Home Posts tagged "Core Stability Exercises"

What is Stability Training?

Today's guest post comes from Josh Henkin. After Dan Swinscoe's guest post earlier in the week, it seemed like a good follow-up to have Josh speak to the more general principles of stability training.

And, as a friendly reminder, you can get 10% off both sandbag products and educational resources folks at Ultimate Sandbag Training through tomorrow (Sunday) at midnight. Just head HERE and enter the coupon code cressey10.

Enjoy! - EC

Teaching is something that is my passion; it is in my blood, as almost everyone is my family has been a teacher of some sort. Having the wonderful fortune of being able to teach continuing education programs for over a decade, I’ve loved helping professionals find solutions to problems. How do I know what the problems are? Being a coach for 25 years, owning my own gym for a decade, and working with diverse populations has taught me that our true job as a strength coach, fitness professional, or clinician is to be a solution to problems.

Even though we may be looking at solutions to different issues, there tend to be concepts that are key for a wide variety of goals. In order to accomplish our goals in helping people,
we look at the what gives us the “biggest bang for the buck.” Stability training is something that can deliver on that front. In this article, I address stability training methods because they are sorely misunderstood and often lead us to performing exercises we THINK are based around acquiring better stability in a given situation, but we are often missing the goal.

What Is Stability Training?

We could have a LONG dissertation discussing stability training, but I want to focus on some key concepts, how they impact our programming, and the exercises we select. Stability can be something we look at in regard to isolated joints or the whole body. For the sake of this post, we are referencing more of whole body stability.

When you say the words “stability training,” most of us think of exercises that make us wobble or shake a lot. Sadly, that isn’t stability training. In order to address stability, we need a much better understanding of what we are trying to achieve.

Go on the internet and look up stability training or even most textbooks, and you’ll get a wide array of definitions. Probably the best and most simple can be thought of as “allowing wanted movement while resisting unwanted movement.” That seems really simple, but it has been said by some of the best coaches in the industry. If you find that too vague for your liking (don’t overlook simplicity in delivering great concepts), I tend to really like what performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello says: “Stability is about timing and sequential activation of muscles.” (1)

Hmm, what is Dr. Marcello referring to in such a statement? Motor control is probably the concept with which many professionals are least familiar. If we look at much of the research on causes of injuries, we tend to see a common theme of a muscle isn’t working at the right time. This flies in the face of the fact that we think if we just make a singular muscle strong it will fix all the problems in movement. Just looking back at all the focus we placed in training the Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is a great example.

While most thought the result of all the studies on the TVA meant we had to isolate and strengthen the TVA, they ignored the points the researchers were making. In a 2017 study by Selkow et. al, they concluded, “TrA activation and timing were altered following a four-week core stability program in people with and without LBP” (2). See the key word of timing, not strength?

What does this really mean for most creating fitness and strength training programs? Our energy in developing stability should be focused upon foundational movement patterns and how we progress them. Dr. Marcello’s makes the complex digestible by defining stability training around three important concepts…

-Feedforward (this is more reactive)

With these three concepts there is also one more caveat: they should be multi-planar. Most people are unaware of these ideas when they are creating their stability drills, especially when it comes to being more multi-planar. While I would love to address these all in detail, I’d rather bring some of these concepts to life with a special emphasis on how we go from building a pattern to making it more multi-planar.

Movement Patterns and Planes of Motion

When I created our Dynamic Variable Resistance Training system (DVRT), it was thinking about how we address training movement and not so focused upon specific exercises or muscles. In order to do so, we have to offer concepts that get us all on the same page and speaking the same language. There are three ideas we need to better understand so we can have our training come to life!

Most roll their eyes when you say “functional training,” but it is an actual method that sadly has been hijacked by clever marketing. Spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill sums it up best, “functional training incorporates the goal of enhancing strength throughout the body segment linkage” (3).

That sounds great, but what is Dr. McGill referring to when he says “linkage?” If you have heard about fascial lines, I believe that is a great way to help us better understand that we have specific chains that coordinate the use of different muscles for ways to help us achieve stability so we can demonstrate strength.

If you aren’t familiar with fascial lines, how can we make these concepts meaningful and provide the “Cliff’s Notes” on these concepts? I like to sum it up with these ideas as the following;

1. Hands/Feet: Half of our bones are in our hands and feet, and that is very significant. The contact we have with our environment usually comes from our hands and feet, so coaching them has a huge impact in making these important connections in the body. Renowned physical therapist, Gray Cook says it best!

“If the feet are sloppy and the grip is off, not only will the person not activate the right muscles, but he or she is not even up taking the right sensory information. Let me say that again. If there are any mobility or stability compromises between the foot and the brain, it’s like standing on two garden hoses wondering where all the water is. The information pathway is broken two ways… up and down.”

How does it apply to our training? When I created the Ultimate Sandbag, it was in an effort to create a tool specifically made to address movement, not create a tool and then try to invent a purpose. Simple concepts make our training so much better and teach our clients how to move better instantly! Pretty cool if we can use load as a teaching tool and to provide feedback, not just stress the system.

Examples: Press Out Squats, Arc Press, and Bird Dog Drags

2. Lat/Core/Glutes: While the concepts of fascial lines can make for an entire post, I like to introduce complex subjects with easy to grasp ideas. One of the best examples is the connection of our lat/trunk/ and opposing gluteals to create what is known as the Posterior Oblique Sling (POS). We use this system all the time to create stability for the spine as we perform complex locomotive motion. If you look at an anatomy chart, you can see the fibers of the right lat go right into our thoracolumbar fascia, and travel into the opposing gluteals.

This is why before you do a deadlift, you should try to “break the bar.” With this concept, we have an improved understanding how to develop better exercises and re-think maybe familiar ones. Change is never easy, but appreciating the science should help. This is especially true when we think how the glutes help create stability in what is known as “force closure” of the SI joint.

“Force closure is the term used to describe the other forces acting across the joint to create stability. This force is generated by structures with a fibre direction perpendicular to the sacroiliac joint and is adjustable according to the loading situation. Muscles, ligaments and the thoracolumbar facia all contribute to force closure. Force closure is particularly important during activities such as walking when unilateral loading of the legs creates shear forces.
Force closure creates greater friction and therefore increased form closure and what is called “self-bracing” or “self-locking” of the joint. According to Willard et al. force closure reduces the joint’s ‘neutral zone’ thereby facilitating stabilization.”

Examples: Lift/Chop Hip March, Front Loaded Good Mornings, Deadlift Matrix

3. Progressing Planes of Motion: While we know planes of motion are relevant to what we do in any exercise or real life/sporting movement, we don’t have good systems of actually progressing these concepts. The sagittal plane is not a “bad guy;” it is the most stable plane (why so many like lifting in it) and should be our foundation to teach foundational movement patterns. However, where do we go from there?

In DVRT, we move to focusing on moving through the sagittal plane while resisting the frontal and transverse plane. Then, moving into the frontal plane, and eventually the transverse plane. There are many steps in between, but the highest level in our system is moving one segment of the body in one plane of motion while resisting at another segment. This concept can be applied to any of our seven movment patterns (squat, hip hinge, push, pull, lunge, rotate, and gait) in what we call our MAX (multiple axis) drills. The overall point is that we should think about planes of motion as a training variable with the same value and need of progression as load, volume, etc.

Examples: MAX Lunge, MAX Front Loaded Rear Step Good Morning, Front Loaded Rotations

This is probably a lot of information and a very different way for people to think. Even though questioning what we are doing is difficult, I think of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “Do the best you can, until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Our profession is a rather young one, especially in regard to strength and conditioning and fitness. Evolving and growing only allows us to create better solutions for the people that come to us for help. We have to be open to growing if we are going to make the impact we all desire and that is at the heart of all our goals!

Note from EC: Don’t forget about the great discount in place on sandbags and the associated educational resources at Ultimate Sandbag Training through Sunday at midnight. You can get 10% off by heading HERE and enter the coupon code cressey10.

About the Author

Josh Henkin, CSCS has been in the fitness and performance industry for 25 years. He has been highly sought after for his functional training concepts and DVRT system which has seen him teach in over 13 countries worldwide. Josh has also served as a consultant for the U.S. Marines HITT program, U.S. Army Special Forces Recruiting Battalion, as well as numerous Fire & Police Departments as well as Division 1 programs and Rehabilitation Clinics around the country. You can follow him on Instagram at @UltimateSandbag.


1. The Why’s, What’s, How’s and When’s of Stability Training, “Power & Resiliency Summit”, October 19, 2019, Results Fitness, Newhall, CA.
2. Selkow, Noelle M et al. “Transversus abdominis Activatioin And Timing Improves Following Core Stability Training: A Randomized Trial. “International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Volume 12, 7 (2017): 1048-1056.
3. McGill, Stuart, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. Waterloo, ON: Wabuno Publishers; 2004 ISBN 0-9735018-0-4. 329p., illustrated Can
4. https://www.otpbooks.com/gray-cook-expanding-on-the-joint-by-joint-approach-part-2-of-3/
5. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Sacroiliac_Joint_Force_and_Form_Closure

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The Best of 2019: Guest Posts

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2019, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year. Here goes…

1. The Biggest Mistake in Program Design - Kevin Neeld, Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, reminds us to make sure that our programs evolve as our knowledge and experience in the field accumulate.

2. 5 Non-Traditional Exercises for Catchers - CSP-Florida Director of Performance Tim Geromini works with all our catchers in Florida, and he's devised some creative ways to help them feel, move, and play better. This article includes a few of them.

3. 10 Reasons We Use Wall Slides - Wall slide variations are a mainstay in all of our upper body training and rehabilitation programs. Eric Schoenberg, who serves as the physical therapist at our Palm Beach Gardens, FL location, shares why that's the case.

4. 5 Great Kettlebell Exercises for Baseball Players - Dan Swinscoe is a great physical therapist in the Seattle area, and in this article, he shares some of the KB variations he likes to use with his baseball players.

5. Exercise of the Week: Side Bridge with Top Leg March - CSP-Massachusetts coach Cole Russo shared this great lateral core stability progression. We're using it a lot this offseason.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2019.

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The Best of 2019: Strength and Conditioning Videos

With my last post, I kicked off the "Best of 2019" series with my top articles of the year. Today, we'll highlight the top five videos of the year.

1. Glute-Ham Raise with Banded Reach

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that I'm a big fan of training the posterior chain and also working on getting serratus anterior firing to improve scapular upward rotation. So, you can imagine how excited I am to present to you a video that hits both. Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard offered a great demo: 

2. Subscapularis 101

The subscapularis is the largest of the four rotator cuff muscles, but it might also be the most misunderstood. This excerpt from my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions resource will bring you up to speed on it.

3. 1-leg Dumbbell Pullover - The 1-leg dumbbell pullover is a nice variation on a classic. It’ll add a rotary stability challenge to what is normally considered an upper body and anterior core drill. I’m using this variation a bit more in the late offseason (with throwing volume and intensity ramping up), as you can get a good training effect with less external loading.

4. Half-kneeling Cable Lift with Flexion-Rotation Hold

The half-kneeling cable lift w/flexion-rotation hold is a new variation on an old drill, and we've been implementing it quite a bit with athletes this year. It's a creation of CSP-FL co-founder and pitching coordinator Brian Kaplan.

5. Landmine Squat to 1-arm Press

It's not secret that I love landmine presses, and this is a great progression. This drill fits well as a first exercise on a full body day and pairs well with horizontal or vertical pulling. I really like it late in the offseason when we’re trying to keep sessions a bit shorter and get extra bang for our training buck. I’d do sets of 3-5 reps per side.

I'll be back soon with the top guest posts of 2019!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/16/19

We skipped a week of recommended reading/listening, but the good news is that it gave me some time to stockpile some good stuff for you!

Trusting the New Coach: A Challenging Conversation with Clients - This might be my favorite article my business partner, Pete Dupuis, has ever written. That's because it's one of the biggest challenges our business has faced over the past 12 years, and he's navigated it masterfully. If you own or manage a training facility, this is a must-read.

Keith Baar on the Physical Preparation Podcast - Mike Robertson's interview with Keith was fascinating, as he's done some great research on tendon function and adaptation.

Adam Grant: The Man Who Does Everything - This was an outstanding podcast from Tim Ferriss with Adam Grant on the topic of time management. Regardless of your industry, you'll take away some great nuggets.

Top Tweet of the Week

Top Instagram Post of the Week

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/14/19

We're long overdue for a recommended reading/listening feature, so here goes!

Does "Feel" Matter with Core Stability Exercises? - I had a good conversation with one of our adult clients on this one just last week, and it reminded me to reincarnate this from the archives.

Ian Kadish on Athleticism, Work Capacity, and Arm Care in Baseball - This was a great podcast from Mike Robertson with my buddy, Ian Kadish. Ian did a great job in his first year as strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Twins in 2019.

The New Frontier in Baseball Rehab: Part 1 - This was a good podcast that serves as an excellent follow-up to my chat with Alan Jaeger a few weeks ago. Alan and Josh Heenan delve in further on the topic of rehab throwing programs on the Robby Row Show.

Top Tweet of the Week

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“Coil” in the Pitching Delivery: Friend or Foe?

I came across this awesome still-frame of Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin on the Nationals instagram the other day. This positioning at the top of his leg lift offers an important reminder of how the transverse plane can be your biggest ally or enemy in the pitching delivery.

As you can see, Corbin has some "coil" to his leg lift, which creates more internal rotation on the trailing hip right as he starts to progress into his hip load (hinge/flexion). This pre-tensioning allows him to store a little extra elastic energy as he heads down the mound toward front foot plant. It also can provide a bit more deception to make the hitter's job more challenging. And, perhaps most importantly, it sets up more of a "sweeping" slider, similar to what we see with pitchers like Chris Sale and Steve Cishek. All good, right?

Well, the challenge is that being this rotational can also give some athletes problems. It's a slightly more high maintenance delivery because you have to take all that transverse (rotational) motion and convert it into a more linear motion at ball release so that you are getting through the baseball, not just around it. And, if you can't stop this rotation at the hips, it gets transferred up to the spine. This is where optimizing strength, mobility, and timing of the lead hip is essential: it's a torque converter (rotational to linear).

Understanding this should make you realize that just coaching knee extension on the front leg isn't a useful strategy; it ignores the hip. And, just calling it lead leg blocking is insufficient, as "blocking" doesn't appreciate the rotational component that the lead hip can take on. That's why we talk a lot about "front hip pull-back" and select exercises that challenge it to accept forces in all three planes of motion.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/19/19

I hope you had a great weekend. Before I get to the good stuff, just a friendly reminder that this Friday is the last day to get the early-bird discount on our fall seminar (9/21-9/22) at Cressey Sports Performance - MA. This 1.5 day event offers 10 CEU hours through the NSCA and features some awesome presentations. You can learn more HERE. Additionally, CSP co-founder Pete Dupuis and I have our business mentorship on Monday the 23rd, and we only have three spots remaining. Business mentorship attendees attend the fall seminar at no additional charge; you can grab one of the remaining spots HERE.

Now, on to the recommended reading and listening for the week:

The Thin Line Between Loyalty and Defection - Speaking of Pete, this is an excellent post he wrote up on last week on the business side of fitness.

Chris Chase on the Evolution of Basketball Strength and Conditioning - This is the second time Mike Robertson has had Chris Chase (Memphis Grizzlies) on his podcast, and given how excellent the first interview was, listening this time around was a no-brainer. It didn't disappoint.

Recency Bias and Long-Term Training Success - Given the volatility of the stock market in recent weeks, it seemed like a good time to reincarnate this article I wrote a few years ago. The concept of recency bias can be applied to your training programs just like it can be to investing.

Top Tweet of the Week

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Once you’ve mastered the basics of anti-rotation core work with chops and lifts, a great progression strategy is to start adding range of motion to the system. Remember, we’re preparing folks for a multiplanar world where they’ll have to move around a stable core, not just stay motionless in the sagittal plane while resisting destabilizing torques. They need to throw, swing, asymmetrically pick things up, change directions, start lawnmowers, etc. 👇 The two best places to start are challenging the joints above and below the lumbar spine - the hips and thoracic spine - through more motion in various planes of motion. Here are a few of my favorites.👊👍 #cspfamily #corestability

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Exercise of the Week: Side Bridge with Top Leg March

This go-round of the Exercise of the Week comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts coach, Cole Russo. Before we get to it, though, just a quick heads-up that I'm running a weekend flash sale on my Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation. You can get 30% off with the coupon code CORE30 at checkout; just head HERE to get more information and purchase.

Key Coaching Points

1. This could simply be a progression from the traditional side bridge, in that there is less stability and more stress on the lateral core.

2. In terms of pitching, sometimes lateral flexion of the trunk will be a compensation for abduction of the pelvis to create force and generate momentum from the stretch. Similarly, a traditional side bridge can accomplish the same thing. This is more specific to the joint actions of pitching because the lead leg moves to hip flexion (just like the top leg in the exercise). CSP pitching coordinator shared an awesome post on this a while back:

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1️⃣: A hip load mistake I see a lot with pitchers, as they start their descent down the slope of the mound. 2️⃣: Visual on pelvis-on-femur abduction. 30 degrees of P-O-F abduction is "normal" and pitchers usually couple this with lateral flexion of the spine as they try to load their back hip. A little bit of lateral flexion isn't bad, but you have to leave room in your hip socket for force production through abduction. This pic was taken from a new book I'm reading called Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System by Donald Neumann. ⚾️Video by the one and only @nancy_newell, and video bombs from Franklin J. (@frankduffyfitness) #cspfamily #csppitching #elitepitchingdevelopment #backhip #mlb #minorleaguebaseball #collegebaseball #highschoolbaseball #baseballcoach #pitching #pitchingcoach #pitchingdrills

A post shared by Christian Wonders - EPD (@csp_pitching) on

3. During the gait cycle, it is common to see what is referred to as the Trendelenburg Gait. This happens when the hip abductors are weak and the pelvis falls downward relative to the femur; usually accompanied with another compensation of lateral trunk tilt. The exercise emphasizes hip abduction, anti-lateral flexion, and hip flexion against gravitational forces that relate to the same weaknesses associated with the Trendelenburg Gait.

4. The positions of this exercise resemble the “figure-4” position that is assumed during the sprint cycle. When sprinting, it is necessary for the trunk to transfer force and stabilize the body against multiplanar forces so that the center of mass can directed linearly. Training the trunk to resist lateral flexion can help with this. Training the trunk to resist lateral flexion in biomechanically relevant joint positions can make you Usain Bolt. Core exercises eventually need to be progressed to something more dynamic. Once motor control and appropriate stability are demonstrated, progression to a quicker leg action action will make it more of a reactive stimulus for the nervous system.

5. Never underestimate the value of variety! Subtle additions like this to exercises that have already been rehearsed are a novel stimulus for the brain and can really enrich the motor learning process. The right amount of struggle is a good thing. Consistent patterns with minimal struggles and errors means there is a need for a new stimulus.

6. We'll usually program this as a 10-15 second isometric hold in the first few weeks of doing this exercise, and then progress to marching in subsequent weeks. It'll be sets of 8 per side in those who are more highly trained. This can be done as a warm-up, or used for multiple sets later in the training session.

About the Author

Cole Russo is a strength and conditioning coach at CSP-MA. You can follow him on Instagram at @SwoleThomas.

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Mid-Week Movement Miscellany

With the launch of my new podcast, I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front. However, I've got plenty of thoughts rattling around in my brain, so I thought I'd pull together an article on the topic. Heck, we might even make this a regular series. Here goes...

1. On average, female athletes respond differently to eccentric stress than male athletes do.

Last year, I wrote a blog (Making Movement Better: Duct Tape or WD40?) that touched on the fact that many pitchers lose range of motion at the shoulder and elbow as adaptations to the crazy high eccentric stress experienced during pitching. I also was careful to note that not everyone loses range of motion; in fact, some athletes gain motion (become more unstable). 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research in the softball pitching world shows that females don't lose range-of-motion following softball pitching even though they're still encountering noteworthy eccentric stress. Females are more likely to be hypermobile, so it makes sense that they become more unstable than they do "tight." In short, you probably aren't going to have to work as hard to gain ROM in softball pitchers; your efforts are better directed at regaining neuromuscular control with low-level stabilization exercises.

2. Reaching exercises should drive thoracic flexion and scapular upward rotation, but not necessarily pec recruitment.

On a recent Instagram Q&A, I received the question (paraphrased), "How can I get better scapular contact on the ribs during reaches without too much pec recruitment?" Here was my answer:

3. The best coaching cue for an exercise might just be to do a different exercise.

Also on that Q&A, I got an inquiry about what to do with low back pain due to excessive arching at the bottom of an ab wheel rollout. The answer was pretty simple: regress the exercise; you aren’t ready for ab wheel rollouts.

With anterior core exercises like this, it works a bit like a seesaw: the further the arms go away from the body, the harder the exercise feels (imagine moving a little kid to the end of a seesaw; his weight doesn't change, but the amount of force at the other end of the seesaw needed to offset him does simply because of his positioning). When an individual dumps into anterior pelvic tilt/lordosis (excessive arching) as the arms get further away from the body on a rollout, it's one means of shortening that distance. And, it allows the individual to hang out on the passive restraints on the posterior aspect of the spine instead of using active muscular control to create stability.

A better option would be a stir the pot, stability ball rollout (if you don't go DOWN as far, you don't go OUT as far), or even just a regular prone bridge. These regressions are easy inclusions that are tremendously helpful when dealing with less trained individuals or athletes with long limbs (and spines).

If you're looking to learn a bit more about this topic, I'd encourage you to check out my resource, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core. This seminar presentation is a thorough tutorial on how to best coach and program these invaluable exercises.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 33

It's time for this month's installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. In light of my ongoing sale on my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions resource, I thought I'd focus this edition on the shoulder.

1. If you want a healthy shoulder, getting tobacco products out of your life is a good place to start.

The research is pretty clear: smoking is a bad idea (and an independent risk factor) if you're looking to stay healthy from a musculoskeletal standpoint, or have a good outcome in rehabilitation (whether conservative or post-surgical) . Here's an excerpt from a recent study with an excellent review of the literature:

"Cigarette smoking adversely affects a variety of musculoskeletal conditions and procedures, including spinal fusion, fracture healing, surgical wound healing, tendon injury and knee ligament reconstruction. More recently, smoking has been suggested to negatively impact rotator cuff tear pathogenesis and healing. Tobacco smoke contains nicotine, a potent vasoconstrictor that can reduce the blood supply to the already relatively avascular rotator cuff insertion. Furthermore, carbon monoxide in smoke reduces the oxygen tension levels available for cellular metabolism. The combination of these toxins may lead to the development of attritional rotator cuff tears with a decreased capacity for healing."

Many times, we're looking for the best exercise, rehabilitation protocol, soft tissue treatment, or volume amounts - but we really ought to be looking at lifestyle factors.

With a large baseball readership on this site, the logical next question: are these harmful effects also noted with smokeless tobacco (i.e., dip/chew)? The research is somewhat sparse, as it's harder to study a younger, active population than a bunch of middle-aged post-operative rotator cuff patients. However, it's hard to believe that the aforementioned carbon monoxide implications would cause 100% of the issues and that the nicotine would serve as just an innocent bystander. So if you're looking to check every box in your quest to stay healthy, it's not a bad idea to lay off the dip.

And, if healthy tendons aren't enough to convince you, do yourself a favor and read this article by Curt Schilling.

2. The 1-arm, 1-leg landmine press isn't a mainstay in your training programs, but can be a perfect fit in a few circumstances.

This looks like kind of a wussy exercise, but I actually really like it in two circumstances.

a. It's awesome in a post-surgery period when you can't load like crazy, but still want folks to be challenged in their upper extremity progressions. The single-leg support creates a more unstable environment, which means that antagonist activity is higher and there is more work going to joint stability than actual movement. In other words, it makes pressing safer.

b. Once we get to the inseason period, it allows us to check two boxes with a single exercise: single-leg balance and upper body strength (plus serratus activation/scapular upward rotation).

3. Posterior pelvic tilt increases lower trap activation.

I've written about it a lot in the past: core positioning has an incredibly important impact on shoulder function. Check out this study on how reducing anterior pelvic tilt increases lower trapezius activation during arm elevation and the return from the overhead position.

In my experience working with extension-rotation athletes (particularly baseball players), one of the biggest risk factors for shoulder injury is when the lower trapezius can't keep up with the latissimus dorsi. Just consider the attachment points of the lat in the picture below; as you can imagine, if you posteriorly tilt the pelvis, the lat is inhibited, making it easier for lower trap to get to work.

The lower trapezius is very important for providing posterior tilt (slight tipping back) of the scapula and assisting in upward rotation. These two functions are key for a pitcher to get the scapula in the correct position during the lay-back phase of throwing.

By contrast, the lat has more of a "gross" depression effect on the scapula; it pulls it down, but doesn't contribute to posterior tilting or upward rotation. This might help with an adult rotator cuff pain patient who has an aggressive scapular elevation (shrug) substitution pattern, but it's actually problematic for a thrower who is trying to get his scapula up and around the rib cage to make sure that the ball-on-socket congruency is "flush" when it really matters: the maximal external rotation position.

As such, you can say that the lat and lower trap "compete" for control of the scapula - and the lat has a big advantage because of its cross-sectional area and multiple attachment points. It's also much easier to train and strengthen - even if it's by accident. Upper body work in faulty core positioning (in this case, too much anterior pelvic tilt and the accompanying lumbar extension) shifts the balance to the lats.

We'll often hear throwers cued "down and back" during arm care drills. The intention - improving posterior tilt via lower trap activation - is admirable, but the outcome usually isn't what's desired. Unless athletes are actually put in a position of posterior tilt where they can actually feel the lower traps working, they don't get it. Instead, they pull further down into scapular depression, which feeds the lat-dominant strategy. This is why we teach almost all our throwers to differentiate between depression and posterior tilt early on in their training at Cressey Sports Performance.

If you're looking to learn more about how I assess, program, and coach at the shoulder, be sure to check out my popular resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. Learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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