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

Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

In this installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce you to one of my favorite "introduction" medicine ball exercises, the Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss.

It's incredibly useful for two primary reasons:

First, it trains hip/trunk separation through good thoracic mobility (as opposed to excessive lower back motion). Effectively executing this "separation" is key for high-level performance in any rotational sport.

Second, it teaches athletes to have a firm front side for accepting force. One common problem both hitters and pitchers can encounter is that they lack sufficient appropriate timing and multi-directional strength to “stiffen up” on the front side lower extremity.

If they can’t get this right in a controlled environment like the weight room, they sure as heck won’t be able to do it in a chaotic, competitive environment when they’re trying to adjust to a 83mph slider right after a 95mph fastball. Compare the demonstration video from above (Andrew is not a rotational sport athlete) to the following video of one of our professional pitchers, and you'll appreciate how trainable (and beneficial) these proficiencies are.

One additional point about this exercise: because there isn't aggressive hip rotation taking place, it's one of the few medicine ball drills I'll actually continue to utilize during the season with some of our baseball players. That said, I think it's a fantastic exercise that can be used for athletes and general fitness clients alike. Who wouldn't want to be more powerful with better movement quality?

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better – Installment 61

This installment of quick tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.

1. Use “discovery learning” as a way to improve retention for movement patterns.

Going to continuing education courses consistently allows me to adjust my perspective based on the “latest” information available in the industry. However, one of the biggest things that allows me to shift my perspective further is to listen in and converse with other professionals during lunch breaks to further understand the topic at hand in a more productive way.

This first point divulges how to implement a sense of discovery about movement patterns and gives some very straight forward tips for coaching anything that is new to your clients or athletes.

Keep these points in mind when using this new technique of teaching.

Use your athlete/client's words and language to help them learn a movement better.

Not every person will know where their glutes are, for example. Have the athlete just point to the part of their body where they feel it; you don’t need a PhD in Exercise Science to teach a basic movement pattern.

Remove body parts.

If a hip hinge is too difficult, reduce the neuromuscular challenge by having them start on two knees instead of two feet. Now the movement is largely a singular hinging pattern when they start on their knees, instead of stabilizing on their feet.

2. Consider reducing the number of “corrective exercises” you perform.

I’m a big fan of Dan John and his easily quotable phrase, “Keep the goal the goal.” Maintain your perspective of the goal at hand. If your goal is to improve strength, lose fat, or improve at your sport, how many corrective exercises are you performing? How much time are you utilizing doing foam rolling? Minimize your time spent analyzing your own problems by seeking out the best coaches, therapists, or nutrition coaches, and get to work on that goal. Sometimes, you'll find that exercises can even be combined to improve efficiency without sacrificing the benefit.

Corrective exercises are supposed to correct something. By omitting these movements, will the athlete miss any crucial movement patterns? Play “Devil’s Advocate” and make sure to incorporate all that is necessary, but no more. If you aren't careful, your "correctives" can wind up becoming a cumbersome majority of your training sessions.

3. Learn the difference between blocked and random practice - and apply each appropriately.

On the topic of training youth athletes, I recently attended a seminar in which blocked vs. random practice was presented. For the purposes of this article, blocked practice is specific training of a singular skill with no changes in environmental surroundings (like swinging a bat against a pitching machine over and over). Conversely, random practice involves having an individual adapt to the surroundings and incorporate different (but similar) skills (like swinging a bat for different scenarios - with a live pitcher).

The biggest question of the day was, "Which athlete excelled when it came time for performance?"

When tested in the short-term, blocked practice performed better than random practice. This makes sense, because if you practice a singular skill over and over, you will get better at that skill.

However, when enough time passed for participants to “forget,” retention of skills was the name of the game. So when retaining skills for a longer term, blocked practice did not do as well, and practicing “randomly” prevailed.

From a logical point of view, this is similar to memorizing sentences when you’re cramming for a final exam. Sure, you’ll do great if the teacher just has the same exact sentences or questions as the book - but what happens if the teacher forces you to critically think, and asks questions that are different than the material presented during class?

This leads quite appropriately into the context of a long term athletic development model. By increasing skills and techniques in a broad sense, athletes will more easily acquire specific sport skills. Conversely, with early sports specialization, athletes are practicing (almost always) one skill over and over, and struggle when diverse, more unpredictable movement is required for success.

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What are the actionable items you can take away from this?

If you coach youth athletes, or you yourself have a young son or daughter:

• Encourage them to try multiple sports.
• Allow them to “figure it out” when it comes to decision making skills, especially as it applies to sports.
• Provide feedback - but much, much later after the competition, game, or practice session.
• This will allow for them to come up with their own unique thoughts, and allow them to be uninhibited when it comes to creating a solution to whatever problems occur during a game.

While this is a “Quick and Easy Way to Move and Feel Better” series, I imagine that we can help everyone of all ages move and even feel better by taking this information and acting on it.

4. Try this quick oatmeal snack.

I’ve been preparing for a powerlifting meet for the past few months, and an easy go to snack in the morning and/or at night is a quick oatmeal snack.

It’s fast, needs little ingredients, is a flexible snack, or even as a snack if your goal is to gain mass.

PB2 Oatmeal

• 1/2 cup Oatmeal
• 2 tbsp Chocolate Peanut Butter or Powdered Peanut Butter
• 1 Scoop of Protein Powder
• Handful of [Frozen] Blueberries
• Honey for taste
• 1 cup of almond or whole milk

Macros
Fat: ~9g
Carbs: ~54g
Protein: ~42g

Prep time: Pour the oats in first, followed by milk, then heat to 90-120 seconds. Then, add everything in and mix it up. The easy clean-up makes this a go-to for the past few weeks/months with all the snow in Massachusetts!

5. Remember that band can increase resistance - or assist in cleaning up a movement pattern.

Whether your goal is maximal strength, increased hypertrophy, or even learning an exercise for the first time, bands are a useful tool.

Band placement is critical for learning how an exercise can increase resistance, or assist during a movement.

For example, you can improve strength by performing a band resisted push-up, or help the push-up by utilizing a band under the waist to elicit a “pop” out of the bottom of the push-up (where the exercise is most difficult).

Band Assisted Push-Up - Miguel

At the same time, bands can help to improve reactive core engagement, or in other words, your body will have to reflexively react in a favorable way.

About the Author

Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/17/15

Let's get this week off on the right foot with some recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us - An incoming Cressey Sports Performance intern asked for some additional recommended reading on top of the normal material they have to cover before they start up, and this was the first book that came to mind. This Seth Godin work is a quick read, but a classic, in my opinion.

Tribes-Godin

Examine.com - This is really an entire site to check out, but it's one I heavily endorse and it warrants a mention on its 4th anniversary. The internet's largest and most trusted unbiased resource with respect to supplementation has all its guides on sale for 40% off this week.

When Should Youth Pitchers Learn Curveballs? - Several people have asked me this question lately, and it seemed like a good time to bring this old post from Matt Blake back to the forefront.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 11

In today's post, I want to cover three more coaching cues you can use to clean up your training technique. These are ones I use all the time with athletes at Cressey Sports Performance:

1. "Create a gap."

I use this one all the time with both rowing and pressing variations. Athletes love to keep the elbow too close to the side, and it creates an environment of faulty scapular positioning during movement of the upper arm. You can check out examples on my Instagram page, if you're interested (FAULTY vs. CORRECTED).

The answer is very simple: create a gap between the upper arm and torso. I'll usually just put my hand between the two landmarks and wiggle my fingers side to side to create a gap, as depicted by the blue line here:

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2. "Don't let this plate fall."

I've written in the past (here) about how much I love bear crawls as everything from a low-level core stability exercise to a great scapular control drill. That said, one thing you'll see as a common mistake from athletes is that they'll allow their lower back and hips drift side to side on each "step." While this is indicative of the need for rotary stability at the core, usually, the problem is still something that can be fixed up pretty quickly with some basic coaching cues, starting with "slow down."

To build on "slow down" with an external focus cue, I'll set a 2.5-pound plate on the athlete's lower back. The more the lumbopelvic shifts, the more likely it is to fall.

3. "Don't break the glass."

One of the biggest mistakes we see with quad dominant athlete who have poor hip hinge patterns is that they'll break the knee forward in lieu of shifting the hips back. You'll see this on everything from lateral lunges to the eccentric (lowering) portion of deadlifts.

Obviously, we can start to address this by coaching at the hip ("push your butt back to try to touch the wall behind you"), but you can also have a positive impact on the movement by coaching the knee with an external focus cue of an imaginary pane of glass running directly up to the ceiling from the toes. Check out this still frame I took from the lowering portion of a sumo deadlift. The knee shouldn't hit the blue line that signifies the imaginary pane of glass:

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The image would be more powerful from the side angle, but the plates obscure the lower leg and foot from that perspective, unfortunately. Fortunately, the lateral lunge with overhead reach is a good second shot:

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That wraps it up for this edition. Hopefully, you've found these cues useful and easy to apply in your strength and conditioning programs. If you're looking for direction with respect to both programming and coaching cues, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, which features more than 200 exercise coaching videos, comprising three hours of footage of the exact cues we use with our athletes.

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Long-Term Athletic Development: Optimizing A Young Athlete’s First Day at the Gym

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - MA Director of Performance, John O'Neil. I'd like to devote more attention to long-term athletic development here at EricCressey.com, and John will be helping me do so.

This article is geared towards working with a youth athlete who is in a gym for the first time. I have identified steps that I believe to be important with getting the ball rolling toward the athlete’s long-term athletic development, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.

The Physical

1. Establish Point A.

While athletic goals can be diverse, they all fall under the simple structure of getting from point A to point B in an efficient and appropriate manner. We need to be able to address the biggest differences between what an athlete’s current Point A is and what their potential Point B is, and provide them the skills to achieve them. It doesn’t matter what assessment system you use--just that you have the ability to identify where an athlete is the first time they are standing in front of you. For youth athletes, who may not know where their Point B is yet, it’s important that we give them a variety of motor skills that allows them succeed in a number of potential athletic goals years down the road.

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It’s our job to determine what lies within the arrow, and understand that if an athlete’s goals change, we have still put him closer to his new Point B than he was at the original Point A.

2. Give the athlete success.

Success is not something you can learn about on paper and enact. It is something you have to experience. While I understand it is not always practical depending on the schedule of your facility, in my opinion, it is important to give the athlete some type of training effect on Day 1. As a beginner athlete in the gym, success is given via the instant gratification of knowing that you got better today--in essence, you are one (small) step past Point A where you started. The sooner we can give an athlete confidence in their ability to execute the necessary motor skills in a gym to build strength, move more efficiently, and perform on the field, the sooner they will take ownership of their program and be able to convert what you are teaching them from their short to long-term memory.

3. Know which motor skills you want a youth athlete new to the gym to have in place.

Dan John’s basic human movement skills are a great place to start. Every advanced athlete, regardless of their sport, should be able to hip hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, and perform single-leg movements. While not all of these are always realistic to truly pattern in on Day 1, give the athlete the knowledge of and the physical basics of what you are trying to get them to do. In a baseball population, some of the most important movements will also include teaching the athlete true external rotation, scapular control, and the ability to safely get overhead. As an example, here’s a basic drill (usually included in the warm-ups) to educate athletes about where they should and should not be feeling exercises in their shoulder as their arm goes into external rotation.

4. Know which practical weight-room skills you want the athlete to have in place.

Identify the basic implements, grips, and stances used in your programming, and select exercises to teach these while also teaching the basic movement skills. A perfect example is an Anterior-Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, which teaches the athlete to get strong on one leg with an efficient lunge pattern, and also teaches them a front-squat grip with a barbell. We have to ask: How much of the overlap in the Venn Diagram can we get athletes proficient in, or at least give them a comfort level with, on Day 1?

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Another great example is a kettlebell goblet squat, as the athlete learns both the goblet grip and the squat pattern. As Eric has written in the past, barring any contraindication, a majority of Day 1 Cressey Sports Performers learn the trap bar deadlift, but many athletes new to lifting may need more direct work to effectively pattern the hip hinge component of a deadlift. One of my favorite exercises is a tall-kneeling banded hip hinge with a dowel. This teaching tool puts the athlete in a position where they cannot fail without knowing it, thanks to having a physical external cue in both places that are important to the hip hinge--hinging at the hips (the band) and maintaining a neutral spine (the dowel).

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The Mental

1. Put the athlete in an environment where they are comfortable and want to be.

For someone who has never been in a gym, it is important to schedule their assessment and first training session at a time when the gym is not busy. In order to really promote athletes taking ownership of their programming and truly wanting to pursue long-term athletic development, the gym needs to feel like a safe haven rather than an overwhelming place of chaos. The athlete could be coming from a difficult situation at home or in their personal life and it is our job to make the gym a place of comfort and enjoyment. If the gym is very slow/quiet, you might even have the athlete choose which music they want to listen to. The places we learn the best are the places we are the most comfortable and the happiest being in.

2. Assess the athlete in a way that tells them that you’ve seen, dealt with, and given success to many, many people just like them.

A majority of your athletes won’t have a clue what you’re looking at, but they’ll know if you come across as confident and sure of what you are seeing. In the baseball population at CSP, this is easy to portray to an athlete because they know the success that professional baseball players have had while training there. During the assessment, you might even be able to figure out whether the athlete is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, which will be invaluable when you are cueing the bigger movements.

3. Create context with the athlete that allows you and your staff to optimize your relationship with them, both as a person and an athlete.

Athletes are comfortable with coaches they know truly care about them, and, they respond best to cues that are already within their existing schemas. As coaches, we are always working to expand the amount of schemas we can tap into because we need to know what clicks best with the athlete. If talking about video games makes the athlete want to be there and listen to you, relate to them that way. If talking to a 14 year-old about why they don’t use Facebook anymore and how they only use Snapchat and Instagram is the best way to make them think you’re someone who’s cool to be around and worth listening to, then that’s the route you should take. The best time to create said context is when you are showing the athlete how to foam roll. The correctives/warm-ups and the lifts will be more task-oriented, and hopefully by that point you know what to talk about and how to talk to the athlete.

Conclusion

The challenge as a coach is choosing how much information you can give the athlete that they can actually retain. One of my favorite ideas to think about as a coach is Miller’s Law--the idea that a person can only hold approximately seven items in their working memory. At the end of the day, you can’t expect an athlete of any level to retain everything from their first training session, but you can give the athlete a concept of a few basic motor patterns and a few different grips, implements, and stances in the weight room. Most importantly, you can send that athlete home with the knowledge that they are one step closer to their goals.

If you're looking for more insights on training youth athletes, be sure to check out the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification.

iycacertification

About the Author

John O’Neil (@OneilStrength) is Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Projecting the Development of High School Pitchers: Training Habits Matter

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

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It happens every year. Inevitably, I talk to college coaches about players with whom I work, and without fail, the conversation always comes back to the question: "what type of kid is he and how hard does he work?"

These are two loaded questions and they’re becoming incredibly important in the evaluation process for college coaches. Because the recruiting timeline is getting faster paced every year, coaches are dipping into increasingly younger talent pools to get commitments. This process is forcing coaches to become more reliant on their ability to project what a 15 or 16 year old pitcher is going to look like three years down the road and project what that player might become at ages 18-22 in a new environment. If this is the case, then it becomes essential for coaches to be able to balance who the teenage boy is that he is currently watching, with the man he’s inherently going to become in a few years under his watch.

In order to do this, you need to have the ability to look at the individual’s actions and behaviors, as movement patterns that you think indicate potential for continued growth as this player moves forward. This topic could expand into a entire book, but I’m going to simplify this thought and condense the discussion down to one athlete to help demonstrate the point I’m trying to make.

In this instance, I want to highlight an athlete I've coached over the last few years and show what a drastic difference a year can do in the context of mechanical development. I think it will bring to the forefront how important it is to allow a player to grow into himself and not force the process for these athletes. While doing that, I want to flush out some of the character traits that are involved in refining this process on a larger scale.

Here’s a video of the same athlete one year apart (we’ll break it down in detail later in the article):


To give you some context, you have a 5’9 150lb sophomore on the right and a 5’10” 170lb junior on the left. The 150lb sophomore version of this pitcher pitched around 78-82mph with an above-average change-up and above-average command. This allowed him to develop into a consistent high-level performer on the 16U summer circuit playing in national travel tournaments, but yet the phone isn’t ringing off the hook for this type of 16U player unless he shows “projection” in the body or above average velocity now (neither of which apply to him).

I can understand how it would be very easy to write this type of player off as "average," because every high school RHP in America throws 78-82mph. As such, how could you possibly see this player and offer him a scholarship to play in college? Well, if you’re paying attention, and look at this pitcher one year later with an additional 20lbs on his frame and see that the delivery has continued to refine itself, you’re going to begin to gather a positive sense of direction for this athlete and realize that this RHP is going to conservatively throw 84-87mph this year with a very good chance to throw harder.

Now, 84-87mph still may not get a lot of people excited in this day and age, but I would go out on a limb and say that by the time this athlete is physically maturing in college, you’ll be looking at an 88-90mph RHP with three pitches, who knows how to compete in the strike zone at a high level because he wasn’t blessed with velocity from an early age. There’s a spot for that type of pitcher on any college staff; I don’t care who you are.

One could also certainly say that’s a large leap to make in projecting a 5’10” 170lb pitcher, but it all comes back to knowing what type of person they are and how hard they work. That’s why I think intimate knowledge of their overall training activity is crucial, because you can find out if this player is willing to go away from the “fun” part of developing their skills and identify that they’re willing to buy into a much larger process to make themselves a more technically proficient player on the field.

This is important, in my eyes, because there are only so many reps you can expect a thrower to execute, due to the stressful nature of the activity. So, in order to maximize the efficiency of their development, they have to be able to handle concepts that transcend the actual throwing process itself to be able to refine their throwing motion. If they can grasp why learning how to create stability is important, or why learning to manage their tissue quality on a daily basis will increase their training capacity, then you can give them larger and larger windows to create adaptation as an athlete on the field.

Take the athlete in the video, for example. He’s becoming one of the most consistent performers on the field, and it’s no surprise, because he’s learning to become one of the most consistent athletes in the weight room as well. If you are familiar with the pitching delivery, you’ll notice that he has upgraded at least four critical components of the throwing motion:

  • Postural control of his leg lift/gather phase
  • Rhythm/timing of his hands and legs working together during his descent into the stride phase
  • Lead leg stability and postural control from landing to release
  • Ability to maintain integrity and directional control of his deceleration phase

The interesting piece of these four components is that three of these are reliant on the athlete improving his overall ability to create stability in the delivery. At Cressey Sports Performance, I talk with our athletes all the time about understanding if their adjustments are mobility, stability or awareness issues. In this instance, we probably had both stability and awareness issues to resolve. The thing is, once you’re aware of the issues, it still takes deliberate work to iron out a stability problem in the delivery, which is why the athlete’s training habits are so important. Simply throwing the baseball over and over again may help you with your timing and repeatability, but we need to actively attack the strength training if we expect to impact an athlete’s pattern of stability in the throw.

In order to examine this a bit further, let’s walk through each of these components and identify a couple key things in video form:

Postural Control during Leg Lift/Gather Phase

Rhythm of Descent into Stride Phase

Stability from Landing to Release

Control of Deceleration

Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s obviously a long way to go for this athlete to get to 90mph. However, when you look at the development of this individual in the last 365 days, and you consider that there are over 730 more days before this athlete will even play his first college baseball game as a freshman, it becomes that much more important to know who the athlete is. Will the player you’re recruiting be comfortable with who they are, and become stagnant in their development, or will he use his time efficiently to keep improving both on and off the baseball field?

In the short time that I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that there’s usually a progression for athletes that involves learning how strength training can benefit them. It usually starts with showing up to the weight room from time to time thinking that’s good enough. Once they start plateauing there, they realize they actually need to be consistent in showing up to the weight room to make gains. The problem is, they eventually start plateauing there as well, and if they decide they really want to be good, they proceed to make the all-important psychological jump, and realize it’s not good enough to just show up to the training environment anymore. They realize they need to make positive decisions in their daily routines in order to make the most of every training session, whether it’s on the field or in the weight room. If they’re not willing to do that, there’s always someone else who is, and it doesn’t take long before these athletes are passing them by and they’re left wondering what happened?

When the athlete makes the jump from simply showing up to giving a consistent effort to make positive decisions for themselves inside and outside of the training environment, it becomes real easy to tell a college coach, "This is a guy you want, not only on the field or in the weight room, but in your locker room as well."

If you're interested in learning more about our approaches to long-term baseball development, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships; the next course will take place in January.

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Strength Strategies – Installment 2

Today's guest post comes from Greg Robins, my co-author on The Specialization Success Guide.

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As with our first installment, I'll break my recommendations down into four categories: mindset, programming/planning, nutrition/recovery, and technique. Here we go!

1. Mindset: Study, practice, experiment, evaluate.

The best lifters I have come across are very cerebral in their approach to something as physically driven as moving heavy loads on a barbell. This is even true of the ones you may categorize as anything but “cerebral.”

In order to master anything, you must study, practice, experiment, and evaluate.

If you want to be a high-level lifter, you will only get so far with brute physical effort, even if it is a must-have in the recipe for success. You need to treat strength as a skill, and lifting is something you can dissect and study.

Make it a point to dissect your own technique; garner a rudimentary understanding for physics, physiology, and anatomy; and study the approaches of those who have been successful in what you aim to do. With that said, when studying lifters, try to focus on those who have similar builds and lifestyles as you do. Imitating the approaches of people who are dramatically different physically (leverages) and socially (recovery capacity, training frequency) will not be nearly as productive.

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2. Planning/Programming: Instruction is the main objective of supplemental exercise selection.

Ben Franklin said, “That which hurts, instructs.” It’s one of my favorite sayings and can obviously be applied, if not more appropriately, to more than simply choosing supplemental exercises in strength training planning. However, it is quite fitting as a rule of thumb for a key piece in developing high levels of strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Getting outside of the “comfort zone” is a necessary step in achieving something outside of what one is already capable. In choosing supplementary exercises in your training, think about ways to slightly alter the classic three lifts that will do three things.

1. Teach you about the proper execution of the main lift.
2. Target weak muscles, which may otherwise “take a play off” via your ability to compensate in the main lift.
3. Get you to challenge yourself physically by executing them in such a way that is not advantageous for your usual approach.

You want to choose an exercise that essentially works as coach for your shortcomings in the main lift. For example, here are two pictures of one of my distance-based clients. The most important shortcoming in his squat was the inability to understand upper back extension, elbow placement, and head position in his set up. This resulted in forward weight shifting throughout the movement. While he did respond to some video analysis and cueing, he responded instantly to using the high bar squat as his supplementary squat exercise.

The high bar position forced him to work on all the points above and we turned his low bar numbers into high bar numbers. This quickly helped his low bar numbers have new heights, and no ceiling restricted by poor positioning.

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Furthermore, we used the high bar squat to help him build strength in the upper back, and quads, which were no doubt less of a player in his original approach as the torso position placed greater demands on the hamstrings and low/mid back.

To top it off, we made his intensity-based work high-bar focused, and his volume-based work low-bar focused. This gave him a better chance of learning better low-bar position by not challenging him with the weight on the bar, and by giving him more time under load in the proper low set up.

While not all your supplementary work needs to hit each of the three aforementioned points, it must always hit the first one. In many cases, if you take the time to think out your approach, you will find ways where you can hit all three, and this will lead to great progress.

3. Nutrition/Recovery: Appreciate (and modify) food texture.

Nutrition is something that has always fascinated me. It’s not so much the science of the food itself, though, but rather the mental game of proper nutrition. I firmly believe the majority of somewhat health conscious people understand enough about food quality, and portion size, to achieve a physique they can be happy about, not to mention one that is healthy and capable of performing on a high level.

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The fitness industry, popular media, and major food companies have unfortunately sent us so many mixed messages, exaggerated headlines, embellished research findings, and utterly misdirected crap that many people are left more than a bit confused. Moreover, food itself serves as a readily available and affordable option for people to turn to in emotional situations ranging from despair to celebration.

One of the keys to making nutrition productive is to be able to enjoy items that are actually conducive to your efforts.

With that in mind, I challenge you to pay attention to textures when it comes to meal preparation. Acknowledging the textures you prefer and dislike is a great way to help everyone from the person looking to bring down total consumption to the person who needs to consume more.

In general, we prefer a variety of texture to our food, and yet many of us see very little of it when we consistently turn to the same foods.

Here are two quick ideas, and I am sure you can think of more.

1. Add some crunch to your chicken by tossing the chicken in some egg whites and rolling it through so panko bread crumbs.
2. Make your smoothie a little ahead of time, pour it in a bowl, toss it in the freezer a few hours. Enjoy it as a frozen treat with a spoon, instead of a lukewarm viscous liquid from a plastic shaker bottle.

Going the extra step to toast your bread, make sweet potato fries instead of the usual bake, or even tossing something with a little chewiness or crunch to a salad can make a world of difference in your compliance.

4. Technique/Exercise Instruction: Perfect the glute-ham raise.

The glute-ham raise is a phenomenal exercise for developing the posterior chain. While some find the barrier to entry too high for beginner lifters, I find the problem rests mostly with a misunderstanding of how to properly set up and execute the movement. This video should shed some light on the subject.

5. Bonus Interview!

As a bonus, I recently sat down with CSP coach Miguel Aragoncillo to talk about my "Optimizing the Big 3" seminars, and lifting in general. Here's the entire conversation:

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Avoid this Common Wall Slide Mistake

Those of you who have followed my work for any length of time surely know that I'm a big fan of including wall slide variations to improve scapular (shoulder blade) control. To get the benefits of these drills, though, it's important to use the right technique. Here's one mistake we commonly see, especially in really "tight" athletes who have a lot of stiffness in their lats to overcome:

Apologies for the contribution from Cressey Sports Performance mascot Tank Cressey at the 1:05 mark! This guy thought it'd be a good idea to bark hello to the UPS guy in the middle of my video.

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The Best of 2014: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2014" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. No Specialization = National Championship? - I posted this article right after Vanderbilt won the College World Series, and it was my biggest "baseball hit" of the year. There are some great lessons on long-term athletic development in there.

2. 6 Key Qualities for Long-Term Athletic Development - I wrote this post right after 18 Cressey Sports Performance athletes were selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft. As with our #1 baseball post from the year, long-term athletic development was a hot topic!

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3. Are Pitchers Really Getting "Babied?" - Many baseball "traditionalists" insist that pitchers are getting injured because we're babying them in the modern era. I disagree completely, and this article summarizes my thoughts on the subject.

4. Long-Term Success: What You Can Learn from Corey Kluber - Long-time CSP client Corey Kluber won the 2014 American League Cy Young, and a lot of the points I make in this article on his work ethic help to explain why. It was featured on Gabe Kapler's website.

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5. Draft Q&A with Eric Cressey: Part 1 and Part 2 - This two-part article was actually an interview of me for Baseball America. I think it delves into a lot of important topics for up-and-coming players as well as coaches and parents.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 8

It's time for the December edition of my musings on the performance world. Our twin daughters were born on November 28, so this will be a "baby theme" sports performance post.

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1. Sleep might be the great equalizer in the sports performance equation.

For obvious reasons, I've been thinking a lot about sleep quality and quantity since the girls were born. Obviously, how well you sleep is a huge factor in both short- and long-term performance improvements (or drop-offs). I think everyone knows that, but unfortunately, not everyone acts on it.

Additionally, I'm not sure folks realize that sleep is probably the only factor in the performance training equation that isn't impacted by socioeconomic status. Good coaching, gym access, massage therapy, and quality nutrition and supplementation all cost money and can be hard to find in certain areas. Getting quality sleep really won't cost you a penny (unless you're forgoing sleep to try to earn a living), and it's easily accessible. tweetSure, you can buy a better mattress or pillow, turn the air conditioning up, or get reinforced blinds to make your room darker, but the truth is that these aren't limiting factors for most people. Usually, the problems come from using phones/tablets/TVs on too close to bedtime, or simply not making time to get to bed at a reasonable hour. That might be why this Tweet I posted a few days ago was well-received.

I think the lesson here is that if you're struggling to make progress, begin by controlling what you can control. Sleep is usually a good place to start.

2. You need a team, but not an army.

Without exception, everyone who has ever had a child is willing to offer advice. Unfortunately, while it's always incredible well-intentioned, it isn't always useful. We've found this to be particularly true because we have twins, which is a total game changer as compared to a single baby. It's like getting a pitching lesson from a golf professional; he might "get" efficient rotation, but have no idea how to apply it to a new sport.

With that in mind, as an athlete, you have to have a filter when you create your team. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and having too many coaches (and related professionals) in your ear can lead to confusion from over-coaching and mixed messages.

Taking it a step further, as a facility owner, this is why I love to hire from our Cressey Sports Performance internship program. We get a great opportunity to determine if folks can seamlessly integrate with our team while still providing unique expertise and value to our clients. It's also why we don't ever have independent contractor trainers come in to coach under our roof; the "team" becomes an "army"and the messages get diluted.

Speaking of internships...

Mastery_Cover3. Apprenticeships are tremendously important for athletes and coaches alike.

The current audiobook on my iPhone is Mastery, by Robert Greene. Greene goes to great lengths to describe the commonalities of success for many of history's great "masters:" Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. One experience they all seem to have in common is a tremendous track record of apprenticeship (or internship) under a bright individual who has gone before them.

It goes without saying that we know this is the best way to learn in the fitness industry. If you need proof, just look at the loads of successful trainers out there who have never opened an exercise physiology textbook, but have logged countless hours "in the trenches" - much of it under the tutelage of a seasoned fitness professional - to hone their skills. As Greene notes, however, not all mentors are created equal, and you have to be very picky in selecting one that is a good match for you.

For us, that meant listening to parents of multiple babies, as well as the nurses at the hospital who had experience caring for twins. As strange as it sounds, it was a blessing that one of our babies needed supplemental oxygen for a few days after birth, as my wife and I effectively got a bunch of one-on-one tutoring from some incredibly helpful nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit. I could have tried to learn it from a book, but there's no way it would have come around as quickly as it did from performing various tasks under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro.

4. Don't take advanced solutions to a simple problem.

I'll admit it: screaming babies terrified me about three weeks ago. While I kept my normally calm demeanor on the outside, every time one of the girls cried, on the inside, I was actually as flustered as a pimple-faced teenager who is about to ask the captain of the cheerleading team to prom. I'd suggest to my wife that we play some music for them, try a different seat/swing, let them cuddle with one another, or play Monopoly (kidding). Not surprisingly, none of it worked.

In reality, the answer is a lot more simple: 99% of the time, they want to eat, get a diaper change, or be held. Seriously, that's it. Who wants to listen to sit in a nice swing, listening to Today's Country radio on Pandora when they're wallowing in their own turd?

Basically, the athletes needed to squat, press, deadlift, and lunge - yet I kept trying to program 1-arm, 1-leg dumbbell RDLs off an unstable surface while wearing a weight vest on a 12-6-9-4 tempo. This is a stark contrast to they way I live my life and how I carry myself as a coach. Lack of familiarity - and the stress it can cause - was the culprit.

Extending this to a coaching context, when you're working with a new athlete or in a new situation (i.e., sport with which you aren't familiar), always look to simplify. Remember that good movement is good movement, regardless of the sporting demands in question.

5. Different athletes need different cues.

Here are our two little angels:

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Even after only three weeks, they couldn't be any more different. Lydia, on the left, can be a little monster. Even the slightest disturbance throws her into a fit, and she wants to eat just about every hour. On the other hand, Addison, on the right, is as mellow as can be. In fact, as I type this, she's quietly sleeping next to my desk - while her sister is in the other room doing her best to wake my wife up from much needed sleep. While the goal is to get them on the same schedule, doing so requires much different approaches for each girl.

In applying this to athletes, you'll have different kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners will need to be put in a position to appreciate it. Auditory learners can be told to do something and usually pick it up instantly. Visual learners just need to see you demonstrate it, and they'll make it happen shortly thereafter. Your goal as a coach is to determine an athlete's predominant learning style in the first 20-30 minutes of working with him. Most athletes will require a little bit of all three (depending on the exercise you're coaching), but determining which approach predominates makes your coaching more efficient; you can get more done in less time, and fewer words.

Wrap-up

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for your support of EricCressey.com in 2014!

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