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Tim Collins: Why Everyone Should be a Kansas City Royals Fan (at least for a day)

Written on March 30, 2011 at 5:52 pm, by Eric Cressey

Professional baseball really is an enigma.

On one hand, some professional players are bad-bodied one-trick ponies who aren’t athletic enough to train their way out of a wet paper bag. And, many of them are okay with it.

On the other hand, you’ve got players getting arrested for crimes so stupid that you wonder if they even appreciate the fact that they get to play a game for millions of dollars each year. They’re just so anxious to take it for granted that they let waste it away.

It would be a really depressing picture if it wasn’t for optimism and enthusiasm of the millions of up-and-coming baseball players around the globe who dream of one day playing in the big leagues. And, we DO have some diamonds in the rough in professional baseball who stand out as fantastic role models for these aspiring players with their efforts both on and off the field.

I’m thrilled to say that the major leagues gained another Ambassador of Awesomeness today when the Kansas City Royals announced that Cressey Performance Athlete Tim Collins would be on their opening day roster – and that’s why I’m probably on a plane to Kansas City as you read this. While hundreds of young athletes (and our staff and adult clients) in the Cressey Performance circle alone already appreciate Tim as a tremendously positive influence in our community, with this promotion, a lot more people are going to appreciate just how special Tim’s story is.

If you’ve read this blog at all in the past, you’ve probably come across Tim’s story as the ultimate longshot. In case you missed it, check out this article.

The long story short is that Tim was overlooked by every single Division 1 school in the country in spite of being the ace of a high school team that compiled a record of 91-5 over Tim’s four years of school. His high school numbers were absolutely video-game-like, but he was overlooked because he was only 5-5, 130 pounds. Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi came across Tim by accident in the summer of 2007 when scouting an American Legion game – where Tim struck out all 12 batters he faced with a low 80s fastball, but an absolute “Kaboom” curveball. Two days later, JP and the Blue Jays took a leap of faith, and in the single greatest baseball scouting story I’ve come across, signed Tim – who, at age 17, had never left the Northeast – and sent him to rookie ball…the next day!

This is where Cressey Performance entered the equation. Tim had been committed to play at the Community College of Rhode Island on a baseball scholarship – and he was going to be roommates with another one of my athletes. The two had played against one another in high school extensively and stayed in touch – and when Tim got back from his first few months in minor league baseball, this “roommate that never was” encouraged me to reach out to Tim because he thought I could really help Tim. I made the call, and the next day, here’s what walked in to CP on October 12, 2007:

That, folks, is what 5-5, 131 pounds looks like. And, that’s a body that was lucky to touch 82-83 on the radar gun. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though.

That first week, my business partner, Tony, and I took Tim to the track with us to do some movement training. I figured, “Hey, this is a professional athlete; he’ll be able to move pretty well.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tony and I whipped him all over the track. He got beaten by a good 8-10 yards on every single sprint, and spent more time wheezing than he did training. He had the fuzzy dice (curveball), but no horse power in the engine. His vertical jump was 25.0 inches (a peak power of 4497 watts, considering the body weight of 131).

It would have been very easy for Tim to tap out that morning at the track. He could have just resigned himself to being a slug in the off-season like so many professional baseball players. Pitchers aren’t athletes, right? Well, this one committed himself to becoming one.

Over the next three off-seasons, the entire Cressey Performance community watched Tim transform. Each year, his weight and athleticism shot up – and he’s now about 172 pounds with a vertical jump of 38.7 inches (7453 watts – or a 66% improvement in 3.5 years).

More importantly, this athleticism directly carried over to increased throwing velocity and pitching performance. In 2008, he jumped up to 87-89mph. In 2009, it was 90-92, and 2010, he was 92-94 – while reportedly touching a 97 on the stadium gun. Oh, and entering the 2011 season, Tim had a career ERA of 2.26 in 223 professional innings, – with 329 strikeouts (13.3 per 9 innings). And, he just turned 21 in September.

That’s the tip of the iceberg, though. We’ve had lots of guys get more athletic and perform better in their chosen sports. There are a few things that make Tim’s story even more special.

First, of course, is the simple fact that he defied the odds and has made it to the big leagues as a long-shot – when only 3% of players ever drafted ever make it this far in their career. And, he did it as an undrafted free agent signing. Nobody ever crunches the numbers on these guys because, frankly, it almost never happens; they are scouting “afterthoughts.”

So, it’s an awesome story because it meant that every time Tim went out and “shoved” against opposing hitters on his way through the minor leaguers, he also “shoved” against baseball traditionalism. He showed that pitchers need to be athletes, that strength and conditioning really can change a career significantly, and that there are some situations where scouts really don’t know a stud from a dud. And, he has shown – and will continue to show – loads of impressionable young athletes that working hard really does pay off, even while other professional athletes are being lazy and destroying their bodies and careers, or being unethical and taking the easy way out.

Second, and more interestingly to me, I’ve watched Tim mature exponentially as a person – far moreso than anyone else his age who went to college. He was thrown into the real world quickly, and he matured and thrived, coming out of his shell and becoming a wildly popular part of Cressey Performance. The kid who used to barely talk when he came in to train now spends about eight hours a day at CP – between training and just hanging out in the office chatting with other clients and our staff. In perhaps my favorite story, last spring, we watched Tim sell over 90 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for one of our adult client’s daughter. He literally set up a makeshift desk in our office and met everyone at the door. And, even against the objections of CP nutrition expert, Brian St. Pierre, just about everyone obliged because, well, it was Tim – and he makes people smile.

Simply, changing his body and surrounding himself with the right people in the right environment played a big part in shaping Tim as a person. While quantifiable results are certainly very important, these more subjective changes are ones that every fitness professional and strength and conditioning coach hopes for with their clients and athletes. As I see Tim signing autographs, doing charity work, and taking younger players under his wing, I’m thrilled that he’s “paying it forward.”

The Kansas City Royals might not be a favorite to win the American League Central, but there’s still something to be excited about in Kansas City right now: a great guy getting to live a dream to which he has dedicated himself relentlessly to achieve.

Congratulations, Tim. I know I can speak for all the Cressey Performance staff and clients when I say that we couldn’t be more proud of you and happy for you. Thanks for having us all along for the ride!

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A Great Read on Shoulder Instability

Written on March 30, 2011 at 6:39 am, by Eric Cressey

My next blog (which is one of the best things I’ve ever written, in my opinion – so don’t miss it!) will go live tonight, but in the meantime, I wanted to encourage you to check out a great two-part article from my buddy Mike Reinold, the head athletic trainer and rehabilitation coordinator for the Boston Red Sox (not to mention the co-creator of the Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set).  Mike delves into shoulder instability in great detail:

Key Factors in the Rehabilitation of Shoulder Instability: Part 1

Key Factors in the Rehabilitation of Shoulder Instability: Part 2

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Oblique Strains in Baseball: 2011 Update

Written on March 29, 2011 at 6:56 am, by Eric Cressey

Just over three years ago, during a period where oblique strains were on the rise in professional baseball and the USA Today profiled this “new” injury, I wrote an article on what I perceived to be the causes of the issue.  Check it out: Oblique Strains and Rotational Power.

This year, the topic has come back to the forefront, as players like Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Curtis Granderson, and Brian Wilson have experienced the injury this spring training alone.

While my thoughts from the initial article are still very much applicable, I do have some additional thoughts on the matter for 2011:

1. Is anyone surprised that the rise in oblique injuries in baseball is paralleled by the exponential rise in hip injuries and lower back pain? I don’t care whether you work in a factory or play a professional sport; violent, repetitive, and persistently unilateral-dominant rotation (especially if it is uncontrolled) will eventually chew up a hip, low back, or oblique; it’s just a matter of where people break down.

In other words, pro athletes are generating a tremendous amount of power from the hips – moreso, in fact, than they ever have before thanks to the advances in strength training, nutrition, supplementation, and, unfortunately, in some cases, illegal “pharmaceutical interventions.”  Assuming mechanics are relative good (as they should be in a professional athlete), rotate a hip faster and you’ll improve bat speed and throwing velocity; it’s that simple.  This force production alone is enough to chew up a labrum, irritate a hip capsule, and deliver enough localized eccentric stress to cause a loss in range of motion.  The Cliff’s Notes version is that we’ve increased hip strength and power (more on this in a bit), but most folks have overlooked tissue quality (foam rolling, massage, and more focal approaches like Active Release and Graston) and mobility training.

If the hips stiffen up, the lumbar spine will move excessively in all planes of motion – and, in turn, affect the positioning of the thoracic spine.  Throw off the thoracic spine, and you’ll negatively impact scapular (and shoulder), respiratory (via the rib cage), and cervical spine.  Hips that are strong – but have short or stiff musculature can throw off the whole shebang.

2. “Strong” isn’t a detailed enough description. I think that it goes beyond that, as you have to consider that a big part of this is a discrepancy between concentric and eccentric strength.  Concentrically, you have the trailing leg hip generating tremendous rotational power, and eccentrically, you have the lead leg musculature decelerating that rotation.

Moreover, because the front hip can’t be expected to dissipate all that rotational velocity – and because the thoracic spine is rotating from the drive of the upper extremities – you put the muscles acting at the lumbar spine in a situation where they must provide incredible stiffness to resist rotation.  It is essentially the opposite of being between a rock and a hard place; they are the rock between two moving parts.  Structurally, though, they’re well equipped to handle this responsibility; just look at how the line of pull of each of these muscles (as well as the tendinous inscriptions of the rectus abdominus) runs horizontally to resist rotation.  That’s eccentric control.

How do we train it?  Definitely not with sit-ups, crunches, or sidebends.  The former are too sagittal plane oriented and not particularly functional at all.  The latter really doesn’t reflect the stability-oriented nature of our “core.”  The bulk of our oblique strain prevention core training program should be movements that resist rotation:

While on the topic, it’s also important to resist lumbar hypextension, as poor anterior core strength can allow the rib cage to flare up (increases the stretch on the most commonly injured area of the obliques: at the attachment to the 11th rib on the non-throwing side) and even interfere with ideal respiratory function (the diaphragm can’t take  on its optimal dome shape, so we overuse accessory breathing muscles like pec minor, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, etc).

So, to recap: I don’t think oblique strains are a new injury epidemic or the result of team doctors just getting better with diagnostics.  Rather, I think that we’re talking about a movement dysfunction that has been prevalent for quite some time – but we just happen to have had several of them in a short amount of time that has made the media more alert to the issue.  The truth is that if we worried more about “inefficiency” and not pathology,” journalists could have “broken” this story a long time ago.

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Stuff You Should Read: 3/28/11

Written on March 28, 2011 at 5:45 am, by Eric Cressey

I am getting back late tonight from my trip, so here’s a list of recommended reading to hold you over in my absence.

The #1 Cause of Inconsistent Pitching Velocity – With the high school baseball season about to get underway, this seemed like a good time to “re-up” this article.

Movement System Impairment Syndromes of the Extremities, Cervical and Thoracic Spines, by Shirley Sahrmann – This is what I’ve been reading on the beach the past week.  Lengthy title, but super high quality book, if you’re a geek like me.

Packing in the Neck – This is an old one, but a good one from Charlie Weingroff.  Charlie talks about proper neck positioning while lifting – a topic that I think gets really overlooked in discussions of appropriate lifting technique.  In case you can’t tell from this deadlift technique, I’m in full agreement with Charlie.

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Success Tips: Find the Common Threads

Written on March 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

Jay Bonn is a current Cressey Performance intern, but also a Lean Eating Coach for Precision Nutrition.  He recently pulled together an excellent piece on the commonalities of success in strength training programs, sports nutrition strategies, and strength and conditioning coaching.  I thought you all might like to take a look, as it’s a great read:

Success Tips: Find the Common Threads

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In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Part 4 – Professional Baseball

Written on March 24, 2011 at 5:49 am, by Eric Cressey

This is the fourth installment of a series on in-season strength and conditioning for baseball.  In case you missed them, here are links to check out the first three parts of this series:

Part 1: General Assumptions about In-Season Strength and Conditioning for Baseball
Part 2: In-Season High School Baseball Strength and Conditioning
Part 3: In-Season College Baseball Strength and Conditioning

Today, I’ll be talking about what I believe to be the optimal set-up for professional baseball players.  This might be a minority in the big picture of all the baseball players on the planet, but pro guys’ responses to in-season strength and conditioning programs can really tell us a lot.

Professional baseball players are the ones with the most accumulated wear and tear on their bodies, so effective programming is essential.  Likewise, they play daily games – often upwards of 200 per year when you combine spring training, the regular season, and post-season play – so you really need to be able to manage competing demands and fatigue if you want to keep pro guys healthy and performing at a high level.

We’ll break things down by position.

Position Players

Position players tend to represent the widest range of preferences.  On one hand, you have guys who are completely dragging from having to stand on their feet for hours upon end day-after-day.

On the other hand, I’ve known guys who literally want to do something every single day – whether it’s lifting, med ball, sprinting, or a combination of one or more.  Don’t believe me? Here’s an awesome email I got from a big league middle infielder who trained 5x/week (3-4 lifting sessions and 1-2 movement training sessions):

I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me, EC.  In this my 18th professional season, I can say, without a doubt, this is the best I’ve felt during any season.  By following your program, I was able to stay strong and explosive the whole season.  This is the best I’ve felt after the season too.  I don’t have any nagging injuries or soreness and I know this is because I followed your programs. I can’t express in words how much you contributed to my success this season.

We’re talking about a guy in his late 30s with a lot of years of service time under his belt – and he felt better by doing more.  Don’t be afraid to make guys work in-season; if you don’t, they’ll eventually break down.

This, of course, is the rarity; most guys will be best off finding the balance between doing nothing and doing what we did in the above example.  I tend to give position players the most wiggle room in terms of time and day of their lifts.  They can either do it earlier in the day, or after games.  We usually shoot for three full-body lifts per week on non-consecutive days – and never with more than 15 sets in a given day.  One of those three lifts is almost exclusively upper body and core work.  They get in, do their work, and get out.

Some guys, however, prefer to split things up into two upper-body and two lower-body sessions per week.  They are shorter sessions, but are good for ensuring that athletes are going through their foam rolling and mobility drills more frequently.

Catchers

In my high school and college examples, I included catchers with position players’ programming needs.  However, when you catch 4-5 games a week, things change – and we take that into account with our programming.

First off, we don’t squat our catchers in-season.  Trust me, they squat enough.  We use more deadlift variations and single-leg exercises during the season.

Second, I encourage catchers to lift post-game, if they have the opportunity and energy to do so.  Training before a game might be okay for a pitcher or position player, but crushing a lower body lift right before getting in the bottom of a squat for three hours isn’t particularly appealing.  If you can get in the work the night before, you’ve got a better chance of being fresh.

Third, I think that 2-3 strength training sessions per week is sufficient – and only two of those days have lower body work in them.  It takes far less volume than you can possibly imagine to maintain strength, so a couple sets each of a bilateral and unilateral exercise usually does the trick for catchers in-season.

Also of note, I don’t like the idea of guys lifting much on their off-days from catching.  If you’re only getting 1-2 days off from catching per week, you might as well use them for full recovery.  In other words, try to consolidate training stress and earn 24-hour “recovery windows” where you can.

Starting Pitchers

Professional baseball starting pitchers might have the coolest job and schedule in professional sports.  It’s very predictable – and they should be able to get in a good 12 lifts per month on the following schedule:

Day 0: pitch
Day 1: challenging lower body lift, light upper body work
Day 2: movement training only
Day 3: challenging upper body lift, easier lower body work
Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only, or off altogether
Day 5: next pitching outing

If they wind up with five days between starts, they can split the day 3 training session up into upper body (Day 3) and lower body (Day 4), then take a day off on Day 5.

Life is tough, huh?

Relief Pitchers

Describing what I do with my relief pitchers is a mouthful, but I’ll give it a shot.

Every reliever has three strength training “options” and one movement training day in each program that I send them:

Long Option (Full-Body Strength Training: 15-17 sets)
Movement Training
Short Option 1 (Full-Body, but Lower Emphasis: 8-12 sets)
Short Option 2 (Full-Body, but Upper Emphasis: 8-12 sets)

Here’s exactly how I describe it to them:

“If you go over 20 pitches in an outing, perform the regular Day 1 and then Day 2 in the subsequent two days, as you can assume you won’t throw for 48 hours.  Then, progress to Short Option 1, day off, Short Option 2.

“If you make less than 20 pitches, go right to Short Option 1, then Day 2, then Short Option 2, then day off.  This is good for when you think you may be going on back to back days.  You can do the Short option lifts earlier in the day even if you think you may be throwing a bit that night; the volume will be so low that you’ll still be fresh.

“If you are going to be a long/middle reliever, most of your work will be the Day 1, Day 2, Short Option 1, Day off, Short Option 2, etc. option.  Listen to your body and take days off when you need to, but at the very least, make sure you’re getting in the gym 2-3 times a week.

“If you’re going to be a ‘face-one-guy’ reliever or a closer, you’ll be doing more of the short option work.”

Hopefully, that makes sense – because our guys have loved it and I know of a few smart pitching coaches “in the know” who have implemented it in their programs with excellent success.

That wraps up this series on in-season strength and conditioning.  It’s taken a long time to test-drive these programs and tinker with them to make sure that they work.  At the same time, though, no two athletes are the same, so be sure to individualize your recommendations whenever possible.

Please help me spread these articles around via Facebook, Twitter, and emailed links, as we need to get the word out that in-season training is a must for baseball players at all levels!

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A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

Written on January 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm, by Eric Cressey

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

By: Eric Cressey

In Part 1 of this article series, I discussed everything that was wrong with distance running for pitchers.  In Part 2, I’ll outline my thoughts on how to best integrate conditioning for pitchers between throwing sessions.  This article will focus on managing starters, but I suspect you’ll find that managing relievers isn’t entirely different aside from the fact that you’ll need to “roll with the punches” a bit more.

I think the best way to introduce this article is to describe a coincidence from the beginning of the year.    On January 5, I received an email from one of my pro pitchers asking me if I could outline some thoughts on my between-start strength and conditioning mentality, as his old college pitching coach had asked for his input from him, as he was a student of the game and had tried some non-traditional ideas. In response to that email, I replied with essentially everything I’ll describe in this article – plus everything I outlined in Part 1 with respect to how bad a choice distance running is.

The coincidence didn’t become apparent until a week or two later when I got my hands on the January installment of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which featured a study entitled “Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players.”

These researchers divided a collegiate pitching staff into two groups of eight over the course of a season, and each group did everything identically – except the running portion of their training programs.  Three days per week, the “sprint” group did 10-30 sprints of 15-60m with 10-60s rest between bouts.  The endurance group performed moderate-to-high intensity jogging or cycling 3-4 days per week for anywhere from 20-60 minutes.

Over the course of the season, the endurance group’s peak power output dropped by an average of 39.5 watts while the sprinting group increased by an average of 210.6 watts (1).  So, basically what I’m saying is that I was right all along – and I’m totally going to brag about it.  Part 1 of this series simply justified all of my thoughts; now it’s time to put them into a framework.

Some Prerequisite Q&A

As a response to Part 1, I got an email from a college pitching coach looking for some further details, and here were his questions (bold) and my answers:

Q: Is running 1-2 miles once a week considered distance running?

A: I’d call anything over 150m “distance running” in a pitching population, believe it or not.  I haven’t had a baseball player run over 60 yards in two years – and even when they go 60, they’re build-ups, so only about 50% of that distance is at or near top speed.

Q: Is running 10 poles in 30s with one minute of rest considered distance?

A: Let’s say it takes 30s to run a pole, and then you rest a minute (1:2 work: rest ratio).  Then, you go out and pitch, where you exert effort for one second and rest 20s (1:20 work:rest ratio).  This is the equivalent of a 100m sprinter training like a 1500m runner.

Q: Don’t you need some endurance to pitch a complete 9-inning game?

A: If all endurance was created equal, why didn’t Lance Armstrong win the New York or Boston Marathon?  Endurance is very skill specific.  Additionally, there is a huge difference between exerting maximal power over 20-25 individual efforts with near complete rest (a sample inning) and exerting submaximal efforts repeatedly with no or minimal rest.

Q: What about guys who are overweight?  What should they do?

A: Fat guys should be paperweights, bouncers, sumo wrestlers, or eating contest champions.  If they want to be successful players at the D1 level or beyond, they’ll sack up and stop eating crap.  Several years ago, I promised myself that I would never, ever try to use extra conditioning to make up for poor diet.

Q: What are your thoughts on interval training?

A: We know that interval training is superior to steady state cardio for fat loss, but the important consideration is that it must be specific to the sport in question.

These responses should set the stage for the following points:

1. The secret is to keep any longer duration stuff low-intensity (under 70% HRR) and everything else at or above 90% of max effort (this includes starts, agilities, and sprints up to 60yds).  For more background on this, check out the McCarthy et al. study I outlined in Part 1.

2. Ideally, the low-intensity work would involve significant joint ranges-of-motion (more to come on this below).

3. Don’t forget that pitchers rarely run more than 15 yards in a game situation.

4. Strength training and mobility training far outweigh running on the importance scale.

5.  If you need to develop pitching specific stamina, the best way to achieve that end is to simply pitch and build pitch counts progressively.  If that needs to be supplemented with something to expedite the process a bit, you can add in some medicine ball medleys – which can also be useful for ironing out side-to-side imbalances, if implemented appropriately.  However, a good off-season throwing program and appropriate management of a pitcher early in the season should develop all the pitching specific endurance that is required.

The 5-Day Rotation

In a case of a five-day rotation, here is how we typically structure things.  Keep in mind that dynamic flexibility and static stretching are performed every day.

Day 0: pitch
Day 1 (or right after pitching, if possible): challenging lower body lift, push-up variation (light), horizontal pulling (light), cuff work
Day 2: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds)
Day 3: bullpen (usually), single-leg work, challenging upper body lift (less vertical pulling in-season), cuff work
Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only
Day 5: next pitching outing

Notes:

1. When a guy happens to get five days between starts, we’ll typically split the Day 3 lifting session into two sessions and do some movement training on Day 4 as well.

2. I know a lot of guys (myself included) are advocates of throwing more than once between starts.  For simplicity’s sake, I haven’t included those sessions.

3.  There are definitely exceptions to this rule.  For instance, if a guy is having a hard time recovering, we’ll take Day 2 off altogether and just do our sprint work after the bullpen and before lifting on Day 3.  That adds a full day of rest to the rotation in addition to the really light Day 4.

The 7-Day Rotation

With a 7-day rotation, we’ve got a lot more wiggle room to get aggressive with things.  This is why in-season can still be a time of tremendous improvements in the college game, especially since you can work in a good 2-3 throwing sessions between starts.  Again, dynamic flexibility and static stretching are performed every day.  To keep this simple, I’m going to assume we’ve got a Saturday starter.

Saturday: pitch
Sunday: challenging lower body lift, light cuff work

Monday: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds); upper body lift

Tuesday: low-Intensity resistance training (<30% of 1RM) circuits, extended dynamic flexibility circuits

Wednesday: full-body lift

Thursday: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds);

Friday: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only

Saturday: pitch again
Of course, traveling logistics can throw a wrench in the plans on this front sometimes, but the good news is that collegiate pitchers have six days to roll with the punches to get back on schedule.
Closing Thoughts

As you can see, I am a big fan of quality over quantity. Our guys only sprint twice in most weeks – and certainly not more than three times.  This certainly isn’t the only way to approach training between starts, but I’ve found it to be the most effective of what our guys have tried.
References
1. Rhea MR, Oliverson JR, Marshall G, Peterson MD, Kenn JG, Ayllón FN. Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players. J Strength Cond Res 2008 Jan;22(1):230-4.

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One Response to “A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2”

  1. eugene sedita Says:
    Wow, I’ve got nothing to do with pitching and throwing and still read these articles like a mystery novel, (just couldn’t stop ) Thanks, Eric, very interesting.

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In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Part 3 – College Baseball

Written on March 23, 2011 at 5:47 am, by Eric Cressey

This is part 3 of my series on in-season baseball strength and conditioning programs.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Today, we’ll be talking about managing the college baseball player in-season.

There are definitely some similarities between how we manage our college and high school guys (described in Part 2) – particularly with respect to position players/catchers and starting pitchers on 7-day rotations.  The main difference, though, is that the college baseball schedule is largely based on the weekend (Fri-Sun games) with some mid-week games worked in (usually Tue or Wed), while the high school schedule is a bit more unpredictable.  As a result, the days on which guys tend to lift are probably more set in stone for college baseball players.  Let’s look at things by position.

Position Players/Catchers

I prefer to have our most challenging lift on Monday (after a weekend series), with another lift scheduled for either Wednesday or Thursday.  This enables a coach to give players a full day of rest on either a Tuesday or Friday before a game day, but do so without interfering with the overall training effect.  I’ve also known position players who like to go with a full-body lift on Monday, then a lower body lift and upper body lift back-to-back for Wed-Thu or Thu-Fri.  It really depends on the player’s preferences and how many innings he’s getting on the field.

Pitchers

We manage our college starting pitchers exactly the same as our high school once-a-week starters.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here.

Relief pitchers, though, are where many college baseball strength and conditioning coaches want to pull their hair out.  Their schedules are very unpredictable; they might throw Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday – or they might only throw on Saturday and then have six days off.  What to do?

I say that when there is chaos, you give people structure – and that’s exactly how I manage relievers.  I’ve found that most guys appreciate having at least one part of their routine set-in-stone – and scheduling strength training sessions can be just that.  So, assume that every reliever lifts Monday and Thursday – even if he may have to pitch Thursday night (you can just pare back volume in the session) in a random mid-week game.  As long as you aren’t adding in loads of new exercises, you won’t make him sore and interfere with performance.  We have relievers in pro baseball who lift all the time on days that they wind up throwing – and many actually report that they feel better on the mound when they’ve already lifted that day.  You’ll need to do same-day training to get in their movement training, anyway – and nobody has ever complained about sprinting during warm-ups.

Additionally, if a relief pitcher has a particularly long outing and you know he won’t be back to throwing for a few days, treat him just like a starting pitcher and lift within 12 hours after the game; you might find that you can squeeze in an extra strength training session for him during that week.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the final installment of this series on in-season baseball strength and conditioning: professional baseball.

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In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Part 2 – High School Baseball

Written on March 22, 2011 at 5:42 am, by Eric Cressey

In case you missed Part 1 of this series on In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning, you can check it out HERE.

Today, I’ll be discussing how to attack in-season training for high school baseball players.  I’ll divide things up between position players (plus catchers) and pitchers.

Position Players/Catchers

With our position players and catchers, we typically opt for two full-body strength training sessions per week.  Some players, however, will opt for shorter, more frequent training sessions.  This may be the case for “gym rats” who feel better when they lift more often, or those who simply aren’t getting much playing time and really want to continue developing.

These players get enough movement training just from taking ground balls and sprinting during warm-ups and practices, so there usually isn’t any need to add extra movement training to their programs.

We also keep medicine ball volume down because they’re already doing a lot of high volume rotation with their throwing and hitting.  They’ll do their foam rolling and mobility work daily, though.

Pitchers

High school pitchers are challenging to train because most are two-way players – meaning that they play a position in the field when they aren’t pitching.  As a general rule of thumb, I encourage kids to avoid catching and playing SS/3B if they are going to pitch regularly, as the throwing volume really adds up.  If a young athlete pitches fewer than three innings per week, though, we just train him like we would a position player, but try to make sure that at least one of these training sessions comes the day after throwing.  I like this approach because it not only “consolidates” stress into a 24-hour block to allow for better recovery, but it also forces a kid to go through his mobility drills, soft tissue work, and manual stretching with us to “normalize” his range of motion after a throwing appearance.

If a pitcher throws more than three innings per week, it’s best to try to pin down one particular day of the week when he is a starter.  If he starts on Friday, he’d want to lift Saturday and Monday or Tuesday.  Moreover, if he strength trains on Monday, he’ll have the option of getting in another good brief, light session on Wednesday.  Like the position players, our pitchers take part in daily foam rolling and mobility work.

Sample Schedule for a Position Player/Catcher with games on MoWeFr

Su: off completely
Mo: Game
Tu:  Practice and Strength Training (shorter option)
We: Game
Th: Practice, but no strength training
Fr: Game
Sa: Practice, Strength Training (longer option)

I may deviate from this schedule and do a bit more (added Thursday strength training session) with a younger player who needs to develop (usually have fewer practices/games, anyway) or someone who is not getting all that much playing time.

Sample Schedule for a Pitcher with only one start per week (same as college pitchers on 7-day rotations)

Mo: Pitch
Tu:  Strength Training (lower body emphasis, core, and light upper body)
We: Movement Training
Th: Low Volume Medicine Ball Work, Strength training (upper emphasis, plus low volume lower)
Fr: Movement Training
Sa: Very light Strength Training (mostly upper and core work)
Su: off completely

If this pitcher was playing the field on non-pitching days, we’d simply drop the movement training and eliminate either the Thursday or Saturday strength training session.

This obviously doesn’t include the throwing program component, which we find it a bit different for everyone.  I will say, though, that most of our guys tend to long toss the furthest on Wed/Thu and throw their bullpen on Fri/Sat.  They’d be playing catch on some of the other days, too, of course.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with my approaches to in-season strength and conditioning for college baseball players.

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In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Part 1

Written on March 21, 2011 at 2:30 am, by Eric Cressey

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received literally dozens of emails, Facebook posts/messages, Tweets, and phone calls on the topic of in-season strength and conditioning for baseball players.  While it was a daunting task to try to organize my thoughts on the subject, I was glad to do so, as all these inquiries mean that people are finally starting to “get it:” in-season strength and conditioning is extremely important!

To that end, over the next four days, I’ll outline my general strength and conditioning approach to dealing with position players and pitchers during the season.  Every athlete and every schedule is different, so it might take some tinkering to make this work for you.

First, though, I want to throw out a few quick FYIs, as some of what I “omit” will actually surprise you.  In terms of my in-season strength and conditioning beliefs, I’m different from many people in that:

1. I’m not big on lots of band stuff at the field – I discussed my thoughts on rotator cuff exercises frequency and overall scheduling in Clearing Up the Rotator Cuff Controversy.  In a nutshell, I tend to stick with 2x/week “conventional” rotator cuff exercises (mostly external rotations) and 2x/week rhythmic stabilization drills.  In conjunction with the rest of our overall program – which includes compound upper body strength exercises ( horizontal and vertical pulling exercises, in particular), deceleration catches, core stability drills, lower half strength exercises, soft tissue work, mobility work, etc – we cover all our needs for keeping an arm healthy.  Why on earth would I add more rotator cuff exercises to my program when I’m already increasing throwing volume, intensity, and frequency?  The cuff is already getting abused – so there is no need to crush it any more with daily tubing circuits unless they are incredibly light and just aimed at improving blood flow.

I firmly believe that many pitchers (and position players alike) overuse their arms during a season simply because they add, add, and add more to their program without fully understanding the outrageous eccentric stress that’s placed on the arm during throwing.  And, for those who insist that doing lots of in-season rotator cuff exercises has kept them healthy, I’d argue that this is probably the case because they weren’t that prepared at the end of the off-season.

2. I don’t do much medicine ball work in-season – If you haven’t already watched my video, the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum, watch it now:

During the season, players are about as far to the “absolute speed” end of the continuum as they can be, as they’re hitting, throwing, and sprinting.  With the overwhelming amount of “accidental” power training taking place, I feel that it’s best to stay at the other end of the spectrum.  You can spend more time in the middle during the off-season.

That said, we do utilize a small amount of medicine ball work during the season.  Usually, it’s predominantly done in the opposite direction of a player’s swing/throw; in other words, a right-handed hitter would perform left handed medicine ball throws.  We might also do a small amount of overhead work just to maintain power within this range of motion (as well as the thoracic spine and shoulder flexion mobility that goes with it).

3. I don’t do any distance running for my guys – There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, as I already barbequed this sacred cow in A New Model for Training Between Starts.  So, this time around, I’ll just be abrasive: coaches who have their baseball players run long distances are either lazy or flat-out stupid (or both).

4. I am a big believer in “less is more” and “quality over quantity” for in-season training – Rarely will an in-season strength training program session last more than 35-40 minutes.  It’s usually roughly 10-14 sets worth of work.  A guy might be in the gym longer than that for foam rolling and targeted mobility drills, though.

5. Volume and intensity should be lower in week 1, but higher for the remaining weeks with in-season strength training programs – I usually keep the volume and intensity lower in the first week of the program to minimize initial soreness.  Then, once the familiarity with the exercises is in place, we can load up a bit more in weeks 2-4 (or 2-6, if you opt to extend the program a bit longer).

6. Strength exercise selection changes a bit in-season, but the basics still apply – We’re still using a lot  of compound, multi-joint strength exercises, but there are a few modifications.

In-season, I tend to utilize more horizontal pulling (rows) than vertical pulling (pull-ups/chin-ups).  We use a lot of vertical pulling throughout the year, but never really go above once a week during the season, as some guys can get a bit cranky in the elbow with the amount of weight it takes to make them challenging.  If you want some of the benefits without the elbow issues, you can always plug in the crossover reverse fly.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I think chin-ups and pull-ups are bad for pitchers.  Far too many coaches have (unsuccessfully) tried to beat that dead horse; let it go, fellas.

Especially with pitchers, I utilize more push-up variations than dumbbell bench pressing during the season.  If we wind up doing three days of horizontal pushing, two will be push-ups and one will be dumbbell pressing.  If we do two days, it’s one of each.  If it’s only one, it’s a push-up.  We have several different variations (as I wrote here and here) from which to choose, so athletes are actually far less likely to get bored with them than with dumbbell pressing, anyway.

7. Don’t overlook maintaining mobility – It’s called “Strength and Conditioning,” but the truth is that we could probably scrap the conditioning part with respect to baseball and replace it with “mobility.”  Guys don’t just get hurt in-season because they lose strength; they get hurt because they lose mobility.  All the eccentric stress leads to significant losses in mobility, as does all the standing around leads athletes to miss out on basic functional movement patterns like squatting and lunging.  Don’t just be a “weights coach;” there are other things to address!  This is probably the primary reason why Assess and Correct has gotten such great reviews among baseball coaches; it's one piece that they were missing!

It took me over a thousand words, but it would appear that I’ve gotten all my prerequisites out of the way.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk about in-season training for the high school baseball player.

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Get Strong by Learning from My Strength and Conditioning Mistakes

Written on March 18, 2011 at 7:45 am, by Eric Cressey

We bought our dog, Tank, in October of 2010 – and he’s since gone on to be not only man’s best friend around the house, but also an integral (and entertaining) part of the Cressey Performance experience, as he comes to the gym with me just about every day.

In spite of Tank’s affinity for flashing people, he managed to win adoration of the family of one of our CP athletes to the point that they decided they wanted to get a cream puggle just like him.  Having just spent months housetraining him and trying to get him to sleep through the night, my wife and I had plenty of suggestions for these folks to avoid making the mistakes we made.  I mean, we never told him to eat paint chips, but puppies will be puppies, you know?

Anyway, that family is now all settled with their puppy, and it got me to thinking about the importance of learning from others’ mistakes is in the world of strength and conditioning programs.  If I can help out one puppy owner, I might as well help out the 180,000 unique visitors on this website each month!  With that in mind, here are five strength and conditioning mistakes I corrected that have made a big difference for me:

1. Eating like a pansy in the post-training window – If you’re an up-and-coming lifter or athlete who can benefit from increasing muscle mass (and I definitely was), the post-workout period is not a time when you can skimp on calories.  I really did not start making great progress until I was getting in over a thousand calories between my post-training shake and the meal that took place an hour later – and that was on the light side compared to what I’ve seen with some other guys. I can’t think of many things that drive me crazier than seeing one of our athletes finish a training session – and then sit around in the office for 2-3 hours without eating anything.  I love having them hang out at the gym, but I just want them to do it with calories!

2. Not training for strength soon enough – I'm going to dumb getting bigger down as much as I can, yet still keep it mathematical. You've got to do "muscular damage" and then rebuild.  If you don't do work, you don't get damage. Work = Force x Distance

Unless you plan on growing for the rest of your life (or find magical ways to keep adding range of motion to exercises), the easiest way to positively impact the amount of work you do is to apply more force – or be stronger. To that end, I'll make a bold statement here: for the first two years of lifting, your primary goal should simply be to add weight to the bar (provided you can do so in good technique and without pain).  As long as we're talking about compound strength exercises, you'll be very pleased with the results. We have novice lifters at Cressey Performance who grow like weeds in their first two years of training with us – and I can't say that I've ever had someone ask me about "the pump."  I wish I'd had someone to tell me to shut up when I asked about it when I was 18!

3. Spending too much time doing non-essentials – This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous observation.  I really had no place doing curls, triceps extensions, and other isolation exercises when I hadn’t even come close to putting up good numbers on the important strength exercises. It kept me in the gym too long and interfered with my recovery on the really important stuff. The funny thing is that now that I have gotten a lot stronger, I really don’t have interest in doing much of the isolation stuff anymore – because I realize that the core strength exercises are the ones that really helped me progress.

4. Not being more athletic with my energy systems work – Growing up, I was an avid soccer and tennis player, and as a result of all my time on the field/court, I was reasonably quick and good with changes of direction.  When my early 20s rolled around, I took a step back from those sports to pursue strength training "full time."  A few years later, I was invited to play in a charity basketball game against a bunch of at-the-time Patriots players like Ellis Hobbs, Reche Caldwell, Pierre Woods, and Logan Mankins (among others).  Don't let anyone tell you that NFL guys can't play hoops, because these guys mopped the floor with us. The outcome wasn't altogether surprising, but one thing that did open my eyes was how I just didn't feel as athletic as I used to be in spite of the fact that I'd gotten a lot stronger as compared to my high school years.  I was putting force into the ground, but I wasn't applying it quickly – and I wasn't doing it in planes of motion in which I was comfortable.  Not surprisingly, most of my energy systems work at the time (which really wasn't much) was being done on machines: ellipticals, versa-climbers, rowers, and bikes.  I committed to cutting back on mindless repetitive motion cardio right away – and since then, just about all my energy systems work has been sprinting, strongman-type medleys, change of direction work, slideboard work, and medicine ball circuits (plus just a small amount of Airdyne work). The end result?  A 37.2-inch vertical jump – more than 12 inches better than I was back at the time, and I'm at a higher body weight and just as lean as when I was doing all that "gerbil cardio."  More importantly, I feel a ton more athletic – and I'm more likely to do stupid things for others' amusement around the gym.

5. Not finding a good training crew earlier – I’ve been fortunate to lift with some excellent training partners, from my days on-campus at the University of Connecticut, to South Side Gym, to the guys I lift with at Cressey Performance nowadays.  Before that, though, I was flying solo for quite some time.  Let me tell you: good training partners make a HUGE difference.  They pick you up when you’re dragging, help you select weights, provide spots/handoffs, and create an awesome social atmosphere that actually helps training progress. “Going it alone” doesn’t just refer to having training partners with whom you can lift, though.  It also refers to having professional resources to whom you can turn – whether it’s a massage therapist when your elbows get cranky from all the gripping you do, or someone to help you out with your strength and conditioning programs.  I’m not going to lie: I did some terrible programs back in the day when I didn’t know any better.  If I’d had an unbiased party helping me out, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble. That’s one reason why I created The High Performance Handbook.

HPH-main

On one hand, it takes the guesswork out of training by providing the actual strength and conditioning programs as well as an extensive video database to help with technique on all the mobility and strength exercises.  On the other hand, though, I designed it so that it would give folks a lot of wiggle room when it comes to adapting it to their unique goals and needs.  It starts with an easy-to-apply assessment you can use to determine your unique needs.  From there, you've got 4x/week, 3x/week, and 2x/week strength training programs; different supplemental conditioning options; and a unique mobility warm-up for every month of the program.  Problems solved. Click here to learn more about The High Performance Handbook. What were some of your biggest strength and conditioning mistakes?  Share them in the comments section below and you might just help someone from repeating them!

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