Home Posts tagged "thoracic spine mobility"

Why the Overhead Angle Matters in the Pitching Delivery

The overhead view in a pitching delivery can enable you to see certain things that can’t be appreciated from other perspectives. Foremost among these is the ability to differentiate between thoracic rotation (upper back motion) and horizontal abduction (shoulder motion).

In this image taken just prior to stride foot contact, Gerrit Cole's pelvis has already rotated counterclockwise toward the plate while his torso is still rotating clockwise. This is the hip-shoulder separation throwers seek for generating big time velocity.

However, when a thrower lacks thoracic rotation - or gives up thoracic rotation too early (usually by chasing arm speed too early in the delivery) - he’ll often resort to creating excessive horizontal abduction (arm back) to find the pre-stretch he wants to generate the velocity he covets. This is not only an ineffective velocity strategy, but it also can increase anterior shoulder and medial elbow stress - all while leading to arm side misses, accidental cutters, and backup breaking balls.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard of a few pitchers being advised to work to increase the horizontal abduction in their deliveries. I don’t think you can make this recommendation without the overhead view, and even then, it’s likely taking a distal (arm) solution to a proximal (trunk and timing) problem.

I covered hip-shoulder separation in the pitching delivery in great detail in a free presentation I gave away earlier this year when we launched our podcast. You can still get it by subscribing below:

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Free Presentation: Hip Shoulder Separation in Rotational Athletes: Making Sense of the Thoracic Spine

We're really proud of what we've created with the CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast. And, we're confident you will really like it, too - so we'd love it if you'd subscribe to the opt-in box below so that we can notify you each time a new episode goes live. To sweeten the deal, o start, everyone will receive free access to my 35-minute presentation, Hip Shoulder Separation in Rotational Athletes: Making Sense of the Thoracic Spine. I delivered this presentation to a packed house at the popular Pitchapalooza seminar, and it's yours free when you opt in.

Only email address is required; you'll be emailed the access link right away (be sure to check your junk mail folder): 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/9/18

I hope you've had a good week. To kick off your weekend on the right foot, I've got some good reading from around the strength and conditioning world.

First, though, I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'll be speaking at Pitchapalooza near Nashville in early December as part of an awesome lineup. You can learn more HERE.

Maximum Strength Training for Tennis: Why You Should Do It - Matt Kuzdub authored a great guest post for EricCressey.com a few months ago, and this was another recent post of his in the tennis world. Much it it could be applied to other sports as well.

Your Glutes Probably Aren't to Blame for Sore Knees, but They Could Still Be Stronger - Here's a solid dose of reality with some actionable strategies from Dean Somerset.

5 Great Analogies for Training Baseball Players - A big part of getting results is clearing communicating with athletes, and analogies are an invaluable way of doing so. This article outlines some of my favorites for working with a baseball population.

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Exercise of the Week: Bent-over T-Spine Rotation with Hip Hinge

I wanted to introduce you to a new exercise we've been playing around with lately. I created the bent-over thoracic spine rotation with hip hinge because I was looking for a way for athletes to avoid compensatory movements as we worked on thoracic spine mobility in the standing position. Essentially, you'll often see folks with limited thoracic spine mobility move East-West with the hips or laterally flex through the spine as they try to find motion in spite of their limitations. By pushing the butt back to the wall, we effectively block off compensatory hip motion (and work on a better hip hinge pattern at the same time).

Key coaching points:

1. By having the eyes follow the hand, you get some cervical rotation to help things along.

2. Make sure the upper back is moving and you aren't just "hanging out" on the front of the shoulder. This is especially true in a throwing population who may have acquired anterior shoulder laxity.

3. We'll usually do eight reps per side. This can be included as a single set during a warm-up, or for multiple sets as fillers during a training session (we'll often plug it in between medicine ball sets).

4. This is a better option for those who have active range-of-motion limitations to thoracic spine rotation, as opposed to passive limitations. In the case of the passive limitations, athletes are better off with things like side-lying windmills, where they have assistance from gravity (instead of having to compete against it).

To learn more about how we assess, program, and coach around the thoracic spine (and entire shoulder girdle), be sure to check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 6

It's been quite some time since I published an update to this series, but some recent professional baseball initial offseason evaluations have had me thinking more and more about how important it is to take a look at lateral flexion.

In the picture above, I'd say that the athlete is limited in lateral flexion bilaterally, but moreso to the left than right. You'll also notice how much more the right hip shifts out (adducts) as he side bends to the left; he's substituting hip fallout for true lateral flexion from the spine. The most likely culprit in this situation is quadratus lumborum on the opposite side (right QL limits left lateral flexion).

As you can see from the picture below, the triangle shaped QL connects the base of the rib cage to the top of the pelvis and spine.

Stretching out the QL isn't particularly challenging; I like the lean away lateral line stretch (held for five full exhales). This is a stretch that can be biased to target the lat, QL, or hip abductors.

That said, the bigger issue is understanding why a QL gets tight in the first place. As Shirley Sahrmann has written, whenever you see an overactive muscle, look for an underactive synergist. In this case, the right glutes (all of them) are likely culprits. If the gluteus maximus isn't helping with extending the hip, the QL will kick on to help substitute lumbar extension. And, if the gluteus medius and minimus aren't doing their job as abductors of the hip, the QL will kick in to "help out" in the frontal plane. This double whammy has been termed a Left AIC pattern by the good folks at the Postural Restoration Institute, and they've outlined many drills to not only address the apical expansion (which creates length through the QL), but also bring the pelvis back to neutral.

Taking this a step further, typically, those with very overactive QLs will also present with limited thoracic rotation (in light of the QL attachment on the inferior aspect of the ribs), so you'd be wise to follow up this stretch with some thoracic mobility work. The athlete in the example at the top of this article had the most limited thoracic rotation (both active and passive) that I've seen in any pitcher this offseason.

That said, here's a good rule of thumb:

If you have a flat thoracic spine athlete with limited thoracic rotation, look at pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, and quadratus lumborum. If horizontal abduction (pec) and shoulder flexion (lat) both check out well, go right for QL tissue extensibility (as measured by lateral flexion). It will be absolute game changer - particularly in rotational sport athletes.

If you're looking to learn more about how we assess, program, and coach at the shoulder girdle, be sure to check out my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Stop Thinking About “Normal” Thoracic Spine Mobility

Two years ago, I published a post, Tinkering vs. Overhauling - and the Problems with Average, where I discussed the pitfalls of focusing on population averages, especially in the world of health and human performance. I'd encourage you to give it a read, but the gist is that you have to be careful about overhauling a program because you see someone as being outside a "norm" that might have been established for an entire population when they are unique in so many ways.

Thoracic spine mobility is an excellent example. What would be considered acceptable for an 80-year-old man would be markedly different than what we'd want from a 17-year-old teenage athlete in a rotational sport. This athlete, for instance, had some marked negative postural adaptations that contributed to two shoulder surgeries during his time as a baseball pitcher. If he was far older with different physical demands, though, he might have never run into problems.

Lumbar locked rotation is a great thoracic spine rotation screen I learned from Dr. Greg Rose at the Titleist Performance Institute. Briefly, you put the lumbar spine in flexion (which makes lumbar rotation hard to come by) and the hand behind the back (to minimize scapular movement). This allows you to better evaluate thoracic rotation without compensatory motion elsewhere. Check out the high variability among three athletes who are all roughly the same age:

On the left, we have a professional baseball pitcher. In the middle, we have an aspiring professional golfer. And, on the right, we have a powerlifter who's moved well over 600 pounds on both the squat and deadlift. Adaptation to imposed demand is an incredibly important part of this discussion of "normal." The hypertrophy (muscle bulk) that benefits the powerlifter could possibly make the baseball pitcher and golfer worse, but at the same time, I wouldn't necessarily say that the powerlifter is "lacking" in thoracic rotation because you don't need a whole lot of movement in this area for a successful, sustainable powerlifting career.

I should also note that these are all active measures. If we checked all three of these guys passively, we'd likely see there's even more thoracic rotation present than you can see here. And, that can open up another can of worms, as having a big difference between active and passive range of motion can be problematic, too.

The take-home message is that if you're going to call someone's movement quality "abnormal," you better have a clear designation of what "normal" is for their age and sport, as well as what's required for their athletic demands.

For more information on how we assess and train thoracic mobility, I'd encourage you to check out my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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What (Physically) Goes Into a Good Swing

Cressey Sports Performance athlete Chris Taylor had a big go-ahead 2-run HR last night for the Dodgers - and the second I saw this photo of his swing on Instagram, I immediately got to thinking about how great a representation it is of the demands of the swing.

 

CT3 for the lead! #LADetermined

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As a right-handed hitter, the pelvis rotates counterclockwise toward the pitcher during the swing. However, "counterclockwise" doesn't really do justice to the fact that it's actually hip movement in three planes: rotation (transverse), abduction (frontal), and extension (sagittal). Additionally, earlier in the swing, the torso actually rotates clockwise to create the separation that allow for greater storage of elastic energy and sets the stage for the barrel getting to the zone at the right time and angle - and for as long as possible. This reminds us that you can't have good swing mechanics if you don't have mobility in the hips and thoracic spine, and adequate stability in the core to prevent any energy leaks.

More specific to this photo, though, is the fact that all that motion from the trailing leg has taken place, which means all the force has been transferred forward - and something has to "accept it." We often use the analogy of riding a bike into a curb; if the curb isn't hard, the kid doesn't get launched over the handlebars. In this case, the "firm curb" is the front leg creating a blocking effect as the hip extensors and external rotators (glutes!) eccentrically control that aggressive force transfer into the lead leg. As you'll see in this photo, sometimes the tri-planar forces are so significant that guys might even roll to the lateral aspect of their shoes. And, unless they're in a great pair of New Balance cleats, they might even "swing out of their shoes" (yes, you'll sometimes see guys fold over the side of cleats that don't have good lateral stability).

Anyway, let's take this example to an untrained 15-year-old who doesn't have the strength, motor control, and mobility foundation that Chris has here. There's a good chance he's going to go to the wrong places to find a lot of this motion to generate, transfer, or accept force - and the most common spot is the lower back. You'll commonly see stress fractures and annoying tightness in this region in these kids because the lumbar spine isn't conditioned to produce force or go through significant rotational motion. Watch one of these kids go through a simple bowler squat and they usually fold up line a lawn chair.

In my experience (both in pitching and hitting), the kids most at risk are the ones who grow quickly at a young age. They have long levers that help them to generate velocity, but insufficient physical strength and range of motion to dissipate these aggressive patterns as they get to this position and beyond. They're all gas and no brakes.

Chicks can't dig the long ball if you're in a back brace because you ignored your hip and thoracic mobility and core stability. Take as much pride in your physical preparation as you do in your swing. Chris sure does!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/4/17

Happy Monday! It's been two weeks since my last recommended reading compilation, as I took a little blog hiatus last week in light of some travel and the chaos that is the professional baseball offseason. The good news is that it gave me time to stockpile some good content for you. Here goes...

Tinkering vs. Overhauling - and the Problem with Average - One of our interns asked me about my thoughts on the "average" range of motion at a particular joint, and it got me to thinking about this article I wrote last year. There are big problems with using averages in the world of health and human performances, so I'd encourage you to give it a read to learn more.

Core Control, Hamstrings Patterning, and Pitching Success - This was a whopper of an Instagram post from CSP-MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders. Be sure to check out all four parts.

Brett Bartholomew on the Art of Conscious Coaching - This was an excellent podcast from Mike Robertson, as Brett is a skilled coach and charismatic personality. It's definitely worth a listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all for 2016; happy holidays!

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