Home Posts tagged "baseball strength and conditioning" (Page 5)

Upcoming Strength and Conditioning Seminars…in Your Area?

I just wanted to use today's blog post to let you know about some upcoming strength and conditioning speaking engagements I'll be doing.  If you're like me, you always want to get these planned well in advance.
  • February 19, 2012: Fitness on the Field Baseball Clinic – Santa Cruz, CA. Email joey@paradigmsport.com for details.
  • March 30-31, 2012: International Youth Conditioning Association Summit – Louisville, KY. Click here for more information.
  • April 14, 2012: NSCA Maine State Clinic – Saco, ME.  Details TBA.
  • May 18-19, 2012: JP Fitness Summit – Kansas City, MO.  Click here for more information.
  • June 29 – July 1, 2012: Perform Better Functional Training Summit – Chicago, IL. Click here for more information.
I hope to meet some of you there!
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Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs: How Much Rotator Cuff Work is Too Much? – Part 2

In part 1 of this feature, I talked about how many throwers actually overuse the rotator cuff because they don't appreciate that throwing in itself is a tremendously stressful challenge to the shoulder.  I also made the point that cuff timing is more often the problem than cuff strength, so many folks are really training the rotator cuff incorrectly with thousands of reps of band exercises.  Let's examine that in a bit more depth.

First, I should preface this piece by saying that I think there are definitely places for utilizing bands to strengthen the rotator cuff in a baseball training context.  They obviously provide outstanding convenience for on-field work and travel circumstances, as well as scenarios where players may not have qualified professionals at hand to help with manual resistance work and rhythmic stabilizations. Some cuff work is better than no cuff work!  Additionally, many players swear by bands during the warm-up phase to help with getting blood flow to the shoulder complex with a bit of activation at the same time.

However, there are two primary issues with relying exclusively on bands:

1. In an external rotation variation, the resistance is actually greatest at the point (near maximal external rotation) where the athlete is weakest.  In other words, the band doesn't ideally accommodate the strength curve.  This is a huge concern for me, as one of the biggest things I notice in athletes is that when training in a position of somewhat significant external rotation, they can't "pick up" the resistance quickly enough. More on this later.

2. Most people simply overlook eccentric control.  This is something that is coachable, no doubt, but most people do band exercises for so many reps per set that the athlete can quickly lose focus and resort back to bad habits.

As you can imagine, these are shortcomings that also exist - albeit to a slightly lesser extent - with cable and dumbbell/plate external rotation rotator cuff strength exercises:

So, how do we overcome these shortcomings while helping to address rotator cuff timing?  You have two great options.

1. Rhythmic Stabilizations

The true role of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the humeral head (ball) in the glenoid fossa (socket).  And, during throwing, it does a ton of work, as the humerus goes through extreme ranges of motion in all three planes.  Rhythmic stabilization drills are a great way to train the cuff to fire quicker, and they're particularly valuable because you can train them at various points in the range of motion, modifying the challenge depending on how stable an individual is in a given position.  Plus, this is an outstanding way of monitoring cuff function over the course of weeks and months with athletes you see regularly; regular improvements are easily perceived.

You'll notice that I don't crank him back to extreme external rotation in this video; rather, we stop short of it and just assume that we'll get some carryover in stability a bit further (as per previous research on carryover of isometric exercise).

The sky is really the limit in terms of how you train this one; we have about a dozen variations that we use on a daily basis.  A few quick guidelines:

a. The more congenital or acquired laxity an athlete has, the less aggressive you'll want to be with your perturbations. When someone is less proficient, gently destabilizer, and apply the prturbations closer to the shoulder.  When someone is more stable, perturbate a bit more firmly, and apply it further down the arm.

b. I sometimes start those with significant laxity with closed chain exercises so that they can draw some stability from the floor or wall.

c. Make sure that the scapula is positioned appropriately; it certainly shouldn't be protracted, but don't crank it into excessive retraction, either.  Just keep it from winging off the rib cage.

d. I like 2x/week rhythmic stabilizations during off-season training.  We typically integrate it between sets on lower-body strength training days.

2. Manual Resistance External Rotations

These drills are "where it's at."  On one hand, they are the best strength-building exercise for the cuff because they train it in its most function context: eccentric control.  However, more specific to today's point, they are great for improving cuff recruitment at the most vulnerable point in the throwing motion: lay-back.

When we do a drill like this, I encourage the athlete to "pick it up early."  In other words, I won't apply downward pressure (eccentric overload) until they apply some external rotation force into my hand). 

Some quick guidelines for manual resistance external rotations:

a. Emphasize eccentric overload, but make sure you aren't pushing all the way down, as most people will go into scapular anterior tilt as they are more internally rotated.  Pushing someone all the way down puts the shoulder in a pretty vulnerable position, as scapular stability is lost and the subacromial space is closed down.

b. Given that you have to apply the force further down the arm, make sure that the athlete isn't cheating by just utilizing the wrist extensors.

c. In the manual resistance external rotations at 90 degrees in the scapular plane, your other hand should "cup" the elbow to make sure that the rotation is taking place at the shoulder (as opposed to horizontal adduction/abduction).

d. I like to utilize manual resistance external rotations twice a week during the off-season, usually toward the end of upper body strength training sessions.  We'll use less manual resistance work in this regard, though, when guys start to ramp up their throwing, as it tends to create a bit more soreness.

This wraps up our look at a different perspective on how to attack rotator cuff exercises with timing - and not just strength - in consideration.  For more information, I'd encourage you to check out Optimal Shoulder Performance: From Rehabilitation to High Performance.

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Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs: How Much Rotator Cuff Work is Too Much? – Part 1

In a recent presentation in front of a bunch of baseball coaches, I made the following statement - and it turned a lot of heads:

I think most people overtrain the rotator cuff nowadays, and they do so with the wrong exercises, anyway.

To illustrate my point, I'm going to ask a question:

Q: What is the most common complication you see in guys as they rehabilitate following a Tommy John Surgery?

A: Shoulder problems - generally right around the time they get up to 120 feet.

Huh?  Shoulder pain is a post-operative complication of an elbow surgery?  What gives?

First, I should make a very obvious point: many of these guys deal with shoulder stiffness as they get back to throwing simply because they've been shut down for months.  That I completely expect - but remember that it's stiffness, and not pain.  They always throw their way out of it.

The more pressing issue is what is taking place in their rehabilitation - and more specifically, what's taking place with the synergy between their rehabilitation and throwing program. Let me explain.

Rehabilitation following a UCL reconstruction is extensive.  While different physical therapists certainly have different approaches, it will always be incredibly heavy on rotator cuff strength and timing, as well as adequate function of the scapular stabilizers.  Guys always make huge strides on this front during rehab, but why do so many have shoulder pain when they get further out with their long tossing?  The answer is very simple:

Most people don't appreciate that throwing a baseball IS rotator cuff training.

Your cuff is working tremendously hard to center the humeral head in the glenoid fossa.  It controls excessive external rotation and anterior instability during lay-back.

It's fighting against distraction forces at ball release.

And, it's controlling internal rotation and horizontal adduction during follow-through.

Simultaneously, the scapular stabilizers are working incredibly hard to appropriately position and stabilize the scapula on the rib cage in various positions so that it can provide an ideal anchor point for those rotator cuff muscles to do their job.

A post-op Tommy John thrower - and really every player going through a throwing program - has all the same demands on his arm (even if he isn't on the mound, where stress is highest).  And, as I wrote previously in a blog about why pitchers shouldn't throw year-round, every pitcher is always throwing with some degree of muscle damage at all times during the season (or a throwing program).

Keeping this in mind, think about the traditional Tommy John rehabilitation approach.  It is intensive work for the cuff and scapular stabilizers three times a week with the physical therapists - plus many of the same exercises in a home program for off-days.  They're already training these areas almost every day - and then they add in 3-6 throwing sessions a week.  Wouldn't you almost expect shoulder problems?  They are overusing it to the max!  This is a conversation I recently had with physical therapist Eric Schoenberg, and he made another great point:

Most guys - especially at higher levels - don't have rotator cuff strength issues; they have rotator cuff timing issues.

In throwing - the single-fastest motion in all of sports - you're better off having a cuff that fires at the right time than a cuff that fires strong, but late.  Very few rotator cuff exercise programs for healthy pitchers take that into account; rather, it's left to those doing rehabilitation.  Likewise, most of the programs I see altogether ignore scapular stability and leave out other ways to train the cuff that are far more functional than just using bands.

Now, apply this example back to the everyday management of pitchers during the season. Pitchers are throwing much more aggressively: game appearances, bullpens, and long toss.  They need to do some rotator cuff work, but it certainly doesn't need to be every day like so many people think.

I'll cover how much and what kind in Part 2.  In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about the evaluation and management of pitchers, check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

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7 Reasons Baseball Pitchers Shouldn’t Do Year-Round Throwing Programs – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the first three reasons that I'm opposed to baseball pitchers using year-round throwing programs.  Here are the next four:

4. They need to get their shoulder and elbow range of motion back.

As I noted in Part 1, throwing a baseball is the single-fastest motion in sports.  With the crazy arm speeds one encounters, you have to keep in mind not only the muscles trying to accelerate the arm, but also the ones trying to slow it down.  This "braking" challenge is called eccentric stress - and I'll talk more about it in a second.

What you need to know now, though, is that when left unchecked, significant eccentric stress can lead to tissue shortening.  If you need further proof, Reinold et al. reported that immediately after a pitching outing, pitchers lose an average of 9.5° of shoulder internal rotation and 3.2° of elbow extension - and that these losses persisted at 24 hours post-throwing.

Now, imagine these acute range of motion losses being left unchecked for an entire season - or a season that simply never ends because pitchers are always throwing.  That's how elbows wind up looking like this:

(For more information, I'd encourage you to check out my Everything Elbow In-Service Video.)

Fortunately, we can prevent losses in range of motion during the season with appropriate mobility exercises, manual therapy, and breathing exercises - but the truth is that not everyone has access to these initiatives in terms of expertise, finances, or convenience.  So, while we work to educate the masses on arm care, emphasizing time off from throwing programs is also a key component of an overall strategy to reduce injury risk.

One last thing on this topic: it is a nightmare to try to improve shoulder or elbow range of motion in a pitcher during a season, as the very nature of throwing works against everything you're trying to achieve.  The off-season is "where it's at" in terms of optimizing range of motion in throwers.

5. They need to “dissipate” eccentric stress.

Okay, here's where I take #4 and geek out a bit.  I apologize in advance.

Sometimes, you have to get away from the baseball world in order to learn about the baseball world.  To that end, I need to think Mike Reinold for bringing this great 2004 study from Tomiya et al to my attention.

These researchers created eccentric stress in muscle tissue of mice using an electrical stimulation model, and monitored blood markers of muscle damage for a period of time thereafter.  What you'll see in the graph below is that myofiber disruption really peaks at three-days post-exercise, then start to return down to baseline, yet they still aren't even there at seven days post-intervention.

Source: Tomiya A, et al. Myofibers express IL-6 after eccentric exercise. Am J Sports Med. 2004 Mar;32(2):503-8.

Now, let's apply this to the world of pitching.  Every single pitcher who throws more than once every 7-10 days is surely pitching with some degree of muscle damage.  And, I can tell you that the two toughest challenges pitchers have reported to me are:

a) moving from starting to relieving

b) going from a 7-day high school or college rotation to a 5-day professional rotation

I'm firmly believe that pitchers need to throw in-season to stay strong, but I also know that we can't trump physiology.  Sure, we need to have optimal nutrition and regeneration strategies in place, as we can't just baby guys and expect them to get better.  However, make no mistake about it: high-level pitchers simply have to get good at pitching at 90% capacity (at best) if they are going to succeed.

If I already have a guy whose arm is working at a deficit for 8-9 months of throwing, the last thing I want to do is beat him up for the other three months with the same kind of volume and stress.

manual_therapy_page

6. They need to allow any undetected low-grade injuries to heal.

As I discussed in an old blog, Pitching Injuries: It's Not Just What You're Doing; It's What You've Already Done, most injuries (especially ulnar collateral ligament tears) come from the accumulation of chronic, low-level stress.  Maybe you get some calcification on your ulnar collateral ligament or a low-level rotator cuff tendinosis, and it takes a few years and hundreds of innings before something finally "goes."

Old, low-level injuries are less likely to reach threshold if you give them some downtime and work on redistributing training stress.  By strengthening the rest of your body in the off-season, you're dramatically reducing the demands on your rotator cuff with throwing.

You can't teach other joints to share the burden if the burden is never removed temporarily.

7.  They need a chance to prioritize other competing demands.

Throwing is a good 20-30 minute endeavor each time you do it - and possibly even more.  When I think about all the things that pitchers can be doing to get better in the off-season from a strength and conditioning standpoint, I have a really hard time justifying giving away that much time and recovery capability.  There are other things that need to be prioritized at this time - and year-round throwing is an especially tough pill to swallow when you know that throwing is working against many of the very qualities - rotator cuff strength, scapular stability, mobility, and tissue quality - that you're trying to establish.

Closing Thoughts

The lack of downtime from throwing is especially problematic in younger populations, as they are skeletally immature and weaker.  I’d argue that a really weak 15-year-old kid throwing 74-76 mph does far more damage to his body on each throw than a moderately strong professional player throwing 90-92 mph, especially given that the pro pitcher’s mechanics are more optimized to protect the arm.  This underscores the importance of "syncing up" mechanics, throwing programs, and the overall baseball strength and conditioning program.

Last, but certainly not least, remember that two weeks doesn't constitute "time off."  Rather, I firmly believe that pitchers need the ball completely out of their hands for at least two month per year, preferably continuously.  In other words, eight one-week breaks throughout the year is far from ideal, as it doesn't really allow for positive adaptations to occur.

If you're interested in learning more about managing the throwing shoulder, I'd encourage you to check out our DVD set, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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7 Reasons Baseball Pitchers Shouldn’t Do Year-Round Throwing Programs – Part 1

When Thanksgiving rolls around, many of our professional baseball players at Cressey Sports Performance will start up their winter throwing programs after a full 10-12 week break from throwing.  They're always a bit rusty in the first week of tossing after the layoff, but every single one of them always "figures it out" in a matter of a few weeks - and still has plenty of time to get in a solid throwing program prior to heading off to spring training.  And, because they've been working hard in the gym on their strength, mobility, and soft tissue quality, they're always better off in the end.

Still, there are those who insist that baseball pitchers don't need time off from throwing.

I couldn't disagree more.

I'm sure this will rub some folks the wrong way, but I can't say that I really care, as most of those individuals can't rationalize their perspectives outside of "guys need to work on stuff."  I, on the other hand, have seven reasons why baseball pitchers need time off from throwing:

1.  They need to lose external rotation to gain anterior stability.

Having external rotation - or "lay back" - when is important for throwing hard, and research has demonstrated that simply throwing will increase shoulder external rotation range-of-motion over the course of a season.  This does not mean, however, that it's a good idea to just have someone stretch your shoulder into external rotation, as I wrote previously: Shoulder Mobility Drills: How to Improve External Rotation (if you even need it).

You see, when you externally rotate the humerus (ball) on the glenoid (socket), the humeral head has a tendency to also translate anteriorly (forward).  In a well-functioning shoulder girdle, the rotator cuff musculature should prevent anterior instability, and it's assisted by adequate function of the scapular stabilizers, which offer the dynamic stability to reposition the scapula in the right place to "accommodate" the humeral head's positioning.  For the athletic trainers and physical therapists out there, this is really what you're testing with an apprehension/relocation test.

The apprehension comes about because of either anterior instability or actual structural pathology (SLAP tear, rotator cuff impingement, or biceps tendinosis).  The relocation component is just the clinician posteriorly directing the humeral head to create the stability that should otherwise be created by the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.

The take-home message is that while just going on year-round throwing programs in hopes of increasing external rotation seems like a good idea on paper, it's actually a terrible idea in the context of injury prevention.  Pitchers should actually lose a few degrees of external rotation each off-season intentionally, as it affords them an opportunity to improve their stability.  This leads us to...

2. They need a chance to get their cuff strength and scapular stability up.

Baseball pitching is the single-fastest motion in all of sports, as the humerus internally rotates at velocities in excess of 7,000°/second.  So, it should come as no surprise that at the end of a season, the strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is significantly reduced.  Having dealt with many of our players for up to five off-seasons now, I have a unique appreciation for how they each respond differently to not only the stress of the season, but also to arm care programs that we initiate at season's end.

It's important to remember that improving rotator cuff strength is no different in terms of adaptation than improving a bench press or squat.  Adding 10% to a guy's bench press might take three months in an intermediate population, or 12 months in a high-level lifter!  Adaptation of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is comparable.  I need every minutes of those three months without throwing to get guys back to at least baseline, and hopefully a bit above it.

Can you imagine if some clown trying to improve his bench press went out and benched an additional 4-5 times a week on top of his regular strength and conditioning program?

His progress would be minimal, at best, and he'd be at a dramatically increased risk of injury.  Throwing during a dedicated, appropriate structured early off-season arm care program is no different.

3. They need an opportunity to do dedicated manual resistance rotator cuff exercises.

Ask anyone who has worked with throwers for any length of time, and they'll always tell you that manual resistance exercises are the single-best option for improving rotator cuff strength.  This rotator cuff exercise approach allows you to emphasis eccentric strength better than bands, cables, and dumbbells allow.  It also keeps athletes more strict, as the one providing the resistance can ensure that the athlete isn't just powering through the exercise with scapular stabilizers or lower back.

 The only downside to manual resistance rotator cuff exercises, though, is that because they generally prioritize eccentric strength, they will create more soreness.  With that in mind, we use them much more in the off-season than in the in-season, as we don't want a pitcher throwing with added soreness.  They're a great initiative in a comprehensive off-season baseball strength and conditioning program, but guys just don't seem to like them as much in-season, presumably because both throwing and manual resistance rotator cuff exercises can be too much eccentric stress when combined.  As such, we used them a lot during the September-November periods, and then hold back in this area the rest of the year.

Of course, if you throw year-round, then you can forget about getting these benefits, as the last thing you want is to be sore while you're "working on stuff" in the off-season.  That was sarcasm, in case you weren't picking up on it.

In Part 2, I'll be back with four more reasons baseball pitchers shouldn't throw year-round.

In the meantime, to learn more about the management of throwers, I'd encourage you to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 6-10

In Part 1 of this off-season baseball strength and conditioning series, I outlined the first five of my top 10 priorities when dealing with baseball players at the start of their off-season.  Today, I round out the top 10 “general” things always seem to be addressing with players coming in after a season.

1. Regaining lost mobility - This is an incredibly loaded topic that goes far beyond the scope of any blog or article, as it's an entire two-day seminar or book! You see, losses in mobility - the ability to reach a desired position or posture - can be caused by a number of issues - and usually a combination of several of them.  Tissues can actually lose sarcomeres and become short after immobilization or significant eccentric stress (as with the deceleration component of throwing).  They can become stiff because of inadequate stability at adjacent joints (learn more HERE), protective tension (e.g., "tight" hamstrings in someone with crazy anterior pelvic tilt), or neural tension from an injury (e.g., disc herniation causing "tight" hamstrings).

The "Short vs. Stiff" issue is why you need to have a variety of tools in your "mobility toolbox."  You need focal modalities like Active Release, Graston, and ASTYM techniques to assist with dealing with short tissues, whereas you need more diffuse modalities like traditional massage and foam rolling for dealing with stiffness (although both modalities can certainly help in the other regards, this is how I prefer to use them).

You need to understand retraining breathing appropriately and how posture affects respiratory function.  If you live in extension, you'll have a poor zone of apposition in which the diaphragm can function.  The average human takes over 20,000 breaths per day.  If you don't use your diaphragm properly, more of the stress is placed on the supplemental respiratory muscles: sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi (to only name a few).  What are some insanely common sites of trigger points in just about everyone - especially thrower? Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi.  Improving respiratory function can be a complete game changer when it comes to enhancing mobility.  If you see a baseball player with a low right shoulder, prominent anterior left ribs, adducted right hip, huge anterior pelvic tilt, and limited right shoulder internal rotation, it's almost always a slam dunk.

(Check out www.PosturalRestoration.com for more details on this front)

You may need low-load, long-duration static stretches to improve length in tissues that have lost sarcomeres.  This research has been around in the post-surgery community for decades (1984 research example here), but it's actually not used all that much in strength and conditioning programs - presumably because of time constraints or the fact that most coaches simply don't know how well it can work in the right people.

Finally, as we noted in our Assess and Correct DVD set, you also need dynamic flexibility drills in your warm-ups to reduce tissue and joint stiffness, and subsequent strength exercises in your strength and conditioning program to create adequate stability at adjacent joints to "hold" that new range of motion in place.

Many physical therapist employ heat early in a session to decrease stiffness prior to strengthening exercises, too.  The point is that there may be many different ways to skin a cat - but there are also a lot different types and sizes of cat.  And, for the record, I don't condone skinning cats; it's just a really gruesome analogy that has somehow "stuck" in our normally very politically correct society. Weird...but let's move on.

2.Improving dynamic stabilization of the scapula - I say "dynamic stabilization" because you don't just want scapular stability; you want a scapula with appropriate tissue length, stiffness, and density to allow for the desired movement.  A scapula that doesn't move might be "stable," but that's not actually a good thing!

Truth be told, the scapular stabilizers generally fatigue before the rotator cuff does.  And, when the scapula isn't positioned appropriately, the rotator cuff is at a mechanical disadvantage, anyway.  Additionally, poor scapular control can present as an internal rotation deficit at the shoulder, as you'll just protract the shoulder excessively in place of internally rotating.  In other words, you can do all the rotator cuff exercises you want, but you don't increase strength of the periscapular muscles, you'll be spinning your wheels.  There are loads of drills that we use, but forearm wall slide variations are among our favorites:

3. Enhancing global strength while minimizing reactive training - As I've already noted in this series, we're certainly spending a lot of time addressing specific areas of weakness like the rotator cuff, scapular stabilizers, and anterior core. However, I should be very clear that we're still using "money" strength exercises like variations of the deadlift, single-leg exercises, squatting (in some of our guys), pull-ups, rows, push-ups, and dumbbell bench presses to get strong.  That said, the volume and intensity come down a ton on the reactive training side of things.  We'll give our guys a few weeks off altogether from sprinting, as they've usually done a lot of that all season.  Plus, nixing all the sprinting and jumping for a few weeks ensures that they won't tweak anything, given the soreness they'll be working with from the strength training program - and it allows us to increase strength faster.

4. Putting guys in the right footwear - One thing that many folks don't appreciate about playing baseball every day from February to October is the sheer amount of time one spends standing around in cleats, which will never be as comfortable as sneakers or going barefoot.  As such, one of the first things we do with most of our guys is get them into a good pair of minimalist shoes for training, as it gets them away from the rigidity, separation from the ground, and ankle mobility deficits that come with wearing cleats.  As I wrote previously, I'm a big fan of the New Balance Minimus.

Keep in mind that we ease guys into these minimalist shoe options, rather than throwing them in the footwear 24/7 right away.  They'll start out just wearing them during training, and increase from there, assuming all goes well.

5. Normalizing sleep schedules - Professional baseball players (and really all professional athletes) have terrible sleep schedules.  Because most games are night games, they generally go to bed around 1-2AM and wake up anywhere from 7AM to 11AM.  The early risers I know will usually take a nap before going to the park, whereas the guys who sleep in roll out of bed and go straight to the park.  Additionally, much of this sleeping comes on planes and buses, which aren't exactly comfortable places to get quality sleep.  I'm a firm believer that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight - but this simply isn't an option for professional baseball players.

That said, we try to normalize things as much as possible in the off-season.  All our athletes are encouraged to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time - and to hit the hay before 11pm every night.  Any naps they can get during the day are a bonus, too!

Wrap-up

While I've outlined ten things we address in the early off-season, these are really just the tip of the iceberg, as every player is unique and needs an individual approach.  That said, the one general theme that applies to all of them is that we're shifting paradigms - meaning that some things about our philosophy may differ from what they've experienced.  Some guys may be accustomed to just "football workouts."  Others may have been coddled with foo-foo training programs where they didn't work hard.  Some guys ran distances. Some guys crushed the rotator cuffs every day while ignoring the rest of the body.

The point is that it's not just our job to find what we feel is the best fit for these athletes, but also to educate them on why the unique program we've designed for them is a better approach than they can get anywhere else.

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Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 1-5

We've got over 100 professional baseball players scheduled to be at Cressey Performance for their off-season training, so it goes without saying that I've been doing a lot of evaluations over the past two weeks - and writing the individualized strength and conditioning programs in accordance with those assessment results.  To that end, I thought I'd use a two-part series to highlight the top 10 "general" things I find myself addressing with guys coming in after the long season.

1. Planning the off-season schedule - Each player is 100% unique in this regard.  As examples, a guy who threw 50 innings would be able to start a throwing program sooner this off-season than a guy who racked up 150 innings.  Some guys goes to instructional league in Florida or Arizona, and others play winter ball.  Guys headed to minor league spring training report later than those headed to big league spring training.  In short, everyone has different timetables with which to work, so it's important to get an appreciation for it well in advance for the sake of long-term planning.

2.Discussing role/status within the organization - This priority aligns with #1.  You manage a first-round draft pick who may be a guaranteed big leaguer if he stays healthy somewhat differently than you'd manage someone who was drafted in the 48th round and paid a $1,000 signing bonus.  The former has the world on a silver platter for him, whereas the latter really needs to improve with dramatic improvements in order to stick around in pro ball. In this situation, you have to be willing to get a bit more aggressive with the programming of the "underdog." I wrote about this two years ago in a feature on CP athlete and Oakland A's prospect Shawn Haviland.

3. Mastering the sagittal plane - When the season ends, it seems like a lot of strength and conditioning coaches are super anxious to start up loads of aggressive medicine ball drills and change of direction work.  I'm a firm believer that guys need to master the sagittal plane before they head out and spend a lot of time in the frontal plane - especially when it comes after a long season of aggressive rotational activity.  In some guys, we omit medicine ball work altogether for the first month of the off-season while we work to enhance anti-rotation and anti-extension core stability.  You'd be amazed at how many athletes can't do a decent prone bridge, rollout, or reverse crunch on their first day back because their anterior pelvic tilt is so excessive that their anterior core strength is virtually absent.

Other athletes need to spend a lot of time simply working on single-leg exercises.  While these exercises are performed in the sagittal plane, the athletes are still stabilizing in the frontal and transverse planes.  The "sexy" work in these planes comes in subsequent months.

Of course, some athletes do a great job of taking care of themselves during the season and come back with complete control in the sagittal plane.  As long as they aren't too banged up, we'll certainly get them right back in to medicine ball exercises.

4. Regaining rotator cuff strength - It's a huge struggle to improve cuff strength when an athlete is constantly throwing - especially when we're talking about a pitcher who is racking up 100+ pitches - and the eccentric stress that accompanies them - every fifth day.  Since most professional pitchers get about 10-16 weeks off from throwing each fall, those 2-4 months become absolutely crucial for regaining cuff strength at an optimal rate.  It's one reason why it drives me absolutely bonkers when a guy takes a full month off after the season ends.

I discussed our general approach to improving rotator cuff function in Clearing Up the Rotator Cuff Controversy.  Of course, all this work is accompanied by loads of work on thoracic mobility, scapular stabilization, breathing exercises, and soft tissue work.

5. Normalizing diet and, in turn, vitamin/mineral status - There are a ton of guys who want to stick with healthy food options during the season.  Unfortunately, that can be very challenging on a minor league salary, less-than-stellar clubhouse food, and extensive travel.  All our professional players complete three-day diet records at the start of the off-season, and when reviewing those, we tinker with food selection, meal frequency, and supplementation.

If a guy is overweight, we don't try to take 30 pounds off him in two weeks; rather, we focus on improving food quality and allow the increased training volume to take care of the rest.  Most guys will undergo a pretty dramatic body composition shift in the first 6-8 weeks of the off-season, anyway, so there is no need to get "aggressive" with caloric reductions at this point when they should be all about regeneration and feeling good.

Of course, if they're skinny, we'll get them crushing more food right away!

These are just the first of many key areas of focus for early in the off-season.  Check back soon for Part 2!

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A Real Deal Baseball Training Review

With our professional baseball off-season training crew at Cressey Performance starting to pick up steam, I'm taking today off for a last chance to enjoy summer.  I'm taking my grandmother and great aunt to Fenway Park this afternoon.  Let's just say that the love of baseball is in my gene pool - so it should be a fun game! Speaking of off-season training, I wanted to quickly give you a heads-up that Dan Huff and Joe Meglio just released Real Deal Baseball Training, an off-season strength and conditioning program specifically for baseball players, and it's on sale for a very affordable $17.95 through this Friday night.

I'll be honest: I get emails literally every day from people asking me to create a baseball product.  While I intend to do so, I want it to be perfect - so I'm constantly tinkering with how I plan to approach it as we make subtle modifications to how we train baseball players of a wide variety of ages and ability levels.  Unfortunately, while I've been contemplating things, a lot of baseball players and coaches out there have been using horrendous strength and conditioning programs and techniques.  These approaches aren't making them durable and high-performing; rather, they're breaking them down and killing off the athleticism they need. Dan and Joe can really help in this regard. While this program is considerably different than our approaches at Cressey Performance, that's one reason why I liked it.  There is more than one way to skin a cat, and I, for example, actually picked up some new movement training drills that I'll implement with our guys. The product is completely online, so you can access it immediately.  It gives you four months of comprehensive strength and conditioning programs - and includes a handy video database that shows you technique for all the drills in the program. The program also includes a 30-day money back guarantee, in case it's not a good fit for you. For more information, check out the Real Deal Baseball Training page, where Dan Huff has a video describing it in more detail for you.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Think “The Opposite”

September 6 might seem like just another Tuesday to most folks.  Many people probably despise it because the day after Labor Day serves as an unofficial end to summer.  Kids go back to school, teachers go back to work, and many seasonal businesses lose customers and employees as the season winds down.

Not me, though.  Today, the madness begins for me – and I love it.

You see, today is the start of the professional baseball off-season, as some minor leaguers played their last games yesterday.  Between now and the start of spring training in February/March, Cressey Performance will likely see over 50 guys either in the big leagues or trying to make the big leagues.

We get a special type of ballplayer, too. Trekking to Hudson, MA in the winter isn’t for everyone – and certainly not for guys who want to be coddled.  Our guys love to work smart and hard – and that makes my job incredibly fun.

People are often surprised to learn that I never even played baseball in high school.  Being an “outsider” to the game would seemingly make it harder to enter the world of baseball strength and conditioning, but I actually used it to my advantage.  To put it bluntly, I had no preconceived notions of what people think works, so it made it easy for me to “buck” stupid baseball traditions and focus on what I know works.  In short, as some of the world’s smartest marketing advisors have recommended, I did the opposite of what others do, and the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program thrived.

Given that baseball players are among the most often-injured athletes in sports, many “experts” in the industry baby them with “do no harm, but do no good” strength training programs.  We show guys that it’s possible to get strong in an intelligent way while decreasing the risk of injury – both acutely and chronically.

Conversely, many strength and conditioning coaches alienate players by looking, acting, and programming like football coaches.  We don’t Olympic lift, back squat, or bench press with our baseball players – and we’ve gone to great lengths to bring in equipment that enables us to modify traditional strength exercises and make them safer for a baseball population.

Many coaches who have played the game before rely exclusively on their experiences playing the game to dictate how players prepare nowadays.  What they fail to appreciate is that the modern game is far different: more off-field distractions (e.g., heavier media attention, social networking), heavier travel schedules (more teams = more travel), more competing demands (e.g., strength and conditioning), and more pressure to succeed (larger organizations = more levels of minor leaguers pushing to take your job).  As a result, I do a lot more listening to my athletes than I do talking - and much less assuming than other coaches do.

Loads of coaches run their pitchers into the ground, thereby ruining guys’ mobility, sapping their power, and abusing their endocrine systems in an ignorant attempt to improve recovery.  Our guys never run more than 60 yards – and they get healthier and more athletic in the process.

Many organizations hand out the same strength and conditioning programs to all their players – regardless age, training experience, dominant hand, and position on the field.  A lot of facilities are no better; one training program on the dry erase board dictates what everyone in the gym does on a given day.  In a sport where each body (and injury) is unique – and asymmetry is overwhelmingly problematic – we give our guys a competitive advantage with a strength and conditioning program that is individualized to each player.

While some facilities were aligning themselves with companies who were trying to be “everything to everybody” by catering to loads of different sports, we allied with New Balance, a Boston-based and not only has a heavy baseball focus (225+ MLB players under contract), but a strong commitment to various charitable causes, American workers, and the education of up-and-coming players.

Walk into any professional baseball clubhouse, and you’ll see a lot of different “cliques.”  Guys of a wide-variety of ages come from different states and countries, speak different languages or have different accents, and play different positions.   On a 25-30 man roster, a player might only hang out with 2-3 teammates off the field at most during the season.  We’ve made camaraderie an insanely important piece of the CP professional baseball approach, introducing guys to each other, setting up out-of-the-gym events for our guys, and creating a culture where everyone roots for everyone else.  I’ve had guys at my house for Thanksgiving and at my wedding – and guys have held back on referring other players because they didn’t feel that their work ethics or attitudes would be a good fit for CP.  In short, we’ve created a family and an experience – and given our athletes an ownership stake in it – while others just  “worked guys out.”

Although it is a point Pat Rigsby, Mike Robertson, and I heavily emphasize in our Fitness Business Blueprint product, the concept of “doing the opposite” to succeed isn’t just applicable to business.

Go to any gym, and look at how many people are on the treadmills year-after-year, none of them getting any leaner.  Get some of them to head across the gym to a weight room and they’ll transform their bodies in a matter of a few months.  Switch someone from a high-carb, low-protein, low-fat diet to a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, and they’ll often drop a lot of fat in a short amount of time.

With all that said, the answers for me will never be the right answers for you.  Look at what you’re doing – whether it’s in training, business, or life – and think about how doing the exact opposite may, in fact, be the best way to improve your outcomes.

For those of you interested in taking a peek inside what goes on with the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program on a daily basis – from training videos to footage of guys goofing off in the office – I’d encourage you to follow @CresseyPerf on Twitter.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: How to Make Change Easier

Yesterday was a busy (but fun) day at Cressey Performance, and when I got home around 7pm, I was beat. Luckily, it doesn’t take much energy to check emails, so that’s what I did.  This one made my night: Hey Eric, Just wanted to thank you for helping me out this summer. I've weighed in at 197 the last few days, a 19 pound increase in about 3 months. My fastball has gone up 7-8 mph and I still feel like I haven't thrown the ball near my best yet. Because of the work I put in this summer I now have a legitimate shot to pitch a lot this year after not seeing an inning and getting redshirted last season. Thanks again, John Pretty cool, huh?  These are the kind of emails that make the long days all worthwhile and remind me why I have the coolest job in the world.  It gets better, though – as there is a lot to be learned from this specific story. John – a college pitcher coming off two surgeries in two years on his throwing shoulder, plus a few hamstrings pulls – drove seven hours for his one-time consultation/evaluation at Cressey Performance back in May and then took a program home with him.  Then, he drove back to CP at the start of his June and July programs to learn the exercises and check in with us to make sure everything was progressing nicely.  That’s some serious dedication (and gas money!).

Just as significant, though, was his ability to embrace change, as our programs were a huge deviation from his previous experiences.  His original email to us included this line: “I run 6 days a week, one of my goals between the end of this season and the beginning of next one is to run 1,000 miles.”  He didn’t do a single “run” over 50 yards in the entire three month program with us.  He also did far more (and longer) long toss in his throwing program than he had previously.  So, you could say that he not only embraced a change, but thrived with it. Change is tough, though.  Lots of people read my blogs, hear me speak at seminars, and interact with me on short-term observational visits to Cressey Performance – but only a small percentage of them actually put things into action.  Loads of people acquire knowledge, but never act on it. However, interestingly, when a new client starts up at CP, they stand a much better chance of succeeding with change.  Starting (and staying consistent with) a strength and conditioning program is a big undertaking; in fact, for many, it’s as significant as taking on a new job, opening a new business, or learning to play a new sport or instrument.  And, when that program is a complete deviation from what you’re expecting, it’s even tougher. Why, then, do some people succeed with change more than others?  I think it has to do with a lot of factors, but these five stand out the most to me: 1. They get those around them involved – John’s dad came along for the ride for his first day at CP – and this is often the case for the parents of our high school athletes.  While you don’t want overbearing parents, you do want a support system that’s aware of new goals and can be there to help keep one accountable in the quest for change.

2. They find good training partners and a quality training environment – I had a quick video blog about this yesterday, but I’m convinced that training partners and environment are just as important as an effective program.  There are always people to pick you up when you’re dragging, and the energy is contagious.  It makes change fun while making it seem like it is actually a “norm,” as training partners are constantly reaffirming what you’re doing and providing encouragement and feedback. 3. They don’t get overwhelmed by changing everything – Sometimes, the easiest way to create massive change is to take baby steps and break the overhaul into smaller components.  As I wrote recently, small hinges swing big doors.  This has never been my “cup of tea,” but there have been times when we’ve had to slowly change around a program for a client that was accustomed to a completely different school of thought.  “One of mine and one of yours” can work for the initial period and help you to gain an individual’s trust before a more thorough transition. 4. They incorporate this change into an existing schema – This is one I originally read in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.

To illustrate things, I’ll call upon my own personal experience.  Back in 2006 or so, I didn’t think that there was any possible way that semi-private training could work. How could you have clients of all different ages, experience levels, and goals training at the same time without having chaos?  My buddy, Alwyn Cosgrove (who, at the time, had just beaten stage 4 cancer for the second time), had some great advice: Physical therapy is done in group settings. Cardiac and pulmonary rehab are done in group settings.  I did pulmonary rehab post-chemo.  Seventeen of us in the group and one nurse. That's called semi-private! Chemotherapy is done in a semi-private setting for most cancers, too. My first time through there were ten of us in a room with two nurses. Actually, when I was in the hospital getting chemo it was still semi-private. I had one nurse who covered six rooms. Now I'm even more convinced. If life saving (and potentially deadly chemotherapy) is done in a small group setting, you're really stretching to tell me that an exercise program has to be one-on-one. We now do almost exclusively semi-private training, and it’s amazing.  Middle school athletes get to watch how the high school guys train.  The pro guys get to mentor the high school guys.  The adult clients get to know athletes they see on TV on a personal level.  Experienced clients introduce themselves to new clients when they start training.  Just the other day, one of our local families had two of out-of-town athletes (Colorado and Virginia) over for dinner on Saturday night, and then brought them to church with them on Sunday morning.  There is insane camaraderie among folks from all different walks of life.

None of it would have been possible if I hadn’t been able to wrap my head around the idea of semi-private training – and it would have been tough to get to that point if Alwyn hadn’t put the concept into my existing schemas (physical therapy, cardiac/pulmonary rehab/chemotherapy) for me. 5. They spend money – Taking a leap of faith and increasing the stakes can sometimes motivate people to make change happen.  Whether it’s a payment for training, or just a bet with friends about exercise consistency or some training goal, separating people from their money always seems to magically increase adherence.  People don’t like getting ripped off – and it’s even worse when you rip yourself off because there is nobody else to blame except yourself! In a recent example, Pat Rigsby, Mike Robertson, and I outline many assessment, training, and business strategies that one can effectively employ in a fitness business in The Fitness Business Blueprint.  One of our primary goals in making it the way that we did was to make sure that we made it easier for buyers to apply the changes we recommended; we discussed how to incorporate our ideas seamlessly in their current business strategy.  Still, none of these tactics will work is someone isn’t willing to change – and that means putting in some leg work to both set the stage for change and then follow through on it.

This resource is on sale for $100 off through Friday at midnight.  If you’re looking to make positive changes in your fitness business – or get one off the ground in the first place – it’s an outstanding way to get the ball rolling.  You can learn more about The Fitness Business Blueprint HERE. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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