Home Posts tagged "Sports Performance Training"

Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 28

It's time for the April installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. In light of this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I wanted to write a bit about the importance of versatility in any strength and conditioning program. I firmly believe that The High Performance Handbook is the most versatile program on the market; in other words, it's been used with great success by folks from all walks of life. This is because of the self-assessment component, various programming options, and exercise modifications it includes. You can learn more HERE

HPH-main

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on versatility in programming.

1. Psychosocial stress impacts joint loading.

Back in February, I went to a great seminar with Dr. Stuart McGill, and he alluded to some excellent research from Dr. Bill Marrus at The Ohio State University. It's almost 20 years old, but still fascinating. You can read about it HERE, but he's an interesting excerpt:

"An experiment was performed that imposed psychosocial stress on people performing standard lifting tasks and compared this with situations where no psychosocial stress was present. Under the stress conditions, significant increases in spine compression and lateral shear were observed, but not for all subjects. Gender played a role in that females moved di􏰘fferently in response to stress, thereby causing an alteration in muscle coactivation patterns. More surprisingly, when the personalities of the subjects was considered, it was found that certain personality traits, such as introversion and intuition, dramatically increased spine loading compared with those with the opposite personality trait (e.g. extroversion and sensing). These di􏰘fferences in personality were closely associated with differing trunk muscle coactivation patterns and explained well the di􏰘erence in spine loading (and expected risk of LBD) between subjects. These increases in trunk muscle coactivation are believed to in ̄uence spine loading more at low levels of work intensity than at high levels where the biomechanical demands of the job probably overpower any additional loading that may be due to responses of the musculoskeletal system to psychosocial stress."

In other words, the more Type A your personality type, the higher your spine stress, and the different your muscular recruitment patterns. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has looked at injury rates in athletes during stressful academic periods, but it is interesting to see that there doesn't seem to be a "desensitization" occurring with those who are always more stressed. With that in mind, chance are that the training stress needs to be managed more conservatively in those who have very stressful personality types, not just lifestyles.

2. There are many different ways to fluctuate training stress.

Speaking of reducing training stress, there are many different ways to do so. We all know that you can reduce intensity (load), training frequency, and/or volume (sets x reps x load) to give people appropriate deloading periods. 

Sometimes, though, simply changing exercise type can reduce the training stress. As an example, changing to more concentric-dominant exercises (as I wrote HERE) is one way to reduce training stress. Most people won't feel really banged up from a session of deadlifts, step-ups, and sled pushes even if there is a fair amount of volume and intensity.  

3. Versatility implies the ability to quickly and easily progress and regress.

When I think of versatile programs, I immediately think of the ability to quickly change something on the fly - and that usually refers to exercise selection, usually because something is too advanced or basic for someone.

If you lack the hip extension needed to do a Bulgarian split squat, you're better off regressing to a regular split squat or a step-up.

bss-3

It's also important to understand how to move laterally. An example would be if a program called for a piece of equipment an individual doesn't have. For example, if you don't have a cable column, maybe you could use dumbbells, bands, or a TRX suspension training for your rowing variation.

4. There is a point of diminishing returns on variability.

Check out this image I created for a presentation I gave on long-term athletic development.

bellcurve

If young athletes have low variability in their lives, they make very little progress. Obviously, the risk of overuse injuries is higher, but just as importantly, without adequate movement variability, athletes don't have opportunities to build "predictive models" to which they can resort amidst the unpredictable challenges sporting environments throw at them. In other words, some exposure to controlled chaos prepares you for a lot of unpredictable chaos down the road.

To the far right of the column, though, we realize that too much variability can be problematic as well. There simply aren't enough high quality reps to build an firmly ingrained pattern. If an athlete throws a football in week 1, baseball in week 2, tennis ball in week 3, and shotput in week 4, he won't really have built one pattern any more than another. This is why athletes ultimately do benefit from an element of specialization; it brings them back to the center for more "focused progress."

These same ideas can be applied to the everyday gym-going lifter. Early on in a training career, we need to expose these individuals to just enough variability to prevent overuse injuries. In many cases, we can get this just by having comprehensive mobility warm-ups and assistance exercises - single-leg work, horizontal pulling, push-up challenges, carrying variations, etc. - that complement the big bang exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. If we just do a few big multi-joint exercises, though, injuries can often creep up, and we may encounter plateaus. However, there are also scenarios where specialization programs (less variability) may be needed to bring up specific lifts by pulling us back from the far right of the curve.

The take-home point is that the relationship between training progress and exercise variability is always in flux, and it's a good place to look if you're struggling to make progress, chronically injured, or just want to better understand why you're getting the results you're experiencing.

Looking to see how I create both versatility and variability in the programs I write? Check out The High Performance Handbook, which is on sale for $30 off this week.

highperformance-handbook-banner

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 27

 I didn't get a chance to write a February installment of this series, so I'll do my best to over deliver with an extra few bulletpoints in this March edition.

1. Use video even if you don't think you need to use video.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was about time I learn how to use iMovie on my iPhone. What better way than to film pieces of my training session and put them all together?

Interestingly, beyond proving that I’d actually entered the 21st century from a technology standpoint, there was an added benefit: I identified some subtle technique issues that I could address. I didn’t like the inconsistent way I unracked the bar from set to set on squats, and I was slipping into more forward head posture than I would have liked on my TRX fallouts. These aren’t epic technical faults, but over time, they’d certainly detract from an optimal training effect. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t videoed. And, this is coming from a guy who uses video regularly with his athletes.

On the whole, I think folks video TOO MUCH nowadays. A phone on the training floor is usually a distraction and interferes with the training process. However, used correctly, video can be a tremendous resource – and one I’ll be using more with my own training.

2. Think of assessments as descriptive, not predictive.

There is a ton of research out there on how to predict sports injuries. When it really boils down to it, though, we learn that:

a. the single best predictor of future injuries is a previous injury (duh)

b. predicting injuries is really, really hard

Why is predicting injuries so challenging? Very simply, injury risk is incredibly multifactorial. Injuries occur because of a remarkable interplay of systemic, biomechanical, and physiological factors – and they’re mixed in with pure happenstance: collisions, hit-by-pitches, poor weather conditions, and equipment malfunctions.

As such, it’s challenging to say that any single assessment will ever truly be a gold standard in predicting injuries. Accordingly, we should think of the assessment process as descriptive above all else. In other words, what we see when we first encounter an individual is their “default pattern:” how they’ll respond to a chaotic environment in the real world “fight-or-flight” scenarios.

For example, consider one of my favorite assessments, the overhead lunge walk:

When first challenged with an overhead lunge walk, many athletes dive into knee valgus, use a short stride, and slip into lumbar extension and forward head posture. Sure, we can clean a lot of these things up in a matter of less than 15 seconds, retest, and get a better outcome. That doesn’t fundamentally mean we’ve improved their movement quality or reduced their risk of injury, though. Effecting lasting changes takes time and lots of high-quality reps. However, the descriptive nature of the assessment guides our program design, which gives us a road map for these efforts.

3. Go unilateral to progress anterior core stability drills into rotary stability challenges.

When we categorize our core stability drills, we’ll break them down into the following designations:

a. anterior core (resisting extension of the lower back): rollouts, fallouts, etc.
b. rotary core (resisting rotation of the lower back): chops, lifts, etc.
c. lateral core (resisting lateral flexion – or side bending – of the lower back): 1-arm farmer’s walks, side bridges

With both rotary and lateral core “dominant” exercises, we can appreciate that the anterior core is also working to resist extension as we do a chop, lift, or farmer’s carry. In other words, we’re always controlling the sagittal plane above all else.

However, when we perform anterior core challenges – rollouts, fallouts, bodysaw drills, and basic prone planks/bridges – we really don’t get much of a challenge to rotary or lateral core stability. With four points of contact (two feet/knees and two arms/hands), the challenge outside the sagittal plane is minimal.

Fortunately, we can quickly and easily “bias” our anterior core work to get us additional challenges in the frontal and transverse planes by simply going to unilateral or asymmetrical set-ups. This is one (of many) scenarios where a TRX suspension trainer can be a game-changer. Here are two favorites: the 1-leg TRX fallout and TRX flutters:

 


4. Coaches need to train.

I don’t compete in powerlifting anymore. Life as a husband, dad, and owner of multiple businesses is hectic enough that competition was pushed out. And, my shoulder doesn’t love back squats these days.

Still, I lift a lot, get out and sprint, do interval training, and even mix in some rec softball and pick-up beach volleyball. This isn’t just because it’s hard-wired into my brain’s perception of a “normal day,” but also because I firmly believe that every training session allows me to evolve as a coach and have more empathy for our athletes.

Understanding how to modify your own training when you’re super busy at work or sick kids kept you up all night gives you an appreciation for how athletes feel when you ask them to get an in-season lift in after a weekend with four games.

Getting in a lift after a late cross-country flight makes you appreciate that it might be a better idea to score an extra few hours of sleep – rather than imposing more fatigue – in the middle of a road trip.

Putting yourself through 8-12 weeks of challenging training with a new program allows you to experiment with new principles to see if there are better methods for serving your athletes.

You don’t get these lessons if you don’t continue to train throughout your professional career. At age 25, I had no idea what our 35-year-old athletes felt like after training sessions. Now I understand it on a personal level – but more importantly, I’m keenly aware that our 45-year-old athletes probably have it even harder, so I need to ask a lot more questions and do a lot more listening in that demographic.

If you’re a strength and conditioning coach, the gym isn’t just where you work; it’s also where you experiment and learn. Don’t miss those opportunities to grow.

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The Best of 2016: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2016 at EricCressey.com: 

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

I really enjoyed writing this series, as I can always build on current events. This year, I drew inspiration from everything from off-season baseball preparations, to the Olympics, to new books and DVDs I'd covered. There's an article for every month:    

Installment 15
Installment 16
Installment 17
Installment 18
Installment 19
Installment 20
Installment 21
Installment 22
Installment 23
Installment 24
Installment 25

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective

This coaching series has appeal for fitness professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and exercise enthusiasts alike.

Installment 14
Bench Press Technique Edition

bencht-spine

3. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success 

While most of my writing folks on the training side of things, I do like to delve into the business side of fitness, too. These posts include various pieces of wisdom for those who make their living in the fitness industry.

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3
Installment 4

The Best of 2016 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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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 question 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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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 23

It's time for the October edition of this sports performance training series. I've been doing a lot of early off-season evaluations for pro guys, so a lot of conversations and assessments on that front are at the top of my mind.

1. Communication can be good and bad.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from professional athletes about their "employing" organizations is that the communication isn't good. They get mixed messages from different coaches and don't know where they stand on a variety of things. More than any of the amenities they could request, they really just want everyone to be on the same page and for the plan of attack to be related to them - and with frequent updates.

Interestingly, though, in the gym, athletes (especially more advanced athletes) usually want you to communicate less. They need clear, concise coaching cues so that you don't overwhelm them or kill the training environment with "nit-picking." Too much communication can actually be just as problematic as too little.

If you look at the typical training session for one of our athletes, I think you'd find that 80% of all the words spoken occur during the arrival, warm-up, and post-training cooldown periods. During the training session, it's time to get after it. Those 20% of words are implemented tactfully.

2. Many athletes don't have "clean" hip extension - and your exercise selection should reflect that.

Around this time last year, I posted this video of an MLB pitcher who was just starting up with us:

After seeing quite a few guys who look like this, it's really made me reconsider whether going directly to a Bulgarian split squat (rear-foot-elevated split squat) in these guys is a good bet in the early stages of the offseason. This exercise requires a lot of not only hip extension range of motion, but also the core stability to make sure that ROM is actually used (the concept of relative stiffness in action). This is something we touched on on in Mike Reinold and my recent release, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement

With all this in mind, I've been using more regular split squats - which require less hip extension range-of-motion - in the first month of the offseason for even some of our advanced guys as they work to reestablish cleaner lumbopelvic movement strategies in the early off-season. That said, regular split squats can be a little harder on the trailing leg toes than the rear-foot-elevated version, so individualization (as always) is super important.

3. Sometimes, efficient transfer of force - and not joint-specific coaching - delivers the good positions for which you're looking.

I've often written about how we have both specific and general assessments in our training arsenal, but it's actually somewhat of a continuum. Specific assessments would be more along the lines of classic joint range-of-motion measurements. Shoulder abduction or flexion would be slightly more general, as these screens involve multiple joints. Finally, an overhead squat, overhead lunge walk, or push-up would all be very general screens that look at multiple joints and help to evaluate how well an athlete transfers forces.

Interestingly, though, very often, we see coaches and rehabilitation specialists who only have specific correctives even though they utilize a load of general assessments. The goal should be to ultimately get athletes to the point that efficient movement on general tasks delivers the positions you're hoping to safely achieve. As an example, we will use wall slide variations as part of our warm-ups to teach athletes how to get upward rotation of the scapula. A progression would be landmine press variations; usually in half-kneeling or standing:

Eventually, though, athletes are ready to "sync" these movements up in a scenario where transfer of force from the lower body up through the core and to the arm allows that upward rotation to happen.

In short, a good reminder is:

[bctt tweet="As is the case with your assessments, your correctives should range from specific to general."]

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 17

It's time for the April installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. Here are a few ideas that are currently rattling around my brain.

1. The absolute speed-strength continuum doesn't matter if you're weak.

I posted this on my Facebook page last week, but thought it merited a mention here. With respect to this old video of mine...

One thing I didn't mention that is an important consideration, though, is that an athlete has to have a foundation of strength and work capacity to even "get on" this continuum. This is one reason why it's absolutely absurd for a 10-year-old to be embarking on a crazy aggressive throwing program. Before he introduces overload/underload throwing or high volume, he needs to establish a base of general stability and work capacity to be able to handle more specific stress.

2. In-season training isn't just about lifting.

When people hear "in-season lifting," they seem to immediately think that the sole justifications for incorporating it is to maintain strength, power, and muscle mass. Surely, that's a huge part of the equation. However, I'm quick to point out to our athletes that in-season training includes a lot more. 

Each time an athlete trains at Cressey Sports Performance during the season, he's also going through his foam rolling work. And, he's working his way through a more individualized warm-up than he'd typically get at the field during practice or at games.

Likewise, it's an exposure to an environment that "nurtures" good lifestyle behaviors. There are invariably discussions about optimizing sleep quality, and improving nutrition. These exchanges just don't happen as often at the field.

All that in mind, in-season training isn't just about lifting weights.

3. There aren't absolutes when it comes to discussing packing the neck.

I can't definitely tell you that packing the neck during lifting will guarantee that you'll lift more weight.

tbdl

However, I think it's very safe to say that if - 20 years down the road - we take MRIs of the necks of lifters who lifted with a more neutral cervical spine posture and compared them to MRIs of those who looked up at the ceiling when they squatted and deadlifted, the packed neck group's diagnostic imaging would be a LOT cleaner.

4. Culture matters more than expertise, programming, finances, and just about anything else.

I've been fortunate to visit a lot of different strength and conditioning facilities in the private, collegiate, and professional sector. Without fail, the most successful facilities are the ones with an awesome culture. In other words, the athletes and staff are excited to be there. They're thrilled about the prospects of innovations, and there is great communication without consideration of organizational rank, service time, or any other sort of hierarchy. I think this awesome post from Matt Duffy of the Giants is a great example of this in action in professional sports. 

Culture matters because it's a limiting factor. Expertise and good programming are super important, but they don't matter if you don't have an environment that accommodates the implementation of these things. And, if you look at professional sports, you can't outspend a crappy culture. This is why you can see small market teams competing with the highest payroll teams in just about every professional sport. And, it's one reason why you see fancy facilities with seemingly limitless financial resources fail miserably in the private sector all the time.

This is one reason why I always emphasize to our staff and interns that we hire based on both competency and fit.

howwehire

Competency can be taught, but fit is something that is directly drawn from one's character. Character is something that needs to be established at a young age and reinforced over the course of decades in a professional career. It's a challenge to hire someone with the right fit for your culture, and this is one reason why we like to hire from our internship program; it's a test drive to determine "fit" and work to fine-tune it if the alignment isn't quite perfect.

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The Best of 2015: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2015 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

I really enjoyed writing this series, as I can always build on current events. This year, I drew inspiration from everything from the MLB Draft, to our gold medal win in the 18U Baseball World Cup, to books and DVDs I covered.    

Installment 9
Installment 10
Installment 11
Installment 12
Installment 13
Installment 14

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective

This coaching series has appeal for fitness professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and exercise enthusiasts alike.

Installment 10
Installment 11
Installment 12
Installment 13

SumoDL-300x206

3. Strength Strategies

We're only two updates in on this series from Greg Robins, but it's been a big hit thus far.

Installment 1
Installment 2

The Best of 2015 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 13

Things have been a bit quieter on the blog of late, as I'm working with the Team USA 18U baseball squad for the World Cup. I'm actually in Osaka, Japan now, and while the days have been very full, but it's been a fantastic experience on a number of fronts. And, it's gotten me to thinking a lot about athletic development in many contexts - some of which I'll touch on with this August edition of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance.

1. Nutrition is still king.

While my official title is "strength and conditioning coach," you can't possibly expect to do a good job in this role unless you're also willing to be an advocate for proper nutrition with your athletes. Especially with teenage athletes, though, it's important to meet them where they are - and address the most pressing issues first. If a kid is only getting in 1,500 calories/day and has been losing weight all summer, it'd be silly for me to hone in on his fatty acid balance and nitpick that he chose pasta over rice. Rather, the first step is to figure out how to conveniently get in some healthy calories in his day.

Nutrition can get incredibly complex over time, but it doesn't need to be early on. If you overwhelm young athletes by throwing too many changes at them early on, they'll tune you out and nothing will be accomplished. I'll often have an athlete focus on three habits for 21 days before we move on to the next three. It doesn't overwhelm them, and you can quickly build on previous successes.

2. Learn to "bias" exercises toward individual needs.

The bench t-spine mobilization is one of my favorite exercises. We typically use it for folks who have a shoulder flexion deficit or lack thoracic extension.

What a lot of people don't understand is that you can quickly take good exercises like the bench t-spine mobilization and make them great by adding in subtle changes. In this example, if someone has stiff/short adductors, we can have them move the knees out wider for a groin stretch. If someone is really lordotic (heavily arched lower back posture), we can have them exhale before they descend to get a bit more anterior core activation to pull the ribs down and pelvis into posterior tilt.

Obviously, this is just good coaching - but it illustrates the need for assessment. If you're not assessing, you're just guessing on which "quick fixes" can make a good exercise into a great exercise.

3. With overhead athletes, stick with the overhand grip on the dominant side during alternate grip movements.

The typical pitcher's long head of the biceps tendon gets a lot of abuse during the throwing motion. At the lay-back position, it's helping out the rotator cuff and anterior capsule by working as an anterior and superior stabilizer of the glenohumeral (ball and socket) joint.

images-2-3

Then, at ball release, it's continuing these stabilizing functions, but also in more of a compressive role to keep the humeral head from distracting from the joint - and this is happening while it's trying to help slow elbow extension.

With this in mind, my rule of thumb is to always try to take stress off the biceps tendon in our training. One way we can do so is to avoid using the "underhand" grip on the dominant side with deadlifts. If you're going to use the alternate grip, keep that dominant hand as the "over" hand (or just pull with a double overhand grip, or use the trap bar). It's also important to take the slack out of the bar so that the biceps isn't aggressively stretching from a flexed-to-extended elbow position at the initiation of a deadlift.

4. Work capacity is incredibly important for teenage athletes - possibly even more than with college and professional athletes.

In the high school years, athletic development should be linear improvements with the occasional "flat line" of progression, but there should never be noteworthy falloffs in fitness qualities. This is the case because young athletes have a larger window of adaptation and can be very responsive to even minimal doses of training. They're also more resilient and can bounce back quickly from session to session, making it possible to do more work during the in-season period - particularly in a setting that may be more developmental (junior varsity) than competitive (playoffs).

Once athletes have a solid training foundation, it becomes impossible to maintain every fitness quality throughout the competitive year, which obviously gets more and more grueling in college and professional sports. We have to learn how to prioritize fitness qualities throughout the year, and just as importantly, we need to appreciate how to optimize recovery so that athletes can best display these qualities from day to day.

Revisiting the high school athlete, though, the linear progression "ideal" that we seek is heavily dependent on an athlete building an appreciable level of work capacity in the "true" off-season that exists. In a baseball model, if the athlete has the initial work capacity to "fall back on," we can get in more quality work in July and August to at least preserve the "flat line" or even gain a small amount of fitness. If that work capacity was never there, pushing an athlete - even if it's just a little bit - can set back performance substantially. In short, it's much easier to impose fatigue on someone who's never experienced enough fatigue to get desensitized to it.

This point illustrates why working with the 18U National Team has been a good challenge. All the players are 16-17 years old, so we have a wide variety of training experience - and certainly different starting levels of work capacity. Some pitchers have thrown twice as many innings as other ones. We have some two-way players (pitch and play the field). Different athletes come from different climates (this is very significant, given how hot and humid it is in Asia right now). Needless to say, determining who needs to be pushed and who needs to be held back from day to day is a solid challenge. I'm really enjoying it - and it's definitely gotten me back to my roots of pushing rest, recovery modalities, and quality nutrition and hydration.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 9

With only a day to spare, here's the April edition of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training.

1. Don't forget pauses can be beneficial with single-leg training, too.

Working pauses into your lifting can yield tremendous benefits, as they reduce contribution of the stretch-shortening cycle and force a lifter to work much harder to produce force from a dead-stop. For some reason, though, they usually only get applied to "big bang" bilateral exercises like squats, bench presses, and (obviously) deadlifts. I actually really like to program pauses into single-leg work to improve carryover to what athletes really encounter in athletics and the real world. Here's an example:

2. Try the 1-arm cable rotational row from a low setting.

I love incorporating rotational rows in our athletes' programming. Many coaches only program this as an upright variation where the cable is set at chest height. I think this overlooks the importance of athletes learning how to "accept" force on that front hip. Hip rotation rarely occurs in isolation in athletics; rather, it is generally concurrent with flexion/extension and abduction/adduction. By lowering the cable a bit, you challenge things in a bit more of a sport-specific manner - and, in the process, add some variety to your athletes' programs.

3. Make sure put your intensive rotator cuff work after your overhead work.

I recently reviewed a program that paired Turkish get-ups with cable external rotations. While both are great exercises, the last thing you want to do is fatigue the rotator cuff before you go overhead, where it needs to work really hard to keep the humeral head depressed relative to the glenoid fossa. Likewise, be careful about doing all your cuff stuff early in the session, then progressing to overhead carries later. My feeling is that you just do enough to turn the cuff on during the warm-up, then train your highest stabilization demands (e.g., overhead supporting/carrying), and then head to the more direct (fatigue producing) stuff.

4. Different strength qualities make different athletes successful.

We have two athletes - both left-handed pitchers - make Major League Baseball debuts this week. The first, Jack Leathersich, is a relief pitcher for the New York Mets, and he just has one of those insanely "quick arms." In other words, it's almost as if he doesn't know how to throw a ball softly; it really jumps out of his hand. I think it's a function of his natural "reactive ability."

The second, Tim Cooney, is getting a start in his big league debut today for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He's not as naturally reactive as Jack is, but you could make the case that Tim is the strongest pound-for-pound professional pitcher we train. I've seen him do Turkish get-ups with a 100-pound kettlebell, and walking lunges with the heaviest dumbbells in the gym. He can make up for less reactive proficiency by falling back more on pure strength. I think this "strength reserve" also helps Tim as a starter, whereas reactive capabilities tend to fall off as fatigue sets in, which is probably why Jack has thrived as a reliever.

This static-spring relationship closely parallels the absolute strength to absolute speed one I shared in the past.

The more "static" guys are strong and need more reactive training, which largely takes place on the speed end of the continuum. The more "spring" guys need to keep prioritizing strength as a foundation for effective stretch-shortening cycle function, as you can't display force quickly if you don't have enough force in the first place.

I'll be back soon with another installment during the month of May!

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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2014 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training - I'm at my best when I'm my most random, and I think these posts are a great example of that. What started as a one-time post wound up becoming a regular series based on reader feedback. Here are links to all eight installments from 2014:

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3
Installment 4
Installment 5
Installment 6
Installment 7
Installment 8

600x3

2. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This series is mostly CSP coach Greg Robins' work, but I jumped in quite a bit in 2014. Installments 53-60 ran this year; here were the most popular ones:

Installment 53
Installment 54
Installment 57
Installment 58
Installment 59

3. Is Thoracic Spine Extension Work Necessary? - My good friend and colleague, physical therapist Eric Schoenberg, put together this in-depth series to demonstrate that not everyone needs extra thoracic extension work, contrary to what many folks think.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Hypokyphosis

The Best of 2014 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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