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Random Friday Thoughts: 7/31/09

Written on July 31, 2009 at 6:44 am, by Eric Cressey

1. As you read this blog, I’ll be taking in (and presenting at) the Perform Better Summit in Long Beach, CA.  You, on the other hand, will be missing out on the fun.  Sorry, dude.

Actually, the next best thing for you would be to check out the Perform Better website, as they have their big end-of-summer sale going on right now.  You can get everything from massage tools, to med balls, to kettlebells at big discounts.

You can’t buy people to throw around as weights, but let’s be honest; that’s soooo British.

2. Cressey Performance athlete Danny O’Connor will be boxing tonight on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.  Danny is looking to run his professional record to 8-0.  I know I’ll be looking all over on Friday night to find a TV to check out our man in action, and I’d encourage you to do the same, too.

3. Congratulations to CP athlete Mitch Perez, who threw a no-hitter in the opening game of the Central Mass Senior Babe Ruth World Series.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, another CP athlete, Eric Reale, threw a one-hitter the same day, and Matt McGavick threw a complete game shutout to win the series.  Nice work, fellas!

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4. Those of you who (like me) deal with young athletes on a daily basis have probably come across loads of parents who wonder whether resistance training is bad for kids who are still developing.  Obviously, we know that isn’t the case – but relating it to these parents isn’t always as easy as you might think.  Fortunately, the NSCA just updated its position statement on Youth Resistance Training.  You can check it out HERE.

5. In case you missed this week’s newsletter (and you should be subscribed!), here it is – complete with a look how to avoid shoulder pain during push-ups.

Have a great weekend!


Things I Learned from Smart People: Installment 1

Written on July 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

This post marks the first of a new series where I’ll give credit to a lot of the people who in one way or another have made me better at what I do.  In most cases, they’ll be quick tips that I’ve taken away and applied immediately into my existing methodology.  Very few of them will require more than a few sentences to explain – and I’ll usually give you some recommended reading at the end of the entry.

Today’s tip was one I picked up from Bill Hartman on a recent trip to Indianapolis.  Keep in mind that this is more along the lines of “knowledge for the sake of being smart,” not because many of these provocative tests are ones that should be used by those who aren’t trained as physical therapists.

Anyway, We were talking about the high frequency of lumbar spine disc herniations and bulges on MRI that are not accompanied with any symptoms.

Taking it a step further, though, you’ll also see people who have back pain plus these issues on diagnostic imaging, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that the imaging finding is clinical significant (the pain might be coming from something else).  One classic test that’s been used to test for neural tension in this regard is the slump test.

As is the case with most physical assessments, though, a good test should simulate the injury mechanism, and while the slump test gets things rolling in the right direction, Bill actually mentioned that he favors a McKenzie-influenced repeated flexion test  (slump test only involves a single “bout” of flexion) – which essentially simulates how you’d herniate a disc in a laboratory setting.  If someone has a one of these findings on the MRI, plus back pain, but this repeated flexion test doesn’t provoke their symptoms, chances are that the pain is coming from somewhere else (muscular, etc.).  If symptoms are exacerbated, it’s probably related to the disc issue.  Of course, repeated extension would apply to more posterior issue.

Of course, check with a qualified physical therapist for issues along these lines; you don’t want to be self-diagnosing or provoking something on your own.  However, the trainers and strength and conditioning coaches in the crowd can use this information attained by physical therapists to classify folks as extension-based or flexion-based back pain and program exercise accordingly alongside rehabilitation initiatives.   I covered this in some detail in Lower Back Savers: Part I.

Recommended Reading: Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, by Stuart McGill


Strength Training Programs: A Quick Fix for Painful Push-ups

Written on July 28, 2009 at 6:48 pm, by Eric Cressey

Q: I’ve read a lot from you, Robertson, and Hartman about including push-up variations in strength training programs is really important for shoulder health.  Unfortunately, whenever I do them, I have pain in my bum shoulder.  Any ideas what to do?

A: Well, obviously, there are two things we need to rule out:

1. You may simply have a really irritated shoulder, which (in most cases) means that any sort of approximation or protraction movement could get it angrier, even if it is a closed-chain movement like the push-up that is normally pretty shoulder-friendly.  Likewise, if you have a significant acromioclavicular joint injury, the extension range-of-motion at the bottom of a push-up could exacerbate your symptoms.  So, obviously, the first step is to rule out if something is structurally wrong with your shoulder, and if so, if the push-up even belongs in your strength training program.

2. Your technique might just be atrocious.  If the elbows are flared out, hips are sagging, and/or you’re in a forward head posture, simply changing your technique may very well alleviate those symptoms.  In a good push-up, the elbows should be tucked to a 45-degree angle to the body, with the hips, torso, neck, and head in a straight line.  The muscles of the upper back should essentially “pull” you down into the bottom position:

Once you’ve ruled out those two issues and still have some annoying issues, there is one more thing you can try: simply elevate the feet.  Looking to the research, Lear and Gross found that performing push-ups with the feet elevated significantly increased activation of the serratus anterior (SA).

If we can get more SA recruitment and less pectoralis minor contribution, it keeps us out of a position of scapular anterior tilt, which mechanically decreases the subacromial space through which the rotator cuff tendons pass.  In the picture below, think of the area just below the word “acromion” being smaller, and then picture what would happen to the tendons that pass through that region; they get impinged.  Serratus anterior (along with lower trapezius) can help prevent that.

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That said, I’ve seen quite a few folks with persistent shoulder pain with bench pressing variations (barbell and DBs) and regular push-ups who were able to do the feet-elevated versions completely pain free in their strength training programs.  Obviously, begin with just body weight and see how it goes, but over time, you can start to add resistance and use the single-leg version.

Related Posts
High Performance Training without the Equipment: 5 Pushup Variations
High Performance Training without the Equipment: 6 More Pushup Variations

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Tips for a Bigger Bench

Written on July 28, 2009 at 7:57 am, by Eric Cressey

Not surprisingly, the writing I’ve done on bench pressing has been some of the most popular stuff I’ve put out there in recent years.  So, I’m sure a lot of you will be delighted to know that AJ Roberts just introduced his Up Your Bench resource today.

I reviewed the entire product last night, and the technique instruction is excellent – exactly what you’d expect to get if you were training with an accomplished powerlifter like AJ.  His cues and video demonstrations were spot on for increasing strength and reducing the risk of shoulder problems.  This 100% digital product includes downloadable programs, videos, and several great bonuses.

In the interest of full disclosure, AJ also includes a section on his warm-ups for bench pressing, and while I agreed with the foam rolling, I can think of much better warm-up protocols (most notably those found in the Inside-Out and Magnificent Mobility DVDs).  However, the rest of the product is solid, and if you’re not in a position to have some with AJ’s experience coach you in person, I’d highly recommend you check it out – and reap the benefits of healthy shoulders and bigger benching numbers.  UpYourBench.com

Oh, did I mention that AJ is not just some pencil-necked internet weenie?  He is one strong SOB!


Stuff You Should Read: 7/27/09

Written on July 27, 2009 at 5:13 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of resources to check out:

Risk-Reward in Training Athletes – This old newsletter of mine highlights indivividual physical and situational differences among athletes, and spotlights the work of one Cressey Performance athlete who made tremendous progress with these individual factors playing a key role in how that training was approached.  If you play or coach baseball, this is a must-read.

Are Tennis Elbow Straps Effective? – This blog post from Mike Reinold provides a great overview of these commonly used rehabilitation adjuncts.

In the Trenches: Michael Boyle – Mike Robertson’s newsletter last week featured this audio interview with Coach Boyle.


Shoulder Range-of-Motion Norms

Written on July 23, 2009 at 5:55 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: As far as the total motion concept goes, is there a certain minimum of total degrees of motion that the “baseline” limb should have? For example, if a right-hand dominant person has fairly limited total motion on the left side and even more limitations on the right, would the goal be to get total motion symmetrical first and then improve both from there?

A: It is definitely population-specific, as overhead throwing, for example, will simply move that total motion to a different range. So, a symmetrical shoulder might be:

Right (dominant): 45°  IR + 125° ER = 170° Total Motion
Left (non-dominant): 55° IR + 115° ER = 170° Total Motion

The difference between the two would be attributed to retroversion (bony adaptations – more info HERE). A 10° internal rotation deficit would be completely normal in a unilateral overhead throwing population.

Of course, if you get a freestyle swimmer, thinks get a bit interesting. You have to go a bit more by end-feel, and mandate that they have at least 25° degrees of total internal rotation.

That said, in a “normal” weight training population, I like to have at least 90° of external rotation and 50+° of internal rotation. I wouldn’t consider those “good” measurements, but they would be workable (assuming symmetrical total motion).

Now, you are going to have situations here and there where someone has lost total motion in the non-dominant side.  My experience has been that this occurs in athletes who spend too much time in computers and those who get “100% shut down” after an injury.

Believe it or not, I once saw a pro pitcher with only 6° (yes, single digits) of internal rotation on his throwing shoulder, and the medical staff’s conclusion was to give him a cortisone shot and make him rest completely – no lifting, sprinting, stretching, anything (I wonder if they assigned an intern to him to help him wash his hair in the shower).  He basically just charted pitches for two months.  This guy lost total motion bilaterally, so the fact that he was forced into inactivity actually made his subsequent evaluation a bit more complex.  The good news is that these guys can generally be recognized by their terrible thoracic spine posture and increased body fat levels!

shoulder-performance-dvdcover

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A Good Man Lost…

Written on July 20, 2009 at 8:36 pm, by Eric Cressey

I just wanted to give everyone a heads-up that this week’s blogs won’t start up for a few days, as I’ll be flying out to Ohio tomorrow to attend the funeral of Chet Rodgers, who passed away on Saturday afternoon after a courageous battle with cancer.

My friendship with Chet was a perfect example of just how powerful the internet is.  After reading one of my blogs about training pitchers, Chet contacted me last fall to ask some questions about baseball training – and these interactions led to his son, Chad, coming to train at Cressey Performance all winter.  Chad was a third round pick by the Atlanta Braves in 2006, and he had a phenomenal off-season – gaining 17 pounds and completely changing his body.

I’ll never forget the excitement in the email I received from Chet when he saw the before-after pictures and read about the pre-post testing numbers in power and flexibility improvements from Chad’s off-season.  Chet was the best kind of Baseball Dad: one who respected and understood the game, and would do anything to make sure that his son was set-up for success – but without ever coming close to being overbearing.

Chet was an avid exerciser – and actually completed the Maximum Strength program this winter, including a few visits to Cressey Performance himself.  On each of those visits, Chet made a point of rocking the Cressey Performance beanie around our facility, making sure to console me that going bald wasn’t so bad, as it means that you can always wear a CP beanie.

A regular reader of this blog, Chet and I emailed back and forth almost every day.  He was a regular churchgoer, long-time baseball coach and fan, and most importantly, a fantastic husband, father of two, and friend – and one of the most unconditionally positive and genuinely friendly people I’ve ever met.  Chet was, very simply, an incredible guy.

It is all too ironic that Chet would pass away this weekend, as it was the weekend I helped out at Fantasy Day at Fenway Park to benefit the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  It seems only fitting that I could be involved in helping to raise money for cancer research with baseball as a backdrop.

And, perhaps more significantly, my own father had (successful) surgery this morning.  I can say without wavering that hearing of Chet’s passing on Saturday made it all the more important to me to be back in Maine to see my Dad and be there to tell him I love him before the surgery.

To that end, while I’m sure only a few of you knew Chet Rodgers, I’m sure a lot of you have had a “Chet Rodgers” in your life at some point.  So, I’d encourage you to make a donation – of funds or your time – to support cancer research.  And, for those of you who can, I’d encourage you to give your father a call when you read this.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial fund has been set up in Chet’s honor to benefit the family.  For more information, please visit www.RodgersFund.com.


Random Friday Thoughts: 7/17/09

Written on July 17, 2009 at 5:01 am, by Eric Cressey

1. I started this week off with a bang with a few good (and goofy) YouTube clips in my newsletter, so there’s no reason to shy away from a continuation of the awesomeness in this blog.

2. Tony Gentilcore got the day off from work today.  He claimed it was to go see the filming of the next Functional Strength Coach seminar, but we all know it was just a front for his regular ol’ “weird ninja dude in the woods” routine.  Glad you enjoyed your alone time, big guy.

2. Congratulations to CP athlete and New York Mets minor leaguer Tim Stronach (St. Lucie Mets: High A), who just missed both a perfect game and no-hitter on Wednesday.  “Stro” took a perfect game into the 8th inning, and then lost the no-no with one out in the 9th.  The wildest part is that Tim didn’t even know until the day before that he’d be making the start.

Stronach packed 21 pounds on his 6-5 frame this off-season with loads of hard work at Cressey Performance, and deserves all the success that comes his way.  Great job, Tim!

3. I received an email with the following question yesterday: “I play basketball. I watch how guys lose lots of weight and bodyfat preparing for the combine. How do they do that?”

Answer: The overwhelming majority of college basketball players I’ve encountered live on sugary sports drinks, chicken wings, pizza, and booze.  Simply cleaning up their diets for a month or two will work wonders even if training is held constant.  Did you expect something more revolutionary?

4. Here’s another study showing that swinging a heavy bat prior to regular hitting is an inferior warm-up protocol as compared to swinging the normal bat or an underweighted bat.  Researchers  “suggested that when preparing to hit, 5 warm-up swings with either a light or normal bat will allow a player to achieve the greatest velocity of their normal bat.”  This is in complete contrast to the use of weighted baseballs to increase throwing velocity; I love ‘em when used with the right population.

5.  Huh?  What?  Come again?

6. I went back through Jim Smith’s Accelerated Muscular Development today to check up on how he approaches formatting for e-books (as we prepare some for the upcoming project’s release).  While I was looking it over, I got to thinking about how it never ceases to amaze me how thorough Smitty is with his products; he just seems to cover everything.  I’ve said it before: this is a great resource; I’d highly recommend you check it out.

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Want to Get Strong? Quit Switching Strength Training Programs Every Week.

Written on July 15, 2009 at 10:42 am, by Eric Cressey

Day in and day out, I see loads of athletes and regular fitness enthusiasts who have hit plateaus in their quest to get stronger, bigger, and leaner – or run into injury issues.  Each situation is unique, but one thing that I am always especially attentive to is learning whether someone has recently altogether overhauled their approach to training.

As is the case in so many things in life, “Slow and steady wins the race,” “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and “Don’t run sideways on treadmills while wearing jeans.”  Actually, that last one wasn’t all that applicable to what I’m getting at, but it’s probably still good advice to heed for some of our easily distracted teenage readers.

I come across a lot of “program hoppers” in what I do.  These are individuals who might do four weeks of Sheiko, four weeks of 5×5 workouts, four weeks of Crossfit, four weeks of German Volume Training, and then four weeks of Tae-Bo DVDs in spandex.  At the end of this five month journey, they are somehow more fit – but literally have no idea what training principles were key in them achieving that end.  Everything was too muddled; they overhauled the entire strength and conditioning program rather than keeping the valuable stuff.

About 8,000 strength coaches before me have used the line, “The best program is the one you aren’t on.”  Well, I would agree with that – unless, of course, it means that this new strength and conditioning program leaves out all the important stuff that you learned from previous training experiences.

I mean, honestly, I’ve heard of guys going to strength training programs where they only squat, bench, and deadlift.  They don’t even do warm-ups;  nothing else stays!  Then, after six weeks of this program, they email me to ask why their shoulders, back, and knees hurt.  Uh, maybe become the only thing they kept from your old program was specificity?  With no single-leg work, no horizontal pulling, and no mobility work, it’s a surprise that they have only been diagnosed with a musculoskeletal injuries – because they probably should have been institutionalized for being so dumb that they’re a harm to those around him.

For instance, rather than tell this individual to stop squatting (he actually kept a pretty good neutral spine on the way down), I’d encourage him to a) get a squat rack, b) get a training partner/spotter, and c) put on some clothes.

Major kudos for rocking “The Final Countdown,” though; seriously.

Where am I going with this, and how does it apply to you?  Well, the message is very simple: never overhaul.  Instead, tinker, fine-tune, adjust, or whatever else your thesaurus recommends as a synonym.  Good strength and conditioning programs all share certain things in common, and anything that deviates from those qualities isn’t worth it.  It’s something that I really tried to take into account when I wrote Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.


To take it a step further, I encourage you to be leery of those who encourage you to adapt an entire discipline and change everything that you’re doing.  I find that even in the most injured and hopelessly weak folks that come to me for help, I can always find several things that they’re doing correctly that deserve to stay.  This is something I’ve seen in some of the best physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches with whom I’ve worked in the past, too.  A good professional should work with athletes and clients to meet halfway on what works, not simply pass judgment on a strength training program and overhaul it altogether.

Related Posts

5 Reasons You Aren’t Getting Stronger

Why I Don’t Like 5×5 Workout Programs

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Stuff You Should Read: 7/15/09

Written on July 15, 2009 at 7:25 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a collection of stuff I encourage you to check out this week:

The Return of BSP – I really enjoyed CP staff member Brian St. Pierre’s latest blog post on supplements.  Some people just need a smack in the face to wake up from idiocy.

Research links Nicotine to Pre-Diabetes – And you thought that only junk carbs, poor genes, and a lack of exercise makes folks insulin resistant.  In reality, it sounds like smoking does as well.

Self-Ankle Mobilization to Increase Dorsiflexion – Here’s a cool new video Bill Hartman just posted on ankle mobilizations.  I’ve used stuff like this in the past on my own ankle and it definitely makes the mobilization more effective.


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