALAN is not the only factor involved in circadian disruption, as exposure to cues like activity, temperature, or food intake outside of circadian rhythms could also contribute to circadian rhythm abnormalities and any associated health issues.

Adapted from Poggiogalle, Jamshed & Peterson, 2018. (14)

The general recommendation is to maintain consistent lifestyle habits and behavioral patterns that align with the circadian rhythm for better health, including timing of wake/sleep, feed/fast, and exertion/recovery, as well as light exposure, because life is full of events that will periodically disrupt the natural rhythm. (15) If consistency is the norm, a few acute stresses of ALAN or a late night snack should be straightforward for the body to recover from and shouldn’t lead to cardiovascular disease. For people with cardiovascular disease, ALAN management fits into stress reduction, along with sleeping well and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol within a bigger picture prevention/treatment plan that includes exercise, weight management, and dietary management. (16)

If you liked what you read here, then you'll love the full offering at Examine.com. It's my go-to resource for staying on top of the latest research relating to health and human performance. They've got a great 13th anniversary sale going on right now; you can check it out HERE.

Note: references for this article are posted as the first comment below.

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The Best of 2023: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2023 winding down, I'm using this last week of the year to direct you to some of the most popular content of the past 12 months at EricCressey.com. Today, we start with the most popular articles of the years. Admittedly, I've shifted away from long-form written content and more to videos over the years (so they aren't really articles), but content is content!

1. Exercise of the Week: Acumobility Ball on Quadratus Lumborum - I posted five years ago about how to use the Acumobility Ball for upper body health, so it seems long overdue for me to share one of the ways we’re using it a bit further down the chain: on quadratus lumborum (QL). Here’s a quick video tutorial, plus the rationale for it.

2. Our Favorite 3D Strap Drills- We use the 3D Strap a ton with our athletes, so Cressey Sports Performance – MA coach Ethan Dyer and I put our heads together to record a few of our top drills to share with a larger audience. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

3. I Use This Every Single Day. - This is a cool story of the origins of AG1 (formerly Athletic Greens) - and it also speaks to some of the concerning trends in the supplement industry as a whole.

4. Elbow-Supported Dumbbell External Rotations: Do or Don’t? - The elbow-supported dumbbell external rotation is a pretty common exercise in strength and conditioning circles, but does it hold value for overhead throwing populations? In this video, I answer that question.

5. Hand Size, Anatomy, and Tissue Extensibility - The hands don't get nearly enough attention in the strength and conditioning and sports medicine worlds. Hopefully, this article helps to change that.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2023" feature. Up next, the top guest posts of the year!

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New Cressey Sports Performance Baseball Caps!

For the first time in a few years, we've got a new model CSP baseball cap available. They're the popular Richardson Original 112 Trucker Model with an adjustable snapback, and go for $34.99 plus shipping and handling:

CLICK HERE to order using our 100% secure server!

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Relative Stiffness Coaching Principles

I've written and lectured often about the importance of understanding relative stiffness for both rehabilitation and fitness professionals. Relative stiffness - also known as regional interdependence and (indirectly) the "Joint-by-Joint Approach" is a vital concept that underpins all human movement (both functional and dysfunctional).

This excerpt from our popular resource, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement, demonstrates that behind every successful coaching cue is a collection of important relative stiffness coaching principles:

These are super important coaching principles that I wish I'd fully grasped when I was first starting out in the strength and conditioning field, so I'd encourage you to share the video with any other coaches who you think would benefit.

Also, don't forget that the entire Functional Stability Training offering is on sale for 25% off through Monday at midnight using coupon code BF2023 att www.FunctionalStability.com. You can also learn about the rest of my 25% offering HERE.
 

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2023 Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sales!

Just like everyone else on the planet, I'm offering some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. We're just going to kick it off a week early so you have time to sort through it all! From now through Monday (11/27) at midnight, you can get 25% off the following resources by using the coupon code BF2023 at checkout.

These eight resources can be purchased through my secure website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, just enter BF2023 to get the discount.

Enjoy!

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So You Can’t Squat?

The squat has been hailed as “the king” of all strength training exercises – and rightfully so; it’s a compound exercise that activates a ton of muscle mass and improves lower body strength and athleticism arguably better than any other exercise. The only problem?

A lot of people have horrendous squat patterns.

Seriously, some people put a bar across their upper back and immediately start to look like the brutally unathletic kid who always got picked last during the recess football draft during elementary school. No matter how much he liked football, it didn’t matter because his body was fighting him the entire way.

Now, there are a lot of different reasons your squat pattern might be out of whack. It could be a mobility problem, a stability problem, or just a technical flaw. Regardless, you don’t just want to plow through things; you need to earn the right to squat under load. With that said, I want to use today’s article to discuss a five options for replacing squatting in your program without losing out on the ability to really crush your lower body. With The High Performance Handbook on sale, it seemed like a good time to highlight how any effective strength and conditioning program is versatile enough to be modified for different goals and movement patterns.

Option 1: Simply elevate the heels.

I used to be down on squatting with a heel lift, but the truth is that it's a pretty fool-proof way to quickly reposition the center of mass and help folks get depth. A 5- or 10-pound plate works fine, but I really prefer using a firmer slantboard/wedge whenever possible, as it's a sturdy, uniform construction.

Option 2: Use box squat variations.

The great thing about the box squat is that it’s more about sitting back than it is sitting down. As a result, you can get the benefits of axial loading – the bar on your upper back (back squat) or the front of your shoulders (front squat) – without the same hip and ankle mobility requirements.

You’ll build up more of your posterior chain – glutes, hamstrings, and adductor magnus – with the box squat, but that’s certainly not a bad thing for most lifters!

Just be mindful about not getting ultra wide with your stance and arching your lower back aggressively through the entire set. That might be good for powerlifters looking to shorten their ROM, but it's not ideal for long-term health.

Option 3: Try axial-loaded single-leg exercises.

Squatting heavy is definitely hard. However, doing really heavy single-leg work can be even more brutal on your lower body because you have to do twice as many sets (left and right). Here’s one of my favorites:

As an added bonus, single-leg work tends to be more spine friendly, for those of you with cranky lower backs.

Option 4: Deadlift more frequently.

If squats are king, the deadlifts have to at least be the heir to the throne, as there are a lot of people who’d insist that lifters actually get more out of heavy deadlifts. And, while they’ll build you up differently than squat variations do, at the end of the day, as long as you’re including a wide variety of exercises in your strength training program, the difference between one squat vs. deadlift session per week will be negligible.

Option 5. Try high-rep goblet squats.

In many cases, giving someone a counterbalance out in front can help them to correctly groove a squat pattern. With that in mind, high-rep goblet squats can be a great finisher to a lower body training session. Try doing two sets of 30 reps, or one set of 50:

You can also do 1-arm KB front squats, where you just hold the KB in the rack position. Doing a set of 10/side can be incredibly fatiguing.

Option 6. Try pistol squat variations.

The biggest concern with poor squat form with a bar on your back is that you’ll go unto lumbar flexion (rounded lower back) under load. With pistol squat variations, you won’t be using much (if any) external loading, so you don’t need to worry about going into a little bit of lower back rounding. If you’re looking for the best replacement for deeper squatting, I think the best bet is the band-assisted pistol squat in the rack, where you use a band as an accommodating resistance. The higher up on the band you hold, the easier the exercise will be.

Conclusion

It goes without saying that the best programs are the ones that are customized to your unique issues – one of which may be an inability to squat. And, just because you can’t squat doesn’t mean that you can’t still get after it in the gym.

If you’re looking for a strength and conditioning program that includes self-assessments so that you can identify your unique needs, I’d encourage you to check out my flagship resource, The High Performance Handbook. For more information, click here.

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Our Favorite 3D Strap Drills – Installment 2

I'm back with the second installment of our series on our favorite 3D Strap exercises at Cressey Sports Performance. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1 from Ethan Dyer. Here are four more CSP "regulars:"

1. 3D Strap Assisted Coil from Low Setting - this an awesome "feel" drill for athletes who need to grasp how to leverage the transverse plane (hip rotation) during lower extremity contributions to rotational power.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/0Nd0DKi_0RM

2. 3D Strap Lateral Lunge w/Rotation to Slantboard - this variation builds on the previous option, as you get more range of motion and speed of movement into the coil.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/2sOD9vJbWOE

3. Split-Stance 3D Strap Hip Airplanes - this is an excellent drill for making mobility stick after traditional ground based drills and positional breathing.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/OJzVgfK9WkY

4. Adductor Stretch with Offset 3D Strap Assisted Extension-Rotation - here's a great combination hip and thoracic mobility drill. Normally, it's super advanced, but the strap assistance helps athletes to tap into more of their ROM by minimizing how much they have to compete against gravity.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/VtLr1_gQdXA

As you can see, these 3D straps add a ton of options to your training bag of tricks. I'd strongly encourage you to check them out at www.WhatsThatStrap.com and enter coupon code CRESSEY at checkout for free shipping on your order.

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Our Favorite 3D Strap Drills – Installment 1

We use the 3D Strap a ton with our athletes, so I encouraged Cressey Sports Performance - MA coach Ethan Dyer to record a few of his favorite drills to share with a larger audience. Here they are (and I'll be chiming in with a second installment of this article myself very soon).

Also, if you haven't started using the 3D Strap with your athletes, I'd strongly encourage you to do so; they add a ton of options to your training bag of tricks. Definitely check them out at www.WhatsThatStrap.com and enter coupon code CRESSEY at checkout for free shipping on your order.

Enjoy! -EC


1. 3D Strap Lateral Sled Drag: One of the most notable benefits of the 3D Strap for baseball and softball athletes is that it doesn’t require any gripping. This means we can load up activities like reverse and lateral sled drags without having to worry about the neural and local fatigue associated with frying our grip and forearms, particularly in-season.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/rN3eWdUqnNs

2. 3D Strap Lateral Rotation: This is a piece of equipment that allows for significant tactile and sensory feedback while executing certain drills, like this lateral rotation. The helical, compressive forces and leading effect that the strap provides is unique and gives us plenty of ‘feel’ based options for our rotational athletes.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/zPc3c-3emb8

3. 3D Strap-Assisted Bowler Squat: The 3D Strap provides a ton of value for loaded single leg activities like this bowler squat. In addition to the previously mentioned ‘feel’ based input we get, we’re able to add significant loading to exercises where we might be looking for resisted or assisted range of motion.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/hXWuLpEPCS0

4. Split-Stance 3D Strap-Resisted Row w/Alternate Arm Reach: Even in post-surgical contexts, we can drive rotation through the upper body without needing to do any gripping. This may be less significant loading than an actual cable row, but if we’re looking to restore / maintain range of motion at the ribcage post-surgery, this kind of activity can be an excellent choice.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/v9Iq6CfAmPE

5. 3D Strap-Resisted Heiden with Stick: The strap isn’t a band, meaning it’s non-elastic. Because of this we can get more out of activities like resisted jumps for certain athletes. When we yank on the strap the force is applied over a very small amount of time, which should bias getting into and out of the cut with greater velocity. This cannot be done to the same extent with a band, making the 3D Strap a useful tool while programming for change of direction or return to run progressions.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/zNCIR4VxFEU

As you can see, this is an awesome piece of equipment that can really yield a variety of training benefits. We'll be back soon with more of our favorites, but in the meantime, you can check it out at www.WhatsThatStrap.com and enter coupon code CRESSEY at checkout for free shipping.

About the Author

Ethan Dyer serves as a Strength & Conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance. He started as a client at CSP and eventually went on to intern at CSP-MA. Following another internship at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training, Ethan joined the CSP-MA team. He was a pitcher at the College of the Holy Cross before transferring to Endicott College to complete his undergraduate work with a major in Exercise Science and minor in Psychology. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Ethan has been a volunteer with both the Miracle League and Special Olympics, and has a passion for working with young athletes to help them fall in love with training while avoiding injury. You can follow him on Instagram at @Ethan___Dyer.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series