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Stuff You Should Read: 8/31/10

Written on August 31, 2010 at 3:53 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are a few article “reincarnations” that I think you’ll enjoy:

Bogus Workouts and the Official Blog Of… – This is more of a rant than anything educational, but it’s an entertaining look at the obnoxious solicitations I get on a daily basis.

Frozen Ankles, Ugly Squatting – Here’s a piece about people who have ankles that are (structurally) like crowbars – and how they should modify their training.

Strength Training Four Days in a RowEvery have to do it?  Here’s how to optimize it.


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More Than Just Pitching Mechanics: The Skinny on Stephen Strasburg’s Injury

Written on August 29, 2010 at 11:45 am, by Eric Cressey

Since a lot of folks reading this blog know me as “the baseball guy,” I got quite a few email questions about the elbow injury Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg experienced the other day.  Likewise, it was the talk of Cressey Performance last Friday – and got tremendous attention in the media.  Everyone wants to know: how could this have been prevented?

strasburg

On Thursday’s edition of Baseball Tonight, my buddy Curt Schilling made some excellent points about Strasburg’s delivery that likely contributed to the injury over time.  Chris O’Leary has also written some great stuff about the Inverted W, which is pretty easily visualized in his delivery.

invertedw

The point I want to make, though, is that an injury like this can never, ever, ever, ever be pinned on one factor.  We have seen guys with “terrible mechanics” (I put that in quotes because I don’t think there is such a thing as “perfect mechanics”) pitch pain-free for their entire careers.  Likewise, we’ve seen guys with perfect mechanics break down.  We’ve seen guys with great bodies bite the big one while some guys with terrible bodies thrive.

The point is that while we are always going to strive to clean things up – physically, mechanically, psychologically, and in terms of managing stress throughout the competitive year – there is always going to be some happenstance in sports at a high level.  As former Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi told me last week when we chatted at length, “you’ve only got so many bullets in your arm.”

Strasburg used up a lot of those bullets before he ever got drafted, so it’s hard to fault the Nationals at all on this front.  In fact, from this ESPN article that was published when the team thought it was a strain of the common flexor tendon and not an ulnar collateral ligament injury (requiring Tommy John surgery), “Strasburg has told the team he had a similar problem in college at San Diego State and pitched through it.”  It’s safe to assume that the Nationals rule out a partial UCL tear in their pre-draft MRIs, but you have to consider what a common flexor tendon injury really means.

medialepicondyle

As I wrote in in my “Understanding Elbow Pain” series (of interest: Anatomy, Pathology, Throwing Injuries, and Protecting Pitchers) the muscles that combine to form the common flexor tendon are the primary restraints – in addition to the ulnar collateral ligament – to valgus stress.  If they are weak, overused, injured, dense, fibrotic, or whatever else, more of that stress is going on that UCL – particularly if an athlete is throwing with mechanics that may increase that valgus stress (the Inverted W I noted above) – the party is going to end eventually.  Is it any surprise that this acute injury occurred just a few weeks after Strasburg dealt with a shoulder issue that put him on the disabled list for two weeks?  The body is a tremendously intricate system of checks and balances, and it bit him in the butt.

There are other factors, though.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue. They also used anti-inflammatory drugs and ice more frequently to prevent an injury.”  And, they were also taller and heavier.

valgus

Go back through the last 12-15 years of Stephen Strasburg’s life and consider just how many times he’s ramped up for spring ball, summer ball, fall ball, and showcases – only so that he can shut down for a week, just to ramp right back up again to try to impress someone else.  Think of how many radar guns he’s had to pitch in front of constantly for the past 5-7 years – because velocity is all that matters, right?

Stephen Strasburg’s injury wasn’t caused by a single factor; it was a product of many.  And, it can’t be pinned on Strasburg himself, any of his coaches or trainers, or any of the scouts that watched him.  Blame it in the system that is baseball in America today.

We already knew that this system was a disaster, though.  Yet, people still keep letting their kids go to showcases in December.  Heck, arguably the biggest underclassmen prospect event of the year – the World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, FL – takes places at the end of October.  When they should be resting, playing another sport, or preparing their bodies in the weight room, the absolute best prospects in the country are pitching with dead, unprepared arms just because it’s a convenient time for scouts and coaches to recruit – because the season is over.

They’re wasting their bullets.

Now, I’m not saying that Strasburg’s injury could have been avoided in a different system – but I’d be very willing to bet that it could have been pushed much further back – potentially long enough to allow him to get through a career.  An argument to my point would be that if it wasn’t for all these exposures, he wouldn’t have developed – but my contention to that fact was that it is well documented that Strasburg “blew up” from a good to an extraordinary pitcher with increased throwing velocity when he made a dedicated effort to getting fit when he arrived at college.

My hope is that young pitchers will learn from this example and appreciate that taking care of one’s body is just as important as showing off one’s talent.

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Random Friday Thoughts: 8/27/10

Written on August 27, 2010 at 2:01 am, by Eric Cressey

I didn’t do a “random thoughts” feature last week, so I’ll have to be extra random this week to make up for it.

1.  Bam!

guyswalksintoabar

You weren’t expecting me to come out with such amazing humor, were you?  Let that be a lesson to you; nobody is more random than EC (and nobody pulls off referring to himself in the third person better, either).

2. We all know that warm-ups are importance for enhancing power output, grooving appropriate neural patterns, and avoiding injury.  Here is some cool research that demonstrates how much more effective an active warm-up is than a passive warm-up when it comes to metabolic responses to exercise.  Namely, those who undergo an active warm-up demonstrate increased oxygen uptake and lower heart rate at a given workload than those participating in a passive warm-up (or no warm-up at all).

Anecdotally, I can tell you that there have been some days where I have felt like there was lead in my shoes and that there was no way I could get any interval training in on a day I’d planned to do so.  However, after a good dynamic flexibility warm-up, things “miraculously” got a lot easier.

3. A big congratulations go out to CP baseball athletes Jordan Cote, who committed to Coastal Carolina, and Joe Napolitano, who committed to Wake Forest. Both made their decisions last week and were featured at ESPN Boston.  We’re proud of our boys!

4. Likewise, I’ve got to give a congratulations to CP athlete and Lincoln-Sudbury All-American soccer player Cole DeNormandie, who became the second CP athlete featured on the cover of ESPN Rise Magazine in just the past few months (he joins Vanderbilt-bound pitcher Tyler Beede):

cole-espn-rise

5. Mike Robertson published a three part series on Knee Pain Basics this past week; it is absolutely fantastic and I’d strongly encourage you to check it out.  Here are the links:

Part 1 – Philosophy
Part 2 – Programming
Part 3 – Coaching

Along these same lines, if you haven’t checked out Mike’s Bulletproof Knees Manual yet, I’d strongly encourage you to do so; it’s an excellent resource.

bpk

6. Greg Robins recently came down to spend some time observing the madness at Cressey Performance, and wrote up a detailed review of his experience; check it out: Science and Attitude: My Trip to Cressey Performance.

7. Here is a link to a great blog from Bret Contreras; it’s definitely worth a read: Sprint Research, Biomechanics, and Practical Implications – An Interview with Matt Brughelli.

8. I need some advice from the dog lovers out there.  Both my fiancee and I grew up with dogs and are thinking about getting a puppy after our wedding (less than six weeks away right now).  We both agree that we want something small – but at the same time, I’d like something that doesn’t make me want to instantly turn in my man card, like the silky poo for which she is currently pushing:

silkypoo-450x300

I actually really like bulldogs, but that’s going to be a tough sell for her unless it’s a “hybrid” where you can’t see a whole lot of bulldog.  Plus, I know a lot of people have said that they have a higher propensity for health issues.  I like puggles, mini pincers, and a few others, but what do those of you in-the-know suggest?  Thanks for any help you can offer!


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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Understanding the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum

Written on August 25, 2010 at 3:23 am, by Eric Cressey

A few questions from one of our pro baseball guys inspired me to create this video “tutorial” on how to develop power.  It starts general, and progresses to specific.  Think about how it applies to YOUR sport and your training history.

For more detail, check out The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.


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Stuff You Should Read: 8/24/10

Written on August 24, 2010 at 6:31 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a look back to some featured posts that might interest you:

Deloading in Maximum Strength – While The Art of the Deload goes into a ton of detail on a variety of deloading strategies, several folks have asked me how it specifically applies to the Maximum Strength program.  This clears things up.

Lower Back Savers Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 – This three-part series at T-Nation are among my most popular articles there.

Unstable Ground or Destabilizing Torques – This blog will make you think about what you see when you watch sports on TV – and, more specifically, how athletes prepare themselves for those demands.


Flat Feet and Hypermobile: Okay for Barefoot Training?

Written on August 23, 2010 at 4:14 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I read with great interest your recent review of Muscle Imbalances Revealed, and in particular, your comments on Mike Robertson’s presentation that touched on factors related to excessive pronation.  I have this excessive foot pronation, plus a spondylolisthesis, a history of ankle sprains, double-jointed elbows and knees, and hips that move around like John Travolta’s in Saturday Night Fever. Basically I should have given up my career and gone into the Cirque de Soleil.

What I want to know is that specifically with my feet if wearing a supportive shoe with orthotics is such a bad thing. Everyone is on this barefoot kick, but it just doesn’t work for me. If I go barefoot my hips move out of correct position and my ankles and calves ache. In fact, when I was a child, my dad had to massage my calves and arches at night because I’d be in tears from the pain of being flat-footed. Once I got my first orthotics at age 7, I was so much more comfortable. I feel that orthotics and a nice flat shoe for me helps me use my feet correctly and allows me to stay away from internal rotation of the tibia and femur, and reduces pelvic tilt, etc.

Or, I could be mistaken? What do you think, and have you heard anyone else talk about this? Other hypermobile people and I have talked about this and we all seem to feel the same: barefoot is not the way to go for us.

A: Extensive barefoot stuff is definitely not for everyone, and if you were having issues that significant at such a young age, you’re probably just someone with a structurally different foot type.  There are definitely scenarios where orthotics are indicated, and the fact that you’ve gotten so much symptomatic relief from them tells me that they’re a good thing in your case.

That said, you might still benefit from just a bit of barefoot training – like deadlifting barefoot and doing some bowler squats and the like.  Basically, just use it for situations where foot positioning doesn’t change.  Then, you don’t have to mess around with how it affects the gait cycle.  I think you’ll get some of the benefits of strengthening the small muscles of the feet and improving proprioception (in light of your history of ankle sprains) without all the unfavorable compensations further up.  And in folks who don’t have your hypermobility, improving dorsiflexion ROM would be an added benefit.

Layout 1

I wouldn’t say that it’s specific to hypermobile individuals, though.  A lot of them probably have issues with barefoot training because they lack the strength and underlying stability required at the lower leg and hip to take the ground reaction force stress off the feet.  Remember that mobility and stability are always working at odds with one another; if you’ve got too much of one, you have to train the other one to pick up the slack.  My hunch is that most of these people don’t have structural pronation; they have excessive functional pronation because the anti-pronators – specifically the hip external rotators – aren’t strong enough to decelerate that pronation.  Check out the valgus (poor) positioning on the left here:

tuckjumplanding

Of course, in the general population, we see it for this reason, as well as the fact that most people walk around in terrible cinder blocks footwear that completely “tunes out” the joints and muscles of the feet.

A lot of the folks that try barefoot training and wind up in pain get that way because they’re idiots and jump right in full-tilt.  You can’t go from wearing cross-trainers to wearing thin pieces of cloth/rubber overnight.  And, as Nick Tumminello wisely pointed out recently, while our ancestors were barefoot all the time, they weren’t barefoot on CONCRETE for loads of mileage.  And, they weren’t as overweight as today’s society is, with such low relative strength. As always, people get hurt because they are stupid and not because a specific training modality is bad.

Typically, in a broad sense, I recommend that people do their 1-leg (pistol) squats, all deadlifting variations, and box squats without sneakers.

As long as they aren’t really overweight – or presenting with a history of foot problems – we’ll also have them do their warm-ups without sneakers.

Everything else (including more quad dominant squatting variations) are done with footwear. I’m a big fan of the New Balance Minimus; you can read my full review at the following link: The New Balance Minimus: The Best Minimalist Training Shoe on the Market.

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The Most Thorough Deadlift Technique Video Ever – FREE!

Written on August 19, 2010 at 6:07 am, by Eric Cressey

As EricCressey.com grows in popularity, I wanted to create something to say thanks to my loyal newsletter subscribers – and today, that thank you gift was sent out.  It’s detailed video looking at deadlift technique for the conventional, sumo, and trap bar variations – while troubleshooting the common errors we encounter.  If you aren’t a subscriber to this FREE newsletter, enter your information below to receive access to this great teaching tool (you’ll receive an email follow-up with the link and password).

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Cressey Performance Interns Eat Nails and Crap Lightning

Written on August 18, 2010 at 4:49 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I’ve got some video flavor of our interns getting down.

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Coordination Training: A Continuum of Development for Young Athletes

Written on August 17, 2010 at 7:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest blog comes from Brian Grasso, the director of the International Youth Conditioning Association.

The myths and falsehoods associated with coordination training are plenty.  I’ll outline the “Top 3″ here:

1.       Coordination is a singular element that is defined by a universal ability or lack of ability

2.       Coordination cannot be trained nor taught

3.       Coordination-based stimulus should be restricted to preadolescent children

This article will provide a broad-based look at each of those myths and shed some light on the realities behind coordination training as a continuum for the complete development of young athletes aged 6 – 18.

young-athletes

1. Coordination & Young Athletes

Largely considered a singular facet of athletic ability, it is not uncommon to hear coaches, parents or trainers suggest that a given young athlete possess “good” or “bad” coordination.

This generalization does not reflect the true nature of the beast, or specific features that combine to create coordination from a macro-perspective.  Coordination is, in reality, comprised of several different characteristics:

  • Balance – a state of bodily equilibrium in either static or dynamic planes
  • Rhythm – the expression of timing
  • Movement Adequacy – display of efficiency or fluidity during locomotion
  • Synchronization of Movement – harmonization and organization of movement
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation – the degree of force required to produce a desired result
  • Spatial Awareness – ability to know where you are in space and in relation to objects

While many of these traits have great overlap and synergy, they are unmistakably separate and can, in fact, be improved in relatively isolated ways.  That’s not to suggest that your training programs should necessarily look to carve up the elements of coordination and work through them in a solitary manner.  Just a notation intended to show that coordination as it relates to young athletes can be improved at the micro level.

youth-soccer

2. Coordination – Can You Teach Young Athletes?

The answer, in short, is yes.

Coordination ability is not unlike any other biomotor; proficiencies in strength, speed, agility and even cardiovascular capacity (through mechanical intervention) can be taught, and at any age.

The interesting caveat with coordination-based work, however, is that its elements are tied directly to CNS development and therefore have a natural sensitive period along a chronological spectrum.  The actuality of sensitive periods tends to be a contentious topic amongst researchers and many coaches.  Some of these individuals are not satisfied with current research and are therefore not eager to believe in their existence and others who accept sensitive periods of development to be perfectly valid.  It’s worth pointing out that I am in no way a scientist or researcher, but have read numerous books and research reviews on the subject and feel satisfied that they do exist and can be maximized (optimized for a lifetime) through proper stimulus.

This “optimization” issue is the true crux of the matter.  Especially during the very early years of life (0 – 12 years) the CNS contains a great deal of plasticity, or ability to adapt.  This plastic nature carries through the mid-adolescence, but then significantly decreases from there.  Many mistake this point as an implication that the human organism cannot learn new skills in any capacity once their CNS has passed the point of being optimally plastic, but this is not true.  Skill of any athletic merit can be learned at virtually any age throughout life.  What the plasticity argument holds is that these skills could never be optimized if they were not introduced at a young age.

Why Michael Couldn’t Hit: And Other Tales of The Neurology of Sports is a fascinating book by Dr. Harold Klawans.  Klawans presents a review of his prediction that Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of all time, would not become an extraordinary baseball player during his attempts to do so with the Chicago White Sox.

whymichaelcouldnthit

Dr. Klawans contented that because Jordan did not learn or practice the specific motor and hand-eye aspects of hitting baseballs when he was young, no matter how great an athlete he was, he would never be able to do so at an advanced level.

Inevitably, Dr. Klawans was correct.

The case for neural plasticity suggests that during the formative years of growth, it is imperative that young athletes be introduced to all types of stimulus that fuel improvement to the elements of coordination listed earlier.  This is one of the very critical reasons that all young athletes should play a variety of sports seasonally and avoid any sort of “sport specific” training.  Unilateral approaches to enhancing sport proficiency will meet with disastrous results from a performance standpoint if general athletic ability, overall coordination and non-specific load training is not reinforced from a young age.

This bring us to the final myth…

3. Teenage Athletes Are ‘Too Old’

Now, while there is truth to the matter that many of the sensitive periods for coordination development exist during the preadolescent phase of life, it would be shortsighted to suggest that teenage athletes should not be exposed to this type of training.

Firstly, much of the training of coordination takes the form of injury prevention.  Any sort of “balance” exercise, for example, requires proprioceptive conditioning and increases in stabilizer recruitment.  With “synchronization of movement,” large ROM and mobility work is necessary.  “Kinesthetic differentiation,” by definition, involves sub-maximal efforts or “fine-touch” capacity that is a drastically different stimulus than most young athletes are used to in training settings.

Beyond that, there is the matter of motor skill linking.  According to Jozef Drabik, as much as 60% of the training done by Olympic athletes should take the form of non-direct load (i.e. non-sport-specific).  To truly stimulate these rather advanced athletes however, one option (which is a standard during the warm-up phase of a training session) is to link advanced motor skills (coordination exercises) together creating a complex movement pattern.

Layout 1

For example:

Run Forward —> Decelerate —> 360 Jump —> Forward Roll —> Tuck Jump

Or

Scramble to Balance —> 1-Leg Squat —> A Skips —> Army Crawl —> Grab Ball/Stand/Throw to Target

In each of these patterns, we have represented:

  • Spatial Awareness
  • Synchronization of Movement
  • Balance (dynamic and static)
  • Movement Adequacy
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation
  • Rhythm

I have used warm-up sequences just like these with high school, collegiate and professional athletes from a variety of sports.

Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association – the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org.

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Stuff You Should Read: 8/16/10

Written on August 16, 2010 at 9:15 am, by Eric Cressey

Some blasts from the past for you:

The Most Important Thing for Rookie Trainers – I thought this would be a good follow-up to my post two weeks ago about how to enter the fitness industry the “right way.”

Eccentric Exercise and Mobility – Ever been told you shouldn’t stretch post-training?  I know I’ve heard that recommendation before.  Read this old post to find out the real scoop on it.

Add 300 Pounds tn Your Deadlift – This lengthy piece was a response to a question of how I went from pulling low-to-mid 300s up to my 600+ pound deadlifts.

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