Home Posts tagged "Scapular Stability" (Page 2)

Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 14

I haven't posted an update to this popular coaching cues series since December, so I figured this article was long overdue. Here are a few coaching cues we use regularly with our clients at Cressey Sports Performance:

1. "Keep your hips in the hallway."

Birddogs are a fantastic exercise for building core stability and educating individuals on how to differentiate between hip and lumbar spine (lower back) movement. Usually, though, folks just discuss differentiating these motions in the sagittal plane, so the focus is on hip flexion/extension vs. lumbar flexion/extension. In the process, a lot of folks overlook what is going on in the frontal and transverse plane. A lot of side-to-side movement is a good sign that the athlete doesn't have sufficient rotary stability (control of the center of mass within a smaller base of support).

A cue I've found to work great is to put my hands about 1" outside the hips on both sides, and to cue the athlete, "Keep your hips in the hallway." If the outside of the hips contact my hand, it's a sign that they've lost control of the frontal and transverse plane.

2. "Scaps to the sky."

We coach our wall slides with upward rotation and lift off a bit differently for just about everyone that comes through our doors. Really, it comes down to appreciating what their starting scapular positioning is. If someone is really anteriorly tilted, we'll guide the scapula into posterior tilt. If they have more of a "scaps back" (adducted) military posture, we'll help the shoulder blades to get out and around the rib cage. If someone starts in a more depressed (low shoulder) position as in the video below, we might cue them to incorporate a shrug to facilitate better upward rotation.

When you teach the drill, though, you want to make sure that the motion is coming from not just movement of the humerus (upper arm) on the scapula (glenohumeral movement), but moreso from movement of the scapula on the rib cage (scapulothoracic). I love the "scaps to the sky" cue for this reason. Usually, I'll manually help the shoulder blades up a bit, too.

3. "One inch per second."

I blatantly stole this one from Shane Rye, one of my business partners at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. When athletes foam roll, they always seem to have a tendency to race through each "pass." It's far better to slow down, recognize areas that need more attention, and gradually work your way along. The "one inch per second" cue always seems to get athletes to pace themselves better.

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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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Exercise of the Week: Resisted Scapular Wall Slides

Today's "Exercise of the Week" guest post comes from Lee Boyce. Enjoy! -EC

One of the basic exercises that people are taught to practice for improved shoulder rotation, upper back activation, scapular mobility and anterior muscle release as a by-product is the standard scapular wall slide. To do them, a lifter would simply stand with the heels, butt, upper back, shoulders and full arms and hands against the wall, reduce the lower back arch, and slide the hands up and down, mimicking a full shoulder press movement pattern.

Regressing this movement is as simple as taking the feet a few inches away from the wall and assuming position otherwise. Progressing this movement, however, is another story.

The problem is that people adapt quickly to an unloaded mobility drill, and because of this, the wall slide can become another non-transferrable “skill” that doesn’t carry over to generally improved posture or performance. Moreover, depending on whether the humerus is properly nested in the glenoid fossa to begin with, the wall slides themselves may always pose a problem from a biomechanical perspective. To help this cause, adding some mild resistance can “remind” the muscles of the rotator cuff to center the humeral head in the socket and create a much more effective external rotation position. Plus, using a neutral grip via ropes (as compared to a palms-forward grip) creates a much more ideal (and shoulder friendly) environment for external rotation that can act to counter anterior shoulder glide.

For resisted scapular slides, I like using a cable pulley, and performing the lift from a seated position. It’s a bit easier for a lifter to focus on avoiding back hyperextension, which is a common compensation pattern when lifters have insufficient shoulder mobility.

This movement creates a force angle that works against the standard slide pattern, so keeping the hands and arms moving along the same plane becomes a much more challenging task for the scapular muscles. It’s easy to “let up” and allow the hands and arms to drift forward. To view the movement in action, watch the video below.

Coaching Cues

1. Have the athlete sit squarely on a box or bench. The closer parallel the box puts him in, the better.

2. Set up the cable pulley and ropes in a position just above head level. This way, at the top position, the force angle won’t be strictly downward, and there will be ample tension throughout.

3. If the lifter is still novice or intermediate level as far as shoulder mobility and control goes, a neutral grip is recommended for reasons mentioned above. If the lifter is more advanced, he can feel free to pinch-grip between the thumb and first finger, and face the palms forward.

4. During the movement, avoid slipping into lower back hyperextension; maintain thoracic region extension; and be sure to maintain neutral head posture. Also, avoid letting the elbows fall out of line with the hands in the vertical plane.

5. Your target areas are the rotator cuff muscles, rear deltoids, and lower traps (as you raise the weight further overhead). When you start feeling this in other areas like the biceps and upper traps, readjust positioning and continue.

6. The exercise is very specific, so it shouldn’t take much weight for it to be effective. 15-20lbs of resistance on most machines is usually plenty.

7. The movement won’t work if it’s done in a rush. Think of a 2121 tempo as a solid guideline.

8. Use higher reps to build up the muscular endurance of these muscle groups.

9. Your range of motion should replicate your typical dumbbell shoulder press – meaning the rep begins very close to the shoulder level, and ends at a full arm extension overhead.

10. Through the movement, remember to keep the hand separated (pull the rope handles apart) as much as possible. Doing so keeps the upper back engaged, avoids internal rotation, and keeps the hands stacked over the shoulder, where they belong.

About the Author

Lee Boyce (@CoachLeeBoyce) is a strength coach, writer, and former collegiate level sprinter and long jumper, based in Toronto, Canada. In 2013, he was named to the training and treatment staff for team Jamaica at the Penn Relays . He’s regularly featured in the largest fitness publications as a writer. Visit his website at www.LeeBoyceTraining.com or check him out on Facebook.

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The Best of 2015: Strength and Conditioning Videos

With my last post, I kicked off the "Best of 2015" series with my top articles of the year. Today, we'll highlight the top five videos of the year. These videos only include instructional videos, not quick exercise demonstrations.

1. Avoid this Common Wall Slide Mistake - I'm a huge fan of wall slides for teaching good scapular upward rotation. Check out this video to see if you're making a common mistake on this front:

2. Steer Clear of this "Shoulder Health" Exercise - Continuing with the shoulder theme, here's a drill I don't particularly like. The good news is that I propose a suitable alternative. 

3. Serratus Anterior Activation: Reach, Round, and Rotate - This video covers some of our common coaching cues for a different variation of wall slides than featured in video #1.

4. 3 Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion Cues - This drill is both a great training exercise and an assessment. With the right cueing, you can clean the pattern up pretty quickly, in most cases.

5. Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss - This is one of my favorite medicine ball exercises for early on in training progressions. 

I'll be back soon with the top guest posts of 2015!

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Understanding Scapular Positioning in the Throwing Motion

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts pitching coordinator, Matt Blake (@Blake_Matt). Matt is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. Enjoy! -EC 

At a recent conference, Eric Cressey gave a presentation that tackled the importance of baseball professionals understanding scapular mechanics and the integral role they play in the throwing athlete’s kinetic chain. Eric Schoenberg also recently showed a great drill to incorporate scapular motion into the kinetic chain of activity. Given that I’m the third member of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team with these two, I figured I might as well chime in to highlight its importance from my perspective as well.

This is an important discussion to have because it can help demonstrate the need for all phases of development to work together to keep the high-level thrower operating on all cylinders. If we’re all speaking the same language, we can work to build the athlete’s awareness for their overall movement and integrate the education from the warm-up through the initial phases of the throwing progression.

If we’re all saying different things to the athlete using our own jargon, it’s easy for them to misinterpret the carryover of certain drills, exercises, and concepts across channels. If we all lay down similar verbiage in our conversations with the athlete regarding their prehab work, dynamic warm-up, strength training and throwing motion, it makes it a lot easier for them to appreciate the importance each piece holds in the puzzle.

In order to get started, let’s look at where the scapula is positioned and introduce its fundamental movements so we can begin to appreciate its role in the kinetic chain.

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When looking at the scapula’s position and actions, you have to acknowledge the importance of its relationships with the rib cage and the humerus. These relationships are integral in tying the torso and the arm action together in a high-level throw. These interactions between the thoracic region, scapula and humeral head may be the most overlooked or misunderstood components of the delivery – especially for the average coach who has no anatomical background.

The degree of misunderstanding is mainly because the actions are so subtle and can’t be fully appreciated when the athlete throws with their shirt on. This is why its so vital to have a strength/rehab professional in the mix, who can provide a shirtless scapular screen to give us a baseline on where the scapula lies at rest and how it functions in relation to the movement of the arm.
 

Once you can identify how an athlete presents, you can begin to build a more individualized corrective movement progression. This will serve to help the athlete identify and turn on the appropriate movement patterns to keep the humeral head flush with the scapula through its full range of motion. This is essential in the throw, because of the importance of a “clean” arm action to help alleviate some of the stress involved in the high-level motion. For demonstration sake, here’s an example of a HS pitcher, who throws 88-91, with a relatively efficient arm action for his age.

The ability to create elite levels of hand-speed in a durable manner can be won or lost based on how the humeral head functions in conjunction with the scapula. In my mind, this is the crux of the delivery, where you need to be able to tie the “whip-like” arm action into the sequential actions of the torso.

As the thrower engages his landing position, the kinetic forces of the delivery are beginning to flow up through the chain towards the scapula and arm. It’s crucial at this point for the arm to get set up in a sound position to optimize control of the (glenohumeral) joint in an effort to handle the energy that’s about to drive through that portion of the chain towards release. The “optimal” timing of this set-up will be dictated by how the athlete sequences hip and torso rotation, as well as how much laxity they present with, etc. - but for the sake of discussion, we’ll say landing is a crucial checkpoint.

From here, the key actions that we’re going to break out today are upward rotation and protraction. This isn’t to say that they are more important than the other actions, but throughout the season, throwers tend to lose upward rotation from the stress of the throwing motion. With that in mind, let’s identify what it is and how it works with protraction to aid the durability of the high-level delivery.

This concept is something that EC has written and produced videos about countless times over the years, but it continues to be a point that needs to be reiterated time and again. For those who haven’t seen it, this is a great video to consider in this discussion.

From this video, we’ll take it a step further, so you can visualize how this actually plays out in the throwing motion itself.

As you can see, there is a considerable amount of range of motion and control that needs to be in place if you expect to keep the humeral head “centered” from lay-back through the entirety of the deceleration phase. The challenge here is that we can’t always see how the arm action is working with the shoulder blade. One way to combat this is via communicating with your athletes about where they feel their soreness the day after throwing.

Generally speaking, I like to have guys tell me they’re sore near the medial border of the scapula, in the meat of back, where the scapular retractors are eccentrically controlling the scapula as it moves away from the mid-line. If guys are sore near the back, top, or front portion of the shoulder joint itself, then we’re probably getting too much “joint-play” and the humeral head is gliding and translating away from the center of the socket too much during the throw.

If these other patterns of soreness are presenting somewhere along the line, either the rotator cuff wasn’t doing its job, the scapula wasn’t working in sync with the humeral motion, or the thrower’s motion in general is putting them in positions that aren’t utilizing the correct patterns. In this case, let's assume that we did have a “good” post-throwing stress pattern.

Once we’ve identified that we are using scapular upward rotation and protraction to our benefit to control the socket, now we need to work extremely hard to counteract the eccentric damage associated with these actions. This is where the recovery protocol and the warm-up itself are crucial on a daily basis to make sure we’re getting back both the range of motion that we need, as well as activating it correctly before we begin to throw again.

To learn more about how physical assessment, strength and conditioning principles, video analysis, and drill work for the pitcher fit together, be sure to check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. Our next event will be held January 17-19, 2016 at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. The early-bird registration is December 17, 2015. For more information, check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com.  

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Coaching Up the Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carry

I love bottoms-up kettlebell carrying variations for teaching scapular control and getting reflexive rotator cuff recruitment. Sometimes, though, folks won't feel these drills in the right positions. With that said, check out today's video to learn how you can usually quickly and easily shift the stress to the right spots in the shoulder girdle:

If you're looking to learn more about our approaches to assessing and training the shoulder girdle, I'd encourage you to check out out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. Our next upper extremity course takes place January 17-19, 2016 at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, with December 17 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. For more information, check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com 

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Get Up to Get Down: The Impact of Scapular Movement on Pitch Location

Today's guest post comes from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg. Eric is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

Every baseball player on the planet has heard their coach say “stay on top of the ball”, “get out in front”, and/or “throw downhill”. It is an easy thing to say, but a little more difficult to teach. A common response that I hear from players that I work with is: “I understand what the coach is saying, but I don’t know how to actually get my body to do it”.

There are many mechanical reasons why a pitcher will struggle to create this downhill plane. (e.g. front leg stability, trunk tilt angle). However, on the movement side of things, one of the main culprits that we see is a lack of scapular upward rotation. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you know that EC has hit on this topic for years. I wanted to add some thoughts to this critical concept.

If a pitcher lacks the ability to “get up” (insufficient scapular upward rotation and/or elevation), he will not be able to effectively get his hand out in front to maximize velocity. Pitchers will describe this feeling as “cutting the ball off” or “feeling stuck”. The result is a decrease in velocity and difficulty “getting down” in the zone. It is very common for this to occur later in the season once the off-season training effect has been lost and the predictable loss of range of motion (shoulder flexion, upward rotation, hip and thoracic mobility) kicks in.

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The most effective pitchers share three things in common: consistent velocity, consistent location, and health. None of these are possible with faulty scapular movement patterns.

The best time to establish proper scapular upward rotation is in the off-season (NOW!). The challenge comes with educating the athlete on how to not lose this motion during the season.

By now, we are aware of the importance of wall slide variations, back to wall shoulder flexion, and trap raises. However, the message of consistency with these exercises EVERY DAY during the season cannot be overstated. This is akin to brushing your teeth. A habit needs to be established and it then needs to be repeated. Every baseball player that I see in my office for elbow or shoulder pain comes in with faulty scapular movement. This is certainly not the only thing that leads to pain in pitchers, but it is certainly a good place for us to be looking early on.

A great exercise that we have been using to emphasize “getting up and out in front” is the One-Arm Band Rotational Row from a Low Setting.

This drill is much more about the deceleration phase than the actual rowing pattern, however all phases of the movement are important. I prefer to use a band instead of a cable due to the increased velocity of the recoil. This is a great drill to use in a training or warm-up program. With that said, I find the best application is to be used in a pre-throwing program (preferably the last drill before a pitcher picks up the ball to begin throwing).

Set-Up: Wide base to emphasize hip mobility. Front foot should mimic where the land foot is in the delivery. Back foot and hips are rotated fully so the athlete is “squared up” in the sagittal plane. Coaching from the Posterior View will give you a good vantage point to see this.

Instruction: Initiate the rowing motion from the hips first, then the thoracic spine, then the scapula, and finally the humerus. Make sure the athlete’s elbow doesn’t end up behind the line of his body. Back foot should rotate to mimic the position on the rubber with the hip hinged and loaded. Cue the athlete to decelerate the band with his body (core, front hip) and not just with his arm. Coaching from a 90 degree angle to the side will show this the best.

A key component for a pitcher to develop/maintain velocity and location is to make sure that their body is in a stable position to deliver their arm (and the baseball). The One Arm Rotational Row accomplishes this by via the following avenues:

1. Single Leg Strength

a. Land Leg: Proper stability and balance to accept weight, stop forward momentum, and translate force from the ground up the chain.

b. Drive leg: Ability to hinge back into drive hip and not translate forward (toward 3rd base for a RHP) or collapse into valgus. Keeping weight through the whole foot and not just on the toe

2. Stable core throughout delivery – especially as trunk and hips start to separate

Leaking into anterior pelvic tilt or lumbar extension will drive scapular downward rotation and depression (resulting in the hand moving under or around the ball, as opposed to staying behind the ball).

3. Optimal Thoracic Positioning

This drill drives thoracic flexion moment to allow for a congruent platform for the scapula to ride up and create the desired extension at ball release.

Give this drill a try with your athletes (make sure to train both sides) and emphasize consistency with their scapular upward rotation exercises in order to develop a more durable arm with improved velocity and location.
If you are interested in learning more about our approach to managing baseball athletes, we'd love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next three-day course is June 23-25, with May 23 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. 

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Serratus Anterior Activation: Reach, Round, and Rotate

I'm a big fan of serratus anterior activation drills for upper extremity health and performance, but one only gets great benefits if exercise technique is on point. Check out these three key coaching cues you'll want to get serratus anterior engaged during your wall slides:

I should note that "exhale" would be a fourth cue, but it doesn't being with a "R" and therefore would've ruined the good blog title. That said, adding an exhale can help to establish better rib position and enable the individual to "feel" the serratus anterior working a bit more. 

If you're looking for more upper extremity assessment and training insights - particularly with respect to serratus anterior - be sure to check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Steer Clear of this “Shoulder Health” Exercise

Call me a traditionalist, but I still love using prone (on the stomach) drills to teach good scapular (shoulder blade) control. However, we never teach these drills face-down on the floor. Check out today's video to learn why:

If you're looking for a detailed tutorial on how to perform this exercise off a table, give this a watch:

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 14

 It's time for the next installment of this popular series here at EricCressey.com, but I've pulled in some help from an old friend for this one. Given that his new DVD set, Elite Athletic Development 2.0, was just released this week, the one-and-only Mike Robertson agreed to chime in with some sports performance tips this week. Those beginning with "MR" are from Mike, and the ones with "EC" are me. Enjoy!

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1. MR: When working with overhead athletes, learn to love specialty bars.

When it comes to athletes in general, it’s obvious that they are not powerlifters. Is it helpful if they’re strong? Absolutely. But let's be honest - no one cares about how they get strong. You don't get bonus points for deadlifting from the floor, nor do you necessarily have any reason to put a barbell on your back. At IFAST, we're huge fans of specialty bars for our athletes, but especially for our baseball players.

Trap bars are kind of a god-send, if you ask me. It's an incredibly easy exercise to coach, you reduce the mobility demands (vs. a sumo or conventional deadlift), and you can load a guy up fairly quickly without compromising technique.

On the other hand, just because we don't put a barbell on our back doesn't mean we don't squat! The safety squat bar is an invaluable tool if you train baseball players (or really, any overhead athlete). You know that your wrist, elbow and shoulder are your money makers, so the last thing you want to do is expose yourself to injury in those areas. The safety squat bar front squat is awesome for newbies, as it teaches them a front squat pattern without having to "rack" the bar using the wrists, elbows and shoulders. I'll often start my baseball players off with this variation for a month or two, just to get them back in the swing of things. If we want to load up the squat pattern a bit more, all we have to do is flip the safety bar around and now we've got a back squat progression that again unloads the upper extremity. Quite simply, if you train overhead athletes - or any athletes, for that matter - invest in a high quality trap and safety squat bar. You'll thank me later.

2. EC: Show some love to the broad jump!

For some reason, in the world of athletic performance assessments, vertical jump testing gets all the attention. In my anecdotal experience, though, broad jump proficiency has a far greater carryover to actual athletic success. Bret Contreras has also alluded to this as part of his rationale for including hip thrusts and other loaded glute bridge variations in strength training programs; horizontal (as opposed to just vertical) force production really matters in sports.

That said, one reason some coaches shy away from programming broad jump variations in training programs is that they be a bit hard on the joints and elicit more soreness in the days that follow a training session. This is easily remedied by having an athlete land on a more forgiving surface (such as grass), or by using band-resisted broad jumps.

3. MR: Appreciate that push-ups can actually improve rotator cuff function!

Push-ups are a critical component of our training programs, and for numerous reasons. You see, push-ups (versus a traditional bench press), allow for a high degree of serratus anterior development. And I’d argue that in the upper body, the serratus anterior is one of the most overlooked, yet incredibly important, muscles we have. Strengthening the serratus anterior does a host of good things for us, most notably upwardly rotating the scapula. However, what many people don't understand is how it actually improves thoracic kyphosis.

This is a really loaded topic, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Back in the day we would look at most people and say they have an excessive thoracic kyphosis, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. What I think we see (more often than not) is a flat thoracic spine, coupled with shoulders that are rolled forward due to an inability to expand a chest wall. (Thank you, Postural Restoration Institute). Here's an example EC posted a while back of a flat thoracic spine in action:

While we tend to get caught up on the scapular attachment site (or motion) of the serratus, it also attaches anteriorly to the ribcage. If we lock the scapulae in place and engage serratus anterior, it pulls on the rib cage and gives us a more normal thoracic kyphosis. Now I’m sure you may be thinking, why do we want a kyphosis? Isn’t more extension a good thing? You need a kyphosis (or subtle rounding of the upper back), because your scapulae are curved as well; just look at this side angle to appreciate it.

Gray205_left_scapula_lateral_view-2

If you have a curved scapulae sitting on a flat upper back, you lose passive stability at the shoulder. And when we lose stability at the scapulae, we are virtually guaranteed to lose stability at the shoulder. Because the rotator cuff muscles attach to the scapula, trying to stabilize the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint with a flat thoracic spine is like trying to shoot a cannon from a canoe.

Want more serratus? Incorporate more push-ups, and do them correctly. As EC notes in this video, don't just let the arms do all the work; get the shoulder blades moving. The scapula should rotate toward the armpit as you press up and away from the floor:

Get this upper back positioning squared away, and you'll improve rotator cuff control both transiently (positional stability) and chronically (better training results).

4. EC: Remember that joint range-of-motion falls off over the "athletic lifespan."

It never ceases to amaze me how much a teenage athlete will change over the course of a year - even independent of training. If a kid goes through an 8-inch growth spurt at age 13, he's usually going to go from that "loosey-goosey," completely unstable presentation to the uncoordinated, stiff movement quality. Basically, the bones have stretched out quickly, and the soft tissue structures crossing the joints haven't had time to catch up (let alone learn how to establish control of new stabilization demands).

What many folks fail to recognize is that "bad" stiffness doesn't just increase in teenage athletes, but also in the decades that follow. It's well established that joint laxity decreases over the lifespan; it's one of several reasons why your 80-year-old grandmother isn't as supremely mobile as she was in her 50s.

What's the point? A lot of the foundational mobility drills you use with your teenage athletes are probably "keepers" that people can use over the course of their entire lifespan. So, teach them perfectly early on so as to not develop bad habits that will be magnified over decades.

GoodHFStretch-300x225

5. MR: Remember that good hip development for athletes should be tri-planar.

Whether it's stealing bases, returning a punt, or changing directions on the ice, there's more to the hips than sagittal (straight ahead) plane development. Sure, it never hurts to be a stronger squatter or deadlifter, but I'd also argue that's just the tip of the iceberg. We also need our athletes to be able to move well in both the frontal and transeverse planes as well. I like to think of the sagittal plane as the "key" that unlocks the frontal and transverse plane.

If you're into the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) , you can even take this a step further and think of it like this: we need the ability to shift into and load our left hip, while we need the strength and stability to push (or get off) our right hip, particularly in those demonstrating this heavily asymmetric postural presentation.

leftaic-275x300-2

Once we have that basic movement capacity, now we need to start cementing it. This can be done initially in the weight room, with exercises like dynamic chops, lifts, the TRX Rip Trainer, etc. I'm also a huge fan of concentric med ball throws as well. Start low to the hip initially, and then raise it up over time. Progress to eccentric as movement capacity and strength improve.

Taking this a step further, don't be shy in doing some aggressive lateral plyo progressions as well. Work on Heidens/skier jumps with a stick first to develop eccentric strength and control, then work on improving speed, power and explosiveness. Last but not least, we need to prepare our athletes for the specific demands of their sport, and this is where lateral acceleration and crossover stepping comes into play. At the end of the day, use the weight room to get strong in the sagittal plane, but don't forget that the frontal and transverse planes are critical for a highly-functioning athlete!

6. EC: Don't be afraid to progress birddogs.

The birddog is an awesome core stability and hip mobility exercise, but it can quickly become really easy for athletes with some training experience under their belt. Not all exercises need to be progressed, but the band-resisted birddog is one way to add some variety and additional challenge for this invaluable exercise:

As I noted earlier, Mike and Joe Kenn recently released their Elite Athletic Development 2.0 Seminar DVD set. I've reviewed this product now myself, and it's excellent. You can learn more HERE

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