Home Posts tagged "Cressey Sports Performance" (Page 19)

School Size, Geography, and Early Sports Specialization

I write a lot about my distaste for early sports specialization here on the blog, and I like to think I've examined it from a number of different angles. That said, I usually focus on the decision of an athlete and his/her parents in this context, but I rarely discuss the situational factors that may govern these decisions. Two perspectives to which I haven't paid much attention are the significant impacts that school size and geography have on young athletes' likelihood of specialization.  This is something I've been pondering more and more as we open the new Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL.

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Mike Robertson pointed out the school size aspect in his Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set, and it really got me to thinking. If you go to a small school and are a good athlete, chances are that you are going to "automatically" be a starter on three different sports teams during the academic year, as they might need you to actually be able to even field a team. Thinking back, my high school graduating class had about 180 kids. One sport athletes really couldn't exist if we wanted to be competitive over all three high school seasons. Not surprisingly, I never had a classmate go through Tommy John surgery, and I can count the number of ACL injuries I saw in my high school years on one hand.

Conversely, if a kid goes to a school with 800 kids in his graduating class, specialization is much tougher to do. If you've got 150 players trying out for the baseball team (and budget cuts are eliminating freshmen and JV teams left and right), you better be spending more time preparing for baseball, if that's your long-term aspiration. The "reward" is higher (more exclusive), but the risk has to be higher as well. In a situation like this, we almost have to ask whether it's better to have a kid that tries out for - and proceeds to get cut from - three teams, or if we'd rather have guys specialized along one course so that they can at least stay involved in organized athletics by actually making a team. I don't think there is an easy or even correct answer, but I do think we have to be cognizant of the challenges facing kids at larger schools.

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Geography certainly plays into this as well. As an example, it's much easier for baseball players in northern states to play basketball, too, because basketball season simply takes place while the snow is on the baseball fields. In Massachusetts, the high school baseball season starts on the third Monday in March, which is several weeks after basketball wraps up, in most cases. Conversely, high school baseball actually gets underway in Florida during the month of January; playing basketball is virtually impossible logistically. And, if fall sports go all the way until Thanksgiving, we're really dealing with a situation where kids might only get an eight-week off-season to work on their fitness and more sport-specific preparations.

We might not be able to change these factors, but we find ways to work around them. It might mean getting an athlete to play recreational basketball instead of "official" school hoops, if schedule won't allow the "real thing" to happen. And, it might mean that we need to work harder in our strength and conditioning programs to create an even richer proprioceptive environment where athletes are exposed to a wider variety of movements if these scenarios "force" them toward increased specialization.

As hackneyed a phrase as it might be, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." I'd say that geography and school size certainly fit in the 10% category when it comes to early sports specialization; we all need to continue to improve on the 90%, though.

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How Strength and Mobility Impact the Pitching Stride

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. Enjoy! -EC

In today’s video, we’re going to be discussing stride dynamics in the high-level throw. In order to do that, we’re going to use Zach Greinke as our pro model and then show a few other amateur variations, while going into some detail on how strength and mobility play into the equation for developing this powerful stride.

This is important to understand because a lot of the other qualities we look for in a high-level throw – such as achieving efficient “extension” at release, repeating the delivery, and executing our deceleration pattern consistently in an effort to reduce stress – all rely on having a stable stride pattern. In order to understand how this works, let’s take a look at some of the components that make up Greinke’s stride:

As you can see, one of the defining features of Greinke’s stride is the efficient action of his back leg and hip directing the pelvis down the target line early to set the direction and momentum for the stride. The way this is achieved is often overlooked and ultimately results in “offline” or unstable landings.

If you’ll notice the move that Greinke is making here is a posterior weight shift where he actually pushes his hips back in the delivery by hinging at the hip and not drifting his knee forward over his toes like most amateurs do. By engaging his posterior chain in this manner and not relying simply on his front leg to swing him into landing, he’s able to create a more balanced stride phase that unfolds in a more rhythmic manner, using the lead leg as a counter-balance to the delivery and not the primary power source.

For those familiar with the strength & conditioning world, I typically like to relate it to the initial movement of a one-legged squat to feel the glute and hamstring engagement and then a lateral lunge to stay engaged in the adductors for control of the pelvis. The lead leg action is ultimately just a relaxed extension to counter the posterior weight shift and then a swivel in the hip socket to align the foot for landing.

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The effect of engaging the rear leg’s posterior chain allows us to create both extension and rotation out of the back-side, which is important for maintaining the direction of our force into the ground at landing. If we can’t control the force of our action into the ground, we won’t be able to stabilize our landing appropriately, which has ramifications up the chain into our pelvis positioning, core stability and ultimately into our hand positioning on the ball at release.

If we’re trying to create a level of “extension” at release and maintain our leverage on the ball to throw it with angle, we need to take ownership of our pelvis positioning. If we don’t actively control the pelvis movement into landing, we’re going to have a hard time centering the head of the lead leg in the hip socket, and in turn, accepting the ground reaction force that we’re trying to create. This happens when we lose the tension of our back hip too early, because we swung our lead leg out as the power source and “chased it” into landing. This means we won’t have control of the pelvis upon landing and we’ll be unable to properly pressurize the front leg to keep leverage in the delivery.

This pelvis leverage is essential in making sure we can keep our core stable and allow it to translate the thoracic region forward, instead of rely on it to create motion, which isn’t the primary role of the lumbar region. We want the “core” to simply transfer the energy we created from the lower half efficiently. If we can do that, we allow ourselves to accelerate on a longer line to release, because our path of deceleration is set up to be fully accepted on the front hip’s internal rotation and flexion. If the pelvis is too flat, and relies purely on rotation and not flexion, our line of deceleration becomes much shorter and forces us to handle more of the stress in our throwing arm, which isn’t ideal.

A good example of how both length in the adductors and strength in the posterior chain helped an athlete achieve a more athletic and powerful stride can be seen here. The first clip is a video of a 17 yr old LHP, who was 6’4” 180lbs, and 82-84 at the time of the video:

Notice how his stride pattern is very limited not only in his length toward home, but in its inefficient direction and its ability to allow for a full finish to protect the arm. As you can see, this athlete struggled to get a posterior weight shift out of his gather position, drifted into a closed stride position, and then had too flat of a pelvis position to achieve a proper flexed hip position. As a result, he runs out of lateral rotation in the lead hip and the finish buckles on him. This could be a result of many things, including limited adductor mobility, poor single leg stability, weakness of the anterior or rotary core, etc. Candidly, though, you usually see all these things in untrained pitchers!

Fortunately, this same athlete took it upon himself to devote some quality time to making himself a better athlete, getting stronger, and gaining awareness for the movements the high level delivery was asking of him – and he’s now turned himself into a legitimate prospect. In this more recent video, the athlete is 20yrs old now, 6’5” 215lbs, and 88-91mph, topping at 92mph:

By no means is this athlete a finished product, but you can see where the added strength, mobility, and movement awareness allows him to get into a deeper hip-hinge position, ride out of the stride longer, and certainly take the finish deeper to allow for a longer line of deceleration. The next step for this athlete will be continuing to work on his single-leg stability, as you can see a slight wobble in the landing and a touch of misdirection, but certainly leaps and bounds ahead of where he was three years prior.

To give you an example of where this stride pattern can go, here is an example of one of our more accomplished athletes, Tyler Beede, who was the 14th overall pick in this year's draft and had one of the best amateur stride patterns I’ve seen:

From time to time this athlete will struggle with slight misdirection and postural control, but his ability to pitch 92-96mph with above average off-speed offerings is a testament to the balance and power in the lower half of his delivery.

At the end of the day, everyone is going to present with different levels of mobility, stability and coordination, so you certainly have to leave room in your model to account for individual variance. However, these athletes are good examples of how properly maintained mobility and stability can tie into the high-level delivery to make you a more powerful and durable pitcher in the long run.

Looking for more video analysis and training insights like this? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have events in both October and November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational course.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 5

This week, I've been working my way through Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn's new resource, The Elite Athletic Development Seminar. It got the wheels turning in my brain, and the end result was a new installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. Here goes...

1. Experiences are more important than stuff.

I had a good text message exchange with one of our pro athletes yesterday where we discussed how long-term happiness was really much more about the experiences you have than it is about the stuff you possess. When you're on your death bed, you'll look back a lot more fondly on time with family, lives you've positively impacted, and things you've accomplished. You won't be thinking about the nice car you drove, or overpriced watch that you wore.

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I wish that this is a mentality that more young athletes would apply to their long-term athletic development.  An amazing coach and great camp can literally change a young athlete's life. As an example, I'm always psyched to see our young athletes getting the opportunity to "rub elbows" with our pro and college athletes, who have a ton of wisdom they can impart.

On the flip side, I can't say that I've ever seen an athlete's life change dramatically when he bought an expensive new bat or glove. Don't get me wrong; appropriate equipment and apparel are super important for athletic success. However, does a 12-year-old kid need a new glove and bat every single year? It's not like he grows out of them like he would a pair of cleats, and those funds could surely be better devoted elsewhere.

It goes without saying that many young athletes (and their parents) have limited financial resources. I wonder if they'd be in a better position to succeed if they applied the stuff vs. experiences logic to how they managed these resources in the context of long-term athletic development.

2. The process is often more of a reward than the destination.

This is an awesome video that does more justice to this point than anything I can write. These kids will take away important life lessons even though they might not have won their last game. Kudos to the head coach for a job well done.

3. People are asking the wrong questions about weighted baseball throwing programs.

At least 3-4 times per week, someone asks me what I think about weighted balls. I've written about this subject in the past (here), and while my approaches have evolved substantially over the years, I'm still a fan of weighted ball programs - as long as they're implemented with the right athlete, at the right time.

There is actually a ton of research supporting the efficacy of weighted ball programs; they've been around for a long time now, but only caught on in popularity in recent years. What's different about the ones out there now, though, are that they are much higher volume (number of throws) and performed with significantly heavier and lighter balls than ever before. If you crank up volume and use more extreme intensities, you'll get more extreme results - both in terms of fantastic improvements and in throwers who actually get hurt.

So, the question shouldn't be "do weighted balls work?" Rather, the question(s) should be, "Am I physically prepared enough to take on an aggressive weighted ball program, and how can I best fit it into my developmental calendar?"

If you're a 16-year old kid who just finished a 120-inning competitive year and your rotator cuff strength is terrible, weighted baseballs aren't what you need; rather, you need rest from throwing, and quality strength training work.

If you're a professional player with a perfect 14-16 week throwing progression spanning the course of the off-season, you have a great 8-12 week block with which you can work to "get after it." Using Indians pitcher Corey Kluber as an example, we started his 2013-14 off-season throwing program on December 9, and then integrated more aggressive weighted ball work in weeks 5-9 of his off-season throwing program. The big league off-season is so short that you can't get a ton of quality work in without compromising rest after the season or mound work going into the season.

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Conversely, many of our minor league guys will started throwing November 25, and got in about eight weeks of weighted ball work (as part of comprehensive throwing programs that also worked in long toss, flat grounds, and bullpens) before heading off to spring training. Each case is unique, so each program needs to be individualized to the player.

4. Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) drills are an "equalizer" for strength and conditioning professionals.

You've likely heard me allude to the Postural Restoration Institute here on the blog in the past - and with good reason: incorporating PRI drills into our training has been the biggest game-changer in our approach over the past 4-5 years. One of the key principles of PRI is "resetting" individuals to a neutral posture prior to training. We're all asymmetrical, but many folks take this asymmetry (and/or heavily extended posture) to an extreme, and we have to get their alignment back closer to "normal" before we squat, deadlift, sprint, jump, or take on any of a number of other athletic endeavors.

Historically, when folks were deemed to be "out of neutral," we'd need a manual therapist to do soft tissue work, joint manipulation/mobilization, or various hands-on stretching techniques. As Robertson noted in his first presentation of the EAD Seminar DVD set, PRI changed the game for strength and conditioning professionals by enabling them to re-establish neutral in clients and athletes with non-manual techniques, specifically positional breathing drills. Effectively, these drills provide for "self realignment."

Sure, PRI is just one of a few tools in the toolbox nowadays that can be used to accomplish this goal, but it's the one where I've seen the quickest changes.

5. Avoid movement redundancy within the training session.

One point I've made a lot in the past - and Robertson reiterated in one of his presentations - is the fact that many young athletes have a "narrow functional movement base." Basically, they've specialized in a particular sport so early that they've missed out on gross movement competencies (or lost ones they already had from early childhood development).

While we might not be able to change the tendency toward specialization, we can change how we manage athletes who do choose to specialize. In particular, we need to expose them to a broad range of activities that create a rich proprioceptive environment when they come in to train. Key to success on this front is making sure that there aren't redundancies within the training session in terms of movement challenges. For instance, you wouldn't want to have a half-kneeling overhead medicine ball stomp, then a half-kneeling landmine press, then a half-kneeling cable row, then a half-kneeling cable chop, and a half-kneeling cable external rotation. Rather, you'd be better off mixing and matching with tall kneeling, split-stance, standing (bilateral), and even single-leg.

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The same "redundancies" should be avoided throughout the training week, too, but I've found that if you do a good job of making sure there isn't this kind of overlap in each specific training day, the longer training periods seem to take care of themselves. If you look at how Joe Kenn structures his tier system style of training, you see that redundancies just don't happen because he rotates among total-upper-lower exercises in each of his training days. I'm a firm believer that exercise selection is the single most important programming variable, and this illustrates one more reason why that's the case.

Speaking of Kenn and Robertson, their Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set is on sale for $150 off through tonight (Friday) at midnight. I've really enjoyed watching them, and would consider them an outstanding investment for any strength and conditioning professional. It's an experience, not just stuff! Check it out HERE.

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5 Strategies for Winning the Minor League Nutrition Battle – Part 2

Today, we've got part 2 of a guest post from Andrew Ferreira on the topic of nutrition in the minor leagues. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1. -EC

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Strategy #3: Back-load Your Carbs.

Carb back-loading simply means saving your carb intake until later on in the day. Personally, I've found it advantageous to eat most of my carbs at night, predominantly after the game. There are several reasons why I suggest you employ this strategy:

A) Maintain sympathetic dominance when it's time to work

Minor leaguers consume a LOT of energy drinks. They consume so many, in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised if our population could keep energy drink companies in business all by ourselves.

Because the majority of minor league games are played at night, we work when our bodies' natural circadian rhythm wants to unwind and relax with the setting of the sun. Sure, your biological clock can adjust, but there is a physiological ideal that your body operates most efficiently under. In a perfect world, cortisol levels are lowest during the evening, fueling relaxation and a smooth transition into restful sleep. Clearly, these are conditions that are not conducive to high performance. At a superficial level, moderate stimulant consumption is understandable.

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Unfortunately, two to three energy drinks a day doesn't quantify as moderation consumption. Stimulants are ingested at extreme levels and I think a big part of it stems from our half-haphazard approach to nutrition. Let me explain.

When we have to perform mechanical work, we want our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to be locked in. Our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) excites us and floods our blood stream with catecholamines, providing us not only with energy, but the ingredients to be locked in and focused.

When we wake up in the morning, this is our bodies' natural state. Cortisol levels are high and we're ready to take on the day. The problem is that our bodies' enthusiasm for getting stuff done all but goes out the window when you stop at Chick-Fil-A and eat a bunch of refined carbs.

Ingesting carbs causes a spike in blood glucose levels and, consequently, a rise in insulin. Glucose and insulin promote a shift from the SNS to the parasympathetic nervous system. You start to feel groggy, sluggish, and tired because your body is more concerned with digesting the food you just ate than whatever task you were focused on beforehand. So what do you do? You shotgun that Red Bull, prompting a shift back to the SNS, and consquently unneccesarily stressing the adrenals. If your pregame meal looks like anything like your first meal, then you'll again feel sluggish – prompting another energy drink.

We want to avoid this cycle.

If you back-load your carbs and focus on protein, healthy fats, and vegetables during the day, you will trigger a much smaller spike in insulin and in all likelihood stay locked in to sympathetic mode, allowing you the mental acuity to adequately handle the necessary mechanical work without disrupting the balance with the autonomic nervous system.

B) Stay Leaner.

In the minors, we're not fortunate enough to have post-game five star spreads similar to what is available to major leaguers. There's not ever going to be steak or a piece of wild caught fish waiting for us after the game. The economics of the situation simply make it impossible. What we're largely going to get is a staple of refined carbohydrates. The last team I was with had a steady rotation of pizza, fried chicken and fries, and lasagna as our three main post-game meals. Because we pay for the food out of clubhouse dues and the fact that our hunger after the game relegates any notions of health conscious behavior to the background of our minds, we're going to eat whatever we have in front of us.

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Though the choices aren't going to be ideal, if we back-load our carbs, we can mitigate damage. Whatever glycogen debt we created from either training earlier that day, pre-game sprint work, or actually playing in the game will be refueled with the post-game carbs, preparing our body to be ready to go for the next day.

Further, back-loading our carbs is going to keep us leaner. I guarantee if you eat nothing but refined carbs all day, you're going to gain fat. Has not having a six-pack ever kept someone from being a major leaguer? Absolutely not. Over the short term, it's really not going to make a significant difference; yet, habits just don't go away. You'll fall into a habitual pattern of eating refined carbs and over time you're going to be a “bad body guy.” It's not a stigma you want attached to your name. I have seen a player (a top prospect, in fact) have to go to Instructional League and do nothing but work out all day because he finished the season in incredibly bad shape. It's a situation that can be easily avoided.

C) Sleep Better.

Sleep is the greatest recovery tool we have. If we want to survive the duration of the season and stay healthy, it's imperative that we sleep well. Sure, it's difficult to get quality sleep when you’re traveling on a crammed bus for eight hours overnight. That's why we must optimize sleep when we can.

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Our energy drink consumption becomes most problematic in terms of sleep quality. You may be able to get to sleep after drinking that energy drink in the 4th inning, but the quality of your sleep is going to suffer. Caffeine shortens phases three and four (REM sleep and dreaming), which are the most restorative for the brain (Keenan 2014). Continually short-circuiting our bodies' ability to recover is like taking the pin out of a live grenade. Eventually, something is going to blow up.

Back-loading carb intake does a few things for our sleep quality.

First, as I mentioned earlier, glucose intake (carbs) and a rise in insulin promotes a shift to our parasympathetic nervous system. Inducing parasympathetic nervous system dominance at night is crucial to recovery and allowing for high quality digestion, absorption, and cellular uptake of nutrients.

Second, carbohydrate intake inudces a release of serotonin. Serotonin release, through a series of chemical interactions, promotes lasting, quality sleep.

By back-loading our carb intake, sympathetic dominance can be maintained while we have to train and play. When we have to turn our bodies off and relax and recover, ingesting ample amounts of carbs (healthy or not) prompts a shift to our parasympathetic nervous system, facilitating restorative sleep and optimal recovery.

Tip #4: Supplement Wisely.

In terms of in-season supplementation, inducing incredible gains in the weight room isn't priority #1. Sure, that latest pre-workout you got may be the equivalent to cocaine, but is getting a pick-me-up to power through your low volume, moderate intensity in-season lift all that necessary?

Rather than setting a new squat max in July, I want to be sure our physiology is optimized to facilitate proper recovery. I understand that I keep hammering home the importance of recovery, but it's incredibly important on a day-to-day basis.

Take a reliever, for example. Say my max velocity is 92 and another reliever's max velocity is 95. On the surface, the other guy is more valuable. Yet, overlooked is the fact that I am able to pitch at near 100% effectiveness every day while reliever B is only able to utilize his premium ability twice a week. Now who is more valuable? The answer is clear.

Enhancing one's ability to recover is our top priority in terms of in-season supplementation. There are five that I think are essential to facilitate adequate recovery.

1) Fish Oil – For reasons I mentioned above, supplementing with a high-quality fish oil is essential to fighting off inflammation.

2)
Athletic Greens (or some form of greens supplement) – Cooking vegetables is the bane of my existence. I just don't do it near as often as I should, partly because it's just not sexy or appealing to my brain's limbic system. Delayed positive effects on my testosterone levels are just not enough positive justification to cook up a batch of broccoli alongside my steak and 'taters. Athletic Greens is my nutritional insurance. It's loaded with about every health food known to man just in case your vegetable intake is as bad as mine. You'll never feel better, I promise.

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3) Vitamin D – I know what you're thinking... the minor league season is played in the heart of summer, why the need for Vitamin D supplementation? Valid point, but for many AA and AAA leagues, you don't see the sun in April and May. You're miserably cold and I'm sure your vitamin D levels are not optimal. Additionally, once the season gets going, most guys wear sunscreen, so actual sun exposure is lower than you might think. Supplement with vitamin D until the seasons turn.

I know what you're thinking at this point - and, no, leaving the newest fad testosterone booster off my list wasn't a mistake. Stick to the basics during the season and put your focus on optimizing your body’s ability to recover when it comes to supplementation. It's bland and boring – but bland and boring works.

Tip #5: Include Super Shakes to Maintain Weight.

In order to get to “The Show,” it's all about continually producing favorable adaptations and taking steps forward. Most athletes’ off-seasons place a predominant focus on gaining quality weight: the more muscle, the better. Everything else held constant, more mass will equate to greater force production and, in all likelihood, a better athlete.

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So all off-season we focus on eating BIG. Force-feeding oneself into near sickness at the dinner table and thousand calorie shakes a couple times a day become the norm. Compound these eating habits with a quality strength program and we gain 20 pounds by the time we leave for spring training. We look and feel strong as hell and because of the weight gain, our velocity experiences a nice jump.

Your body wants to continually maintain homeostasis. Keeping your bodyweight is an important metabolic homeostatic process. By eating BIG the entire off-season, you forced your body to adapt by disrupting homeostasis and gaining weight. The problem is that your body chooses the path of least resistance when it comes to maintaining homeostasis. Metabolically, it's a whole lot easier for your body to maintain 200lbs than it is to maintain a new 225-lb frame. So, eating big for just one off-season isn't going to cut it if you want to maintain your new frame, strength, and velocity. You have to keep pushing adaptation until your body establishes a new set point and you are better able to maintain your weight without having to consume 5,000 calories a day like you do in the off season.

All too often, I hear stories of guys gaining all this weight and strength in the off-season – but they struggle to hold on to any of it during the season. By the time the season ends, they are back to where they started the previous year. It's a perpetual cycle that keeps them playing catch up each off-season rather than using the time to build on the foundation and keep pushing favorable adaptations to take them to the next level.

Maintaining your off-season eating habits during the season is necessary if you want to maintain your weight. Unfortunately, with our schedule, it's easier said than done. It's nearly impossible to feel comfortable playing when your stomach is full from a gigantic breakfast and lunch.

Enter the super shake. It's a whole lot easier to drink 1,000 calories than it is to eat them. Implementing one or two a day may be what you need in order to keep pushing your body to establish a new set point and maintain your new frame.

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A good place to start in constructing your super shake is using the formula EC wrote about in this article: low-carb protein powder, almond or whole milk, coconut oil, fruits, natural nut butters, greek yogurt, oats, ground flax, and veggies.

It's not rocket science, nor is it sexy. With the above ingredients, the combinations are literally endless, the calories dense, and the product healthy. Unless you literally have no other option, which I can't imagine, avoid the standard weight gainers you’ll see on the market. They are processed crap.

Wrap-Up

Ever since I started my professional career, I was in search of a new model to adequately handle in-season nutrition to give me the best shot of making it. The results of my search gave birth to the model constructed above.

It's not revolutionary, nor is it a model that's going to lend itself into a New York Times' Bestseller. However, it has allowed me to stay lean, maintain my strength, and most importantly feel good throughout a 142-game season. The minor league baseball season is a beast with so many less-than-ideal environmental variables. The ability to adapt is foundational in order to be successful. To adapt adequately, having a workable framework is a necessity. The model above is a start.

About the Author

Andrew Ferreira is a current Harvard student concentrating on human evolutionary biology. He currently writes for Show Me Strength - a site dedicated to improving all aspects of human performance - and was previously drafted by the Minnesota Twins. Follow him on Twitter.

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5 Strategies for Winning the Minor League Nutrition Battle – Part 1

Today, I have a guest post from professional baseball player, Harvard student, long-time CSP athlete, and all-around fitness and nutrition enthusiast, Andrew Ferreira. Enjoy! -EC

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It's approaching midnight in a town whose name I can't pronounce in a state I've never been in. The game – our 19th in 20 days – was an extra inning affair. Typically, it's no big deal but today is a “getaway day,” meaning we have a nice 8-hour drive ahead of us on the way to the next series.

Having gotten to the field at 2pm that day for some fundamental and early work, noting that my teammates and I are tired would be an understatement. The caffeine spike from the midgame energy drink (the second on the day, for most of us) is starting to wear off and our tired minds are fixated on one thing: food. In a world where PB&Js and deli meat sandwiches are the norm, post-game spreads typically don't arouse too much excitement.

Today, we got “lucky.”

As we walked into the clubhouse, a half-dozen large pizzas were staring us right in the face. Let's call a spade a spade here and make it known that it's certainly no deep dish from Chicago or Nochs from Harvard Square – but at this point, it doesn't matter. Despite how health-conscious I try to be, I'm still going to eat it despite the fact that it could be the worst pizza in the world. In fact, on most nights, I'd venture to say I eat the most slices. Calories are calories and my fatigue-beaten mind simply has no willpower to exert against consuming loads of refined carbohydrates.

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The above scenario is all too common in my world. Minor league life is tough. Money is tight, travel is long, and the nutritional options are even worse. With frequent long travel, good sleep is rare – and subsequently, the “grind” (as some would call it) is only tolerable because stimulants and energy drinks are the minor league equivalent of water. It's certainly not favorable when high performance is needed day in and day out over a grueling 140+ game season that spans from March to September.

Now, it's a fair assumption that having a good, productive off-season is critical to having a good season while staying healthy. Certainly, there are outliers whose performance isn't indicative of the fact that they didn't touch a weight or pick up a ball until Spring Training. As frustrating as it may be to the hard-working non-elite, freaks do exist. And yet, while the off season is important, I'd argue how you handle the off-the-field in-season period variables plays a much larger role in facilitating high performance than most of us players think.

What I've garnered in my three years of professional experience is that it all starts and ends with nutrition, and quite frankly, most haven't a clue on how to manage it effectively. While a general plan or framework needs to be in place, for most, it is nonexistent.

A typical day average (in terms of nutrition, not ability) player looks like this:

Meal #1: Fast food on the way to the field. Whether that be Zaxby's (a staple where I was), Chick-Fil-A, or the gas station, something quick is the predominant option before the field. First energy drink or coffee of the day.

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Meal #2 Pre-game spread at the field. Most days it’s a whole lot of PB&Js and deli meat sandwiches. Possibly a protein shake mixed in at some point. Second energy drink or coffee of the day.

Meal #3 Post-game spread at the field. It varies, but carbs (usually refined) are a staple.

You don't need a PhD in nutritional sciences to realize in any profession, that set up won't lead to high performance. While most professions solely require a sharp mind to handle the mechanical work, in order to make it to “The Show,” we need both our bodies and minds to be operating at an elite level. Eating like that, while possibly sustainable over the short term, isn't going to produce favorable adaptations in our pursuit of high performance.

Minor league baseball players need a new model. It must be one that is both sustainable and feasible, given the environmental (money, travel, etc.) constraints under which we must work. Here is the framework I have used and would suggest others adopt to facilitate adequate nutrition for better levels of recovery and performance.

Strategy #1: Control the “Controllables”

Controlling damage is imperative to be successful nutritionally throughout the course of the season. Eating well on the road is tough. Sometimes you're stuck in a hotel where the only options are McDonald’s and Burger King, and the bus driver has no interest driving you 20 minutes out of the way so you can go to Chipotle. Over the course of a 140+ game season, situations like this are sometimes unavoidable, which mean that we have to do everything in our power to:

A) Eat “Better” At Home

The beauty of playing predominantly night games is that report time isn't until about 2-3pm. Despite the fact that we run on nocturnal schedules, often not getting to bed until one or two in the morning, that still leaves plenty of time to at the bare minimum cook yourself one good meal at your apartment or hotel room before heading to the field.

If you manage your time reasonably well (i.e., not sleeping until 1:30pm every day), picking up fast food on the way to the field should never be the go-to option.

In an ideal world, I would take it a step further. Have a pre-field meal at home and then food prep your second meal to bring to the field so you can avoid the standard pre-game spread that often offers nothing of nutritional value.

I'll get into the “why” a bit later on in the post, but during the season, I'm a big believer in backloading your carbohydrates. I'm a firm believer that the first meal(s) of the day should be largely devoid of carbohydrates. Protein, fats, and vegetables are my early day staples. If carbs are mixed in there, it'll be by necessity, not choice.

An example day for me would look like:

Meal #1: Bulletproof Coffee (grass-fed butter w/coconut oil) – copious amounts of saturated fat make this a meal and an advantageous way to get calorically dense healthy fats in your body if you're hurting for time

Meal #2: 6 egg (cage-free preferred) omelet with spinach

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Meal #3 (pre-game): Protein variation (chicken, beef, fish) with side of vegetables

Meal #4 (post-game): the post-game spread, on most days

It's by no means nutritionally perfect, but we don't live in a vacuum where everything goes according to plan every single day. There are going to be days when you just can't get out of bed and have no time to make yourself a couple meals. Having a framework or general routine will allow you to overcome and still win the days you don't feel like it.

B) Prep Meals in Advance

By about mid-June, you'll be sick of cooking. It's happened to me on numerous occasions. Making three meals a day isn't a chore in April when you're excited about the impact that handling your nutrition can have on the season. Then, the months drag on, cooking becomes monotonous, and that fast food ride with your buddies pre-game becomes all the more appealing.

When cooking becomes a “grind,” turn to meal prepping. It may take you an hour or two one day, but then you have food that lasts you a week and all you need from that point is a microwave. Saves you time and boredom. Brian St. Pierre's chili recipe is a good place to start; it's phenomenal.

Strategy #2: Eat More Real Food

Our bodies are going to get beat up. It's inevitable throughout the course of an incredibly long season.

Last season, I can vividly remember feeling great all the way through about mid-July. My body felt good, my arm felt even better, and I was enthusiastic about the possibility of playing winter ball once the season ended. Then, the first week of August hit and both my arm and body had seemingly hit a wall and with it went my enthusiasm for baseball, much less winter ball.

That bicep tendon (the one you thought felt surprisingly good considering how many innings you'd logged over the year) is starting to bark – and you know what that means: anti-inflammatory pills. Forget the negative consequences on our gut health, the only thing we're concerned about is that NSAIDs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is going to make that shoulder bark all but disappear – at least temporarily.

If we're going to make it through the season without regularly taking enough NSAIDs to kill a small animal, we must become masters at managing inflammation. It starts with nutrition. In terms of our ability to recover, you are what you eat.

Being able to manage inflammation all starts with optimizing our Omega 6:3 ratio. For our purposes here, going into the nitty gritty scientific and anthropological details isn't necessary. What's important to note is that a body overloaded with Omega 6s is in a pro-inflammatory state. A body with an optimized ratio is in an anti-inflammatory state. In order to survive the season without overdosing on Alleve, it behooves you to optimize your fatty acid intake. Here’s a quick plan:

Step 1: Reduce refined carb intake as much as possible. Refined carbs, because of vegetable oils, are loaded with Omega 6s. Don't cook with vegetable oils either.

Step 2: Optimize the quality of your animal protein. Grass fed beef, cage-free chicken, and wild caught fish are best – even if they are expensive on our budget. Start with pastured eggs. They're not much more expensive than regular eggs, with a much better fatty acid ratio.

Step 3: Take a high quality fish oil. If the rest of your diet is awful, this will serve as nothing more than a Band-Aid, but it's better than nothing.

There are other things we can try and tackle to construct the perfect anti-inflammtory diet, but it's overkill. Keep it simple, stupid. Eat more real food, optimize your Omega 6:3 ratio, and you'll put your body in a much better state to recover and handle the grind of the season.

In Part 2, Andrew will outline three more strategies for improving nutritional approaches in the minor leagues.

About the Author

Andrew Ferreira is a current Harvard student concentrating on human evolutionary biology. He currently writes for Show Me Strength - a site dedicated to improving all aspects of human performance - and was previously drafted by the Minnesota Twins. Follow him on Twitter.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/11/14

Here's a quick list of recommended strength and conditioning reading to kick off the week:

Lessons in Leadership from a Marine Turned Strength Coach - George Kalantzis, the newest member of the Cressey Sports Performance team, offers up a tremendous perspective on how his military experience prepared him for the strength and conditioning field.

How Soon Should Kids Focus on Only One Sport? - Lou Schuler stopped by Cressey Sports Performance a few weeks ago and interviewed me on this subject, and article he wrote as a follow-up is fantastic.

Walking with a Purpose - Current Cressey Sports Performance intern Hannah Wellman provided this excellent guest post for Tony Gentilcore's website. Expect a contribution from Hannah here at EricCressey.com in the not-so-distant future.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 4

In light of the recent launch of The Specialization Success Guide, I feel like there have been a lot of posts on the site lately on the topic of powerlifting. With that in mind, I thought I'd shuffle things up with a bit more discussion about training in a broader sense, so let's talk some general athletic development.

1. We don't any regular barbell bench pressing with our baseball guys, and it's even pretty rare for us to use dumbbell bench pressing in their programs. This is, in part, because we want to utilize movements where the scapulae can move freely, as opposed to having them pinned down on a bench. In light of this exclusion, we're often ask: what do you do instead?

The answer, as many of you know, is landmine presses, push-up variations, and cable press variations. However, what a lot of people might not realize is that another good option is to simply replace a press with some kind of overhead hold variation, whether it's a Turkish get-up or bottoms-up carry.

One other variation I really like is the kneeling overhead hold to stand. I'll often use this with beginners who might need a little stepping stone before they get to the Turkish get-up. In addition to getting some great reflexive rotator cuff work, we're driving scapular upward rotation in a population that really needs it. Still, that doesn't mean that everyone is ready for it. Watch the video to learn more:

2. It's not uncommon at all to see medial (inside) elbow pain in lifter.s This usually comes from the tremendous amount of grip work one does in combination with lots of loaded elbow flexion. Usually, when these issues pop up, cutting back on lifting volume and modifying exercise selection is imperative.

However, what a lot of folks fail to appreciate is the impact that supplemental conditioning work can have on the overuse pattern. Just imagine how much abuse your common flexor tendon is taking when you hop on the rowing machine for 20 minutes to log a few thousand meters, or add in some barbell or kettlebell complexes. These are very grip-intensive approaches and need to be incorporated carefully - and certainly not all the time. Cycle them in, and then cycle them out.

As an example, I'm someone who deals with medial elbow irritation here and there, and most of the time, it's when I'm doing more work on the rower. As such, I've learned that one rowing session a week is really all I can handle if I'm doing my normal upper body training workload.

3. Having a good hip hinge is a huge contributor to athletic success, and to that end, we include toe touch progressions with a lot of our athletes. Without a doubt, the biggest mistake I see with athletes doing a toe touch is the substitution of knee hyperextension for hip flexion. Here's what that looks like:

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You'll notice that there really is absolutely no posterior shift of the center of mass, and he stays in plantarflexion (calves don't stretch). This is something you'll see really commonly in athletes with very hypermobile joints. I've demonstrated it before with the following video; you'll notice that this loose-jointed athlete can actually get a crazy toe touch without any sort of hip hinge, as he's blocked by the wall. Hypermobile athletes will always try to trick you!

Every time you allow them to use a faulty hip hinge pattern, you're giving them two opportunities to work themselves closer to an ACL injury. First, you're putting them in a position where the glutes can't control the femur, and where the hamstrings are too overstretched to really help stabilize the knee effectively. Second, knee hyperextension is commonly a part of the typical ACL injury mechanism (especially in contact injuries where an opponent tackles an athlete low); do we really want to be going to this dangerous end-range over and over again in our training? With that in mind, when coaching the hip hinge, you want to ensure that the athlete establishes and maintains a slight bend in the knee; the "soft knees" cue usually works well.

4. I've often heard people talk about how prone bridges (front planks) are useless if you can already do quality push-ups. While I can certainly appreciate this line of reasoning, I think it overlooks two things.

First, most people rattle through push-ups pretty quickly, so the time under tension may actually be considerably lower than what one would get on a prone bridge.

Second, you can make a prone bridge considerably more difficult via a number of different means, and my favorite is adding full exhalations on each breath. This is something that's very difficult to "sync up" with push-ups, but the benefits are excellent: more serratus anterior recruitment, better posterior tilting of the pelvis, better anterior core engagement, and relaxation of overused supplemental respiratory muscles.

So, don't rule out bridges just yet! I love them as a low-level motor control exercise at the end of a training session - and after the loaded core work (chops, lifts, etc) have been completed.

Have a random thought of your own from the past week? Feel free to post it below; I'm all ears!

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Register Now for the 3rd Annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar!

I’m psyched to announce that on Sunday, September 28, we’ll be hosting our third annual fall seminar at Cressey Sports Performance.  As was the case with our extremely popular fall event over the past two years, this event will showcase both the great staff we're fortunate to have as part of our team.  Also like last year, we want to make this an affordable event for everyone and create a great forum for industry professionals and fitness enthusiasts alike to interact, exchange ideas, and learn.

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Here are the presentation topics:

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A "New" Diagnosis for the Same Old Problems - Presented by Eric Cressey

More and more individuals - both athletes and non-athletes alike - are being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. In this presentation, Eric will explain what it is, how it's treated, and - most importantly - what fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists can do to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Making Bad Movement Better – Presented by Tony Gentilcore

Tony will cover the most common technique flaws he sees on a daily basis, outlining both coaching cues and programming strategies one can utilize to improve exercise technique. He'll also cover progressions and regressions, and when to apply them.

Paleo: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Presented by Brian St. Pierre

Paleo: possibly the most hyped nutritional approach to come along since Atkins. This, of course, begs the question: do the results match the hype? Is it right for everybody? Do we really need to avoid dairy, legumes and grains to achieve optimal health? Do all clients need to take their nutrition to this level? In this presentation, Brian explores the pros and the cons, the insights and the fallacies of the Paleo movement. And, he'll discuss the accumulated wisdom from coaching over 30,000 individuals, and what that teaches us about which nutritional camp to which should really "belong."

Trigger Points 101:  – Presented by Chris Howard

In this presentation, massage therapist Chris Howard will discuss what trigger points are, why they develop, where you'll find them, and - of course - how to get rid of them! He'll pay special attention to how certain trigger points commonly line up with certain issues clients face, and how soft tissue work can play an integral in improving movement quality while preventing and elimination symptoms.

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How Bad Do You Want It? – Presented by Greg Robins

In this presentation, Greg will discuss the factors that govern how individuals stick to (or abandon) their training and nutrition goals. He'll introduce real strategies to help people make changes by focusing on the most important variable: themselves.

Finding the Training Potential in Injury – Presented by Andrew Zomberg

Don't let a setback set you or your clients back in the weight room. Injuries happen, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still achieve a great training effect. Andrew will discuss the most common injuries/conditions individuals encounter, and how the fitness professional can aid in sustaining a training stimulus during the recovery phase. This will include exercise selection tips, coaching cue recommendations, and programming examples.

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

Cost:

Regular Rate – $149.99
Student Rate (must have student ID at door) – $129.99

Date/Time:

Sunday, September 28, 2014
Registration 8:30AM
Seminar 9AM-5PM

Continuing Education:

0.6 NSCA CEUs pending (six contact hours)

Click Here to Sign-up (Regular)

or

Click Here to Sign-up (Students)

We’re really excited about this event, and would love to have you join us! However, space is limited and each seminar we’ve hosted in the past has sold out quickly, so don’t delay on signing up!

If you have additional questions, please direct them to cspmass@gmail.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Career Capital in the Fitness Industry: Part 2

In the first installment of this two-part article, I discussed why "Follow Your Passion" isn't usually very good advice in any realm, but especially in the fitness industry. In case you missed it, you can check it out: Career Capital in the Fitness Industry: Part 1.

To briefly bring you up to speed, author Cal Newport emphasizes that acquiring "rare and valuable skills" is far more important to long-term job satisfaction, as we're more likely to enjoy careers in which we are wildly proficient. These skills are known as "career capital," and we can "redeem" them for improved quality of life - whether it's better pay, more influence within a company, more flexible hours, working from home, or a number of different benefits. As Newport's title related, you need to be So Good They Can't Ignore You.

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Newport's points got me to thinking about what "rare and valuable skills" one needs to be very successful in the fitness industry. I think it's a particularly interesting question, as there are a ton of people that make career changes to enter the fitness industry because (and these are just a few factors):

a) A lot of people love to exercise, so being around exercise all day seems fun.

b) It's perhaps the starkest contrast to a desk job, which many people abhor.

c) Wearing workout clothes to "work" sounds cool.

d) Fitness jobs generally provide more flexible hours, albeit it inconvenient times (you work while others play).

e) There is very little barrier to entry in the fitness industry; anyone can be a personal trainer TODAY, if they so desire.

While a lot of people are able to make enough to "survive"with this transition, it's a big stretch to say that a lot of people THRIVE. Folks who make a ton of money and have outstanding job satisfaction are few and far between.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people fall flat on their faces with this career change. It's usually that they can't get a sufficient, sustainable clientele off the ground, or that they just realize that the new career isn't what they expected it to be. What separates those who manage to succeed, though? Here are the "rare and valuable skills" I see as tremendously valuable for "sustainability"in the fitness industry.

1. Professionalism

This matters in any industry, but it's especially important in the fitness industry, where it's tremendously easy to differentiate yourself because there are so many remarkably unprofessional trainers out there. There are trainers taking calls on their cell phones during sessions, and others who refuse to wear sleeves while training clients. There are coaches who have been using the same program for 25 years, and others who are sleeping with clients. Heck, I once had an intern show up for his first day of work in a Miller Light t-shirt! You really can't make this stuff up. Call me crazy, but....

[bctt tweet="If you want to thrive as a fitness PROFESSIONAL, it's a good idea to actually act PROFESSIONALLY."]

Professionalism isn't something that comes in a day, though. I didn't really appreciate what it meant when I was just getting started in the fitness industry; my views on it have changed over the course of the past 15 years. Image - both your own and that of your business - evolves over time. As an example, it might start with showing up on time and looking the part early on in a career, whereas 15 years later, it might be making sure that your staff doesn't say anything stupid on social media to detract from your professional image. So, you could say that you're actually cultivating a specific kind of professionalism within the fitness industry - and no matter how good a person or hard a worker you think you are, it takes time to build.

2. Versatility

I think this might be the single-most important factor governing success in the fitness industry.

Being versatile enables you to make friends with introverts and extroverts alike. It helps you to work with kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners. It makes you to be accessible over multiple communication medius: email, phone, text message, and Skype (to name a few). It assists you in managing different personalities on your staff, if you wind up in a leadership position. It makes evolving easier in a very dynamic field. It's what allows you to acquire new skills and become a bigger contributor to a team. One of our Cressey Sports Performance staff members, Chris Howard, is a great example. He can evaluate athletes, write programs and coach - but also has a master's degree in nutrition and is a licensed massage therapist. And, he can make friends with anyone. He's built versatility capital.

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I should note: don't confuse versatility with trying to be everything to everyone. It just means that you'll be able to get better results underneath the specific umbrella where you're most qualified - and chances are that there will be more "umbrellas" under which you can choose to fall. Yes, you can redeem your versatility capital for the ability to pick what you enjoy doing (and that's what Chris has done at CSP).

3. Perseverance

Again, perseverance is important in any career, but it's particularly vital in the fitness industry, where you will have to pay your dues early on. This might include unpaid internships, brutally long hours (including the dreaded AM/PM split), and standing around on hard floors for 12 hours each day. And, you have to realize that in that last hour of the day, no matter how much your feet hurt and you want to go to sleep, you have to deliver the same quality product to clients.

This is why I always laugh on the inside when I hear an up-and-coming trainer complaining about having to work "floor hours" at a commercial gym. They don't realize that every single second they spend on that gym floor - even if they aren't actually training a client - is building a little toughness that'll sustain them over the long haul. It's better to build a callus (have plenty of exposure to being on the floor) than it is to develop a blister (jump into a training position cold turkey, only to wind up with knee and low back pain and a cranky demeanor by the end of your first day).

As an aside, I'll never hire anyone I hear complaining about old bosses or jobs....ever. If that's all that you can think of discussing during a job interview or in a cover letter, you have a negativity problem, lack the ability to walk a mile in another's shoes, and don't really understand how true learning and professional growth takes place.

4. Unique Expertise in a Specific Population

I'm a firm believer that the fitness industry is getting more and more "niched." Athletes are specializing earlier, and winding up with more "specialized" injuries that require specific preventative and rehabilitative training approaches. People are more overweight and unhealthy than ever, and it's given rise to entirely new industries. If you need proof, just consider how many more bariatric surgeries and hip replacements we are doing now than we did 20 years ago! The world is changing, and becoming more specialized. As the somewhat hackneyed saying goes, "generalists starve while specialists thrive."

Here's the problem, though: [bctt tweet="You have to be a good generalist before you become a specialist."] It takes years to acquire a skill set broad enough that you can select the areas where you're particularly proficient and leverage them to create a sustainable (and enjoyable livelihood). It's why doctors do residencies and fellowships after they've finished med school course work and clinical rotations! Nobody gets to go directly to a fellowship just because they have an undergraduate degree; they have to earn that right over time. Effectively, they're redeeming career capital to pursue a specialty.

Fitness works similarly. If you haven't taken the time to learn structure (anatomy), function, dysfunction, assessment, and programming in a broad group of clients/athletes, you'll never be prepared to handle a specific population. There is a right and wrong way to move, and you need to appreciate it before getting to how specific individuals deviate from it.

Once you get past this general education stage, though, you can really change the game. Candidly, most of the resumes I encounter for internships and jobs look very much the same. What jumps out at me is when something has a unique specialty that jumps off the page; they demonstrate that they have the potential to add instant value to our business. When they can do that AND fill an existing need we have, it's a great fit.

On our staff, Greg Robins is a great example. When he initially applied, I loved his military background, which made him an instant leader and someone that could oversee our internship program. He also had a track record of building successful bootcamp programs (and got ours off the ground at CSP).

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Since then, he's gotten heavily into powerlifting, attended multiple Postural Restoration Institute courses, and taken a particular interest in hip dysfunction cases and sprint mechanics. He's expanding his skill set in particular realms without diluting the general foundation he'd established. You can't build a pyramid without a strong foundation, but once that foundation is in place, you can do some cool stuff - and cool stuff earns you career capital.

5. A Mental Library

If you haven't heard of Dr. James Andrews, you'd be wise to look him up. Suffice it to say that he's the most renowned sports orthopedist of all time.  I've been fortunate to interact with him at a few conferences and over the phone when he's provided second opinions on MRIs over the years, and he's as good a person as he is a surgeon. Dr. Andrews is widely renowned not only for his surgical skills, but also for his tremendous bedside manner and accessibility.

However, what I think is perhaps even more remarkable - and what makes Dr. Andrews such a sought-after consultant - is the fact that he has an absurd number of case studies compiled in his brain. No matter how ugly and atypical your shoulder, elbow, knee, or hip MRI is, he's probably seen 500 just like it over the years. He can speak to whether these issues respond to conservative treatment, and if so, what the best course of action is. If not, he can speak to whether surgery is warranted, and if so, what procedure is the right fit. You just can't get that with the small town orthopedic surgeon who does two rotator cuff repairs each year, and treated one ACL tear back in 2002. Interacting with a lot of people builds a lot of career capital in your memory "bank."

If you need any proof that being good at what you do is a great predictor of job satisfaction, Dr. Andrews is 72 years old and still going strong. I don't imagine that he needs the money at this point, and he actually does a lot of pro bono outreach work to try to combat overuse injuries in youth sports. Compiling and redeeming career capital put him in a position pursue this mission.

Again, there are parallels in the fitness industry. At risk of sounding overconfident, I get to interact with over 100 throwing shoulders/elbows every single day, so I've built a great sample size from which to draw over the past eight years.

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Some trainers have seen dozens of post-pregnancy cases, cardiac/pulmonary rehab folks, or NFL Combine prep cases . The only way to acquire a fully loaded memory bank is to encounter a lot of people in a specific population.

Closing Thoughts

These are just five examples of where one can acquire career capital in the fitness industry - and there are certainly many more ways to do things. Additionally, under each one of these examples are many specific actions that can build to create a "wealth" of knowledge and experience - "rare and valuable skills" - that can someday surely be redeemed for a career you'll genuinely love. That same success and job satisfaction aren't guaranteed if you simply "following your passion," though, so be sure to take that advice with a big grain of salt.

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Career Capital in the Fitness Industry – Part 1

I'm a big fan of Cal Newport's fantastic book, So Good They Can't Ignore You.

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Newport goes to great lengths to demonstrate just how terrible "follow your passion" is as career advice. It's a compelling read, especially for those who are working hard to develop a career they genuinely enjoy.

Newport argues against the "passion" approach, as it can lead individuals down a road that may not be financially viable; just because you enjoy something doesn't mean that you'll be able to make a living doing it. This may be because there isn't sufficient demand in the market for it, or because you might not have sufficient "career capital" to be successful enough early on to actually stay in business. "Career capital," according to Newport, consists of "rare and valuable skills;" you need these to acquire the "traits that define great work." And, as the author also points out, being very good at what you do is actually more closely linked to job satisfaction than income alone.

Newport continues with several case studies to support this "Career Capital Theory:" people work long and hard to acquire rare and valuable skills (don't forget Malcom Gladwell's 10,000-Hour Theory) that give them more and more control over their careers by making them coveted and/or indispensable in their field of study. This control doesn't just afford them more compensation and flexible schedules, but also enables them to gradually test the waters to determine whether one specific avenue or "niche" is best for long-term career satisfaction.

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This is a stark contrast to the fitness industry, where many folks have lost their life savings opening gyms because they enjoyed exercise - but didn't have the rare and valuable skills required to be successful in the fitness industry. It leads to the question: why are some people very successful in the fitness industry - even with mid-life career change - while others fail miserably? What are the "rare and valuable skills" that allow them to succeed?

Before I answer these questions, though, I thought I might shine a little light on how Newport's theories spoke directly to me. To be candid, growing up, I never expected to work in the fitness industry. In fact, it was quite the opposite: I went to college thinking I was going to be an accountant.

However, around that time, I had some health problems, and as I got healthy, had to learn a lot about proper training, nutrition, and recovery so that I could put weight back on and get my strength back. I realized that it was something I enjoyed, and learning in this realm came somewhat naturally to me. After much deliberation, I decided to transfer to a new school to pursue exercise science - but I still "hedged my bet" by doing a double major in sports management and exercise science. I had two years of business school under my belt, and wanted to continue to nuture my entrepreneurial spirit (and avoid losing a lot of college credit).

Over the next two years, I worked for $7/hour at a gym to learn everything I could about the industry - all while I was taking classes. Simultaneously, I was rehabbing my shoulder from a chronic tennis-related condition, so I was "accidentally" finding a niche within a niche. Without even knowing it, I was building career capital while testing the waters to make sure it was actually what I wanted to do. I might not have gotten 10,000 hours under my belt by the age of 22, but I was definitely well on my way - and it put me in a position to know that I wanted to go to graduate school for exercise science.

At graduate school, I had the opportunity to "feel out" what I wanted to do without much risk. I got involved in the human performance laboratory to see if research was for me (it wasn't). It was only when I volunteered in varsity strength and conditioning that I found something I genuinely enjoyed, and I recognized that I could do well and be very happy working in collegiate strength and conditioning. Interestingly, I spent most of my time working with soccer and basketball players while I was there.

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As it turns out, I tested the waters in the private sector when I first left graduate school, and enjoyed working in that realm. Over the subsequent few years, I trained as many people - athletes and non-athletes alike - as I could possibly fit into my schedule. I honed my skill set, learned about what I enjoyed the most, gradually created more and more autonomy in my schedule, became financially stable, and recognized a sustainable, underserved population (baseball players) where I had unique expertise. Without even recognizing it, I had built career capital and started to "purchase" the coaching life I wanted.

That was 2007, when we founded Cressey Sports Performance. I've had seven more years to acquire career capital in a number of different contexts - actual training knowledge, interactions with athletes, managing employees, cultivating business relationships, evaluating opportunities, and a host of other areas - to put us the position we're in (opening a second location in Jupiter, FL).

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Back in 1999, I had no idea training baseball players would be my ideal job. And even if I had known, I probably would have fallen flat on my face if I'd tried to follow this passion. I didn't have enough rare and valuable skills to be successful at that point.

Fast-forward five years to 2004, and my current business partner and I watched the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series together. It was an awesome moment for us as baseball fans.

Another five years later, we owned a business and were training two of the athletes that were on the 25-man Red Sox roster that won that World Series. It was an awesome moment for us as business owners who'd earned and redeemed career capital.

"Follow your passion" IS horrible career advice; "build career capital" isn't. In Part 2, I'll discuss what "rare and valuable skills" one needs to be successful in the fitness industry. In the meantime, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Newport's book, So Good They Can't Ignore You.

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