Home Posts tagged "Medicine Ball"

Variation Without Change

I can recall the late Charles Poliquin speaking many years ago about the concept of "Variation Without Change."

When I first heard this phrase, I believe he was referring to the stimuli needed to induce muscular hypertrophy. If you wanted bigger lats, you might do chin-ups (supinated grip) for a month, then neutral grip pull-ups for a month, then regular (pronated grip) pull-ups for a month. Simultaneously, the focus might shift from sets of 8-10 reps to sets of 4-6 reps.

The principle was simple but effective: if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. However, subtle variations to the approach - without throwing the baby out with the bath water - were important for providing for longer term adaptation while not developing overuse injuries or mind-numbing boredom.

To me, "variation without change" is a subcategory of periodization. The overall training priority might be adjusted from one mesocycle to the next, but some of the exercise categories can remain relatively consistent. Medicine ball work is a good example; we use it in a variety of ways throughout the year.

In-season, for a right-handed pitcher, we might do left only rotational med ball scoop tosses to counteract some of the crazy imbalances that can emerge in such a unilateral dominant sport.

In the early offseason, we might utilize anti-rotation drills to give athletes reminders on where to find rotation without being so aggressive that it beats them up at a time of year when they should be recovering.

As the offseason progresses, we can get to more drills where we attack rotation - and then build in sequencing that incorporates momentum.

Finally, as the season approaches, we can make the drills more open-loop by having athletes either respond to a "go" command or have to "receive and release:"

As you can see, all of these exercises fall under the same broad heading, but are each categorized slightly differently. In our recent podcast with Bill Parisi, we discussed how pronounced fascial changes take 18-24 months, so you need variety to keep athletes engaged while still incorporating these long chain, multijoint movements at varying speeds and loads.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll have a few new articles to dig deeper on the topic of rotation. In the meantime, however, I would strongly encourage you to check out my new Medicine Ball Master Class. I created this new resource in collaboration with Athletes Acceleration, and it’s on sale for 20% off through this Sunday at midnight. It includes over 50 exercise demonstration videos, as well as my rationale for including them. Just visit www.CresseyMedBall.com and the discount will be automatically applied at checkout.

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Creative Conditioning: Installment 1 – Medicine Ball Medleys

It's important to have plenty of tools in your training toolbox to challenge energy systems development. With that in mind, I wanted to kick off a Creative Conditioning series for you. Hopefully, some of these options give you some variety to not only keep clients/athletes engaged, but also to help them stay healthy and continue to move well in the process.

One of the downsides of traditional cardio is that you typically get stuck in repetitive patterns through small ranges of motion. So, while you might be challenging energy systems in the ways you want, you may simultaneously be creating unfavorable biomechanical challenges. With that in mind, I always like to have higher-amplitude, less repetitive options for our clients.

Medicine ball circuits are one such option. In this version, I use the 6lb med ball for shuffle to scoop toss (5/side), side-to-side overhead stomps (5/side), and reverse lunge to shotput (5/side) - and it works out to right about a minute of work.

A few notes:

1. Medicine ball work is awesome because it won't make you sore (very little eccentric overload), offers endless variations/combinations, and provides a more significant functional carryover to the real-world.

2. Medicine ball medleys won't absolutely bury your lower body like sprinting or cycling can, so it can be an approach that fits into your overall programming a bit more "conveniently."

3. You can keep it simple with in-place options, or - as I do here - add more excursions with side shuffles, sprints, etc. to add a bit of complexity.

4. I wouldn't use medicine ball medleys with true beginners for conditioning because fatigue negatively impacts technique, and you can wind up seeing some ugly rotational patterns as sets progress. The last thing you want to do is chew up a lower back while you're trying to get heart rate up.

5. We use the Extreme Soft Toss Med Balls from Perform Better. I've found them to be the best blend of ideal rebound and durability.

Try them out - and remember that the only limit is your imagination. 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/6/19

Today, I've got a list of recommended reading to get you through the week. Before we get to it, though, just a quick heads-up that we're doing a pre-sale on Cressey Sports Performance bucket hats. If you're interested in buying one, you can do so at THIS LINK. They'll be available for shipment in early-mid September.

As for the reading recommendations, check out the following:

Is It Really "Biceps Tendonitis?" - In light of a recent Instagram post I made on a related topic, this video blog deserves a reincarnation this week.

10 Habits that are Just as Important as Tracking KPI - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, wrote this article that examines some of the overlooked areas in which you can evaluate fitness business success.

Professional and Amateur Pitchers' Perspective on the Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury Risk - This was an interesting study on a number of fronts. It was surprising to see how many pro guys think UCL injuries are unavoidable, but not at all surprising to hear that 55% of those who have UCL injuries in pro ball had a previous history of elbow injury in their youth baseball days. The biggest risk factor for an injury is...shocker...a previous injury.

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Exercise of the Week: Heiden with Medicine Ball

Here is a good frontal plane power development exercise that Cressey Sports Performance - FL co-founder Shane Rye introduced recently. Because we aren’t very creative, we just call it a Heiden with Med Ball.

Important coaching cues:

1. The medicine ball (usually 6-10lbs) is held (but NOT bear-hugged) as a counterbalance that helps an athlete load back into the hips on the eccentric component. As such, this is an awesome drill for rotational athletes who tend to drift into the knee instead of loading back into the hip. This side angle should help you to appreciate it better:

2. You’ll notice that the arms still move side to side in conjunction with the lower body pushoff. If the arms aren’t moving, it’s a sign that you are holding the ball too rigidly. You should actually be able to see hip-shoulder separation.

3. Make sure that you are wearing sneakers that provide good lateral support.

4. We’ll usually program 3-6 sets of 4-6 reps, and perform these after a warm-up, but before more aggressive sprint and agility work.

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Making Sense of Rotational Medicine Ball Progressions

If you've followed our work at Cressey Sports Performance for any length of time, you know that we're big fans of training rotational power with medicine ball variations. With that in mind, I wanted to use today's blog to outline some of our strategies for introducing and progressing these exercises in our programs.

Step 1: Stationary Anti-Rotation - These exercises teach bracing on the front leg and emphasize thoracic (upper back) rotation. The split-stance anti-rotation medicine ball scoop toss is a good example.

Step 2: Stationary Rotation: These exercises emphasize hip loading, force transfer, and thoracic rotation delivering the arm, but the base of support doesn't change much (if at all). The rotational medicine ball shotput is an example.

Step 3: Momentum Rotation - These exercises teach athletes to create and utilize momentum as they work into the front hip (imagine riding a bike into a curb). The step-behind rotational medicine ball shotput is an example.

Step 4: Eccentric Pre-Loading Rotation: These exercises teach athletes to get in and out of the back hip while better making use of the stretch-shortening-cycle (think of keeping the head behind the belly button as long as possible). The step-back rotational medicine ball scoop toss is an example.

Step 5: Eccentric Pre-Loading with Momentum Rotation: These exercises combine the previous two categories to try to make things as athletic as possible. The 2-hop to rotational medicine ball scoop toss is a good example.

With this progression in mind, it's important to recognize that athletes need to earn the right to move from one step to the next. Steps 3-5 are far to advanced for 13-15-year-old athletes who have very little body awareness or foundational strength. And, aggressive progressions may be potentially harmful in even advanced athletes if they aren't prepared for the extensive hip-shoulder separation that takes place. Even with our professional athletes, I'll start athletes with the earliest stages in the progression during their initial off-season training programs.

Also, whenever I post about medicine balls, I invariably get the question: what brand do you prefer? I'm a fan of the Perform Better Extreme Soft Toss medicine balls, as they provide the right blend of durability and rebound. The overwhelming majority of our rotational medicine ball work is in the 4-8lb range.

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Exercise of the Week: Knee to Knee Rollover Medicine Ball Stomps

If you've followed my writing for any length of time, you'll know that I'm a big fan of using medicine ball training for power development with our athletes. We have both rotational and overhead variations - and sometimes, we have drills that combine the two. Enter the knee-to-knee rollover medicine ball stomp.

Key Coaching Points:

1. Don't rush the back hip rotation; rather, sit into that hip for what seems like an uncomfortable long time. This allows hip-shoulder separation to occur.

2. Minimize lower back arching.

3. Be firm into the ground on the front leg. Some individuals will stiffen up on that front leg with more knee extension, while others will be slightly more flexed.

4. Perform 3-4 reps per side.

5. We utilize this exercise several months into the offseason after we've had a chance to optimize overhead and rotational medicine ball technique with less complex drills. Athletes have to earn this one.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/18/17

It's a short week on the content front, as I posted last week's recommended reading a few days late. We are still making things happen, though!

Eccentric Overload with Flywheel Training and Rehabilitation - This is an awesome article from the power couple, Jennifer Reiner-Marcello and Brandon Marcello. We've been using the Versapulley more and more in our training, and this delves into some of the mechanisms that make it so great.

Brian St. Pierre on the Fundamentals of High-Performance Nutrition - Brian has been a friend, employee, and trusted resource for over a decade - and podcasts like this show why that's the case. He delivers some excellent content.

11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder - Earlier this week, on social media, I shared this old article of mine from T-Nation. It's a collection of important programming progressions and regressions that anyone writing strength training programs should understand.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/28/17

This week's recommended reading/listening has a bit more of a lifestyle/chronic disease theme to it, but I'm sure you'll still find these resources very useful.

Physical Preparation Podcast with Nick Littlehales - This podcast might have been the best one I've listened to ion 2017. This is an outstanding discussion on sleep strategies from one of the best in the world on the topic.

Can Supplemental Vitamin D Improve Sleep? - This was an insightful post from the Examine.com crew in light of some research that was recently published.

25 Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies to Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer's Disease - I read this article from Precision Nutrition with great interest, as there is some family history for me in this realm. This is an excellent review of the research we have at our fingertips.

August 25 Facebook Live - I did this Q&A on Wednesday afternoon; you can watch the recording of it here:

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 25

As we wind down to the holidays, here's the last installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance for 2016.

1. One of the most overlooked benefits of medicine ball training might be the frequency at which it can be trained.

Before I get to this point, check out this old video of mine on the Absolute Strength-Speed Continuum (if you haven't seen it already):

One of the things I've been thinking about is that medicine ball training doesn't absolutely crush people the same way that absolute speed work (whether it is sprinting, jumping, throwing a baseball, or something comparable), strength-speed (Olympic lifts, jump squats), and heavy lifting does. You could likely train it every day, and while it wouldn't be optimal, people could handle it and still derive some benefit.

More than likely, it's just a sweet spot in the "Force = Mass x Acceleration" equation. The mass is pretty low (especially since there really aren't huge ground reaction forces like we see in sprinting), and the acceleration drops off quite a bit. This likely parallels what we see with baseball vs. football throwing; the football is just much less stressful. 

This doesn't help us a lot in the quest for developing peak power, but it does give us a really good option for training power - especially rotationally - more frequently.

2. Good thoracic positioning will help you make the most of your overhead medicine ball training.

Speaking of medicine balls, check out this side-by-side comparison of two athletes that I recently posted on my Instagram account. On the left is one with a "normal" thoracic curvature and set of movement capabilities. He can get into thoracic extension at the top, and effectively flex at the bottom to deliver the scapula to the correct position for ball release. On the right, though, notice how flat the upper back stays at the ball release position. We'd like to see him able to round a bit more to ensuring a good convex-concave relationship between the scapula and rib cage.

3. Narrow exercise selections make for impressive lifters, but less impressive athletes.

With our typical minor league baseball player, we may actually have time to get through six 4-week programs over the course of an offseason. In six months - especially if we happen to have an athlete who is genetically gifted for strength development - we *could* get guys freaky strong on a few big lifts. We choose not to, however. Why?

A narrow exercise can lead to some very impressive weight room performances on a few lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, clean, etc. This specificity can be great if you want to be a one (or three) trick pony (powerlifter), but not quite as helpful if you're an athlete who actually needs to change directions. To this end, a few thoughts:

a. I'd much rather see an athlete with a more versatile "strength portfolio." Show me a 200-pound athlete who can front squat in the mid-300s, deadlift in the mid-500s, turkish get-up in the 80s, and do axial-loading single-leg work in the mid-200s, and I'll show you a guy that has a great foundation to really move well.

b. These strength numbers aside, eventually, your priority needs to shift from just building strength to actually using that quickly. Simply chasing a number on one lift can quickly leave you unprepared in a particular movement/plane or in the context of creating more usable strength. I out-deadlift all of our pro baseball players, but many of them can broad jump longer than I can; who is using their force more efficiently? 

c. If you do insist on this narrower "main" exercise selection can be offset by variety in warm-ups, sprint/agility work, and assistance strength training drills.

d. I think narrower exercise selections have the most benefit in beginning lifters and teenage athletes who need to build a solid foundation and awareness of putting force into the ground. I'd honestly have no problem with sticking with the same 3-4 "main" exercises for 3-4 months straight in this population, although you have to be sensitive to the fact that some athletes will get really bored quickly. For this reason, we'll try to simple incorporate subtle changes; as an example:

  • Month 1: Trap Bar Deadlift (6-8 reps per set)
  • Month 2: Trap Bar Deadlift (4-5 reps per set)
  • Month 3: Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Band or Chains
  • Month 4: Low Setting Trap Bar Deadlift

Obviously, we don't rigidly adhere to this, but it gives you a feel for how to add some variety without overhauling things and having to completely re-groove a new skill.

That's all for 2016; happy holidays!

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Expanding the “Safe” Exercise Repertoire

In his outstanding new book, Back Mechanic, spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill speaks frequently to how he works with patients to “expand pain-free abilities” over the course of time. This begins with practicing good “spine hygiene” throughout daily activities while avoiding any positions or movements that provoke symptoms.

Back-Mechanic

As a patient gets some asymptomatic time under his/her belt, new movements and exercises are gradually introduced. Over time, the individual’s pain-free movement repertoire can be integrated into a comprehensive exercise program. Effectively, it’s a way to test the waters without simply jumping into the deep end. This is an especially important process for patients who have lived with chronic back pain and need to break the cycle to relearn what it actually is like to feel good. As Dr. McGill writes,

“The approach that has produced the best results for us over the years has been to teach the patient pain-free movement. This is based on the ‘gate theory’ of pain. Finding simple movements that do not cause pain floods the proprioceptive system with joint and muscle sensor signals, leaving little room for pain signals to get through the neural ‘gates.’ These pain-free movements are repeated to encode the pattern in the brain. Slowly, the patient’s ability repertoire of pain free movement increases until they are able to move well, and for longer periods. They successfully replaced the pain inducing patterns wired into their brains with pain-free patterns.”

As I read through Dr. McGill’s work, I couldn’t help but think about how it can be adapted to other realms of the rehabilitation and fitness communities. As an example, speaking to my main realm of interest – training baseball players – we have to consider how this applies to return-to-throwing programs in the baseball rehabilitation world. Truth be told, this approach traditionally has not been applied well in most rehabilitation scenarios in overhead throwing athletes because they have just about the most specific kind of mechanical pain there is. In other words, the elbow or shoulder only bothers them in this position, and usually at higher velocities:

layback

Most of the significant upper extremity throwing injuries you see don’t involve much pain at rest. Rather, the arm only hurts during the act of throwing. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), nothing in our daily lives really simulates the stress of throwing. As such, for a thrower, expanding pain-free abilities really have just traditionally meant:

throwingprogression

You’d actually be surprised to find that there often aren’t any progressions that “link” one phase of this progression to the next. In the “not throwing” phase, we often see a lot of generic arm care exercises, but little attention to speed of movement, integrating the lower half and core, and incorporating training positions specific to an athlete’s arm slot. Unfortunately, just laying on a table and doing some exercises with a 5-pound dumbbell won’t necessarily prepare you to throw the ball on a line at 120-feet.

For this reason, we always seek out physical therapists who treat the athlete “globally” and appreciate the incremental stress of various phases of throwing. The name of the game is to incorporate several “test the water” steps between each of these three categories. We do the exact same things as players ramp up their off-season throwing programs. As physical therapist Charlie Weingroff has astutely observed in the past, “Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training.”

How do we bridge the gap between not throwing and flat-ground throwing as much as possible? For starters, rotator cuff exercises need to take place near 90 degrees of abduction to reflect the amount of scapular upward rotation and shoulder elevation that takes place during throwing. Moreover, it’s important to work closer to true end-range of external rotation in testing strength that “matters” during the lay-back phase of throwing. And, we need to test how they do with the external-to-internal rotation transition.

To this point, in my career, I’ve seen a lot of throwers who have passed physical exams of cuff strength in the adducted (arm at the side) position, but failed miserably in the “arm slot” positions that matter. Picking the right progressions really matters.

Additionally, more aggressive rotational medicine ball drills can help to teach force production, transfer, and acceptance in a manner specific to the throwing motion.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the only thing that can truly reflect the stress of throwing is actually throwing. And this is also why there have to be incremental steps from flat-ground work to mound work (where external rotation range-of-motion is considerably higher).

Fortunately for most rehab specialists and the fitness professionals who pick up where they leave off, most return-to-action scenarios aren’t as complex as getting a MLB pitcher back on the mound. A general fitness client with a classic external impingement shoulder presentation might just need to test the waters in a progression along these lines:

(Feet-Elevated) Push-up Isometric Holds > (Feet-Elevated) Body Weight Push-up > Stability Ball Push-up > Weighted Push-up > Neutral Grip DB Floor Press > Neutral Grip Decline DB Press > Pronated Grip Decline DB Press > Barbell Board Press (gradual lowering) > Barbell Floor Press > Neutral Grip DB Bench Press > Low Incline DB Press > Close-Grip Bench Press > Bench Press > Bottoms-up KB Military Press > Barbell Incline Press > Barbell Overhead Pressing

Different people might start at different places on this continuum, and some folks might not need to progress all the way along. The point is that there needs to be a rhyme and reason to whatever continuum you create for expanding individuals’ pain-free abilities.

A lot of folks have a pretty good understanding of “progression.” This, to me, refers to how we sequentially teach movements and make training more challenging. Unfortunately, not nearly as many professionals understand “pain-free progression” under the unique circumstances surrounding injury.

This is one of many reasons why I think understanding post-rehab training is so important for the modern fitness professional. It’s a tremendous competitive advantage for differentiating oneself in the “training marketplace.” Moreover, on a purely ethical level, having a solid understanding of various injuries and their implications helps a coach deliver a safe training experience.

With all this in mind, I'd really encourage my readers to check out Dean Somerset's resource, Post-Rehab Essentials. It's a fantastic product that also happens to be on sale for $50 off through Sunday at midnight. You can learn more HERE.

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