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5 Non-Traditional Exercises for Catchers

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida Director of Performance, Tim Geromini. Tim takes the lead with our catchers at CSP-FL, so I'm excited that you'll get a chance to take a glimpse into the expertise he brings to the table each day. Enjoy! -EC

With spring training right around the corner, most of the media attention is on the pitchers coming in to camp, but what about the guys catching them? The demands of catching a full season are unique and with that in mind, here are 5 non-traditional exercises we use with our catchers at Cressey Sports Performance.

1. Catcher Pop-up to Shotput

Although nothing can truly simulate working on technique like being in pads and actually being on the field, you’ll see a number of things in this exercise that look similar to what a catcher might do in a game situation. We start by getting into the catcher’s stance with a runner on base and have them close their eyes. I will then roll or place the ball to a random spot, forcing them to react when I clap my hands and they open their eyes. From there, the goal is to get to the ball as fast as possible and in a position to throw the ball as hard as possible into the wall. The reason we have them close their eyes and find the ball is to work on reaction time and identifying a loose ball. In game situations, a catcher doesn’t always know where the ball is after the initial block. One of the main benefits of the exercises is working on hip mobility and being strong getting from the crouch position to an upright throwing position. We usually program this for 3 sets with 3 reps per side with a 6-8 pound med ball.

2. 1-leg Kettlebell Switches

A lot of focus for catchers is centered around hip mobility, as it should be. However, losing sight of ankle stability is a mistake. Enter the 1-leg Kettleell Switches. In order to execute the exercise properly and get the most out of it, I recommend being in just socks or barefoot. The kettlebell doesn’t have to be heavy at all for this to be effective; most of the time, I start athletes with 10 pounds.

As you can see, the first movement is a hip hinge with a slight knee bend. From there, we cue the client to “grab the ground” with their feet and make sure the toes stay down. Go as wide with your arms as you can while maintaining balance, and switch the kettlebell from side to side. Your goal is to keep your foot from deviating into pronation/supination and your hips to stay level. From the side view, you want to make sure the athlete maintains a neutral spine. You may notice that if your client has a flatter foot, this can be more challenging to stay away from the foot pronating in. Likewise, if your client has a high arch, it can be challenging to maintain the big toe staying down.

We usually program this as part of a warm-up or paired with an explosive lower body exercise. We'll do 3 sets of 8 reps per side.

3. High Tension Ankle Mobilization

A Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) inspired exercise, the high tension ankle mobilization is working on taking your ankle through end-ranges of dorsiflexion with control of that range. It is important to go through this exercise slowly, as rushing through it generally doesn’t lead to as much tension or control of your range.

Start by getting into a good half-kneeling position, making sure not to sit your hips into abduction or adduction. From there, imagine pushing your foot through the floor and slowly take your knee as far over your middle toes as you can without your heel coming off the ground or the ankle pronating in. Then, slowly lift your heel off the ground maintaining your knee staying out in front of your toes as much as possible. Once you go as far as you can then slowly return while driving your foot through the floor. Now that you are back to the original starting position with your knee over your toe pause, the lift your toes towards your shin and start to lift the front of your foot off the ground, still pushing your heel through the ground. Once you can’t go back anymore, slowly return to the starting position.

Because this exercise requires a lot of tension and effort, we usually program this for 2-3 reps. You can put this in a warm-up or pair it with an ankle stability exercise such as the 1-leg kettlebell switch. If you deem the client has sufficient ankle mobility, this exercise isn’t always necessary and the focus can be more on stability.

4. Seated 90-90 Hip Switches w/Hip Extension

Another drill of FRC origin, seated 90/90 hip switches are a great hip mobility exercise, but often are not performed correctly if they are rushed. What do we get out of this exercise? Hip internal rotation, external rotation, flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction...all while maintaining a neutral spine. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Before prescribing this exercise, make sure to check your client’s hip range of motion and medical history first. If your client has femoroacetabular impingement or some other pain in their hip, this may not be the best fit for them.

The key coaching cues are to keep your hips as far separated as possible during the exercise and maintain a neutral spine. If you notice your lumbar or thoracic spine flexes, then use your hands on the ground as support. We usually program this exercise for 3 reps per side.

5. Deep Squat Anti-Rotation Press

There are many variations of the anti-rotation press (better known as the “Pallof Press”), but this version gets as specific to catching as any of them. Make sure the cable or band is set up at sternum height. When you press out, make sure your hips and feet stay neutral (don’t rotate toward one side). From the side view, you want to make sure the spine is neutral. You can hold this for breaths, time, or reps.

Wrap-up

These are just a small piece of the puzzle that is training catchers, but hopefully it gets your mind working to innovate and individualize for these athletes!

About the Author

Tim Geromini is the Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. Prior to joining the CSP team; Tim spent time with the Lowell Spinners (Class A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox), Nashua Silver Knights (Futures Collegiate Baseball League), Cotuit Kettleers of (Cape Cod Baseball League), and UMass-Lowell Sports Performance. You can contact him at timgero@gmail.com and on Twitter (@timgeromini24).

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10 Random Thoughts on Core Stability Training

I'm collaborating with Cressey Sports Performance coach Tim Geromini on today's post, as we both reviewed Dean Somerset's new resource, Advanced Core Training, over the weekend. Today, we'll highlight some of the biggest takeaways from the product - and how it relates to what we do at CSP on a daily basis.

Let me preface this article by saying that I think the world needs another "core training" product, seminar, or article like I need a hole in my head. Seriously, it's the most hackneyed topic in the fitness industry today. However, Dean is a super bright guy and his stuff never disappoints, so Tim and I gave him the benefit of the doubt, especially since the resource clocks in at a hair over four hours and therefore wouldn't destroy an entire day if it was less-than-stellar.

Fortunately, Dean put on a great show. Check out some key takeaways we wanted to highlight:

1. Training your core isn’t just about being stiff and stable: Core training is also about being elastic and malleable. We have to be able to get into positions and then lock down into them to prevent injury. However, we also have to be resilient enough to move through the continuum while being able to control movements. Freedom of the movement you have available is key.

2. The end of pain usually does not mean you have restored structure and function. More often than not, the end of pain just means you aren’t currently irritating those tissues enough to have pain. How many times have your client’s symptoms gone away and came back shortly after? Although the symptoms and pain may be gone, the injury is still there. Progressing exercises too fast can lead to a return in pain.

There is nothing wrong with owning basic exercises for long periods of time.

3. Your diaphragm is the roof and main anchor point for most core muscles: psoas, rectus, multifidus, and transverse abdominis. They also attach to the pelvic floor. When you can control breathing through your diaphragm, you can put yourself in a better position to express core strength.

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4. Rotary stability exercises are incredibly important, but they usually occur with the lower body fixed and upper body creating the destabilizing torques. Chops and lifts are perfect examples.

However, in functional activities like the rotation that occurs with golf, tennis, baseball, track and field throwing, and hockey slapshots, there is a separation that takes place between the torso and hips. Effectively, they rotate in opposite directions – so it makes sense to have both “ends” of the chain moving in some of our exercises. A good example is the Dead Bug Anti-Rotation Press, which also offers some anterior core benefits.

5. If you’re always doing relaxed parasympathetic breathing, you won’t generate power. Likewise, if you’re always doing short and choppy breathing, you’ll never relax and will fatigue faster. Let’s take the squat, for example: if your breathing is slow and parasympathetic, your body is not primed to express the absolute force it can. On the other hand, if you’re performing a deadbug as part of your warm-up, you need to relax to activate your core.

6. Try programming for breaths instead of time. During a plank, instead of asking your client to hold the position for 30 seconds, try having them hold the plank for 5 full breaths. This forces them to actually breathe since their focus is getting 5 full breaths out as opposed to trying to survive for 30 seconds. It's an instant shift to quality over quantity.

7. Neutral, Brace, Breathe: when you’re changing positions or setting up for an exercise, the best way to put yourself in the correct position is to own your starting point. In order to do that, you need to reset to a neutral spine, brace your core, and breathe.

8. We really like quadruped walkouts as a “bridge” exercise that can be used as a progression from all fours belly lift toward bear crawls.

This awesome drill gets you not only an anterior core challenge, but also a means of building good serratus anterior function. You can't have good upper extremity function without quality core control!

9. Think set-up, execution, and recovery: to piggy back on the previous point, let’s take the deadlift as an example here. You wouldn’t perform repetition after repetition in rapid fire without resetting. Before going on to your next rep, you reset to a neutral spine, brace your core, and breathe. Instead of thinking of one set of five reps, think of performing five singles. Each repetition is a set in itself.

10. Producing force from lower body to upper body is core dependent. Here at CSP we talk a lot with our athletes about the importance of their core in their pitching delivery. You may have a strong lower half, but without a stable and strong core, that force from your lower body can’t be expressed all the way up the chain if your core gives out.

Wrap-up

Advanced Core Training covers the gambit of core training: everything from how to tune breathing patterns to the desired goal outcome (mobility, strength, reactive speed, etc) to assessing core function. There is a huge hands-on component, which provides a lot of different ideas on how to use exercises and - more importantly - when to use them.To sweeten the deal, Dean's locked down NSCA CEUs for it. In short, I think it's a great resource that has merit for fitness professionals, strength and conditioning coaches, rehab specialists, and fitness enthusiasts alike. Click here to learn more.

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15 Lessons on Physical Preparation – Installment 2

Today, Tim Geromini and I present the second half of our "notes" on Mike Robertson's new DVD set, Physical Preparation 101. In case you miss it, be sure to check out Installment 1. Here are eight more key takeaways:

8. Coach the heck out of the set-up.

It's very difficult to properly perform an exercise if you don't set up in the best position possible. If you watch Mike during the hands-on portion of this seminar, he is constantly adjusting the demonstrator until they are in the exact position he prefers. Often, your clients have the strength and mobility to perform exercises correctly, but are not in the best position to do so. It may only be a small tweak here or there, but subtle adjustments can make a huge difference. If it adds one minute on to your session, it's a minute worth paying for.

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9. Remember that clients are where they are right now.

One of the most difficult aspects of coaching can be to hold clients back when they really want to do more. I always prefer the clients who want to challenge themselves over the ones you have to convince to train harder. However, emphasizing quality over quantity isn’t always easy. Make sure you let the client know we are looking for quality reps.

10. You can have a template, but treat everybody as an individual.

Mike’s R7 approach is a template, but all clients are treated individually. Too often in the strength and conditioning industry we see cookie cutter programs that are a "one size fits all" approach. For instance, those with flat thoracic spines and an extended low back are treated the same as someone with significant kyphosis and flat lumbar spine. A template serves as an organized structure for which individuals can improve. Sure, everybody who trains at IFAST will have the R7 template as part of their program, but the exercises are tailored to each individual.

11. Be an efficient coach.

When you are working with a client, you should a) name the exercise, b) describe why they’re doing it, c) demonstrate the lift, and d) coach the lift. These can all be accomplished in under 20 seconds and makes all the difference. When a client knows why they are doing an exercise, they now have ownership of it. You’ll also save yourself a lot of time in the future if the client knows the name of each exercise so they don’t have to keep asking you.

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12. Coaching angles matter.

If you master the sagittal plane, the frontal and transverse planes are easier to coach. Make sure you coach from 90-degree angles; there is a lot you can miss if you aren’t in the best position to coach. The "90-degree rule" also tells us that there are times when two coaches (one front/back and one left/right) can get the coaching job done faster than just one.

13. Think of yourself as a doctor of exercise.

When you’re a qualified expert, people come to you because you’re the best. Now, this also takes into consideration the work you are willing to put in to improve your assessment and programming process. However, you should understand we are not just writing down numbers on a sheet of paper and hoping it'll work. You put in the time to learn the client’s movement patterns and compensations.

14. Remember that aerobic work has its place.

Cardiovascular health and parasympathetic dominance are important goals in any training (and recovery) program. People are far too sympathetic dominant, essentially in today’s upbeat world, where there is no "off" switch. Mike cites the equation of "Anaerobic threshold – resting heart rate = aerobic window." In other words (and quite obviously), the higher your resting heart rate, the greater your opportunity for improvements. In recent years, though, everyone seemed to want to just push the left side of the equation (anaerobic threshold) with loads of interval training.

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If you can widen the aerobic window, you’ve done a lot of good things for the client even beyond just cardiovascular health. High intensity anaerobic exercise is built from a low intensity aerobic foundation, so get your "easy" gains first. Over the long haul, when you are more resistant to fatigue, you can handle more volume and recover easier.

15. Make sure clients can keep the pelvis square as they load the hips.

The biggest benefit to split-stance and single-leg work is turning the right things on and turning the wrong things off. Most people look like wounded animals when performing single-leg work, but those who perform single-leg and split-stance exercises correctly are generally improving hip mobility and strength - and most importantly, doing so without compensation.

As a friendly reminder, Physical Preparation 101 is now on sale, and it's an excellent resource for your training library. You can learn more HERE.

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4 Keys to Making the Most of Summer Baseball

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida coach, Tim Geromini. Tim has seen summer baseball on both the collegiate and professional levels, and today, he shares his insights on how players can thrive between June and August. Enjoy! -EC

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The topic of whether or not to play summer league baseball has been debated quite a bit over the last few years. Eric wrote a great article about it (HERE). This article is not designed to make the case for or against playing summer league baseball, but rather to give some points on how to make the most out of your experience if you decide to play. With four seasons in summer league ball under my belt, I’ve heard the phrase “this was the best summer of my life” more times than I can count. Assuming it is the right timing and situation for you, here are four keys to making it the best summer of your life on and off the field.

1. Get your mindset right before you arrive, and stick with it.

This might seem like an easy one, but you’d be surprised how many guys come in with the wrong mindset every year. Summer league baseball should not be what it’s made out to be (party time!) in movies like Summer Catch. Rather, it’s a chance to become a better player and person. I’m not saying you have to be sound asleep in your bed right after the game ends, but you should understand the true reason you are there.

You are there to learn more about the game and become a more complete player. Some coaches will not do much teaching, but rather let you play your style and make some adjustments. Others will be incredibly critical and teach you until the day you leave. I’ve seen both coaching styles work. What are the common traits of players who’ve thrived under both circumstances? The players were open minded, incredibly positive, and wanted to get better. If you’re willing to accept another way of thinking, keep a good attitude about it, and do it with a determination to be better, you are doing everything you can to improve on and off the field.

2. Be part of your host-family.

Most players will live with a host family, and you are lucky to have that opportunity. Be part of that family for the summer and beyond. If you have a host-brother or host-sister, you have an opportunity to positively impact that person’s life. They look up to you, just as you would have when you were younger. Hang out with them, teach them, and learn something from them. I always loved seeing my players playing with their host families on the field after games. Whether its dinner with the host-parents, running the bases with their host-brother, or playing a round of mini-golf with them after the game, it’s a great way to spend your summer. On a related note, most of our Major League Baseball guys at Cressey Sports Performance keep in close contact with their host families from their college and minor league days, as they’ve built life-long friendships.

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Remember that you also represent the town for which you play. Be a gentleman on and off the field.

3. Rest and Recover.

In many cases, players are playing competitively 8-10 months out of the year. Summer league is at the tail end of this run, when your body is exhausted. Sleep and nutrition are your keys to be able to perform every day. It’s difficult to play your best and be mentally in the game on a few hours of sleep every night. A hidden form of recovery is to get yourself out of the sun when you can. Baseball camps, practices, and games can make for upwards of 8 hours in the sun all day. Get yourself in the shade or in a cool, dark area when you can. Some teams will have a rule where your host family provides a certain amount of meals for you each day. Take advantage of this to get your calories in and make healthy decisions. The most successful players I have seen took rest and recovery seriously.

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4. Train!

There’s no way I could write this article without highlighting the importance of training during the summer. If you follow this website, I trust you know the benefits of training and are proof of the results. I must say, however, that many athletes think the summer away from their college strength coach is their opportunity to not see a weight room. You don’t have to train every day. In fact, trying to train 6 days per week while playing 5-6 days per week can do more harm than good. I always shot for 2-3 training sessions per week for my guys, depending on their situation; this kept them fresh and strong. The non-training days are just as important to improving tissue quality and maintaining mobility. Whether it’s doing it yourself by foam rolling and going through some dynamic flexibility drills, or seeking manual therapy elsewhere, it’s important to get your work in on these fronts.

Conclusion

There are a number of ways to make summer league baseball an enormous success and something you will always remember. These four always stuck out to me and I hope it can help some of you in the future. I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts on other important factors in summer baseball in the comments section below.

About the Author

Tim Geromini is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL. Prior to joining the CSP team; Tim spent time with the Lowell Spinners (Class A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox), Nashua Silver Knights (Futures Collegiate Baseball League), Cotuit Kettleers of (Cape Cod Baseball League), and UMass-Lowell Sports Performance. You can contact him at timgero@gmail.com and on Twitter.

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