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Written on April 30, 2007 at 4:45 pm, by Eric Cressey
The VMO is important not only in contributing to knee extension (specifically, terminal knee extension), but also enhancing stability via its role in preventing excessive lateral tracking of the patella. The vast majority of patellar tracking problems are related to tight iliotibial bands and lateral retinaculum and a weak VMO.
While considerable research has been devoted to finding a good “isolation” exercise for the VMO (at the expense of the overactive vastus lateralis), there has been little success on this front. However, anecdotally, many performance enhancement coaches have found that performing squats through a full range of motion will enhance knee stability, potentially through contributions from the VMO related to the position of greater knee flexion and increased involvement of the adductor magnus, a hip extensor.
Increased activation of the posterior chain may also be a contributing factor to this reduction in knee pain, as stronger hip musculature can take some of the load off of the knee stabilizers. As such, I make a point of including a significant amount of full range of motion squats and single-leg closed chain exercises (e.g. lunges, step-ups) year-round, and prioritize these movements even more in the early off-season for athletes (e.g. runners, hockey players) who do not get a large amount of knee-flexion in the closed-chain position in their regular sport participation.
Written on April 30, 2007 at 12:17 pm, by Eric Cressey
Last week, I put something I call the “lifestyle checklist” in place with a few of my young athletes. In a nutshell, it’s a simple checklist used to keep them accountable to something with respect to their nutrition, sleep, and off-day exercise habits.
In Precision Nutrition, John Berardi highlights the 90% rule – which states that if you are on-point with 90% of your meals, you’re in good standing from a physique and health standpoint. I’ve simply applied that principle to my athletes’ weekly checklists.
We select seven habits we want to prioritize, factor in the seven days a week (49 total boxes to check), and aim for them to earn checks in at least 44 of those boxes (yes, I know that’s only 89.8%; I hope nobody is deeply offended).
Take, for instance, a 16-year old pitcher with whom I’m working; up until now, he’s had an intimate relationship with the golden arches. And, at 6-4 and 170, he also had the lumbar spine stability of one of the Olsen twins. His seven habits are:
1. Eat 5+ meals per day.
After three weeks at or above 90%, we’ll move to seven new habits. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
For more information on John Berardi’s ideas, check out the Precision Nutrition website.
Written on April 27, 2007 at 6:16 pm, by Eric Cressey
These discrepancies are highly prevalent in sports where athletes are repetitively utilizing musculature on one side but not on the contralateral side; obvious examples include throwing and kicking sports, but you might even be surprised to find these issues in seemingly “symmetrical” sports such as swimming (breathing on one side only) and powerlifting (not varying the pronated/supinated positions when using an alternate grip on deadlifts). Obviously, excessive reliance on a single movement without any attention to the counter-movement is a significant predisposition to strength discrepancies and, in turn, injuries.
While it’s not a great idea from an efficiency or motor learning standpoint to attempt to exactly oppose the movement in question (e.g. having a pitcher throw with his non-dominant arm), coaches can make specific programming adjustments based on their knowledge of sport-specific biomechanics. For instance, in the aforementioned baseball pitcher example, one would be wise to implement extra work for the non-throwing arm as well as additional volume on single-leg exercises where the regular plant-leg is the limb doing the excursion (i.e. right-handed pitchers who normally land on their left foot would be lunging onto their right foot). Obviously, these modifications are just the tip of the iceberg, but simply watching the motion and “thinking in reverse” with your programming can do wonders for athletes with unilateral discrepancies.
Written on April 26, 2007 at 11:26 am, by Eric Cressey
When it really comes down to it, regardless of the sport in question, the efficient athlete will always have the potential to be the best player on the court, field, ice, or track. Ultimately, knowledge of the game and technical prowess will help to separate the mediocre from the great, but that is not to say that physical abilities do not play a tremendously influential role on one’s success. Show me an athlete who moves efficiently, and I’ll guarantee that he or she has far more physical development “upside” than his or her non-efficient counterparts.
This “upside” can simply be referred to as “trainability;” I can more rapidly increase strength, speed, agility, and muscle mass in an athlete with everything in line than I can with an athlete who has some sort of imbalance. That’s not to say that the latter athlete cannot improve, though; it’s just to say that this athlete would be wise to prioritize eliminating the inefficiencies to prevent injury and make subsequent training more effective. Unfortunately, most athletes fall into the latter group. Fortunately, though, with appropriate corrective training, these inefficiencies can be corrected, and you can take your game to an all-new level. Mobility work is one example of the corrective training you’ll need to get the job done.
What’s the Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility?
This is an important differentiation to make; very few people understand the difference – and it is a big one. Flexibility merely refers to range of motion – and, more specifically, passive range of motion as achieved by static stretching. Don’t get me wrong; static stretching has its place, but it won’t take your athleticism to the next level like mobility training will.
The main problem with pure flexibility is that it does not imply stability nor readiness for dynamic tasks – basketball included. When we move, we need to have something called “mobile-stability.” This basically means that there’s really no use in being able to get to a given range of motion if you can’t stabilize yourself in that position. Believe it or not, excessive passive flexibility without mobility (or dynamic flexibility, as it’s been called) will actually increase the risk of injury! And, even more applicable to the discussion at hand, passive flexibility just doesn’t carry over well to dynamic tasks; just because you do well on the old sit-and-reach test doesn’t mean that you’ll be prepared to dynamically pick up a loose ball and sprint down-court for an easy lay-up. Lastly, extensive research has shown that static stretching before a practice or competition will actually make you slower and weaker; I’m not joking!
Tell Me About This Mobility Stuff…
So what is mobility training? It’s a class of drills designed to take your joints through full ranges of motion in a controlled, yet dynamic context. It’s different from ballistic stretching (mini-bounces at the end of a range of motion), which is a riskier approach that is associated with muscle damage and shortening. In addition to improving efficiency of movement, mobility (dynamic flexibility) drills are a great way to warm-up for high-intensity exercise like basketball. Light jogging and then static stretching are things of the past!
My colleague Mike Robertson and I created a DVD known as Magnificent Mobility to address this pressing need among a wide variety of athletes – basketball players included. We’ve already received hundreds of emails from athletes and ordinary weekend warriors claiming improved performance, enhanced feeling of well-being, and resolution of chronic injuries after performing the drills outlined in the DVD. I think it’s safe to say that they like what we’re recommending! In case that feedback isn’t enough, here are seven reasons why basketball players need mobility.
Reason #1: Mobility training makes your resistance training sessions more productive by allowing you to train through a full range of motion.
We all know that lifting weights improves athletes’ performance and reduces their risk of injury. However, very few people realize the importance of being able to lift through a full range of motion. Training through a full range of motion will carry over to all partial ranges of motion, but training in a partial range of motion won’t carry over to full ranges of motion.
For example, let’s assume Athlete A does ¼ squats. He’ll only get stronger in the top ¼ of the movement, and his performance will really only be improved in that range of motion when he’s on the court.
Now, Athlete B steps up to the barbell and does squats through a full range of motion; his butt is all the way down by his ankles. Athlete B is going to get stronger through the entire range of motion – including the top portion, like Athlete A, but with a whole lot more. It goes without saying that Athlete B will be stronger than Athlete A when the time comes to “play low.”
Also worthy of note is that lifting weights through a full range of motion will stimulate more muscle fibers than partial repetitions, thus increasing your potential for muscle mass gains. If you’re a post-player who is looking to beef up, you’d be crazy to not do full reps – and mobility training will help you improve the range of motion on each rep.
Reason #2: Mobility training corrects posture and teaches your body to get range of motion in the right places.
If you watch some of the best shooters of all time, you’ll notice that they always seem to be in the perfect position to catch the ball as they come off a screen to get off a jump shot. Great modern examples of this optimal body alignment are Ray Allen and Reggie Miller; their shoulders are back, chest is out, eyes are up, and hands are ready. The catch and shot is one smooth, seemingly effortless movement.
By contrast, if you look at players with rounded shoulders, they lack the mobility to get to this ideal position as they pop off the screen. After they receive the ball, they need to reposition themselves with thoracic extension (“straightening up”) just so that they can get into their shooting position. This momentary lapse is huge at levels where the game is played at a rapid pace; it literally is the difference between getting a shot off and having to pass on the shot or, worse yet, having it swatted away by a defender. These athletes need more mobility in the upper body.
As another example, one problem we often see in our athletes is excessive range-of-motion at the lumbar spine to compensate for a lack of range of motion at the hips. Ideally, we want a stable spine and mobile hips to keep our lower backs healthy and let the more powerful hip-joint muscles do the work. If we can’t get that range of motion at our hips, our backs suffer the consequences. Believe it or not, I’ve actually heard estimates that as much as 60% of the players in the NBA have degenerative disc disease. While there are likely many reasons (unforgiving court surface, awkward lumbar hyperextension patterns when rebounding, etc.) for this exorbitant number, a lack of hip mobility is certainly one of them. Get mobility at your hips, and you’ll protect that lower back!
Reason #3: Mobility training reduces our risk of injury.
As an interesting add-on, one study found that a softball team performing a dynamic flexibility routine before practices and c
Believe it or not, research has demonstrated that if you static stretch right before you exercise, it’ll actually make you weaker and slower. I know it flies in the face of conventional warm-up wisdom, but it’s the truth!
Fortunately, dynamic flexibility/mobility training has come to the rescue. Research has shown that compared with a static stretching program, these drills can improve your sprinting speed (2), agility (3), vertical jump (3-6), and dynamic range of motion (1) while reducing your risk of injury. Pretty cool stuff, huh?
Reason #5: Mobility training teaches you to “play low.”
All athletes want to know how to become more stable, but few understand how to do so. One needs to understand that our stability is always changing, as it’s subject to several environmental and physical factors. These factors include:
1. Body Mass – A heavier athlete will always be more stable. Sumo wrestling…need I say more?
From a training standpoint, we can’t do much for #1, #2, or #4. However, mobility training alone can dramatically impact how well an athlete handles #3 and #5. The better our mobility, the easier it is for us to get wider and get lower. The wider and lower we can get when we need to do so, the better we can maintain our center of gravity within our base of support. Neuromuscular factors – collecting providing for our balancing proficiency – such as muscular strength and kinesthetic awareness play into this as well, and the ultimate result is our stability (or lack thereof) in a given situation.
Reason #6: Mobility training can actually make you taller…Really!
I’ve worked with a lot of basketball players, and I can honestly say that not a single one of them has ever told me that he wants to be shorter. And, I can assure you that the coaches and scouts would take a guy who is 7-0 over a 6-11 prospect any day.
So what does that have to do with our mobility discussion? Well, imagine an athlete who is very tight in his flexors; his hips will actually be slightly flexed in the standing position, as the pelvis will be anteriorly tilted (top of the hip bone is tipping forward). Likewise, if an athlete has tightness in his lats (among other smaller muscles), he’ll be unable to fully reach overhead. These two limitations can literally make an athlete two inches shorter in a static overhead reach assessment.
Just as importantly, such an athlete is going to “play smaller,” too. He won’t jump as high because he can’t get full hip extension and won’t be able to optimally make use of the powerful gluteal muscles. And, his reach will be limited by his inability to get the arms up fully. Together, these factors could knock two inches off his vertical jump and prevent him from making a game-saving block. It really is a game of inches.
Need further proof? I’ve seen several athletes instantly add as much as two inches on their vertical jump just from stretching out the hip flexors and lats before they test. This is an acute change in muscle length, though; mobility training will enable you to attain these ranges of motion all the time.
In our daily lives and on the basketball court, it’s inevitable that we get stuck in certain repetitive movement patterns – things we do every day, several times a day. With these constant patterns, certain muscles will just “shut down” because they aren’t being used. Two good examples would be the glutes (your butt muscles) and the scapular retractors (the muscles that pull your shoulder blades together). As a result, these shutdowns lead to faulty hip positioning and rounded shoulders, respectively (and a host of other problems, but we won’t get into that).
To correct these problems, we need what is known as activation work. These drills teach dormant muscles to fire at the right times to complement the mobility drills and get you moving efficiently. Mike and I went to great lengths in Magnificent Mobility to not only outline mobility drills, but also activation movements and movements that incorporate components of both.
Reason #8: Having mobility feels good!
Think about it: what’s the first thing an athlete wants to do after a good stretching session? Go run and jump around! Now, just imagine having that more limber feeling all the time; that’s exactly what mobility training can do for you.
Written on April 26, 2007 at 11:22 am, by Eric Cressey
It’s extremely common for athletes to perform all their movements with externally rotated feet. This positioning is a means of compensating for a lack of dorsiflexion range of motion – usually due to tight plantarflexors – during closed-chain knee flexion movements. In addition to flexibility initiatives for the calves, one should incorporate specific work for the dorsiflexors; this work may include seated dumbbell dorsiflexions, DARD work, and single-leg standing barbell dorsiflexions. These exercises will improve dynamic postural stability at the ankle joint and reduce the risk of overuse conditions such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
Written on April 24, 2007 at 2:21 pm, by Eric Cressey
In light of my recent appearance on the front page of Boston.com and the City/Region section of the Boston Globe, I’ve received literally thousands of inquiries (or at least a half-dozen from sarcastic buddies*) – all asking the same question:
It seems only fitting to set the record straight once and for all – and this appears to be the best place to do it. Being a professional nipple model might seem like a cushy job, but in reality, it takes careful planning, smart training, years of dedication, and a hint of luck. To that end, here are my secrets for optimal nipple performance (my how-to manual will be available in the Spring of 2008):
1. Careful climate control – A steady temperature of 60-62°F is considered “on point” (pun intended). A common misconception is that slightly chilling nipples will optimize tissue texture, but in reality, dipping into the 50s increases the risk of nipple failure by over 77% both chronically (chaffing) and acutely (spontaneous rupture). And, obviously, increasing room temperature is a recipe for lifeless nipples – clearly not what a photographer wants.
2. Appropriate attire – As you can probably tell, I’m rocking the Dri-Fit™ technology from the good folks at Nike. From Nike.com: “This high-performance microfiber polyester fabric actually pulls sweat away from the body and transports it to the fabric surface – where it evaporates and leaves the skin cool and dry. It’s all you need for hot days, and a critical base layer for cold days. Stay dry. Stay comfortable. No matter what.”
A cool, dry, comfortable nipple is a nipple that performs at a high-level – even with national level publications. Remember that, rookies. Taking care of your nipples in this “biz” is like watching over your feet in the jungle. No matter what.
3. Training to reduce the bilateral nipple deficit (BLND) – In the world of resistance training, we encounter what is known as the bilateral deficit (BLD). We generally cannot produce as much total force when both limbs are working simultaneously as we can when the limbs work separately, and the resulting forces are combined (think of bilateral curls vs. unilateral curls). The BLD is simply the difference between these two figures.
The more inexperienced the lifter, the greater the BLD. I’ve found this to be true with respect to unilateral versus bilateral nipple recruitment as well, and have trained accordingly. The more unilateral nipple training I’ve done – one-arm dumbbell bench presses, unilateral nipple cryotherapy, and one-arm inverted cable wobble board semi-supinated front raises (functional nipple training) – the more versatile my nipple repertoire has become.
The take-home message for those of you at home is that specificity once again reigns supreme; if you want your nipples to perform at a high-level unilaterally, you have to train them one at a time. My extensive research on the subject matter has clearly demonstrated that professional nipple performers have a smaller BLND than their amateur counterparts. This allows them to adapt on the fly – as when a client’s head is obstructing view of one-half of the diamond-cutting duo.
4. Picking the right parents – Sometimes, children are just born with that X-Factor. For some, it’s height – and they go on to play in the NBA. Or, it’s a beautiful voice – and they go on to become singers. For others, it’s a keen sense of how to tolerate terrible baseball – and they become Yankees fans. I, apparently, was fortunate enough to be blessed with the sixth sense that enables me to train an athlete and be milked simultaneously. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for your willingness to live so close to power lines and eat paint chips every night for dinner during Mom’s pregnancy with me.
To all the up-and-comers, remember that if you aren’t cutting glass, you aren’t busting your ass!
Written on April 24, 2007 at 7:21 am, by Eric Cressey
Grip strength encompasses pinch, crushing, and supportive grip and, to some extent, wrist strength; each sport will have its own unique gripping demands. It’s important to assess these needs before randomly prescribing grip-specific exercises, as there’s very little overlap among the three types of grip. For instance, as a powerlifter, I have significantly developed my crushing and supportive grip not only for deadlifts, but also for some favorable effects on my squat and bench press. Conversely, I rarely train my pinch grip, as it’s not all that important to the demands on my sport. A strong grip is the key to transferring power from the lower body, core, torso, and limbs to implements such as rackets and hockey sticks, as well as grappling maneuvers and holds in mixed martial arts.
The beauty of grip training is that it allows you to improve performance while having a lot of fun; training the grip lends itself nicely to non-traditional, improvisational exercises. Score some raw materials from a Home Depot, construction site, junkyard, or quarry, and you’ve got dozens of exercises with hundreds of variations to improve the three realms of grip strength. Three outstanding resources for grip training information are Mastery of Hand Strength by John Brookfield, Grip Training for Strength and Power Sports by accomplished Strongman John Sullivan, and www.DieselCrew.com.
Written on April 23, 2007 at 5:14 pm, by Eric Cressey
Frontal plane stability in the lower body is dependent on the interaction of several muscle groups, most notably the three gluteals, tensor fascia latae (TFL), adductors, and quadratus lumborum (QL). This weakness is particularly evident when an athlete performs a single-leg excursion and the knee falls excessively inward or (less commonly) outward. Generally speaking, weakness of the hip abductors – most notably the gluteus medius and minimus – is the primary culprit when it comes to the knee falling medially, as the adductors, QL, and TFL tend to be overactive. However, lateral deviation of the femur and knee is quite common in skating athletes, as they tend to be very abductor dominant and more susceptible to adductor strains as a result.
In both cases, closed-chain exercises to stress the hip abductors or adductors are warranted; in other words, keep your athletes off those sissy obstetrician machines, as they lead to a host of dysfunction that’s far worse that the weakness the athlete already demonstrates! For the abductors, I prefer mini-band sidesteps and body weight box squats with the mini-band wrapped around the knees. For the adductors, you’ll have a hard time topping lunges to different angles, sumo deadlifts, wide-stance pull-throughs, and Bulgarian squats.
Written on April 23, 2007 at 7:39 am, by Eric Cressey
Q: I read your Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual and really enjoyed the chapter on “Performance Testing for Succcess.” What is your opinion on using the push-up max rep test as a measurement of upper body strength for female athletes? Do you believe there is a correlation between performing max push-ups and absolute upper body strength? I was discussing this topic with another strength coach who believes if a female athlete can only give you 5 push-up reps then it may be a good assessment of absolute strength.
In addition, take the following scenarios (if all is equal such as weight, body fat, arm length, mechanics, etc):
Male Athlete A: 170lbs; Max Push-ups reps = 35
Would you say Athlete A has greater absolute strength (or better muscular endurance in the upper body)?
I have an opinion but would like to get yours. There are research articles on the NSCA website regarding the push-up test as a measurement of upper body strength and the infamous 225 rep test and its correlation to maximum strength.
A: I’d rather use the push-up as an assessment of an athlete’s ability to stabilize the lumbar spine. Frankly, I don’t use actual dynamic push-ups very much early on in females simply because there are very few people who do them correctly. I’d rather build upper body strength with movement that enable me to manipulate load differently while I work on stability with other exercises (push-up holds for time, prone bridge variations, side bridges, Pallof presses). Eventually, we work in limited ROM push-ups on a bar set up in a power rack and gradually move them closer and closer to the ground.
Your example is a bit tricky. Sure, having more max strength will help your muscular endurance, but that’s not to say that certain athletes can’t become more metabolically conditioned to do a lot of rep at a high percentage of their 1RM. I recall hearing that elite rowers can do as many as 20 reps at something like 95% of their 1RM!
And, as a little aside, I wish people would just stop throwing 1RMs under the bus. Everyone seems to be so afraid of making athletes actually lift heavy stuff nowadays, and it’s one reason that very few female athletes are strong enough to punch their way out of a wet paper bag. If you look at the research, you’re more likely to get hurt on a 3RM+ test than you are on a 1RM test. If you want an assessment that goes beyond just a 1RM test, try the five rep bench press for speed test that I outline in the Off-Season Manual.
Written on April 20, 2007 at 5:03 pm, by Eric Cressey
I see that my latest T-Nation article has caused quite a stir on the forums. Specifically, these two paragraphs got people all flustered:
“Sorry, folks, but I’m here to burst your bubble. A 315 deadlift is not inspirational ? at least not unless you’re a 110-pound female. 315 is speed weight ? or something you do for 87 reps on a whim after a dare (not that I’d know anything about stupid challenges like that).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any healthy male under the age of 50 can deadlift 400 within two years of proper training ? and most can do it even faster than that.”
I thought I’d put this out there to – at the very least – put things in perspective.
You guys need to remember that sometimes, to make a point, you use a hyperbole. Why do marketers hire professional athletes to promote products to kids who will likely never become professional athletes? Why do cosmetics companies hire drop-dead gorgeous models to sell mascara to women who have been beaten with the ugly stick?
I have new clients who haven’t pulled 315 yet – and I might never even want to take them that far. Some don’t even deadlift. The deadlift is just a reference point for people to realize that they can do pretty amazing things if they stop selling themselves short. Consider these factors…
1. I haven’t missed a planned exercise session in seven years in spite of the fact that I’ve injuries here and there along the way. Consistency is the single-most important element of success in terms of strength gains. If you have competing demands (sports practices, endurance training, etc.), you need to be consistent with those as well in order to make progress – and they might interfere with you getting a big deadlift (again, not the point of the article).
2. To that end, give this article a read:
Right now, you might only be covering a few of the 28 factors – and therefore have a tremendous window of adaptation.
3. In the 148-pound weight and 70-74 age class, the world record deadlift (WPC) is 440 pounds.
My point is that if you live your life thinking about limits, you’re condemned to find them prematurely. This world record holder probably trained a lot harder and more frequently than you and with better nutrition and recovery protocols in place; he wasn’t just a weekend warrior on an internet forum. So, in consideration of that, if you’re putting in, say, 25% of the effort they’re putting in, why should you EVER reach a limit?
The main problem I see with the overwhelming majority of people who get their information from the internet is that they’re convinced that they are in some way completely unique and immune to the laws of physiology because they have the curse of knowledge. It’s either because they played high school football 30 years ago, they’ve had four knee surgeries, they’re too old, or a host of other issues. When it really comes down to it, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of mediocrity that can only be remedied by getting out there, working hard and smart, being consistent and open-minded, and discovering that the sky really is the limit – especially when you get around people who can outperform you. As a kid, Pete Sampras used to lose matches in the 18-and-under division when he could have been winning tournaments in the U-12 ranks.
A 315 deadlift is a solid mental image that fits into everyone’s existing schemas, so it’s an easy frame of reference from which to elicit an emotional response. If I had said that everyone needed to deadlift 1.57x body weight and incorporated a multiplying factor for age, gender, limb length, amount of endurance activity per week, etc. – people would have missed the point.
My challenge to you is to see the benefit of an entire article rather than focusing on one sentence that was merely an example. And, once you’ve realized that benefit, act on it – regardless of your chosen endeavor.
Have a great weekend,