Home Posts tagged "Rotational Power" (Page 2)

Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 18

It's time for the May installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. I never really expected this series to last this long, but I'm enjoying it and the feedback has been awesome, so we'll keep it rolling. Here goes...

1. Don't eliminate internal focus cues altogether.

I'm a big fan of external focus cues. As an example, I've had much better luck with saying "show me the logo on your shirt" than "pull your chest up" when coaching a deadlift. Effectively, individuals seem to perform better when we let them organize themselves to their surrounding environment (in this case, the logo on the shirt), as opposed to us sending mixed messages that might interfere with how they would naturally figure out how to organize the body for optimal performance. The key word here, however, is performance. If you're just looking to run faster, jump higher, or throw harder or farther, external cues are your best bet.

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What happens is there is aberrant movement, though? We've always heard that athletes are great compensators. If we just tell an athlete with very limited hip extension to "push the ground away" when he sprints, isn't he just going to continue to jack his lower back into excessive extension when the better long-term strategy is to get the hip extensors to do the job? To this point, there is actually some research (examples here and here) that internal focus cues definitely still have their place, especially when trying to modulate muscular recruitment patterns on single-joint exercises. I use internal focus cues (usually with tactile facilitate, or touching the region in question) every day to get better positional awareness and recruitment patterns, particularly with our arm care drills.

If you had to put me on the spot, I'd say that external focus cues are better and definitely a good place to start. I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bath water, though; internal cues definitely should always have a place in your coaching toolbox.

2. Barefoot deadlifting doesn't just clean up movement quality; it also makes it easier to coach.

I've written a lot in the past about how I like to have our athletes deadlift barefoot or in minimalist sneakers. Because the deadlift is a posterior chain dominant exercise and we want the athletes to think about driving their heels through the floor, it seems only fitting to make it easier for those heels to be in close proximity to the floor. Additionally, given that some people have mobility or stability restrictions that make it hard to get all the way down to the bar without compensation, being barefoot actually shortens an individual's range of motion by an inch or so. 

That said, there are two technique flaws you can spot easier in a barefoot scenario. First, you never want to see an athlete deadlift on a pronated foot; rather, a supinated foot gives us the rigidity we need to put force into the ground. You'll commonly see athletes "spin out" and dump into pronation like this, though.

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Second, you can more easily spot what the toes are doing. Often, when someone has a faulty hip hinge pattern, they'll simply pull the toes up rather than maintaining "tripod foot." This is most easily recognized on the decent of the lift.

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You can certainly spot these issues when athletes have shoes on, but they are definitely easier to pick up in the barefoot scenario.

3. If you're successful in one rotational sport, you've got a higher likelihood of success in other rotational sports.

A few days ago, Bartolo Colon hit his first career home run at age 42. This feat is is impressive in itself, but it's more surprising to the casual observer when you realize that Colon is a) a pitcher and b) obese.

For me, though, this wasn't nearly as surprising as it was entertaining. Efficient rotation is efficient rotation, whether you're a hitter, pitcher, hockey player, or golfer. There's a reason hockey and baseball players are usually excellent golfers without much formal skill instruction; they understand sequencing from the ground up.

Bartolo Colon has 17 years of Major League Baseball service time, has thrown over 3,000 innings, and has won 221 MLB games. You break down or lose effectiveness long before any of those numbers happen if your body doesn't "get" efficient rotation.

4. A little upper trap rolling can go a long way in improving upward rotation of the scapula.

Serratus anterior, lower trap, and upper trap work together to get the upward rotation of the scapula that we want with overhead movement.It's important, though, that they all work together to do this. If you want to get up to speed on upward rotation, give this video a watch:

If you've read this blog or followed me on YouTube for any length of time, you've probably realized that I'm a huge serratus anterior guy. It's really important that you get serratus anterior going to create the rotational component of upward rotation that gets the shoulder blade around the rib cage. I have quite a few serratus activation videos (examples here, here, and here), but I think it's important to realize that if someone doesn't have good serratus recruitment, they'll often create a pure scapula elevation (shrugging) pattern instead of the clean upward rotation we want. Effectively, upper trap and levator scapulae can pick up the slack and do too much work. When I see this pattern, I'll often encourage individuals to try out a little bit of upper trap rolling with a lacrosse or baseball to reduce the bad stiffness "up top" before we get to work.

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The Best of 2015: 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 2015" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. Common Arm Care Mistakes - Installment 6 - In this article, I talk about how important it is to select arm care exercises that truly appreciate the functional demands placed on the shoulder and elbow during throwing.

2. Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action - Physical therapist Eric Schoenberg makes a call to action to step away from four baseball traditions so that we can more easily prevent baseball injuries.

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3. What is a "Big League Body?" - Big leaguers come in all shapes and sizes. Your baseball strength and conditioning programs need to appreciate that.

4. 6 Physical Attributes of Elite Hitters - Here are six physical characteristics that elite hitters seem to share.

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5. Projecting the Development of High School Pitchers -  Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake shows what a difference a year can make in projecting high school pitchers for college baseball success.

If you're interested in learning more about how we assess, program for, and train baseball players, I'd encourage you to check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next course will take place January 17-19, 2016 at our Hudson, MA facility. You can learn more HERE.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 13

It's time for another installment of my series on coaching cues we utilize at Cressey Sports Performance on a daily basis. Today, I'll feature some of my favorite medicine ball coaching cues:

1. "Keep the head behind the belly button a bit longer."

Creating good "separation" is absolutely essential for producing power in rotational sports. This separation occurs when the pelvis rotates toward the target as the torso continues to rotate (or at least stay back) in the opposite direction. In the example of a right-handed pitcher, the pelvis rotates counter-clockwise toward the plate while the torso is still rotating clockwise toward second base. This separation stores elastic energy - but can also predispose athletes to injuries (as I wrote in 2008) if the motion doesn't come from the right places. 

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In this regard, one of the biggest mistakes we see is the athlete "leaking" forward at the torso. This is a bad habit to get into in terms of power production (loss of separation), injury risk (can make a pitcher's arm "late" and subject the elbow and shoulder to undue stress), and effectiveness (hitters can't stay back to adjust on pitches, pitchers make struggle with "catching up" to find a consistent release point, etc.). 

My feeling is that the head goes where the torso tells it to go, so trying to keep the head back a bit longer will force the torso to stay back long enough for the athlete to get sufficient hip rotation to create the ideal stretch. 

2. "Make your front leg and back legs work like a slingshot."

Throwing a medicine ball - whether it's an overhead or rotational variation - is all about putting good force into the ground on the back leg and then accepting it on the front leg. In the analogy of a slingshot, if the back leg doesn't create enough eccentric preloading and subsequent force production, it's like not pulling back hard/far enough on the elastic portion of the slingshot. Athletes usually "get" this really quickly.

What they often fail to recognize is that the front foot has to stiffen up to accept force and - particularly in the case of overhead variations - help to create an effective downhill plane. One of the things I watch for on the front foot is whether athletes "spin out" of their shoes; you'll actually see some guys roll right over the sides of the sneakers if they don't stiffen up enough on the front leg to accept all the force that's being delivered. This is just like having a "limp" front arm when using a slingshot.

In over ten years of coaching these drills, CSP athletes and Royals pitcher Tim Collins is probably the absolute best example of effective "slingshot" force transfer on medicine ball work. He's got excellent reactive ability and absolute strength/power to create force, but is equally proficient at knowing how to stiffen up at the right time on his front side. I firmly believer that this proficiency plays a big role in his ability to create a great downhill plane and throw one of the best curveballs in baseball even though he's only 5-7. 

3. "Take your hand to the wall."

This is a cue I blatantly stole from my business partner, Brian Kaplan, who is the best coach I've ever seen when it comes to cleaning up medicine ball technique - and also creating context for our pitchers and hitters so that the drills carry over to what they do on the field.

One of the common issues we see with athletes with scoop toss variations is that they use too much wrist and get around the ball. You'll see the spin on the ball, and it won't sound as firm when it hits the wall. Effectively, what's happening is that the athlete is cutting off hip rotation and using the wrist redirecting the ball to the intended target. This causes the athlete to be around the ball instead of through it - so it's analogous to throwing a bad cutter with a baseball. By encouraging the athlete to take the hand to the wall, the ideal direction of force production is preserved, and we train hip and thoracic rotation more than just compensations at the wrist and hand.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 10

It's time for the May installment of this popular strength and conditioning series.

1. Train OUTSIDE.

One of the things I've noticed over the years - both with sprinting and long tossing - is that athletes seem to "hold back" when they're indoors. They won't run at top speed when there are only 40-50 yards of turf ahead of them because they're already worrying about decelerating before they even really get moving. And, with throwing, there just seems to be more inhibition when an athlete is throwing into a net - as opposed to throwing to a partner who is pretty far away. Maybe it's the quantifiable feedback of actual distance, or maybe it's just less restriction - but the effort is always better.

To that end, it's mid-May and the weather is getting really nice around the country. Now is a perfect chance to get out and sprint in the grass or at the local track. Don't miss this chance, as it'll be snowing again before you know it!

2. When selecting exercises, prioritize upside over avoiding downside.

This will be the "glass is half full/empty" point of the day - and I'll use an example to illustrate it.

Let's take the question of whether or not to prescribe bench presses for baseball players. I, personally, don't prescribe them for this population, but there are still a lot of strength and conditioning coaches out there who do.

Their argument is that they aren't as big a problem as has been proposed. In other words, they're protecting against the downside.

My mindset, by contrast, is to highlight the lack of an upside. In a population where shoulder and elbow issues are astronomically high, does this exercise provide substantial benefit such that it deserves a place in our programs? Does it deliver a better training effect than a push-up variation or landmine press, for instance?

In other words, it's not just a discussion of "good vs. bad;" it's a discussion of "optimal vs. acceptable." Even if some players can "get away with" bench pressing, are we really doing right by these players if our approach to training is to simply try to justify that our exercise selection isn't doing harm?

3. Use fillers to break up power training sets.

Optimal training for power mandates that athletes take ample time between sets to recharge. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes have a tendency to rush through power work because it doesn't create the same kind of acute fatigue that you'd get from a set of higher-rep, loaded work. In other words, you'll want to rest more after a set of five squats than you would after a set of five heidens, even if you were attempting to put maximal force into the ground on each rep with both.

To that end, one thing I commonly do is pair power training exercises with low-key corrective drills. We call these drills "fillers," but that's not to say that they aren't very important. We might pair a rotational medicine ball training drill with a wall slide variation. This helps us get more quality work in with each session, but just as importantly, slows the athletes down to make sure they get the most out of their power training exercises.

4. Coach standing posture.

Static posture assessments are boring; I get it. However, they can still be incredibly telling. Here's an example...

Last weekend, during a two-day seminar I was giving, a trainer approached me and asked about his chronic bilateral knee issues. He described his soft tissue initiatives, mobility work, and strength training modifications in great detail; it was clear he'd put a lot of thought into the issue and was clearly frustrated, especially having been through physical therapy a few times without success. When he was done describing everything, I looked down at his lower body and asked, "Do you stand like that all day?"

He was just "hanging out" in a bunch of knee hyperextension. A follow-up toe touch screen looked pretty similar to this:

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The toe touch is obviously a movement fault, but he was in a bad starting position before the movement even started. If you stand in knee hyperextension all day - especially if you're a personal trainer on hard, unforgiving surfaces all day - your knees will hurt. It doesn't matter how much you foam roll or modify your strength program. You have to learn to stand correctly before you learn to move correctly.

With that said, apply this to your athletes. How many of them do this during down-time in practice or games? And, next time you watch a Major League Baseball game, watch how many position players just "hang out" like this between pitches - and wonder why we see more hip and back pain on the right side.

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Sometimes, the easiest solutions aren't the most obvious - even when they really are obvious if you know where to start looking!

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15 Random Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Programs

With this week's big sale on The High Performance Handbook, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some programming lessons I've learned over the years - as well as the strategies that have emerged from these learning experiences. As a coach, I always want to be evolving - and the HPH program is a pretty up-to-date reflection on some of my strength and conditioning philosophies.

That said, let's get to the random thoughts...

1. Coaches often highlight the importance of including single-leg work to help strength and conditioning programs "carry over" better to the real world of athletics, but rarely do you hear fitness professionals talking about the importance of unilateral upper body exercises, which offer some awesome functional carryover to performance, as well as a host of health benefits.

There's an increased challenge to rotary stability, and the athlete encounters weight shifts and extra thoracic rotation. These movements also teach protraction and retraction on rib cage, not just humeral movement. As perhaps the greatest benefit, less external loading is needed to create a training effect. So, don't just think that bent-over rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups cover everything you need!

2. If you want one more mobility option to help make your warm-ups more efficient, try this one. Adductor length and thoracic mobility: what's not to love?

3. A lot of people like to debate whether you should attack mobility or stability first. While I think the answer is generally "mobility," the truth is that it isn't such a black vs. white issue; there are a lot of gray areas. Think about breathing - and more specifically, a full exhalation. When you exhale fully, you get a deep muscular activation (stability) in your rectus abdominus, external obliques, and even your serratus anterior. Meanwhile, you'll likely actually see an increase of shoulder flexion, hip internal rotation, and ROM at other joints (mobility). With this in mind, the name of the game is attacking good movement, not just wasting time classifying things as "mobility" or "stability." 

4. Axially-loaded single-leg exercises can be a great substitute for squats in those who lack the hip mobility to squat deep, and those who have lower extremity or core issues that may not handle heavy bilateral loading well. Here's one of my favorites:

5. In spite of the point I made in #5, going really heavy on single-leg work for an extended period of time can definitely make your knees cranky, even in perfect technique. Just like anything else, they need to be cycled in and out. To that end, if you need a little break from them, but still want to preserve a training effect, try rotating in sled pushing and step-up variations. Both involve single-leg force production - but without a considerable eccentric component.

6. Speaking of single-leg work, bad things happen when people do a lot of lunging and sled pushing without shoes on. Usually, this means a really cranky big toe. I'm all for including barefoot work, but keep it to unloaded work in your warm-ups, or posterior chain oriented drills (deadlifts, good mornings, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, glute bridges, 1-leg RDLs, etc.).

7. There's a reason they put squats before deadlifts in powerlifting meets. I'd encourage you to just trust me on this one. If you're not willing to do so, go ahead and deadlift before you squat in your next lower body training session. You'll probably feel like garbage and have the mediocre training session to prove it.

8. I feel like folks pick on bodybuilders too much nowadays, but they actually have a ton to teach us. To me, the foremost of these lessons is, very simply, that you need plenty of volume and time under tension to get big. I learned this in a bit of a roundabout way: by trying to avoid gaining weight.

You see, early on in my powerlifting career, I was trying like crazy to stay in the 165-pound weight class. At my first meet in June of 2003, I was about 163 pounds. By the summer of 2006, I was about 185 pounds - and without any significant changes to my diet - and I was leaner. What gave?

My upper back. That's literally where 90% of the muscle mass went. I went from being a medium/large t-shirt, to being a guy who had to wear XL t-shirts just because my upper back wouldn't fit into a large.

What's unique about the upper back? Very simply, it gets the most volume and time under tension in any powerlifting program. You get it with all your normal horizontal and vertical pulling, obviously. However, you also train it when you bench correctly (especially powerlifting style), and it's crucial for bar positioning with heavy squatting. And, deadlifts can certainly do a little something for the "yoke." And this doesn't even include things like farmer's walks, walking lunges, and other comparable exercises where you're holding heavy weights at your sides.

The point is not that "Cressey thinks he has a big upper back," but rather that the bodybuilders have known that consistent volume and time under tension matter across an entire body. Want bigger quads? You're going to need to do extra work for them. It's not rocket science, but a lot of people are so focused on being "down on" traditional bodybuilding that they fail to recognize the great lessons to be learned from this population.

9. The 1-arm kettlebell front squat is, without a doubt, the single-most "functional" exercise in the history of parenting. I can't count how many times I've had to pick something up off the floor or table while holding one of our twins in one arm.

10. I'm often asked where we plug Turkish Get-ups into our programming. There are actually a few places we'll do it.

When done lighter and for technique, you can work them in at the end of a warm-up for practice on a daily basis.

When loaded up a bit more, I prefer to use them as a first exercise in place of pressing on an upper body day. And, we'll often pair it up with some kind of horizontal or vertical pulling exercise before moving on to more traditional pressing stuff.

So, I guess you could say that the answer to where we typically include it is "always early in the session."

11. Handstand push-ups are getting a lot of love these days as gymnastics movements are undergoing a revival in the strength training world. I'm all for athleticism, but we have to ask who is really prepared for going overhead - much less going overhead with the risk of falling! Here's a video I filmed for Wil Fleming a while back on the subject. While the topic is preparing for snatches, you can easily apply the point to handstand push-ups.

If you pass the back-to-wall shoulder flexion test with flying colors and have a decent foundation of strength, by all means, have at it with handstand push-ups. If you're just trying them out because you saw someone doing them on YouTube and they looked cool, they're probably not a good idea - at least not right away.

12. One equipment limitation many folks run into when training at commercial gyms is the lack of a medicine ball wall against which they can do rotational shotputs and scoop tosses. It's a huge bummer, as these exercises can be of tremendous value for not only training rotational power, but also part of conditioning medleys.

That said, it's not a perfect replacement, but I have found that a decent substitute is band-resisted heidens (or heiden variations without the bands). You at least get some of the same hip sequencing, even if the lower-to-upper body force transfer isn't quite the same.

13. Training athletes for performance is all about managing competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.

With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.

14. If you want to improve your vertical jump, there are really only three ways to do so:

a) put more force into the ground
b) put that force into the ground quicker
c) be less fat

Most people focus entirely on "a" and "b" - and they're often the athletes with brutal diets. Drop a few percentage points in body fat while maintaining your peak power, and you'll jump through the roof.

15. This post is all about programming, but it'd be shortsighted to wrap up without reminding you that I'd rather see a mediocre program executed with outstanding intensity and adherence than an outstanding program executed with mediocre effort. You can't outprogram "soft," so be sure you're working hard in spite of the focus on continued education!

If you're interested in taking a glimpse into more of my programming philosophies - or get a comprehensive strength and conditioning plan all prepared for you - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook while it's on sale this week!

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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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Band-Resisted Training for Power

Chat with any powerlifter about how he utilizes bands in his training, and you'll likely hear that they’re used for accommodating resistances to build strength. In other words, you can set up the bands to make an exercise harder at the portions of the strength curve at which you’re strongest. And, this is certainly an awesome application that’s helped thousands of lifters (myself included) to build strength.

Being a former competitive powerlifter, until just a few years ago, I’d looked at bands as something that could only make an exercise harder. Over the years, though, I've come around and begun to look for ways to utilize them to make things easier with our beginners. And, obviously, using them for pull-up and push-up assistance can be extremely helpful with working with new clients.

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I did not, however, realize until just recently that there was also a middle ground between these two extremes (advanced lifter and novice client). In this capacity, more and more, we use bands with our athletes to be able to train power more aggressively, and more frequently. How do the bands fit in? They lower the landing stress on more horizontal and lateral power exercises.

Need proof? Let's imagine “Athlete A” does three sets of five broad jumps (standing long jumps). Then, he lets us know how his shins feel 36-48 hours later. The soreness is absurd.

Simultaneously, we have “Athlete B” do the same volume of broad jumps, but with band resistance, like this:

I guarantee you that Athlete B has dramatically less soreness in the post-training period than Athlete A. And, while I don’t have all kinds of force plate data to back up my assertions, it’s safe to assume that the addition of the band reduces ground reaction forces. It’s like a box jump; we go up, but don’t come down (very much).

We’ll also use this for band-resisted heidens to develop some power in the frontal plane:

I love these band-resisted jumping options for a number of reasons. First, they allow us to train power with a bit more external loading in planes of motion we’d previously been unable to load – and this shifts things to the left a bit on the Absolute Strength - Absolute Speed Continuum.

Second, the pull of the band actually teaches athletes to get back into their hips more. You’ll often find that athletes don’t really know how to pre-stretch the glutes prior to power work in these planes. When a band is added, they simply can’t “drift into the quads;” they have to get back into the hips.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the reduced impact nature of these drills makes them a potentially useful addition to a return to action plan as an athlete is returning from an injury. It can also be a potentially useful application in older clients with whom we want to safely train power (because the loss of power is one of the biggest problems at we age). Full tilt sprinting and lots of plyometric work with loads of landing stress won’t necessarily fly, but these options (and band-resisted sprinting) can definitely lower the stress.

Fourth, with our pro baseball players, I like to use these in the early off-season as we get back to training power, but don’t want to beat up on the guys’ bodies with lots of stressful deceleration work. They jump out, but don’t come down as hard.

Bands are one of the best “take-it-anywhere” pieces of training equipment one can have, and it’s awesome that new uses for them are emerging on a regular basis. This is one such example – so I’d definitely encourage you to play around with these variations and see how you like them.

Looking for more innovative training strategies like these? Be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market today.

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Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing

Today's guest blog comes to us from Jeff Albert, one of the bright minds in the world of hitting instruction. I've enjoyed Jeff's stuff for years, and I think you'll like it, too.

Hip extension is a getting a lot of attention in the fitness world these days. Eric Cressey was asking us to get our butts in gear back in ’04, ESPN recently made a Call of Booty, and we now have our very own glute guy, Bret Contreras. Kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, deadlifts, and squats are staples of exercise programs for athletes for good reason: they make the posterior chain stronger and more explosive. This, in turn, makes it easier for athletes to do things athletes are supposed to do - like run faster and jump higher.

But how is this going to help with your actual skills? What is the role of hip extension in the baseball swing?

EMG studies in both baseball (Shaffer et al 1993) and golf (Belcher et al 1995) report highest muscle activity of the primary movers of the posterior chain – the hamstrings, glutes and low back – happens during the beginning of the forward swing. The exercises listed above are often programmed because they target the same muscles. Very conveniently, those muscles are also responsible for creating rotation in the swing.

Here’s the key point: good hip rotation has an element of hip extension!

This is what it looks like from the front and side in the swing:

Check out the belt line as the hitter transitions from landing with his stride foot to making contact. This is the actual unloading of the hips during the forward swing. You should be able to see how the hips (belt line) lower into flexion (load) and then actually come up a bit as the hips extend (unload).

Unfortunately, the baseball EMG study only measured muscle activity on the back leg. The golf EMG study, however, measured both legs. An interesting point from this golf study is that in the initial forward swing (from the loaded position to horizontal lag position), activity in the quads (vastus lateralis was measured) of the lead leg was higher than the posterior side (glutes, biceps femoris, semimembranosus). This makes sense because the front side is accepting some shifting weight during this time. But, when the club is being moved from the horizontal lag position to contact, the hip extenders again become more active. Baseball instruction commonly refers to having a “firm front side”, but we haven’t talked much about how that happens. This golf EMG suggests that extension at the hip, rather than knee, is more responsible for creating this effect.

Keep this in mind if and when you are working on the lower half in your swing. Very often players can show a nice, powerful hip rotation and extension pattern in the gym (throwing medicine balls, for example), but look much different when they pick up a bat in the cage. Differences in terminology that you’ll find between the gym and the batting cage can often be a cause of this, and sometimes players just don’t make the connection between their physical conditioning and their actual swing.

If you do struggle with rotation of your lower half, give some thought to the hip extension and rotational work that you do in the weight room and pay attention to the patterns that you’re developing there. First of all, make sure your hip extension and rotation are good in the first place, and then see if you can repeat the movement pattern when swinging the bat. The whole point in creating strong, explosive hip rotation in the weight room is so you can actually use it to create more power when you finally have the bat in your hands.

Happy Hacking!

About the Author

Jeff Albert is a CSCS with a MS in Exercise Science from Louisiana Tech University. Jeff is entering his 6th season as a coach in professional baseball, now serving as a hitting instructor in the Houston Astros organization. He works with players of all ages during the off-season in Palm Beach, Florida and can be contacted through his website, SwingTraining.net, or follow him on twitter (@swingtraining).

References

1. Bechler JR, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J, Ruwe PA. Electromyographic analysis of the hip and knee during the golf swing. Clin J Sport Med. 1995 Jul;5(3):162-6.

2. Shaffer B, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J. Baseball Batting: An Electromyographic study. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1993 Jul;(292):285-93.

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Exercise of the Week: Heidens with External Rotation Stick

For this installment of exercise of the week, I have to give full credit to Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake.  A few weeks ago, Matt and I were having a conversation about ways to expand our exercise selection with respect to developing power in the frontal and transverse planes.  We have medicine ball work and a host of variations of Heidens (also known as "skaters"), but you can never have enough.

As the conversation progressed, we got to talking about some of our young pitchers who struggle with finding the right timing to stiffen up on the front leg.  They either stomp down early because they aren't stable enough to ride the back hip out a bit longer, or they stiffen up late and "go to mush" on that front leg.  We want to train them to accept force on that front leg - and do so with the right position (a position of hip external rotation/abduction, where the athlete is decelerating internal rotation/adduction). 

So, Matt asked if it would be possible to simply open the front leg up to make this a more specific deceleration position.  So, the Heiden with External Rotation Stick was born.

One of the key coaching points on this exercise is that you want to jump a bit more "up" than "out," as compared to a traditional Heiden.  Very simply, this upward movement gives an athlete time to reposition the hip, knee, ankle, and foot correctly to accept this force.  If an athlete can't land in perfect technique (knee shouldn't cave in, and the torso shouldn't round over), he or she is jumping too far.  Simply reducing the distance of the jump is a great regression.  Find a distance that allows the athlete to land without these compensations (or coming up on the toes), and then gradually work to build this up.

This is just another option for developing power in rotational athletes, but certainly one that will add variety and challenge your athletes in new ways, so check it out!

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Troubleshooting Baseball Hitting: Timing is Not Always the Problem

Today's guest blog comes from current CP intern Jay Kolster, who has an extensive background in hitting instruction.

Great hitters are not born; they simply do things to put themselves in great positions to be successful. Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult tasks to perform in sports, and with that in mind, experts have long-debated the biomechanics of hitting in baseball. Timing is agreed upon as being a crucial piece in being a successful hitter, but while it is crucial, it is not imperative!

Great hitters will be late on the fastball and out in front of sliders; they are human, too. With correct timing hitters are able to get themselves in the strongest position at the point of contact. The pitcher throwing off-speed is trying to pull the hitter out of position! A hitter is in the strongest position when the back elbow is tucked at a 90 degree angle into the back hip at contact.

Ideally, every hitter wants to be in Pujols’ position. However, even the great hitters have trouble getting to this position consistently. Further illustrating the difficulties of being on time, let’s consider the physics of baseball. A study performed by Yale professor, Dr. Robert Adair, detailed the amount of time from release point to the plate. A 90 mph pitch will arrive at the plate in 400 milliseconds. During that time a hitter must recognize the pitch type and location and get to a strong contact position.

According to Professor Adair’s illustration, it takes a hitter 150 milliseconds to complete a swing at 80 mph. This leaves the hitter roughly 250 milliseconds to locate the ball, process, decide, and start the swing. Professor Adair’s study helps piece together the physics and how difficult being on time is for a hitter. However, there are other variables that were not included in the study that can disrupt timing for the hitter. Let’s review some of these variables:

• Pitch velocity
• Pitch type (2-seam, 4-seam, change-up, slider, curveball, cutter, splitter, etc)
• Arm speed variability
• Arm angle and release point
• Pitcher’s method of delivery (windup, stretch, slide step, left hand pitcher hang and read, etc)
• Variability of the hitter’s bat velocity
• Situational hitting (hit and run, hitting behind runner at second, sac fly)

Professor Adair’s study does not include human variability. At any time, the pitcher can change his delivery and pitch velocity, which affects the timing aspect of the hitter. Professor Adair’s statistics are of one pitch! Each pitch thrown by a pitcher in a game is unique! It almost seems humanly impossible to be on time consistently. I can guarantee that the best hitters in the game aren’t always on time, yet they still manage to eclipse the .300 average mark. Hitting a baseball now becomes an equation of probability. After all, pitch recognition is a guess! It has been said that hitters lose track of the baseball within 5 feet of the plate….. so now what? Hitting a baseball now becomes an educated guess! You are starting your swing where you THINK the ball will be.

“Great hitters get the barrel on plane earlier and keep the barrel on plane longer than average hitters.”

Keeping the barrel in the bat plane is just as important as having great timing. I have already established that timing isn’t the be-all, end-all for becoming a great hitter. It’s the positions hitters put themselves in when their timing is off that allows for eclipsing the .300 average mark. Touching on a quick side note, I believe that contact percentage is a mark of a great hitter, not just overall batting average. In 1941, Joe DiMaggio set the hit streak record at 56 games, a record that may never be broken. Do you think that a contact percentage of 97% had anything to do with setting the record? I think so, as Joe only struck out 13 times!

Using Video Analysis to Determine Bat Plane

Cressey Performance pitching instructor, Matt Blake, utilizes the Right View Pro system when evaluating mechanics. For the purpose of discussing bat plane I have taken images from RVP to help illustrate the importance of the bat plane and how it relates to timing. The first image we will look at is MLB’s Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.

*Note: Red = pitch line/bat plane, Blue = distance knee traveled from start to contact, Green = Barrel from start to contact.

In this image, Cabrera is not in a great point of contact position, but he did great things during his swing to allow himself to stay on the plane. His contact position is out front and he is slightly early, which is why his back elbow is extended. Result? Line drive single to left field. Cabrera was able to maintain a good position to hit because of his ability to keep the barrel in the bat plane past his strongest point of contact. Cabrera’s success is not based off of having perfect timing, but instead putting himself in a position to be successful. So, how does he get the barrel to the plane early and stay through, even past the optimal point of contact? I think this is a question hitting coaches have been trying to figure out for decades. For the sake of keeping this short, let’s examine a few key components.

Early to the Bat Plane

Getting the barrel to the beginning of the bat plane is driven by the back elbow. Upon toe touch and heel plant, Cabrera’s first move is with the hips, which allows for the elbow to get clearance to move directly to the back hip. In being direct with the elbow, Cabrera avoids having an elongated swing.

Optimal Contact Position

A contact position with the back elbow flexed and tucked tightly to the body will allow for optimal power.

Consider the sport of boxing. Great knockout punches are not performed with full extension; rather, the punches land with flexion in the elbow because it is a stronger point of contact. This idea is evident in baseball, too!

Keeping the Barrel in the Bat Plane

Consider Cabrera’s lower body as the key ingredient in keeping the barrel in the bat plane. The distance his back knee travels allows him to keep his barrel in the bat plane, and in this case, past his ideal point of contact. If Cabrera “squishes the bug”, he either rolls over or his barrel is out of the bat plane by the time the ball reaches him. There are other factors that help Cabrera stay in plane, such as elbow extension. However, if we want optimal power, we do not want to have elbow extension to occur before contact. Cabrera’s ability to keep the barrel in the bat plane past the point of contact is what makes him a cut above most major leaguers and the reason he won a Triple Crown. On the flip side, if Cabrera were to be late with his timing, his barrel in this particular swing is in plane starting at the back of the plate; giving him an opportunity to be successful.

Timing is Only a Piece of the Puzzle

Timing is an important component of hitting, but raw hitting mechanics should take precedence over addressing uncontrollable variables against which players compete. In low levels of baseball, players can get away with not being in the bat plane like Cabrera is. Why? A majority of lower level pitchers have one or two pitches they can control, and a majority of strikes are thrown over the heart of the plate. The debate over linear, extension-based, and rotational hitting approaches can be saved for future discussions. Regardless of the hitting philosophy, keeping the barrel in the bat plane before and after optimal contact position increases the probability of making contact with the ball.

References: www.Baseball-Reference.com

About the Author

Jay Kolster, CSCS is serving as an intern at Cressey Performance. Prior to this internship, Jay was a teacher and head coach of baseball and softball in Lexington, MO. For more information or to reach Jay, please visit http://jaykolster.wordpress.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @RollerKolster.

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