Home Posts tagged "Gray Cook"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/2/17

Happy Monday! The MLB regular season ended yesterday, so you could say that this is yet another reminder that the Cressey family "inseason" has begun. Our craziness starts when all the players' lives slow down a bit. Here's a little recommended reading for you:

Dr. Andy Galpin on How to Unplug from Tech and Social Media - This was a fascinating podcast with Dr. Galpin from Mike Robertson, where they critically review the role of technology and data collection in the training process. The points on the need to unplug from technology and social media really hit home for me, too, and I'll be checking out his book soon!

My Body Let Me Down...Again - This was a great article from Gray Cook on all the potential causative factors for why we may hurt. Many people default to the explanation that their bodies simply fail them, when in reality there were likely a lot of things "missed" on the path to that declaration. Aside from trauma, injuries are rarely just "happenstance."

Breaking Down the Quadruped Thoracic Rotation - Dean Somerset outlines the most common mistakes seen with this common upper back mobility drill.

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*Put the elbows in your pockets.* 👇 When doing chin-ups and pull-ups, you want to be careful about extending the humerus past neutral at the top position. If the elbow moves behind the body, the humeral (upper arm) head can glide forward, irritating the structures at the front of the shoulder. Additionally, the thoracic spine (upper back) becomes excessively kyphotic (rounded), and the scapula may anteriorly (forward) tilt, closing down the subacromial space and exacerbating impingement on the rotator cuff tendons. 👎 On the left, you'll see what this bad position looks like. On the right, you'll see the corrected version. 👍 I’ve found that encouraging athlete to put the elbows in the pockets also makes athletes get the chest to the bar instead of just reaching with the chin and creating a forward head posture. Conversely, if you encourage many young athletes to “just get your chin to the bar,” you get some garbage kipping concoction that looks like Quasimodo on the monkey bars with his pants on fire. So don't do that. #cspfamily #sportsperformance #chinup #pullup #hudsonma #SportsMedicine #shoulderpain

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Counterintuitive Coaching: More Loading, Better Learning

It goes without saying that in the overwhelming majority of cases of resistance training technique coaching, adding weight makes it harder to teach an exercise. In other words, we want to deload the movement as a regression, as many trainees get into "panic mode" when you put external load on them. A deadlift that is ugly at 135 pounds is definitely going to look even uglier at 315 pounds. 

Lowering the weight is just one regression we can use to optimize technique. Other strategies include changing the exercise (e.g., trap bar deadlift over conventional deadlift), shortening the range of motion (e.g., rack pull vs. deadlift), eliminating fatigue (e.g., dropping a few reps off each set), tinkering with the base of support (e.g., split squat instead of lunging) and deceleration components (e.g., reverse lunges instead of forward lunges). I went into detail on these options and several more in an older article, 11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder.

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Sometimes, however, there are exceptions to these rules. In particular, I'm speaking to the idea that in some cases - as counterintuitive as it may seem - adding weight can actually improve your ability to clean up a movement pattern. Here are a few examples:

Anterior Counterbalance - The best examples to which one can look on this front are the goblet squat and plate-loaded front squat. You can see individuals who have brutal squat patterns that are quickly cleaned up just be giving them some external loading in one of these positions to facilitate an easier posterior weight shift and better core engagement.

Truth be told, this same set-up can be used to improve lateral lunges, too. And, it can also help to explain why some lifters have much better front squat technique than with the back squat.

Olympic lifts - There is definitely a sweet spot for teaching the Olympic lifts, which require a higher speed of execution and "feel" of tension against external load. If you're teaching them to a more trained athlete with a decent foundation of strength and power, just putting a 5kg training plate on each side of the bar almost never works. The weight is so light that it's very easy for them to slip into bad patterns like curling the weight or cutting the lower body triple-extension short. Bumping those 5kgs up to 10 or even 20kg bumper plates can make a big difference in syncing everything up.

Deadlifts - While lowering the weight is usually essential for improving deadlift technique, one issue you may encounter is that at very light weights, if you don't have bumper plates, the plates have a smaller diameter. In other words, lowering the weight below 135 pounds may actually increase the range of motion of the movement. This is easily corrected by elevating those smaller plates on a riser (two aerobic steps works well) or going to a rack pull. However, if strength is adequate, just going to 135 is often the easiest correction, even if it means you need to knock a few reps off the set.

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Medicine Ball Work - If a medicine ball is too light, an athlete will do one of two things. First, if it's a rotational drill, he'll use too much upper body work and not engage the hips correctly to create powerful rotation to transfer up the chain to the upper body. If it's an overhead stomp variation, he'll usually hold back because if the medicine ball is too light, it'll rebound excessively off the floor and hit him in the face before he can react to it. For this reason, we'll never do overhead stomps with anything less than 8lb medicine balls - and that would be with absolute beginners. Most folks do best with 10-12-pounders.

Turkish Get-up - I've evolved in the way that I teach the Turkish Get-up in recent years. In the past, I would teach it unloaded - and would always notice that lifters - especially hypermobile ones - would manage to slip into their faulty patterns really easily without external loading. Adding a kettlebell - even if it's only 4-8kg - can make a huge difference in keeping trainees more "compact" and under the kettlebell. Effectively, they guard against vulnerable positions that wouldn't be noticeable if they didn't have to support a load overhead.

Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) - Popularized by physical therapist Gray Cook, RNT involved using resistance to pull individuals into their dysfunctional pattern in order to increase proprioceptive awareness and build-up antagonist co-contraction. The athlete (or patient in the clinical realm) acquires the kinesthetic awareness to avoid the dysfunctional pattern, and the strength and motor control to resist falling into it. Perhaps the most well known example of adding resistance to teach a good pattern is in using a band to drive valgus (caving in) at the knee during single-leg patterns.

Weighted Baseballs - We've used weighted baseballs as part of our throwing programs since 2008 with great results. The reason isn't just to get contrast between heavy and light to increase arm speed via post-activation potentiation, but also because using weighted implements can actually help to improve arm action and clean up mechanical faults in certain individuals. If a pitcher has a very long or deep arm action, weighted ball throws can help to shorten it up. If a pitcher has a short deceleration pattern (including a big whip-back), doing some weighted ball holds can teach and train a longer, more joint-friendly pattern.

Wrap-up

There are just seven examples of how increasing external loading can actually facilitate teaching, but there are undoubtedly many more that you may already be using on a daily basis without even realizing it. There are many different ways to clean up movement, so don't ever rule anything out! Feel free to share additional strategies on this front in the comments section below. 

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Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance High-to-Low Anti-Rotation Chop w/Rope

It's been a while since we shared a new "Exercise of the Week" video here at EricCressey.com, so I thought it'd be a good time to highlight one I was actually discussing with one of my staff members yesterday.

The split-stance high-to-low anti-rotation chop w/rope is one of my favorite "catch-all" core stability exercises.  While it primarily challenges rotary stability (the ability of the core to resist rotation), we also get some anti-extension benefit from it.  Because the cable is positioned higher up, we must use our anterior core to prevent the lower back from arching in the top position.  By adding a full exhale on each breath, you can increase the challenge to the anterior core even further - and, as Gray Cook would say, use breathing to "own the movement."  Check it out:

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Another important consideration that may be overlooked is the fact that rotational movements in sports include both low-to-high (tennis forehands/backhands) and high-to-low (overhand throwing, baseball hitting, tennis/volleyball serving) patterns, yet for some reason, we see a lot more low-to-high or purely horizontal patterns trained.  I love the idea of getting the arms up overhead more often, particularly in athletes who may lose upward rotation, or people who just sit at desks all day with their arms at their sides.

We'll usually work this in during the latter half of a strength training session, and do it for 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps. This video was actually taken from The High Performance Handbook video database, as this exercise was featured in the 16-week program.

Enjoy!

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What Santa Can Teach You About Sports Medicine

Last weekend, I was watching the Patriots game and this commercial came on during a timeout. I have to admit: it almost made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. 

Don't get me wrong; I'm in the holiday spirit just fine. My point of contention with it was that the commercial represented everything that is wrong with our pathology-based approach to getting people out of pain - or avoiding it in the first place.  Rather than cleaning up that terrible hip hinge pattern, building some thoracic mobility, or losing the spare tire that was leading to aberrant core stabilization patterns, Santa opts to pop some Aleve.  In other words, he treated the symptoms rather than addressing the movement fault.

Now, I get it: delivering toys to every kid on the planet in a 24-hour span is tough.  And, crawling down chimneys is no easy task, either. However, I have to think that if you have the magic to make reindeer fly, you can figure out a way to work some hip mobility drills into your schedule - especially when you have 364 days per year off from work altogether.  And, while we're at it, you probably ought to swap the cookies and milk for some vegetables and a nice warm cup of "get off your duff and teach your body to move correctly."

It really is the classic example of what we see all the time in both the sedentary population and folks who get injured in strength and conditioning programs, too.  They move poorly, then they move a lot - whether it's squatting 315 for ten reps or trying to cram 500 new X-Box units into an undersized sleigh.  Eventually, they either develop symptoms or structural changes (or both). As Gray Cook has wisely said, you never want to put fitness on top of dysfunction.

If you bang your head against the wall all day and take NSAIDs to get rid of your headache, are the NSAIDs really the solution? Or, is removing the harmful stimulus (banging the head against the wall = bad movement) the best course of action?  With this analogy in mind, it's easy to see that improving movement quality is the name of the game.

Unfortunately, what you often see in the weight training world is that people throw out their back squatting or deadlifting with terrible technique and a lack of physical preparation, then come back as soon as they're asymptomatic to attempt those same movements again.  Meanwhile, the underlying movement faults still exist.  It's not much different than Santa going ham every December 25th after nothing more than a rigorous training program of sugar cookie curls.

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If you've had injuries in your training, don't just treat them; work backward from them to determine why they occurred.  Then, address the "why."

If you haven't had injuries, be proactive and think about what movement flaws you have that you can address so that they don't reach a symptomatic threshold or lead to chronic wear and tear.  It's not just how you feel now; it's how you feel in 20, 30, or 40 years, too. 

Looking for a versatile strength and conditioning program that takes the guesswork out of programming and allows you to select a course of action that's right for your body? Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Left-Stance Toe Touch

They say that nothing in the fitness industry is really "new" nowadays.  Rather, new concepts usually originate with things that are already out there simply being "spun" in different ways.  Maybe it's a different cue, or a new way to program an old exercise. Today's post is a great example.

Gray Cook has put out some outstanding stuff with respect to improving the toe touch pattern (and outlining why a toe touch is an essential movement skill in the first place).  And, Ron Hruska of the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) has brought to light how asymmetry is normal and somewhat predictable (based on our anatomy), but must be managed within acceptable limits.  A central focus of both these approaches is that we have to get closer to neutral before we try to perform, especially if that performance includes strength training that will further solidify neural patterns.

Greg Robins gave a great introduction to some of the PRI postural distortions and corrections in a recent post here at EricCressey.com.  As a Cliff's Notes version, we often get "stuck" in our right hip (adduction/internal rotation) like this:

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When you look at these individuals from the front, you'll see an adducted right hip, low right shoulder, and anterior left rib flare:

adductedrighthip

However, this isn't just a frontal and transverse plane problem; rather, it also generally is accompanied by a sagittal plane concern: poor control of extension, meaning our weight is carried excessive forward via a number of different compensations: excessive plantarflexion (ankle), anterior pelvic tilt (hips), lordosis (lower back), scapular anterior tilt (shoulder blade), humeral extension past neutral (upper arms), or cervical hyperextension (neck/forward head posture).  At the end of the day, virtually all of these folks - regardless of where they get their excessive extension - have a compromised toe touch pattern.  They simply aren't able to posteriorly shift their weight sufficiently to make it happen.  And, given their asymmetries from above, you'll often see a big side-to-side difference in the form of a posterior right rib humb when they demonstrate a toe touch for you.  I have literally hundreds of photos exactly like this on my computer from working with clients, and I can honestly say that I've only seen three that have a posterior left rib hump!  Effectively, they're in left thoracic rotation and right hip adduction.

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As you can see, then, many folks may be better off performing their toe touch progressions with a bit of frontal and transverse bias, and that's where I started experimenting with the left-stance toe touch (with toe lift and med ball).  Right handed individuals with the aberrant posture Greg demonstrates above tend to be "slam dunks" for improving a toe touch with this variation; the results are markedly better than if they do the drill with the feet side-by-side.

By learning to "get into" that left hip, we're actually activating the left hip adductors to help pull us back to neutral.  And, when we're in neutral. We can pick up heavy stuff, throw 95mph, and sit in the car for more than 20 minutes without right-sided low back pain. All the villagers rejoice.

This is one exercise demonstration I include in my "Understanding and Managing the Hip Adductors for Health and Performance" presentation in our new resource, Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.  This collaborative effort with Mike Reinold has been a big hit already, and is on sale at a big introductory discount for this week only.  You can check it out here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/26/13

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

What's in a Toe Touch? - This outstanding article from Gray Cook and Don Reagan serves as an awesome adjunct to my static stretching post from two weeks ago, as I talked about some of the ways to "cheat" a toe touch.

Ultimate Speed Drills - I think Jim Kielbaso is one of the best guys around for teaching speed and agility development. I've enjoyed his previous publications, and he just wrote up this new resource for the International Youth Conditioning Association.  It's very affordably priced, so I'd encourage you to check it out if this is an area of your coaching development that needs improvement.

5 Loading Protocols Under the Microscope - In light of a recent conversation I had during a recent training session, I thought it would be a good time to bring back this T-Nation article I wrote back in 2011.

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21 Reasons You’re Not Tim Collins

On March 31, 2011, Cressey Performance athlete Tim Collins made his major league debut on opening day for the Kansas City Royals.  As one of the shortest players in Major League Baseball, Tim made for a great story, especially considering he was an undrafted free agent sign who never received interest from any college baseball programs, let alone Division 1 schools.  In light of this unlikely ascent to baseball's biggest stage, Tim's story was featured on Yahoo Sports, MLB.com, and Men's Health, and I also wrote up this post, which was among my most popular of all time.  By the end of the day, Tim was trending worldwide on Twitter when my business partner and I went out to dinner with Tim and his folks to celebrate his big-league debut - even though nobody in downtown Kansas City recognized him outside of his uniform.

Not surprisingly, Tim's phone was bombarded by text messages and phone calls all that afternoon and evening. However, I never could have imagined that we, too, would get bombarded with requests after Tim got to the show.  Since that date, we've received hundreds of emails (in addition to some phone calls to the office, one of whom asked to speak with Tim - in the middle of July while he was in-season) that all essentially go like this (this is copied and pasted):

"Hi, I am a 5-7 lefty pitcher that also weights 170lb but only throws 80 mph. I read the articles about Tim Collins and was wondering if you could send me the workouts that he does in the off-season with you because I'm just like him. What leg exercises/lifts did he perform. Also did he just focus on legs, core and light upper body. If I lifted upper body I get really stiff because I have a similar stature like Collins, so did he basically avoid upper body lifts or did he just perform light lifts on the upper body. Finally after I lift I have been running a mile after that to loosen up my muscle to stay flexible, is that a good or bad idea. Thanks."

Now, don't get me wrong; I think it's absolutely awesome that Tim's story has inspired guys to want to work hard to achieve their goals in spite of their stature - and we've certainly received loads of comments from folks who always put a smile on my face in this regard.  However, it frustrates (and entertains) me to think that some guys assume that they are just a program (actually, five year worth of programs) away from throwing 97mph and pitching in the big leagues.  Programs are just a bunch of words and numbers typed into Microsoft Excel and printed out; it's how they're carried out that really matters.  Additionally, there is a lot more to long-term baseball success than just following a strength and conditioning program; you also have to prepare on the baseball side of things and attain a skill set that differentiates you.  To that end, I thought I'd take this time to highlight 21 reasons you're not Tim Collins.

1. You don't have Tim's training partners.

Tim's had some of the same training partners since back in 2007, and in addition to pushing him in the gym, they've also served as a network for him to share ideas and solicit feedback.  If you just do "his programs" in a commercial gym by yourself (with obnoxious Nicky Minaj music in the background), you're not going to get the same outcome. True story: in the fall of 2009, Tim trained alongside Paul Bunyan. This experience gave him the size, strength, and courage needed to grow a beard that would become a beacon for humanity in Kansas City and beyond.

2. Your beard is not this good.

Everyone knows that beards improve the likelihood of baseball success, not to mention all-around happiness in the rest of one's life. I can't send you a strength and conditioning program that will make your facial hair grow.

3. You don't put calories in the right place like Tim does.

Tim can eat a ton of food and a LOT more of it goes to muscle than fat.  Just because you're 5-7, 150 pounds and left-handed doesn't mean you won't become a fat slob if you crush 8,000 calories a day.  Sorry.

4. You don't have Tim's awesome support network.

Tim is fortunate to have a great family, from his parents, to his sisters, to his fiance.  This is especially important for an undrafted free agent who didn't get much of a signing bonus.  His parents put a roof over his head and fed him while he worked his way through the minor leagues.

More significantly, though, people don't realize that the foundation of becoming a big leaguer doesn't come from a training program; it comes from the values that are instilled in you by those around you when you're young.  As a perfect example, Tim's father, Larry, is one of the hardest-working guys you'll ever meet.  He teaches, has a painting business, and even just accepted a prestigious award for outstanding community service in the Worcester area.  A few sheets of paper with exercises, sets, and reps written on them won't foster the kind of habits that will get you to "the show."

5. You probably don't enjoy the process like Tim does.

Tim likes training.  In fact, all of our clients knew Tim well before he made it to the big leagues, as he was always at the gym. He has been putting in eight hour days of hanging around the office (on top of his training) for five years now.  If you don't enjoy training, you probably around going to become a gym rat.  And, if you don't teach yourself to enjoy the training process, your chance of getting to your ideal destination will surely be diminished.  This was taken at 7pm on a Tuesday night, as a frame of reference:

6. You might not have Tim's luck.

Then Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi "discovered" Tim by accident when he was out to scout another player.  How many of you have GMs just "pop in" to your Legion games - and conveniently do it on a day when you strike out 12 straight guys?

7. Your name isn't Matt O'Connor.

Meet Matt O'Connor, Cressey Performance athlete and student at Emory University. He is sometimes mistaken for Tim when he's at CP.

If we were going to pick anyone to be "just like Tim Collins," it would be Matt - purely for efficiency's sake.

8. You might not have a switch you can flip on and off.

One of the things most folks don't know about many high level lifters is that they joke around all the time during training sessions.  When I was lifting at one of the best powerlifting gyms in the world, guys were always busting each other's chops between sets. However, when the time comes to move weights, they get very serious very quickly.  They know how to flip the switch on at will. 

However, they also know how to turn the switch off when they don't need it.  This is true of a lot of the most successful baseball players I've encountered; they leave work at work.  The guys who are constantly "on" and let the game consume their lives often have bad relationships with teammates and stress themselves into bad results.

I think part of what has made Tim successful - especially as a relief pitcher - is that he can turn his brain and his body on at a moment's notice, but knows how to go back to "normal Tim" when the time is right.

9. You probably don't even have a bulldog, and if you do, I guarantee you that his underbite isn't this awesome.

10. You don't have Tim's curveball.

I actually remember reading somewhere that Tim's curveball had more top-to-bottom depth than any other curveball in Major League Baseball, and I spoke to one MLB advanced scout who said he rated it as an 80.  Keep in mind that average fastball velocity is higher in Low A than it is in the big leagues.  Tim's velocity improvements might have been a big part of him advancing through the minor leagues, but he doesn't even get his first opportunity unless he has a great curveball.  And, no, I don't have his "curveball program" to send you.

11. You don't have Tim's change-up.

If Tim's curveball is what got him to the big leagues, it was his change-up that has kept him there.  Interesting fact: he threw two change-ups in the 2010 season - and both led to home runs. It took a lot of work to develop the change-up he has now.  But you just need his programs.  Riiiight.

12. You can't ride a unicycle.

I don't know of the correlation between unicycling ability and pitching success, but there has to be something there.

13. You might not respond to success like Tim has.

I often see one of two things happens when guys are successful in pro sports, and everyone comes out of the woodwork asking for something.  They either a) trust everybody or b) trust nobody.  I think Tim's done a great job of finding a happy medium.  He puts his trust in others and doesn't second guess them, but still guards his network carefully.

14. You might not be as willing to make sacrifices as he is.

This might come as a surprise, but Hudson, MA really isn't that beautiful in the winter.  Most pro guys move to Arizona, Florida, or California in the off-season, but Tim sacrifices that lifestyle to train with us and be close to the support network I mentioned earlier. Asking to just have a program (actually, 50+ programs) emailed to you means that you aren't willing to make sacrifices on that level, which leads to...

15. You wouldn't be doing your program in the same training environment.

I know a lot of pro guys who struggle to find a throwing partner in the off-season.  If that's an issue, it's a safe assumption that they don't exactly have many (if any) training partners or a good training environment in which to execute the program, either.  You don't just need the right people; you need quite a few of them, with the right equipment at your fingertips. At risk of sounding arrogant, I think we've done a great job of creating that at CP.

16. You don't have just the right amount of laxity.

Congenital laxity is a big consideration in training throwing athletes.  Some guys have naturally looser joints, while others tend to be very stiff.  The really "loose" guys need more stability training and little to not flexibility work, while the tight guys need a hearty dose of mobility drills.  Generally speaking, the best place to be (in my opinion, at least) is middle-of-the-road.  Tim falls right there, with a small tendency toward being a bit more loose, which favors his aggressive delivery.

17. You don't throw to a left-handed catcher in the off-season.

And, even if you do, your left-handed catcher probably doesn't have a mitt with his name on it. It's definitely a crucial part of the Tim Collins developmental experience.

18. You probably can't score a 21 on the Functional Movement Screen.

Many of you are probably familiar with Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screen, a seven-part assessment approach used in a number of fitness and strength and conditioning settings nowadays.  A perfect score is a 21, but you don't see it very often - usually because everyone gets dominated by the rotary stability test, where a perfect score (3) is essentially a same-sided birddog. The first time I saw Tim drop to the floor and do this effortlessly, my jaw just about hit the floor.  Luckily, he can repeat it on command like it's nothing, so I snapped a video (this was the first try, with no warm-up).

He's scored a 21 on this two spring trainings in a row - and that implies that he actually moves quite well.  Most people don't need his program, as they have a lot more movement quality issues to address.

19. You ice after you throw.

Tim iced after pitching one time, and hated it; he'll never do it again.  Not everyone is the same, though; some guys swear by it.  You might be one of those guys.

20. You've never personal trained a nine-week old puppy.

21. You "muscle" everything.

One of the traits you'll see in a lot of elite athletes is that they don't get overly tense when they don't have to do so.  If you're squatting 500 pounds, you want to establish a lot more rigidity, but if you're participating in the vast majority of athletic endeavors, you want effortless, fluid movement - almost as if you aren't trying.  If you just tense up and try to muscle everything, it becomes harder to take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle.  Teaching an athlete to relax is challenging - but I never had to even address it with Tim; it was something he just "had."

There's a saying in the strength and conditioning world that "it's easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast."  I think this quote applies perfectly to Tim's development.  Not everyone has that natural reactive ability from the get-go, so different training approaches are needed for different individuals. 

Again, in closing, I should emphasize that it's great that Tim has become an inspiration to shorter pitchers to pursue their dreams.  However, as is always the case, young athletes simply following the exact training programs of professional athletes is a bad idea, as these programs may not be appropriate for their bodies or point on the athletic development continuum.  To that end, I encourage all young athletes to educate themselves on how they are unique - and find the right people and programs to pursue their dreams in accordance with those findings. And, for the record, Tim agrees!

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5 Reasons You Have Tight Hamstrings

There might not be a more obnoxious and stubborn athletic injury than the hamstrings strain.  When it is really bad, it can bother you when you're simply walking or sitting on it.  Then, when a hamstrings strain finally feels like it's getting better, you build up to near your top speed with sprinting - and it starts barking at you again.  In other words, a pulled hamstrings is like a crazy, unpredictable mother-in-law; just when you think you've finally won her over, she brings you back down to Earth and reminds you how much more she liked your wife's old boyfriend.

However, not all hamstrings pain cases are true strains; more commonly, they present as a feeling of "tight hamstrings."  If one is going to effective prevent this discomfort, rehabilitate it, or train around it, it's important to realize what is causing the hamstrings tightness in the first place.  Here are five reasons:

1. Protective Tension of the Hamstrings

This is readily apparent in someone who has a crazy anterior pelvic tilt, which puts a big stretch on the hamstrings, which posteriorly tilt the pelvis.  When someone is extremely anteriorly tilted, the hamstrings are constantly "on" to prevent someone from ending up with extension-based back pain, such as spondylolysis (vertebral fractures), spondylolisthesis (vertebral "slippage"), and lumbar erector tightness/strains.  This is a problem most commonly seen in females (greater anterior pelvic tilt than men) and athletes:

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Doing a lot of longer duration static stretching for the hamstrings in this population usually isn't a great idea, as you run the risk of making someone more unstable - particularly in the case of females, who have less rigid ligamentous restraints (more congenital laxity) to protect them.  To that end, our approach with these folks is to use the warm-ups to foam roll the area, then do some hamstrings mobilizations to transiently reduce stiffness in the hamstrings.

After this reduction in stiffness, we work to build stability in synergists to the hamstrings in posterior pelvic tilt.  In other words, there's a heavy emphasis on glute activation and anterior core recruitment both with a strength training program and postural reeducation for the other 23 hours of the day.

At the end of the training session, with the male athletes, we may do some shorter duration hamstrings stretching just to "dissipate" a little eccentric stress.  I like ten seconds in each of these three positions:


 

 

 

 

 

The thing to remember is that while you can do everything right with these athletes in training, what they do with their posture during the rest of their lives is of paramount importance.  If they continue to stand around in anterior tilt and don't help the new stiffness they've developed "stick," they'll continue to over-rely on their already tight hamstrings.

2. Neural Tension

Just because you feel hamstrings tightness doesn't mean that the hamstrings are actually the source of the problem.  In fact, it's not uncommon at all for those with lumbar disc issues to present with radicular pain, tightness, or numbness/tingling into the legs - especially the hamstrings.  The symptoms may also come from nerve entrapment (most commonly the sciatic nerve) on soft tissue structures further down the chain.  Just aggressively stretching the hamstrings can actually make these symptoms worse, so it's important to see a medical professional to rule out causes further up with the appropriate clinical exams, such as the slump test.

3. Truly Tight Hamstrings

In order for hamstrings to really be short, one would have to spend a lot of time with the knee flexed and hip extended - so just imagine the position you're in at the top of a standing leg curl.  That's a hard pose to hold for an extended period of time, much less do so on a regular basis.

That said, some folks do get somewhat close to that on a daily basis in the sitting position, and are therefore the most likely to really have "tight hamstrings." They have to be in posterior pelvic tilt and knee flexion for a considerable chunk of the day - and even then, it's still pretty tough to be truly short, as they are still in hip flexion.

These folks usually can't distinguish hip flexion from lumbar flexion, so if you do a standing hip flexion assessment, rather than maintain the neutral spine we see in this photo, they'll go into lumbar flexion (butt will "tuck under").

The same trend will usually be noticeable with any kind of squat unless they have a tremendous amount of core stiffness to overcome the posterior hip stiffness that's present.  If you test these folks on an straight leg raise, it isn't pretty, as the pelvis is already posteriorly tilted.  In a pelvis that starts in "neutral" on a straight leg raise, roughly the first 1/3 of movement that you see comes from posterior tilt of the pelvis before the femur ever starts to flex on the acetabulum of the pelvis.  These folks are usually already posteriorly tilt, so that 1/3 is already used up; you're really only measuring hip flexion and not hip flexion PLUS posterior pelvic tilt.  And, as you can imagine, if someone is truly short in the hamstrings, that straight leg raise isn't going to be pretty. Obviously, these folks usually have a terrible toe touch pattern as well.

This should also educate you on why you can't treat all hamstrings strains the same.  In the protective tension example earlier, we needed to work to regain stability to hold a position of a bit more posterior pelvic tilt.  We'd cue glute activation, and use exercises that draw folks back into posterior tilt (e.g., reverse crunches).  If you have someone has a pulled hamstrings because they are truly short from already being in posterior pelvic tilt, though, some of these cues and exercises would be contraindicated. You'd be feeding the dysfunction.

While manual therapy and stretching for the posterior hip is valuable, again, it must be followed by stabilization work at adjacent joints with the pelvis in a neutral position.  These folks can benefit from training hip flexion above 90 degrees as well, as it educates them on how to flex the hip without rounding the lumbar spine.  This is one reason why I think a lot of the chop and lift exercises we've learned from Gray Cook are so fantastic; they teach us anti-rotation and anti-extension stability in various positions of hip flexion while the pelvis is in neutral.  They make changes "stick" better.

4. Previous Hamstrings Strain

Not to be overlooked in this discussion is the simple fact that the single-best predictor of hamstrings strains is a previous hamstrings injury.  One you have an injury, that area may never be the same from a tissue density standpoint - whether it's the surrounding fascia or the muscle or tendon itself.  A previous injury can leave athletes feeling "tight" in the region, so regular manual therapy can certainly help in this regard.

Anecdotally, the athletes with the long-term problems seem to be the ones with the pulls up on the gluteal fold, right where the hamstrings tendons attach to the ischial tuberosity.  The area gets "gunked up"in a lot of athletes as it is because of all the tissues coming together and exerting force in a small area, but it's especially problematic in those who have a previous injury in the region.  Perhaps more problematic, though, is the fact that we sit on our proximal hamstrings attachments - and that isn't exactly good for blood flow and tissue regeneration.

Semimembranosus_muscle-2 

I haven't seen any research on it, but I have a feeling that if you looked at this region in a lot athletes with ultrasound (similar to this study with patellar tendons), you'd find a ton of people walking around with substantial degenerative changes that could be diagnosed as tendinosis even though they haven't actually hit a symptomatic threshold.  My guess is that it's even worse in the posterior hip region because a) we sit on it, b) the ischial tuberosity is a more "congested" area than the anterior knee), and c) the study I noted above used 14-18 year-old athletes, and degenerative problems will get worse as one gets older (meaning this study likely undercut the true prevalence across the entire population).

Very simply, an athlete with a previous hamstrings strain needs to stay on top of quality manual therapy on the area, and be cognizant of maintaining mobility and stability in the right places.  They have less wiggle room with which to work.

5. Acute Hamstrings Strain or Tendinosis

Of course, the fifth reason you hamstrings might be tight is because you might actually have a hamstrings injury!  It could be an actual hamstrings strain, or just a tendinosis (overuse issue where tissue loading exceeds tissue tolerance for loading).  There is no one perfect recommendation in this regard, as a tendinosis or grade 1 hamstrings strain is going to be much more tolerable than a grade 3 hamstrings strain where you have bruising all along the back of your thigh.  

In terms of maintaining a training effect with the less serious ones, here are a few suggestions:

a. When you are ready to deadlift, use trap bar deadlifts instead of conventional or sumo deadlift variations.  I explain a bit more about how the positioning of the center of gravity makes this more hamstrings friendly HERE.

b. Shorten up your stride on single-leg exercises.  This makes the movement slightly more quad dominant, but allows you to still get the benefits of controlling the frontal and transverse planes with appropriate glute and adductor recruitment at the hip.

c. Go with step-up and reverse sled dragging variations.  Eliminating the eccentric component can take a considerably amount of stress off the hamstrings, and both these exercises get the job done well.

d. If you're going to squat, start with front squats at the beginning, and reintegrate back squat and box squat variations later on, as they will be more hamstrings intensive.

e. Understand anatomy.  If you are in hip flexion and knee extension, you're going to really be stretching the hamstrings and likely irritating them in the process.  Select exercises that don't hit these painful end-ranges, and then gradually reintroduce more dramatic ranges of motion as the issues subside.

f. Do hill sprints before you do regular sprints.  Your stride is going to be a bit shorter with hill sprints, and that'll take a considerable amount of stress off the hamstrings at heel strike (pretty good research on uphill vs. downhill sprinting HERE, for those who are interested).  Just don't go out and run as hard as you can the first time out; propulsive forces are still quite high.

Of course, this just speaks to how to train around a pulled hamstrings; there is really a lot more to look at if you want to really understand why they occur and how to prevent or address them.  In my eyes, this post was necessarily "geeky," as it is important that we don't dumb down complex injuries to "just stretch it out."  This recommendation is analogous to a doctor just telling someone to take some NSAIDs for regular headaches; it doesn't get to the root of the problem, and it may actually make things worse.

For more information, I'd encourage you to check out the Functional Stability Training series. The entire package - and the individual components - are on sale for 20% off through tomorrow (Sunday) at midnight. The discount is automatically applied at checkout at www.FunctionalStability.com.

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17 Reasons I’m Excited for 2011

With the new year upon us, I got to thinking about how excited I am for all that 2011 has in store for me – and thought that it’d make for a good post to kick off the year.  Here’s why I’m excited: 1. Being Married – My wife, Anna, and I got married on October 3, and it was just the tip of the iceberg in a whirlwind year (new job for her, wedding planning, new house, new puppy).  Both of us are pretty excited for a low-key 2011 where we can just hang out and enjoy one another’s company!  And, we left our honeymoon for this year (I couldn’t escape for that long during the baseball off-season), so we’re excited about that.

2. The Continued Growth of EricCressey.com - I really enjoy writing, and each year, this website grows – which means I get to share my passion and interact with some very cool people.  Here were 2011’s year-end statistics for EricCressey.com: 450,791 unique visitors 1,106,748 visits 2,901,970 pages 2,730,922 hits Thanks to everyone who visited the site this year! 3. The book I’m reading now: The 4-Hour Body. Tim Ferriss has become a good friend, and I was fortunate enough to be one of those who received an advanced copy of The 4-Hour Body prior to publication.  With the crazy goings-on at CP as well as the holidays, I’m just now getting a chance to read through it and give it the time it deserves – and I must say that it’s fantastic.  Tim does an awesome job of providing “info-tainment;” his entertaining writing style will keep you reading, and the background research he put in to this book will guarantee that you walk away with some ideas that will immediately benefit you.

4. The book I’m reading next: The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. As with Tim’s book, I got a copy of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs in advance, but haven’t even had a chance to open it up.  As with any Cosgrove/Schuler collaboration, though, I’m sure it’ll be high quality and a huge hit.  I’m looking forward to checking it out.

5. Cutting Back on Travel – 2010 was a crazy busy year for me personally – from buying a house, to moving, to planning a wedding, to getting married, to getting a puppy.  These “firsts” wouldn’t have been tough to pull off normally, but it seemed like every time my wife and I encountered one of them, I was getting ready to hop on a plane to go do a seminar somewhere.  As such, I’ve started turning down a lot more seminar opportunities not because I don’t enjoy doing them, but simply because the travel wore me out in 2010.  I will, however, still be traveling some – but this year, it’ll be with my wife…and we’ll be traveling for fun! 6. Another Year on the Perform Better Tour – While I may be cutting back on seminar travel, I wouldn’t miss the Perform Better Summits for the world.  I’m still waiting on final confirmation of which cities I’ll get in 2011, but I can say definitively that these are some of the best continuing education opportunities in the fitness business and that I thoroughly enjoy all of them – from the information to the great people I always wind up meeting.  Hopefully, I’ll get to meet some of you in person thanks to Perform Better this year.

7. Continuing on my Postural Restoration Institute Journey – I’ve spoken a bit in the past about the Postural Restoration Institute and how it dramatically impacted the way we evaluate and program for many of our athletes and clients.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it has been some of the best continuing education money I’ve ever spent.  I’ve only gone through two of their seven courses, though, and am excited to learn more.  I’ve covered Myokinematic Restoration and Postural Respiration, and already on the agenda for 2011 is Impingement and Instability. If you’re a physical therapist, athletic trainer, or fitness professional and haven’t seen any of their stuff already, I’d highly encourage you to check it out. 8. The New Cressey Performance – I’ll have pictures of the newly-renovated Cressey Performance soon, but suffice it to say that adding 1,000 square-feet can go a very long way.  I’ve finally got my own office at the facility, which I know will make things a lot easier moving forward, but even beyond that, just getting a bit more space can really change the “flow” of the facility to make it more coaching friendly.  We see all sorts of articles and presentations on how to coach, but nobody ever considers how the set-up of your facility can make your coaching duties remarkably easier or more difficult. On top of that, Cressey Performance is busier than ever, with double digit percentage growth again in 2010.  Thanks to everyone for your continued support! 9. Relishing my Fantasy Football Championship – In the most impressive managerial run in Cressey Performance Fantasy Football history, I crushed the competition this year.  This trophy will reside on my desk for the entire year.  Those of you who visit CP can have your picture taken with it, if you’d like.

10. Doing more charity work – I’ve helped out here and there with various charities since I moved to Boston in 2006, but in 2011, I’m excited to do much more – and I’m in a position to do more now, too.  Nowadays, I can use my exposure and expertise a lot more to help – and thanks to my work with Kevin Youkilis, I can work directly with his great charity, Youk’s Hits for Kids. Along those lines, those of you in New England might be interested to check out his February 3 event at the State Room in Boston.  The CP staff will be there along with a bunch of pro athletes, Tony Gentilcore, actors, Tony Gentilcore, musicians, Tony Gentilcore, comedians, and Tony Gentilcore.  For more information, check out YouksKids.org. 11. The New Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar – Joe Heiler has done a great job the past few years in bringing in great minds to contribute to his Sports Rehab to Sports Performance teleseminar series – and this year is no exception.  I’m really excited about this line-up: 1.  Sue Falsone – PT, Athletes' Performance 2.  Ron Hruska - PT, Postural Restoration Institute 3.  Dr. Mike Leahy - Sports Chiropractor and inventor of ART 4.  Thomas Myers - Anatomy Trains author 5.  Brian Grasso – IYCA Founder 6.  Greg Roskopf - Muscle Activation Technique 7.  Brian Mulligan – PT, Mulligan Technique/Joint Mobilizations with Movement 8.  Dr. Warren Hammer - Chiropractor, Graston Technique Instructor, Fascial Manipulation 9.  Dan John - Strength Coach, author, Never Let Go 10.  Gray Cook - PT, FMS

Click here for more information. 12. New Projects – In 2010, I introduced two products: Optimal Shoulder Performance and Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better. For me, a product every six months is a pretty good “pace,” as I don’t want to become one of those guys who puts out mediocre stuff every single week.  As of right now, the only confirmed project for 2011 is a collaborative one with Mike Reinold and Mike Robertson.  I am thinking, however, that this is the year that I finally create a baseball-specific product in light of the fact that it’s 80-85% of our clientele and what I do all-day, every day!  Only time will tell! 13. Continued Show & Go Feedback – Speaking of Show and Go, it was released in late September, and since it’s a four-month strength and conditioning program, we’re coming up on the point in time where I start getting loads of emails from those who have wrapped up the program and have results to report.  I get a lot of feedback along the way, but it’s awesome to hear where things end up when the entire program is complete.  So, to those of you doing the program, please pass along your results!

14. More Writing at T-Nation – I only published two articles at T-Nation in 2010, and I don’t plan to repeat that poor output!  I’ve already been contacted by them about doing a monthly piece, and while I’m not sure that my schedule will allow me to get one to them every month, I definitely expect to be blowing that 2010 total out of the water.  I’ve already submitted one and have two more in the works.  I owe a lot to the folks at T-Nation and Biotest for the opportunities and exposure they’ve afforded me and hope to continue to return the favor with good content for years to come. 15. Watching Tank grow up – Our puppy, Tank, is about five months old right now, and he’s awesome.  He is pretty much housebroken, and definitely man’s best friend.  As you can tell, he loves hording his toys.

16. The 2011 MLB Season - In addition to the fact that my team (the Red Sox) is looking good, we have quite a few clients who are on the cusp of big league debuts, so I am excited to get out to see them play in the show and enjoy the fruits of their off-season labor.

17. The 2011 MLB Draft - Let's just say that I very well might just stay home and hit refresh on my computer over and over again during the two days in June that make up the MLB draft.  We have a lot of talent athletes - both high school and college - training at Cressey Performance who will be getting calls.

There are quite a few other things that get me excited for 2011, but this is a good start – and probably all that you care to read!  Speaking of YOU, what are YOU looking forward to in 2011?  Got a big goal for the year?  Share it in the comments section. Happy New Year! Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a detailed deadlift technique tutorial!
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Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program

Long toss may have been scorned by quite a few baseball traditionalists, but I am a big fan of it – and our guys have responded outstandingly to the way we’ve used it.  Perhaps it’s just my “1+1=2” logic at work, but I just feel like if you can build up the arm speed to throw the ball a loooonngggg way, then you’ll be able to carry that over to the mound as soon as you get your pitching mechanics dialed in.  And, this has certainly been validated with our athletes, as we have loads of professional pitchers who absolutely swear by long toss (both off- and in-season).

So, you can understand why I got excited when my good buddy, Alan Jaeger – a man who has devoted a big chunk of his life to getting long toss “accepted” in the baseball community – was featured in this article at MLB.com about what a difference it makes - including for the Texas Rangers on their road to the World Series a few years ago.

I was, however, not a fan of this paragraph in the article:

“Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Mills has a business built around teaching mechanics and maximizing velocity, and he is a staunch opponent of long tossing. He has released countless YouTube videos angrily decrying this practice. In his latest, ‘How Long Toss Can Ruin Your Pitching Mechanics and Your Arm,’ he says, ‘Why would you practice mechanics that are totally different and will not help a pitcher during a game? And why would you practice throwing mechanics that are clearly more stressful where the arm does most of the work?’"

Taking it a step further, here’s a Dick Mills quote I came across a few years ago:

“Training will not teach you how to apply more force…only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program…no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you.”

While I agree (obviously) on the importance of mechanics and timing, effectively, we’re still being told that long toss, strength training, and weighted balls are all ineffective modalities for developing the pitcher – which leaves us with what, bullpens and stretching? It sounds like every youth baseball practice in the country nowadays – and all we’re getting now are injured shoulders and elbows at astronomical rates.  Something isn’t right – and the message is very clear: specificity is a very slippery slope.


On one hand, when it comes to mechanics, you need to throw off the mound to get things fine-tuned to achieve efficiency.

On the other hand, research has shown that arm stress is higher when you’re on the mound (there is less external rotation at stride foot contact with flat ground throwing).  Additionally, every pitch that’s thrown is really a step in the direction of sports specialization for a youth baseball player – and something needs to balance that out.  Why?

Well, specializing at a young age is destroying kids.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery pitched “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue.”  And people think that kid need more work on the mound?  What they need are more structured throwing sessions (practice, not competition) and a comprehensive throwing and strength and conditioning program to prepare them for the demands they’ll face.

But those aren’t specific enough, are they?!?!?!  Well, let’s talk about specificity a bit more.  Actually, let’s read – from renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, a guy who certainly knows a thing or two about why people get injured:

The physical presentation of differently trained bodies often provides a signature of the type and style of activity that developed it. Those who are exclusive in their activities seem more often be molded to their activities, and sometimes actually over-molded. These individuals can actually lose movements and muscles that would make alternate activities much easier.

Specialization can rob us of our innate ability to express all of our movement potential. This is why I encourage highly specialized athletes to balance their functional movement patterns. They don’t so much need to train all movement patterns, they just need to maintain them. When a functional movement pattern is lost, it forecasts a fundamental crack in a foundation designed to be balanced. The point is not that specialization is bad—it only presents a problem when the singular activity over-molds to the point of losing balance.

While there are probably 15-20 awesome messages we can take home from the previous two paragraphs, here’s the big one I want to highlight: it’s our job as coaches to find the biggest window of adaptation a pitcher has and bring it up to speed – while simultaneously keeping other qualities in mind.

If he’s stiff, we work on mobility.  If he’s weak, we get him strong.  If he’s a mechanical train wreck, we get him more bullpens.  If his arm speed isn’t good, we work more on weighted balls and long toss.  If you just take a 5-10, 120-pound 9th grader and have him throw bullpens exclusively, he’ll get better for a little bit, and then plateau hard unless you get him bigger and stronger.

How does this work?  It’s a little principle called Delayed Transmutation that Vladimir Zatsiorsky highlighted in Science and Practice of Strength Training.  Zatsiorsky defines delayed transmutation as “the time period needed to transform acquired motor potential into athletic performance.”  In other words, expand and improve your “motor pool” in the off-season, and it’ll be transformed into specific athletic performance when the time is right.

And, as I wrote in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, “the more experienced you are in a given sport, the less time it will take for you to transform this newfound strength and power [and mobility] into sporting contexts.”  This is why professional pitchers can find their groove each year MUCH easier than high school pitchers in spite of the fact that they probably take more time off each year (2-3 months from throwing) than the typical overused kid who plays on 17 different AAU teams.

That said, there’s a somewhat interesting exception to this rule: really untrained kids.  I’ll give you two examples from the past week alone at Cressey Performance.

We had a high school senior and a high school junior who both just started up their winter throwing programs to prepare for the season.

The first told me that he was sore in his legs after throwing for the first time in his life.  Effectively, without throwing a single pitch or really doing any lesson work (or even throwing off a mound), this kid has managed to change the neuromuscular recruitment patterns he uses to throw the baseball.  Strength, power, and mobility took care of themselves: delayed transmutation.

The second told me that his arm feels electric.  Ask any experienced pitcher, and they’ll tell you that your arm is supposed to feel like absolute crap the first 4-5 days after an extended layoff, but it always gets better.  However, when you’re a kid who has gotten more flexible and packed on a bunch of muscle mass, it’s like all of a sudden driving a Ferrari when you’re used to sharing a minivan with Mom: delayed transmutation.

Specificity is important in any sport, but a it really is just the work as far to the right as you can go on the general to specific continuum.  Elite sprinters do squats, lunges, Olympic lifts, jump squats, and body weight plyos as they work from left to right on the general-to-specific continuum to get faster.  So, why do so many pitching coaches insist that pitchers stay as far to the right as possible?    Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference.

In a very roundabout way, I’ve made a case for long toss as something that can be classified as beneficial in much the same way that we recognize (well, most of us, at least) that mobility drills, foam rolling, strength training, movement training, and medicine ball drills to be excellent adjuncts to bullpens. In the process of learning to throw the baseball farther, we:

1. push arm speed up

2. train in a generally-specific fashion

3. improve contribution of the lower half

4. realize another specific, quantifiable marker (distance) of progress

5. keep throwing fun

6. train the arm with just enough LESS specificity to help keep pitchers healthy, as compared with mound work

The question then becomes, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?”  In part 2, I’ll outline the most common mistakes I’ve seen:

When I told Alan Jaeger that I was sending this article out, he graciously offered to set up a 25% off discount code on his Thrive on Throwing DVD set for my readers. This outstanding DVD set thoroughly teaches players and coaches how to approach long tossing, and Alan has also applied a discount to his J-Bands and his Getting Focused, Staying Focused book for pitchers. Here's a link to the discount page.

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