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Written on January 31, 2010 at 7:07 am, by Eric Cressey
The college coach of one of our current pro baseball players was asking me about the rotator cuff program he’s doing with us now, and I figured I’d turn it into today’s topic. We take a bit of a different approach with it than you’ll see with a lot of guys in the industry, and it’s basically dictated by three assertions/assumptions:
1. The true function of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the humeral head on the glenoid (shoulder socket). While external rotation is important for deceleration of the crazy internal rotation velocity seen with throwing, it’s stabilization that we’re really after. As you can see, the humeral head is too large to allow for great surface area contact with the glenoid.
My feeling is that the bigger muscles – particularly scapular stabilizers, the core, and the lower half – will decelerate the crazy velocities we see as long as mechanics are effective and the deceleration arc is long enough.
2. The shoulder internally rotates at over 7,000°/s during acceleration; that’s the fastest motion in all of sports. There’s no way that the rotator cuff muscles alone with their small cross-sectional area can decelerate it. And, to take it a step further, there isn’t much that some rubber tubing is going to do to help the cause (aside from just promoting blood flow – although I’d rather get that in a more global sense with full-body flexibility circuits, as I discussed HERE).
More important than blood flow is getting range of motion (ROM) back (particularly elbow extension and shoulder internal rotation) after a pitching outing. In my experience, losses in ROM get guys injured faster than weakness, in my experience. I’ve seen quite a few people come to me who have healthy shoulders, but test poorly on classic rotator cuff strength measures. Why? Perhaps they are very strong in their scapular stabilizers, core, and lower half and have become efficient enough to handle more of the deceleration demands in areas other than the rotator cuff. Or, they may just be lucky; rotator cuff strength is still important!
3. We’ve mocked on the conventional bodybuilding community for training muscles and not movements: chest day, quads day – you get the picture. Meanwhile, the baseball community is devoting five days a week to training muscles with cross-sectional areas smaller than any of these!
I’ve had multiple discussions with Mike Reinold that reaffirm this indirectly; he emphasizes that one should never train the rotator cuff to failure, as that’s not how it works in the real world. Our job is to enhance not just its strength, but also its proprioception and rate of force development. If we chronically abuse it with training on top of the crazy demands of throwing, we never really know how strong the rotator cuff actually is. It makes you wonder how many guys in the baseball world actually have exhausted and chronically overtrained rotator cuff muscles as opposed to weak rotator cuff muscles!
With these three assertions in mind, most of our guys in the off-season will have four days of rotator cuff work spread out over two “types” of training. Days 1 and 3 (say, Monday and Thursday) would be more rhythmic stabilization drills similar to this (although the options are really only limited by your imagination):
The other two days are more classic rotator cuff work that prioritizes external rotation and horizontal abduction (we never do empty cans). I do a lot of work with cables here, plus a lot in the side-lying position (EMG activity for the cuff is highest here).
We’ll also do a lot of manual resistance external rotation stuff, as it kind of “blends” conventional cuff work with rhythmic stabilizations due to the unstable load. Here’s one option:
Later in the off-season, we’ll throw in some one-arm medicine ball deceleration catches and external rotation tosses to the wall to get the thoracic spine and hips ready for the full-body demands of throwing.
Keep in mind that – as I noted – rotator cuff exercises are just one piece of the puzzle. These are one component of a larger overall plan that addresses not only scapular stability, but also total body strength and mobility, soft tissue quality, medicine ball work, movement training, and the actual throwing program.
For more information (actually a LOT more information), check out the DVD set, Optimal Shoulder Performance: From Rehabilitation to High Performance from Mike Reinold and I.
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Written on January 29, 2010 at 8:45 am, by Eric Cressey
Today, we’ve got the first in a series of Q&A contributions from Matt Blake.
Q: What do you think of Ron Johnson’s presentation at the ABCA convention where he stated that curveballs are okay for youths to throw and that they do not cause any structural damage beyond what a fastball does? Rather, it was the frequency the curveball was thrown that was the indicator.
A: I was at Ron Johnson’s presentation and have had the chance to read much of the research that has been presented on this topic. I do generally agree that curveballs are not inherently more dangerous than fastballs, but I think the idea of curveballs sends a conflicting message at the youth levels.
Fundamentally, I’d like to believe that this game is centered around the pitcher being able to locate a fastball to the center of the plate 100 out of 100 times. Obviously, this is an idealistic perspective, but above average fastball command should be the trademark of an advanced youth player, not the fact that he can spin a baseball with his hand in a supinated position so that he can fool unsuspecting 11 year olds. We don’t teach hitters to focus on curveballs at this age, so why should we teach pitchers to throw them?
Squaring up the fastball over the middle of the plate is step one for both hitters and pitchers. In order to put a player in the best chance to succeed down the road, I think a pitcher should be able to repeat his fastball mechanics and create a certain amount of hand-speed, before he is taught to craft his pitching skills. This is generally considered to be a throwing mechanics versus pitching skills debate and would prioritize mechanical knowledge and the sequencing of the body’s rotations.
If a player has demonstrated above average command of his fastball to the center of the plate, then obviously, the next progression would begin to zone the plate off for him. Once he can dissect the lanes of the plate with a straight fastball, then maybe teach him a different grip on the fastball or even a changeup. Start by working the changeup down the middle, etc….This game is built on efficient pitching, so to skip steps at these early developmental levels or to place too great an emphasis on winning at this age would compromise the player’s development. Obviously, all of this is just simply my opinion.
When would I teach a breaking ball? I guess it would be when a player looks skeletally mature to repeat his delivery and can demonstrate effective use of his fastball/changeup combination. If these pieces are set as the foundation, introducing spin tilt and depth might follow. If a player at the age of 11 or 12 is capable of doing this because he has put the necessary repetition in, then I suppose you can’t hold him back, but for some reason, I think people might be skipping steps 2 and 3 to get to 4, because 4 gets outs easier at age 12.
Have a question for Matt? Drop him an email at email@example.com.
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Written on January 28, 2010 at 5:38 am, by Eric Cressey
On Sunday, we hosted Neil Rampe of the Arizona Diamondbacks for a Myokinematic Dysfunction seminar at Cressey Performance. It was a great experience, and Neil did a very thorough job of highlighting the different schools of thought with respect to addressing movement impairments. In particular, Neil spent a lot of time on two schools of thought: Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (discussed in this post) and the Postural Restoration Institute.
There was some advanced stuff being discussed, and we had a wide variety of professions and ability levels represented in the audience. There were athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists, and chiropractors in attendance. And, they ranged in age from 20 all the way up to 55 (or so). After the seminar, I got to talking with Neil about how it’s interesting to think what each person takes away from a seminar based on their age, occupation, and experience level. It led to me coming up with the six kinds of seminar attendees:
1. The Experienced, Open-minded Attendee - This individual may have similar experience in similar fields as the presenter. If he gets just 2-3 good tips over the course of the seminar, he’s thrilled. The more experienced you get, the more you appreciate the little things you can add (or subtract) to refine your approach.
Example: Last year, I spent about 95% of Greg Rose’s presentation at Perform Better in Long Beach nodding in agreement, as he and I both deal with a ton of rotational sport athletes (him with golf, and me with baseball). He did, however, introduce one new thoracic spine mobility test that I absolutely love and use to this day. I might have only picked up one thing, but it was a hugely valuable for me.
2.The Experienced, Close-minded Attendee – This individual may be very experienced in a similar realm as the presenter, but isn’t openminded enough to realize that a professional on his level still might have things to offer to improve his approach. These are usually the people who claim to be “old school” – which essentially applies that they only have experience doing the same thing for 25 years. This is one kind of “there’s nothing new here” person.
3. The Experienced Attendee from a Different Field – This individual might be excellent at what he does in a semi-related field, but completely new to the material presented at a seminar. The challenge here is to learn what can be applied in that other realm. Think of a pitching or track coach attending a strength and conditioning seminar – or a S&C coach attending a pitching or physical therapy conference.
4. The Intimidated, Lazy Beginner Attendee – There are times when a beginner attends a seminar and has little to no clue what’s going on during the event and is completely intimidated by what he doesn’t know. And, as a result, the attendee claims that he will never need the information anyway. These folks should either change their attitudes or pick a different industry, as they are the second kind of “there’s nothing new here” person.
5. The Motivated Beginner Attendee – This attendee is identical to the intimidated beginner, but rather than getting insecure about his lack of knowledge on the subject, he uses it as motivation to study further and find a way to get to where he wants to be. This may be an understanding of how to apply bits and pieces of what the presenter taught, or a desire to become an expert in the same topic the presenter covered. You see this quite a bit in the fitness industry, as exercise enthusiasts who aren’t in the industry will actually attend seminars just to learn about better training practices – just like I might tend a talk by an economist, for instance.
6. The Middle of the Road Attendee – This individual is somewhere between a beginner and an expert in the material being covered. My experience has been that the “middle of the road” folks only attend seminars (at least the ones at which I’ve presented) if they genuinely care about getting better, not just for CEUs (the intimidated/lazy beginners do that). I find that this is probably the biggest group of the six.
Groups 5 and 6 are the ones who have loved our Building the Efficient Athlete seminar the most, as it either complemented their college anatomy and kinesiology curriculum nicely, or helped to take the place of it altogether (for those who didn’t attend school).
Think about this for yourself and start to consider where you fall in the context of these six categories. And, more importantly, how does your “placement” in this scheme dictate the next 2-3 seminars you’re going to attend? Do you want to completely get outside your realm of expertise and see something entirely new, or do you want to hone in on your specialty and see if you can come up with a few new tricks to take you to the next level? There isn’t a correct answer on this, other than that you need to keep getting out to see others in action to get better!
On a related note, I’ve got a busy spring of seminars booked, so if you haven’t already, check out my schedule page for details.
Written on January 27, 2010 at 4:27 am, by Eric Cressey
Thought you all might be interested in a recent interview I did for Rick Kaselj of ExerciseForInjuries.com:
For more details on some of the concepts I discuss, I’d encourage you to check out Assess & Correct.
Consistently applying the information on this DVD for a few minutes each day should help anyone remain limber and injury free for a long time. Not only does it show you what to do in terms of fixing your problems, but it also shows you how to assess where you’re at in terms of muscle balance and flexibility, so you can see how you’re improving or regressing in those areas over time and in what areas you might need more work.
It definitely makes a great addition to anyone’s training library.
Written on January 25, 2010 at 9:40 am, by Eric Cressey
Recommended Reading for the Week:
Personal Training Certifications: A Different Perspective – Pat Rigsby got the idea for this blog post from a conversation we had at dinner at a conference last weekend in Tampa, and it came out really well.
Exercises You Should Be Doing: Slideboard Bodysaw – Tony Gentilcore wrote up a good blog post about an exercise we’ve been incorporating quite a bit more nowadays since we picked it up from Mike Boyle. Video included!
On Question, Many Answers – One of our interns this semester brought this blog post from Dr. Mike Scott to my attention. It’s a collection of responses from various experts to the question, “Why are childhood overuse injuries becoming so prevalent in our society?”
Written on January 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm, by Eric Cressey
Okay, gang; here’s the scoop: I have a new project in the works.
In fact, the entire program is already written, and a few lifters have already taken it for a test-drive with excellent results. However, I need to get my sample size up to confirm that I’m really onto something here – and that’s where you may be able to help.
I need some guinea pigs to put this program to the test!
Before I get 10,000 email applications, here are a few things that “qualify” you:
1. You must be healthy – or at least very close to it! Some aches and pain in the past aren’t a big deal, but we aren’t going to be taking on anyone who is currently dealing with any injuries.
2. You must be at least 18 years of age, with at least one year of resistance training experience.
3. You must have access to a reasonably well-equipped gym that is at least equivalent to a commercial gym set-up. Those who train at home are welcome to apply only if they have access to a cable column at home.
4. You would ideally have purchased Assess & Correct already.
5. You need to be able to train for four uninterrupted months for a minimum of three times each week.
6. You must be willing to take before/after pictures plus some performance tests.
7. Both men and women are welcome to “apply.”
8 You must have $199 to devote to this, because it is going to be a ton of work on our end to give you tech support for four months! That’s only about $50/month for full-on programming and tech support – which is markedly lower than my online consulting rates.
If you’re interested, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, age, and a brief background on your training history. I’ll only be accepting 12 guinea pigs for this project, and all decisions will be made by February 1. Those who are selected will be notified by February 1.
You won’t receive notification unless you’re selected, so please don’t take it personally if I don’t reply to your email; I’m just trying to save myself some extra work!
Written on January 21, 2010 at 9:44 pm, by Eric Cressey
Programs aimed at rapid fat loss are quite the rave nowadays. There are some excellent programs out there (most notably Warpspeed Fat Loss, which we’ve discussed here quite a bit) that deliver some quick reductions in body fat over the course of a few weeks of absolutely hellish training and strict nutritional modifications. There’s no doubt that it’s a effective way to drop body fat quickly.
That said, the question is whether that degree of specialization – incinerating body fat at all costs – is what’s right for an individual. For some people – particularly woman (who aren’t generally as concerned with carrying appreciable levels of muscle mass and strength), these programs are just fine; any accompanying losses in strength and muscle mass won’t be as disconcerting because they aren’t perceived as being as important. Obviously, it’s also true for those who are morbidly obese, but they generally aren’t candidates for complete overhauls right away, as they have to get their feet wet first with the basics of regular training and better nutrition.
Most specific to this piece, though, rapid fat loss programs are most enticing to the more experienced trainee who carries a lot of muscle mass, but needs to shed some blubber quickly to get ready for a vacation, photo shoot, or scandalous make-out scene on live TV.
However, for every one of these folks (the experienced trainees – not the horny, drunk, bearded dudes with Confederate flag hats), there is another individual who is male, with limited training experience, subpar strength, and not enough muscle mass on him to really even demonstrate that he regularly trains. He might be 6-1, 180 pounds at 20% body fat. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 144 pounds of fat free mass, and 36 pounds of fat mass.
Well, here’s a question: if this hypothetical guy dropped 10 pounds of body fat right now and somehow managed to maintain all his muscle mass (and recovered any water weight reductions he got from lower carb dieting), would he be happy with how he’d look? That’d still put him at 144 pounds of fat free mass, but lower his body weight to 170 with 26 pounds of fat mass (15.3% body fat). Sorry, but while respectable, 15.3% body fat isn’t super lean. And, 170 pounds at 6-1 will only earn him points with insurance companies who calculate premiums based on body mass index.
Imagine taking about the ideal NFL cornerback, and then stripping 25 pounds of muscle off him and adding back 15 pounds of body fat. Be sure to kill off all the athleticism in the process, too. Not a very impressive picture.
In other words, a program that might have been perfect for a guy who was 30 pounds heavier with the same body fat percentage – but two more years of training experience – just isn’t a good fit for a guy who can become “skinny-fat” really quickly.
I have just seen a lot of guys go on crazy fat loss programs only to get to a lower weight and realize that they look skinny because they aren’t carrying enough muscle mass in the first place. And, along the way, they lose a lot of strength – so it’s harder to build up muscle mass quickly thereafter to right the ship.
For this reason, it’s been a long time since I resorted to a rapid fat loss program in my own training; I just am not willing to sacrifice the strength gains I’ve made just to see the scale weight go down quickly. Rather, I’d prefer to do it gradually and retain the gains.
This has also been a strategy we’ve employed with excellent success with athletes who come our way who need to lean out. Often, body weight – and not body composition – are what predicts their success. Pitchers are a perfect example; I’ve seen many who have just indiscriminately lost body weight, only to see their velocity drop considerably. This may come from the actual loss of body mass, the increased training volume that caused it, the type of training (extra aerobic activity?), or – most likely – a combination of all these factors. One thing is for sure, though; I would be my 2010 salary on the fact that if CC Sabathia “trimmed down” to 210, he wouldn’t be nearly as dominant as he is.
Would some gradual weight loss and an emphasis on improving body composition help him? Absolutely. Would taking 80 pounds off him be a smart or specific off-season goal? In my opinion, no. The research has demonstrated that body mass is one factor that predicts velocity.
Baseball relevance aside, this is why I rarely go “exclusively fat loss” or “exclusively bulking” with a lot of general fitness clients who don’t have more than two years of strength training under their belt. They absolutely, positively can add muscle mass and drop body fat simultaneously if they accumulate enough of the right kind of activity and eat the right stuff. It just takes some individualization, adherence, consistency, and effort. We’ve seen it hundreds of times already with the Show and Go program alone, and that doesn’t even take things to the level of individualized programming.
To reiterate, I’m not saying that rapid fat loss programs don’t have merit; I’ve seen a lot of people get tremendous results when the program was the right fit for them. However, I also know that handing a NFL running back’s training program to a 12-year-old Pop Warner running back isn’t appropriate in light of his experience. The same can be said for novice trainees who try to drop body fat too quickly; they are skipping steps and missing out on crucial adaptations – including strength and muscle mass gains – that could bode more favorably for long-term progress.
As always, you have to fit the program to the individual, and not the individual to the program.
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Written on January 20, 2010 at 7:07 am, by Eric Cressey
Today, we’ve got another great guest post from Matt Blake.
“If I embark on a voyage of exploration, and I set as my goals the willingness to follow any lead, pursue any interesting observation, overcome any difficulties, and I end up in some exotic locale that might be very different from my predictions before setting out, have I changed my destination in any way? I would say not; the sine qua non of science is not the conclusions we reach but the process we use to arrive at them, and that is the polestar by which we navigate.”
-PZ Myers, Biologist, University of Minnesota
One might ask why the heck a pitching coach is leading off his article on a fitness expert’s blog with a quote from a biologist, and how it would have any relevance to the topic at hand. Where could this possibly be going?
Well, I recently attended the American Baseball Coaches Association “Hot Stove” Pitching Discussion in Dallas, Texas on January 10th with about 200-300 coaches from all over the country. And, I would say that this notion was the overriding theme to take away from the event.
This “Hot Stove” pitching discussion was part of the bigger national convention that takes place every year. This event provided an outstanding forum for people to hear some leading thinkers in baseball discuss pitching in an informal public setting. Some of the notable attendees of this event were Tom House, Alan Jaeger, Brent Strom, and Derek Johnson. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these names, I’ll give you a brief description of each.
Tom House is a former major leaguer, former major league pitching coach, and is regarded as one of the great modern day pitching gurus and currently coaches at the University of Southern California.
Alan Jaeger runs Jaegersports.com and has an outstanding understanding of long toss, arm care and how it should be applied to your player’s development.
Brent Strom is a former major leaguer, is an instructor in the St. Louis Cardinals system, and teams up with Ron Wolforth to run the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp every year. They also run some outstanding Elite Pitcher Bootcamps during the summer. These two presented early in the weekend and are proponents of the “Blending” and “Chunking” theories and advocate for training pitchers through the use of athletic and aggressive throwing drills.
Derek Johnson is currently the Pitching Coach at Vanderbilt University and is regarded as one of the premier pitching coaches in the country. Producing ten drafted pitchers (including three first-rounders) over the last three years will usually do that.
Honestly, this is just a handful of people in a room that included dozens of D1/D2/D3 pitching coaches, as well as numerous outstanding high school coaches, but these guys really stand out with their contributions to the pitching community’s knowledge base.
Tom House did his part by speaking to the crowd about the importance of being able to accept new ideas that run counter to your current train of thought. He brought up an interesting point regarding the need to be strong enough to change your positions and adapt your training methods as the information presented to you deems necessary. This is not too far from what you see happening on the strength and conditioning front every day. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t too long ago that Mike Boyle questioned the value of the almighty squat. Who would have thunk it? This is a great example of a man following a process of logical thought to create his own philosophy even if it runs counter to much of the traditional thought. You don’t need to agree with him on this, as we still use a lot of squatting variations at Cressey Performance, but based on his interpretation of the research, this is what he thought gave him the best value in the risk/reward category for his athletes.
On the baseball side, this idea was none more evident than when Tom House was challenged about the effectiveness of the towel drill and admitted he was wrong about this drill in its original form. This drill has been a staple in many pitching coaches’ dry work for years. In coming to understand where the towel drill was lacking, Tom has recently changed the weight of the implement in the drill from 2 oz to 5/6/7oz depending on the training intentions. This essentially changed the deceleration demands to be more similar to a baseball and worked to counter the argument at hand, by letting everyone know, that as science has progressed he has needed to adapt his training methods.
One of the other important topics that House brought up was the need to understand the science behind the overhead throw. If we expect to train players at the highest level, we need to know what is actually happening in the body. By incorporating information relating to a player’s “Kinematic Sequence,” one is more apt to see where players are either efficient or inefficient in creating energy and delivering force to the ball. Understanding the sequencing of the body’s rotations is essential to getting the timing of the delivery right and avoiding stressful mechanic flaws.
The way he phrased it may or may not have gone over a lot of coaches’ heads and split the camp into science-based vs. common sense/feel coaches. But, I obviously believe Tom is right on this point or I wouldn’t spend my waking life in Eric’s facility. On the flip side, I can also understand where coaches who do not naturally gravitate to the analytical style would find other ways to communicate this information than the technical jargon House used. At the end of the day, your players either understand what you’re saying or they don’t. If they don’t, you need to come back to their level of thought before they tune you out.
Along these lines, one of the points I strongly agree with Tom on is the need to look at the golf industry and how advanced their level of instruction is in the private sector. Greg Rose and the people of the Titleist Performance Institute are doing some great things on the technology front, as far as analyzing swings and doing physical assessments to improve golf technique. Obviously, this is a different beast with the way their market dynamics have been established, but there is enough money within the baseball industry to start dedicating some of our resources to making sure we have the best information available to the general public. The rate at which players are getting injured because people are simply uninformed is not okay in this supposed “Information Age.”
One of the refreshing things to see is that people are at least beginning to recognize that we can’t be so rigid in our approach to training pitchers. We are just now leaving an era where we thought we had all the answers and we could box up our pitchers to 90 degree angles and call it a day. Funny that injuries are up at nearly every level of the game from little league to the Pros, so obviously something isn’t working. With that said, I’ll leave you with one last short story that Tom House provided us at the convention. It has do with a time when he was coaching Nolan Ryan on the Texas Rangers. Nolan credits a lot of his success later on in his career due to the physical shape Coach House got him in. Obviously, this is a second-hand retelling of a story, so I’ll leave it up to Tom to come over to Ericcressey.com and correct me in the comments section, but I think you’ll get the gist.
As many of you know, Coach House is famous for really being a pioneer on the biomechanical analysis front. One day, House was attempting to talk to Nolan Ryan about his famously high leg kick, by letting him know that it might make more sense to bring his leg kick down a bit and get himself a little more under control. In Nolan Ryan’s Texan drawl, he calmly responded, “Tom, with all due respect sir… I understand you know a lot about the game, but if there’s one thing I know…. It’s that the higher I lift my leg here, the harder I’m gonna throw this baseball. So you can go ahead and stick that in your computer of yours.” And if that doesn’t bring this discussion full circle, I’m not quite sure what will.
In the end, I think as important as it is to follow the research, it is just as important to let the common sense/feel aspects drive the questions being researched. Obviously, science is continuously digging deeper, but if we don’t listen to our athletes, we may be digging in the wrong places. Like I’ve said before, the athlete throws the baseball, so giving them the necessary information and letting them find their own signature style with it is essential to their development.
Matt Blake can be reached at email@example.com.
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Written on January 18, 2010 at 9:08 am, by Eric Cressey
“… Tao is often referred to as ‘the nameless’, because neither it nor its principles can ever be adequately expressed in words.”
Aw, what the hell, we’ll give it a shot.
No questions, no time limit, and no stone unturned. Training? Nutrition? A little piss and vinegar? It’s all here.
The following is what happens when you get on the phone with a top-level strength and conditioning coach and hit “record.”
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Written on January 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm, by Eric Cressey
I’m not back from Florida until Tuesday, but in the meantime, I just wanted to give you a quick heads-up on a thorough review Laree Draper just did on Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance. If you’re on the fence about picking up a copy, you won’t want to miss this, as it’ll answer a lot of your potential questions. You can check it out HERE.