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Would You Buy/Wear One of These?

Written on April 29, 2011 at 8:14 am, by Eric Cressey

We’re thinking about making up some of these bad boys.

These hats would guarantee that:

a) the opposite sex will be instantly attracted you.

b) the same sex will fear you.

c) you’ll wake up in the morning and piss excellence in every aspect of your life.

Please post a comment below if you’d buy/wear one of these CP hats!


Strength and Conditioning Programs: Trust vs. Self-Reliance

Written on April 28, 2011 at 7:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Back in graduate school, an opportunity arose to invest in an up-and-coming company.  At the time, I was swamped with student loans and really didn’t have the $5,000 “buy-in” to spare.   However, I’d always had the “entrepreneurial spirit,” and the company was recommended by a more experienced colleague I trusted (who’d also bought in), so I decided to take the plunge and devote a hefty chunk of my bartending (grad school evening job) income to the cause.

Almost a decade later, it’s been a tax deduction for me every April, as the company has lost money year after year.  The lowlight came when the vice president walked off with $80,000 to waste on strippers and cocaine, as us unenthused investors were told.  Apparently, when it comes to venture capital, there are “angel investors” and “poor grad students who accidentally fund guys who like boobs.”  It didn’t take me long to figure out which category I was in (although I did take time to consider that $80K is a lot of $1 bills).

I’ve learned lessons from books, DVDs, seminars, training people from all walks of life, and lifting myself – but throwing $5K down the toilet when I really didn’t have it to spare actually ended up teaching me a valuable lesson: no matter who you trust, the only person you can really count on is yourself.

This can really be applied to just about any walk of life – from business (obviously) to personal development.  Every decision you make in life is really a balance between trust and complete self-reliance.

When you hire an employee, it’s because you trust that he or she will do a good job with clients and customers at the level you expect.  Otherwise, you’d have to extend hours and do everyone yourself…24/7/365.

When you go to church and put a few dollar bills in the collection plate, you trust that everyone who touches that money along the way will, in fact, ensure that it goes to the right place.  Otherwise, you’d have to hand deliver your donation each week.

When you go to the doctor, you trust that he or she has been educated properly and is thorough enough to give you a diagnosis that might save your life.  Otherwise, you have to get second opinions – or try to diagnose yourself.

Heck, even as you read this newsletter, you trust that I know my arse from my elbow (and in light of my stellar investment story from above, a lot of you are probably second-guessing yourselves already).

Catch my drift?  Your life is really a series of dependencies on others, as much as you might hate to admit it. This applies to your strength and conditioning program in a big way.

When you go to the gym, you trust that the ownership of that facility has properly maintained that equipment so that it’s not going to break while you’re using it.  Otherwise, you’d be checking out each piece of equipment meticulously between each set.

When you connect with a training partner, you trust that he or she is going to be as motivated as you and push you to be better.  Otherwise, you’re lifting by yourself.

When you purchase a fitness product, you trust that the author has the experience necessary to create a program that’ll deliver the results you want in a safe and timely manner.

How do you ensure that your strength and conditioning program (or any aspect of your life) doesn’t end up as a series of failed dependencies on others?

1. Review the résumé of anyone you’re considering. When it comes to selecting people to work at our facility, the résumé is something that gets you a foot in the door – much like an academic transcript or SAT score might impact college admissions.  At the end of the day, how you act during an interview and perform on the job is more important to me.  For you, though, if you’re looking to purchase a fitness product, check on the background of who created it.  Are they training people – or have they at least done so in the past?  Or, are these hypothetical programs?

2. Look for a track record of success. This might seem synonymous with checking on a résumé, but it’s actually different.  I’ve known people with tremendous on-paper accomplishments who couldn’t cut it in the real world because these achievements didn’t translate to a different realm, or because their previous success had made them complacent and apathetic.  Sadly, I’ve also met people who have forged résumés altogether.  Do your homework by seeking out testimonials and asking around – and that’s where #3 will come into play.

3.  Surround yourself with as many positive – and insightful – people as possible. Your first impression is usually the correct one, but it never hurts to have additional perspectives from those around you.  While there’s no way you can ever guarantee that all the advice you get is good, consistently reevaluating the relationships you keep can be really valuable – not only in terms of making sure that you have the best advice on hand, but also in determining if you need to get someone’s negativity out of your life.  Not every friendship is going to work out, not every business dealing will be a good fit, and not every book/DVD will appeal to you.  The more you can “hone in” your social circle, the better the decisions you’ll make – whether it’s in avoiding the extra slice of chocolate cake, deciding to go for the PR bench press on a day when you could have slacked off, or buying book “X” instead of DVD “Y.”

4. Look for a way out; there should always be a fall-back option. You can test-drive the care before you buy it.  You can find a new training partner if things aren’t working out.  You can always fire an employee if they aren’t the right fit.  Many products have money-back guarantees.

5. Only delegate within your comfort zone. Learning to delegate was the absolute hardest thing for me when we opened Cressey Performance and I had co-owners and employees for the first time in my life.  It took some time, but now I have people doing everything – billing, scheduling, taxes, maintenance, answering the phone – that doesn’t allow me to effectively leverage my strengths: assessments, program design, and coaching.  Comfort in this regard doesn’t magically happen; it’s something that develops over time.

To bring this lesson to a close, look back at my botched investment and apply these five principles to it. I didn’t even know the president or vice president of the company, and therefore never checked their résumés (#1).  They’d never run a business before and had no track record of success (#2).  Rather than running my idea by multiple people, I went on the basis of one colleague – who was more of an acquaintance, anyway (#3).  There was no fall-back option, so with this being my first investment opportunity, I would have been smarter to go with something more low-risk, such as investing in stocks/bonds rather than a brand new company (#4). I instantly delegated everything, and to people I didn’t even know!  There was no easing into it (#5).

I deserved to lose my money; I was an idiot.

To take the guesswork out of your programming, check out my new program, Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel , and Move Better.  I promise, you can trust me – and there’s a money-back guarantee.

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Your Arm Hurts? Thank Your Little League, AAU, and Fall Ball Coaches.

Written on April 26, 2011 at 8:06 am, by Eric Cressey

I have a policy when it comes to my writing:

If something is going to be controversial and potentially elicit a negative response from my readers, I "sit" on the topic for 24 hours.  During that time, I weigh the decision of whether me publicly writing about something is for the better good – meaning that it'll help people in the long-term even if it makes them recognize that they've been goofing up in the short-term.

I did some thinking on that front last night (actually, for the past several nights), and decided to go through with this blog, as I feel like it's something that every single baseball player, parent, and especially coach ought to read.  So, if you're in one of those categories – or are just a baseball fan who loves the game – please spread the word on what you're about to read, whether it's with a Facebook "recommend," "Tweet," or just a friendly email with the link to this article.

If you've perused my Baseball Content page much in the past, you'll know that I don't try to hide the fact that throwing a baseball is an incredibly unnatural and flat-out dangerous motion.  It's the single-fastest motion in all of sports, and every day, physically unprepared athletes go out and essentially play with fire every single time they try to light up a radar gun – or even just play catch.

Not surprisingly, when you mix physically unprepared bodies with arguably the most dangerous sporting challenge on the planet (the folks in Pamplona, Spain might argue with me, but that's a blog for another day), athletes get hurt.  Arm injuries (like all youth sports injuries) are rising exponentially thanks to not "less athletic athletes" taking part in high-risk sports, but also this participation taking place at all-time high rates thanks to the proliferation of little league all-star teams, AAU teams, fall ball, private pitching instruction, and the baseball showcase industry.  A fantastic study by Olsen et al. in 2006 (must-read for anyone involved in baseball development) clearly demonstrated strong associations between injuries requiring surgery and pitching "more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game" as well as showcase appearances during adolescence.  The message was very clear: throw too much – especially at a young age – and you're going to wind up hurt.

Unfortunately, though, many people glaze over numbers in studies (if they ever read them), and while they may walk away with the "overuse is bad" message, they don't appreciate what true overuse really is – especially since it's age-dependent.  Fortunately, a February 2011 study from Fleisig et al. showed in no uncertain terms that, in ages 9-14, throwing more than 100 innings per year was associated with a 3.5 times higher risk of elbow or shoulder surgery – or retirement altogether.

To put this into context, I'll first ask you: do you realize how challenging it is to throw 100 innings in a little league season?  Let’s say you start baseball the first week of April (little league) and even manage to play on a summer team that runs through the end of July.  That’s a four month season: exactly what I was accustomed to growing up – at the absolute most.

If you look at the Major League Baseball leaders in innings pitched, those at the top of the list generally throw about 35 innings per month (4-5 starts each). In other words, high-performance, skeletally mature pitchers in the most elite baseball league in the world are on pace for roughly 140 innings pitched over the first four months of the year.  However, there are parents and coaches out there that actually think it's okay to send an 11-year old out there for a comparable number of innings?  It's especially troublesome when you realize that younger kids always throw more pitches per inning than their older counterparts, as they don't have good command and insist on trying to strike everyone out instead of pitching to contact here and there.

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Just think about how hard that is to do.  Major League pitchers throw on a five-day rotation, and Little league games are, at most, twice a week.  If a kid pitches once a week for four months, even if he throws complete games every time out (not something I'd advise, for the record), he'd still struggle to hit 100 innings (16 starts x 7 inning games =112 innings).  Rats!  It's actually tough to overuse kids when the season is kept in check.

So, instead, they add seasons.  Join an AAU team (or seven of them). Play fall ball so that you can rack up another seven innings every weekend.  Be sure to hit up a few college camps on Saturdays and throw as hard as you can so that your Sunday outing in 25-degree weather is extra miserable.  Make sure you see your pitching coach for bullpens as soon as fall ball ends.  Get your registration in early for that showcase that's taking place the first week in January.  Just do some band work and a couple of half-ass stretches and you'll be fine.  Riiiight….good thinking.

At risk of sounding arrogant, I'm good at what I do.  I've devoted my life to keeping baseball players healthy. They comprise 85% of our clientele at Cressey Performance, and I work with millions of dollars of arms every off-season and see players from ages 9 to 50+. I do my best to surround myself with the smartest people in strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, and skill-specific training in and outside of the game.  I managed the first subpectoral biceps tenodesis in major league history. I can talk mechanics with the best pitching coaches around, write strength and conditioning and throwing programs, manually stretch guys, you name it.  I've got two fantastic therapists in my office to do massage, ART, Graston, chiropractic adjustments, and a host of other manual therapy approaches – not to mention great physical therapists nearby who can handle all our complex cases.  You know the only things I, we, or anybody on this planet can't control?

Poor judgment by athletes and their parents and coaches.

And that – no doubt about it – is the primary reason that kids get hurt.  We can do all the strength training, mobility work, and soft tissue treatments in the world and it won't matter if they're overused – because I'm just not smart enough to have figured out how to go back in time and change history. Worried about whether they're throwing curveballs, or if their mechanics are perfect?  It won't matter if they've already accumulated too many innings.

While athletes might be playing with fire each time they throw, the pain presentation pattern is different.  You burn your hand, and you know instantly.  Pitching injuries take time to come about. Maybe you do microscopic damage to your ulnar collateral ligament each time you throw – and then come back and pitch again before it's had time to fully regenerate.  Or, maybe you ignore the shoulder internal rotation deficit and scapular dyskinesis you've got and it gets worse and worse for years – until you're finally on the surgeon's table for a labral and/or rotator cuff repair.  These issues might be managed conservatively if painful during the teenage years (or go undetected if no pain is present) – but once a kid hits age 18 or 19, it seems to automatically become "socially acceptable" to do an elbow or shoulder surgery.

Of course, this isn't just applicable to coaches in the 9-14 age group.  You see "criminal" pitch counts in the high school and collegiate ranks as well, and while they may be more physically mature than the 9-14 year-olds, that doesn't mean that they're exempt from the short- and long-term consequences.

This is why we need the best coaches at the youngest levels.  It's also why we need pitching coaches that understand "managing pitchers" as much as – if not more than – teaching pitching mechanics.  And, it's why coaches need to understand the big picture in terms of what different kids can do at different ages, at different times in the year.

It's also while parents need to be proactive with their young pitchers.  If a coach isn't going to track his innings – and a 9-year-old kid certainly can't be expected to do so – the parent needs to step up and do so.  I've met a lot of parents of kids who have been injured at ages 17-21, and most of them look back with a lot of anger toward coaches at younger levels for overusing their sons.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but foresight is what saves an arm.  Don't be afraid to step up and say something, as you aren't telling a coach how to do his job; you're protecting your kid, just as you would be locking the door at night or making sure he brushes his teeth.

In terms of planning the competitive year, I have no problem with a 9-14 year-old kid playing baseball 4-5 months of the year, as the other 7-8 months per year should be devoted to at least two other sports.  It's basically the "rule of thirds" for long-term athletic development: three sports, four months apiece.  Kids can strength-train year round.

At ages 15-16, I'm fine with kids changing things up and going to only two sports.  Baseball might occupy 7-8 months, but a big chunk of that should be focused on preparation.  So, a kid might start playing catch in November, start his high school season in March, and then play summer ball through the end of July.  August through November would be devoted to a fall sport and fall ball would be altogether omitted, as it was the only idea worse than making Rocky V.  Kids would, of course, strength-train year-round.

At ages 17 and up, it's fine with me if you want to specialize in baseball, but that doesn't mean you should play year-round.  I actually advocate kids only throw for 8-9 months of the year (at most) – which is right on par with what most professional players do.  The only thing that'd be different is that the season would be shifted up a bit in the year, as the high school season usually starts a few weeks before the professional season.  Pro guys get half of October, then all November and December off from throwing.  "Specialized" high school players get August, September, and October off (again, because fall ball is as useful as a trap door in a lifeboat).  Strength training is year-round.

You'll notice that there isn't a single penny spent on off-season baseball showcases.  That wasn't an accidental omission (read here why I don't like them).  If you insist on going to one, pick one between June and early August.

I'm convinced that the next big thing in Major League Baseball's "scouting revolution" is meticulously analyzing what players did when they were younger.  If they are going to draft kids, they want to know that they haven't been overworked for years prior to entering professional baseball.  You're already seeing this taking place in collegiate baseball based more on an assumption: pitchers from the North are getting more and more opportunities to play down South because coaches recruit them (beyond just talent) under the assumption that they've accumulated less wear and tear on their arms.

This piece might have ruffled some feathers.  Kids want to play year-round.  Parents want to make kids happy – and they enjoy watching them play.  You know what else?  Kids love chocolate, and parents want to see kids happy – but that doesn't mean that kids should get a limitless amount of chocolate to consume, right?  You put away the Easter candy this week to stress moderation and look out for their long-term well-being.

Coaches enjoy coaching and want to win – and they may take a commentary like this personally because they're the ones who sent a 9-year-old out for 120 innings one year – and now he's the one having the elbow surgery.  Or, maybe it's the college coach who let a kid throw 160 pitches in a game and killed his draft status because teams know he'll have a shoulder surgery in three years.  Admitting you're wrong is hard enough, but admitting you're wrong and learning from that mistake to help future kids is even harder – but all the more rewarding.

This post wasn't intended to make anyone feel bad, but bring to light an issue (throwing volume) that I think is the absolute most important consideration when taking care of arms.  We can do everything right in terms of physical preparation, but if you throw too much – especially at vulnerable ages – none of it matters.

Again, if you could help spread the word on this, I'd really appreciate it.  And, feel free to comment below; I'm here to help.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!

 

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Stuff You Should Read: 4/25/11

Written on April 25, 2011 at 5:19 am, by Eric Cressey

To kick off the week, here’s a quick rundown of things you might like to read (or watch):

The 5 Most Common Deadlift Mistakes – I published this blog at Men’s Health last week, and thought I’d give you a heads-up on it.  It’s a good tag-along to the FREE video I provide HERE on how to deadlift (you can also subscribe in the opt-in box at the bottom of this blog to get access).

Does Hip Range of Motion Correlate to Low Back Pain?  Maybe Not in Everyone – This is a good post from Mike Reinold that talks about how research on the topic can be tough, and that rotational sport athletes and sedentary folks need to be considered differently.

Anti-Rotation Sled Dragging – Here’s an innovative core exercise from Jim “Smitty” Smith utilizing the sled for your strength and conditioning program.

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Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Get Strong, and Laugh a Little – Installment 4

Written on April 22, 2011 at 6:57 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a little dose of randomness that will, I guarantee, brighten your day in some way – whether it’s by making you laugh or teaching you something.

1. First, I’ll be the proud baseball strength coach for a minute and say I’m pumped to announce that Cressey Performance athlete and Atlanta Braves prospect Cory Gearrin got the call-up to the big leagues yesterday.  Cory is a great guy, hard worker, and couldn’t be more deserving.  He’ll be joining the Braves for their series with the San Francisco Giants this weekend, so keep an eye out for his debut.  For the record, he will NOT be rocking the mullet wig he donned for the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development video (9:22 mark) – although I do think that the world is ready for a reincarnation of Mitch Williams circa 1992:

2. My wife is out of town for the next few days, so I’m trying to be ultra-productive in her absence – so I’ll be directing you to some content from different people that I enjoyed reading this week.  First, though, one thing I that I’d been meaning to do for quite some time but just got around to doing was updating my Resources Page.  Whether you’re a general fitness enthusiast, fitness professional, or fitness business owner, I have reading/viewing recommendations for you that are specific to your needs.  Check it out.

3. I just came across this study demonstrating a valuable role for physical activity in the management of ADHD.  It’s not really surprising, but it’s the kind of thing to which we should draw attention now that many schools have canned physical education (PE) classes.  It makes me wonder if the reduction in PE has a lot to do with the fact that ADHD is off the charts nowadays.  We might be saving money on not paying PE teachers, but are we just diverting those funds to other areas to deal with kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, etc?  Food for thought.  I have a hunch that if parents and kids just exercised more and ate right, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem as it has become.

4. Here’s an interesting study on how body mass index (BMI) relates to injury patterns in high school athletes.  I can understand that BMI is an easier way to stratify people into your groups (as compared to measuring body composition), but do we really want to tell people that “BMI-targeted preventive interventions should be developed to help decrease sports injury rates.”  I mean, it might not scientific, but wouldn’t it be better to say that “We should build stronger, leaner athletes because they are less likely to get hurt.”  I just don’t love the idea of giving body mass index any love whatsoever…but maybe it’s just me being sensitive because I’m technically “obese” by their calculations.

5. John Romaniello wrote a great three-part blog about Macronutrient Breakdowns in your nutrition program.  And, as only John can, he made a seemingly dull subject seem wildly entertaining.  Check them out: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

6. Here’s a good article from Mike Geary on why eggs yolks aren’t so bad.  I like this because it’s the kind of writing you can just print out for or email to a friend who doesn’t believe you when you tell him/her that eggs are not only not dangerous, but actually quite healthy.

Okay, that’s all.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Why Nobody Except Your Mom Reads Your Fitness Blog

Written on April 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm, by Eric Cressey

I got an email from Dean Somerset a while back asking if I’d be willing to write up a post for his blog about how I built up a popular fitness blog myself.  I thought it over, and while I like Dean and enjoy reading his blog, I really didn’t think I was the right person to write such a piece.  There are folks who are much smarter when it comes to behind-the-scenes stuff that goes in to running a blog – from WordPress updates, to HTML formatting, to SEO optimization.   And, there are certainly folks out there who have monetized their blog far better than I ever will.

That said, I do feel that there was one incredibly valuable point I should make to the aspiring fitness bloggers out there:

If you don’t have good content, your blog won’t get consistent traffic.  It’s really that simple.

I started this blog in early 2006 with really no idea what I was doing on the technology side of things.  I loved my job and was passionate about teaching – and writing gave me an avenue through which to do it.  Sometimes, I wrote about what I knew well, and sometimes, I wrote about topics where I wanted to improve – and researching them and teaching them to others was the best way to get better in these areas.  Before I ever hired someone to make my site look pretty, I’d built up a solid following of people who knew me purely for my content, enthusiasm, and accessibility to readers.

A trend I see with “rookie” fitness bloggers nowadays is to design a spectacular site from the get-go and devote all their resources to SEO optimization, pop-up ads, Google Adwords, and the like.  Unfortunately, these efforts are sabotaged by these bloggers’ poor grammar/spelling and, more significantly, a complete lack of valuable information to offer to readers.

In any industry, you look for commonalities among those who succeed at what we do.  For ease of calculating “success,” let’s just use Alexa ranking.   You can learn more about it (and download a free toolbar) at www.Alexa.com, but for the sake of brevity, just understand that it is a measure of the popularity of a website.  Get more hits, receive more inbound links from popular sites, and have people spending more time on your site, and your Alexa rank will go down (a lower number is better).  Google is #1, Facebook is #2, Yahoo is #3, and so on.  It’s not a perfect measure by any means, but when you are dealing in the top one million sites or so, it’s generally accepted to be pretty good. I’m lucky to be at around 96,000 right now, and have been as high as 89,000 in the past.

If you’re in the top one million or so, you’re likely doing some very good traffic – and certainly enough to monetize your blog.  My buddy Tim Ferriss’ blog, for instance, currently has an Alexa ranking of 5,953, and he’s an absolute ninja on the entrepreneurial side of things, with two New York Times bestsellers and ownership stakes in the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, and several other companies.  He’s a success, in part, because every single one of his posts (and books) provides outstanding content that readers not only enjoy – but pass along to their friends.

Translating this message to the fitness industry, look at a guy like Charlie Weingroff.  He might be one of the few guys out there who understands technology less than I do, and there is absolutely nothing flashy about his site.  To be candid, it’s pretty basic.  You know what, though?  Charlie is an extremely bright (and strong) dude with a ton to teach, a passion for teaching it, and a knack for relating complex information in a user-friendly manner.  I don’t think his blog has even been out for 18 months, yet he’s ranked around 827,000.  And, he’s used his blog to make his expertise known, build a loyal following, and launch a successful product (which is outstanding, by the way).

There are several other fitness bloggers who’ve become “top one million” success stories purely with content.  John Berardi dominates with Precision Nutrition (54,000), which has been built with science, integrity, and an ultra-personal touch to great content all along.  My business partner, Tony Gentilcore (321,000) kicks out great content and entertains people like crazy.  My good friend Mike Robertson (125,000) is an awesome teacher and genuinely great guy.  Ben Bruno (314,000) innovates like crazy to build a following, and Chad Waterbury (509,000) only recently created his own web presence and has used content to quickly ascend the ranks.  Nate Green (202,000) is an excellent writer who has carved out a great niche for himself and built a great following at a young age because of his unique content.  Mike Reinold (412,000) has built a great following in a smaller internet segment (physical therapists) with consistent content featuring up-to-date research, attention to many different clinical perspectives, and a specific focus on upper extremity dysfunction.  These guys all offer something others don’t.

You know who hasn’t built a big following?

  • The random fitness dudes who send Facebook friend requests to my wife because they have mutual friends – and these guys want to build their lists.  I’ve yet to meet a single one who is in the top 2 million.
  • The “fitness business guru” who emailed me four times, called my office twice, and snail-mailed me once (each of which was ignored) to try to get me to promote his product, which he guaranteed would make personal trainers “rich.”  His website ranked at higher than 6.6 million – which essentially means that he has zero traffic other than himself (and he’s probably just checking in to see if he’s gotten his first hit yet).  Instead of focusing on content (and moving out of his parents’ basement), he’s putting the cart in front of the horse and trying to sell a product on a topic (success) that he doesn’t even understand.
  • The random dude who wants to exchange links with me or be added to my blogroll so that he can improve his rankings without doing a thing, much less providing some value to me (or society in general).

The only thing that’s worse than sucking at what you do is sucking at what you do and spending time and money to draw attention to it.

I started out thinking that this would be a short, to-the-point, blog, but as I now realize, that one little point was actually a very big one.  Pretty websites and behind-the-scenes tinkering are undoubtedly important components of taking an online presence to the next level, but the truth is that they don’t matter a bit unless the content that accompanies them is useful and entertaining.

If it’s not, then you’ll have a hard time even getting Mom’s attention.

Looking for more information on how to get your name out there in the writing world?  Check out some great information from three guys – Lou Schuler, Sean Hyson, and John Romaniello – who have been there, done that. They collaborated to create a great product, How to Get Published, that focuses heavily on writing success in the fitness industry.  It’s on sale this week at a great introductory price, too.

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Corrective Exercise: Why Stiffness Can Be a Good Thing

Written on April 19, 2011 at 6:35 am, by Eric Cressey

With reference to strength and conditioning programs, the adjective “stiff” is generally perceived to be a bad thing, as folks mean it in a general sense.  In other words, you seem “locked up” and don’t move well.

Taken more literally and applied to specific joints, stiffness can be a very good thing.  A problem only exists if someone is excessively stiff – especially in relation to adjacent joints.  If someone has the right amount of stiffness to prevent movement at a segment when desired, then you would simply say that it’s “stable.”  That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

This is generally a very confusing topic, so I’ll use some examples to illustrate the concept.

Example #1: Reducing kyphosis.

Take your buddy – we’ll call him Lurch – who sits at a desk all day long.  He’s got a horrible Quasimodo posture, and he comes to your for help with improving it.  You know that his thoracic spine is stuck in flexion and needs to be unlocked, so you’re obviously going to give him some thoracic spine mobility drills.  That’s a no brainer.

However, would you say that Lurch would make better progress correcting bad posture with those drills alone, or if he combines those drills with some deadlifting, horizontal pulling strength exercises, and a more extended thoracic spine posture during the day?  Of course Lurch would do much better with those additions – but why?

All those additions increased stiffness.

With the thoracic erectors adequately stiff relative to the cervical erectors (which create forward head posture when too stiff) and lumbar erectors (create lordosis when too stiff), there is something to “hold” these changes in place.  If you’re just doing the thoracic spine mobilizations, you’re just transiently modifying stiffness (increasing tolerance to stretch) – NOT increasing range of motion!

You know what else is funny?  In 99% of cases like this, you’ll also see an improvement in glenohumeral range of motion (both transiently and chronically).  Mobilize a thoracic spine and it’s easier to create stiffness in the appropriate scapular stabilizers.  When the peri-scapular muscles are adequately stiff, the glenohumeral joint can move more freely.  It’s all about understanding the joint-by-joint theory; mobility and stability alternate.

Example #2: The guy who can squat deep with crazy stiff hip flexors.

A few years ago, one of our interns demonstrated the single-worst Thomas Test I’ve ever seen.  In this assessment, which looks at hip flexor length, a “good” test would have the bottom leg flat on the table with no deviation to the side.  In the image below (recreated by another intern), the position observed would be indicative of shortness or stiffness in the rectus femoris and/or psoas (depending on modifying tests):

In the case to which I’m referring, though, our intern was about twice as bad as what you just saw.  He might very well have had barnacles growing on his rectus femoris, from what I could tell.  But you know what?  He stood up right after that test and showed me one of the “crispest” barefoot overhead squats I’ve ever seen.

About an hour later, I watched him front squat 405 to depth with a perfectly neutral spine.  So what gives?  I mean, there’s no way a guy with hip flexors that stiff (or short) should be able to squat without pitching forward, right?

Wrong.  He made up for it with crazy stiffness in his posterior hip musculature and outstanding core stability (adequate stiffness).  This stiffness enables him to tap in to hip mobility that you wouldn’t think is there.

Is this a guy that’d still need to focus on tissue length and quality of the hip flexors?  Absolutely – because I’d expect him to rip a hole in one of them the second he went to sprint, or he might wind up with anterior knee pain eventually.

Does that mean that squatting isn’t the best thing for him at the time, even if he can’t do it?  Not necessarily, as it is a pattern that you don’t want to lose, it’s a key part of him maintaining a training effect, and because you want him to feel what it’s like to squat with less anterior hip stiffness as he works to improve his hip mobility (rather than just throw him into the fire with “new hips” down the road).

These are just two examples; you can actually find examples of “good stiffness” all over the body.  So, as you can imagine, this isn’t just limited to corrective exercise programs; it’s also applicable to strength and conditioning programs for healthy individuals.  Effective programs implement mobility exercises and self myofascial release to transiently reduce stiffness where it’s excessive, and strength exercises to stiffen segments that are unstable.  Effectively, you teach the body how to move correctly – and then load it up to work to make that education permanent.

Want to take the guesswork out of your strength and conditioning programming?  Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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How to Read Fitness Research

Written on April 18, 2011 at 5:17 am, by Eric Cressey

If you read this blog on a regular basis, I’m sure you know that while I’m undoubtedly an “experiment in the trenches” kind of guy, but I’m also very evidence-based in a lot of things I do.  As such, I spend a lot of time reading research.  Doing so not only affirms or refutes what I’m doing, but also provides me with consistent content ideas for this blog: read more, write more!

Without even thinking of it, I rely pretty heavily on what I was taught in graduate school research methods courses and what I learned during my own master’s thesis training intervention, data collection/analysis, and subsequent publication in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.  Unfortunately, a lot of folks never get this training in school – or they get it at a time when it isn’t interesting or applicable, because all they’re doing is cramming for the next test or counting down the hours until a big party weekend.  Then, down the road, when it comes time to interpret research on a scholarly journal, they overlook key elements of a study, misinterpret results, or let poor research practices slide.

Additionally, a lot of people simply don’t know where to look when it comes to finding new research in their field of expertise.  Especially within the fitness industry – where one may need to cover everything from nutrition, to sports medicine, to strength training – things can be tough to locate.

The good news is that my buddy Mark Young just released a product called How to Read Fitness Research to address these problems.

I won’t lie to you: reading about research methods isn’t sexy, and you probably won’t be able to watch all the webinars straight through like you would the Rocky or Jaws movies.  However, if you put the time in to cover this material, you’ll be rewarded with a better understanding of how to approach continuing education in the fitness industry.

The general fitness enthusiasts in the crowd shouldn’t worry about picking this one up, and neither should those of you who’ve been through college exercise science research methods classes (and actually paid attention).  Those of you who entered the fitness industry as a second career or as a first career without a college education should absolutely check this out, though.  At $37, it’s a great value.

Check it out: How to Read Fitness Research


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How to Attack Continuing Education in the Fitness Industry

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Relief Pitchers: How to Warm-up

Written on April 15, 2011 at 6:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I have followed Tim Collins’ story on your website and was very impressed with his quick path to the big leagues. Obviously, preparation has been a huge part of success and that’s where my question lies. Like Tim, I am a relief pitcher and often wonder what pro guys and in Tim’s case knowledgeable pro guys, do for a warm-up prior to throwing in the pen to get in the game. I was wondering if maybe you can shed some light on what guys at your facility do as far as a warm-up to throwing. It seems like every time I see a pro guy throw, they get up after not moving for seven innings and just throw and come in the game blowing 96mph without their arm tearing in three different spots. Is there a warm-up routine your guys do before they might come in? I appreciate any info.

A: This is actually one of the more common questions that I receive, and I’m kind of surprised at myself for never covering it in a blog post. There are a few important prerequisite considerations to take into account before I tell you what I encourage our guys to do:

1. Sadly, most guys don’t do anything. That doesn’t make this right; it just means that they are setting the stage for getting hurt further down the line.  Just because you throw with sloppy mechanics  or muscular weakness doesn’t mean that you’ll get hurt the second you pick up a ball; you get hurt from the cumulative effect over time.  So, just because a guy can go in and throw hard with a short, insufficient warm-up doesn’t mean that he’ll be doing that a few years from now.

2. You can’t compare professional guys to lower level guys for a lot of reasons. First, professional bullpens usually have powerful heaters in place to keep guys’ body temperatures up – which makes it easier to warm up when the time is right.  Additionally, most professional pitchers (whether they make use of them or not) have plenty of access to massage therapy and manual stretching from team personnel, so their “resting state” is probably more prepared than most college pitchers I see.  High school kids tend to be the most “indestructible” of the bunch, as they haven’t accumulated as much wear and tear on their bodies.

That said, regardless of experience and what you have at your fingertips for massage and other amenities, warming up to come out of the bullpen can be pretty stressful for guys.  On one hand, you kick out some serious stress hormones, which can get you fired up and ready to go, but on the other hand, it’s not good to be excited and ready to roll hormonally and psychologically if you aren’t there physically just yet.

With that in mind, I encourage guys to do their normal pre-game warm-ups like everyone else and try to sustain that body temperature and transient mobility increase by dressing warmly and trying to move around in the bullpen as much as possible.  Then, as it gets closer and closer to the time that they may need to enter the game (I usually just tell guys to start at the end of the fourth), I have guys start doing 2-3 multi-joint dynamic flexibility drills every half-inning.  An example would be a walking spiderman with overhead reach, which is going to take you into hip abduction and extension, thoracic spine extension and rotation, glenohumeral horizontal abduction and external rotation, and elbow extension (among other movements).

By doing a few of these each half-inning, you ensure that your body temperature and mobility never drop off transiently.  Plus, you ensure that you don’t lose mobility over the course of a long season, as you’re working on it even if you don’t wind up pitching.

As an interesting little aside to all of this, is a reliever that much different than, say, a center fielder when it comes to needing to stay warm throughout the entire game just in case?  He might do his pre-game warm-ups and then spend the next few hours alternating standing around and sitting with bursts of 100% effort with swinging, throwing, and sprinting.  Have you ever heard of a center fielder complaining that he can’t get loose enough to track down a fly ball, crow hop and throw a laser to the plate, or leg out an infield single?  Of course not!  And, it’s simply because he is more active than relievers even when he isn’t actively participating in the game.  Every inning, he’s playing catch and jogging to and from the outfield on top of making a contribution defensively or at the plate every 20-30 minutes.

So, in summary, do a thorough pre-game warm-up, do more “fidgeting” in the bullpen, and then hit 2-3 multi-joint dynamic flexibility drills (check out Assess and Correct for dozens of examples) every half-inning starting in the 4th.  Then, go to your specific throwing warm-up and head out to start blowing 96mph…safely.

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Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation – Part 2

Written on April 13, 2011 at 5:56 am, by Eric Cressey

In my last blog post, Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation – Part 1, I outlined why I think it’s a good idea for most people to have at least a little structured exercise over the course of a vacation that spans a week or more.  Today, I wanted to use my own vacation workout schedule as an example of how you can stay active without filling up your schedule too much.

First, though, I think it’s important to make two points:

1. There’s a difference between “physical activity” and “exercise” – and it’s fine for a vacation to include a lot more of the former than the latter.  You’ll see below that I didn’t “exercise” every day, but I was very physically active the entire time.  We walked on the beach almost every morning, and during our trip, we did ziplined, swam, rode horses, snorkeled, and hiked.

2. What you do before you leave for vacation is likely as important as what you do during vacation.  I prefer to intentionally “overreach” right before I leave for any extended period of time, as it allows me to essentially “write off” the first few days of travel as recovery (everybody likes to sleep on airplanes and crush awful airport food, right?).

To that end, we flew out on a Saturday morning very early in the morning, so I chalked Saturday up as a travel day.  That meant that Mo-Fr in the week before were training days (MoTh – upper body, TuFr – lower body, We – energy systems work).  Since I knew I wouldn’t really have access to any heavy weights to use for lower body training, I made sure that it was the last thing I did before I left.  Here’s how the rest of the vacation looked (keep in mind that my wife joined me for all these sessions; it wasn’t like I was ditching her on our honeymoon):

Sa: Travel Day (just a walk on the beach that night)
Su: Upper body TRX work consisting of inverted rows, pushups, Ys, Fallouts, External Rotations/Ws, and some curls for the girls (hey, I was pretty much on the beach; don’t judge!)

Mo: Sprinting on the beach (eight sprints of about 80yds).  When the view is this good, you really can’t complain about being out of breath.

Tu: Lower Body TRX work consisting of pistol squats, stir the pot (video below, thanks to Dewey Nielsen), Bulgarian split squats, calf raises, and side bridges

We: Upper body TRX work consisting of (more) inverted rows, flutters, 1-arm row w/reach, and fallout extensions

Th: 2 hours of snorkeling was plenty of physical activity for me

Fr: Another light TRX session, which was just kind of a filler of inverted rows (figured I’d use this week to be proactive with my bum shoulder) and additional core work.  To be very honest, I was pretty sunburned by this point, which is why I kept it short.  Did do some prone reaches (props to Dewey below once again), which is a good exercise to try, if you haven’t seen them before:

Sa: 3 hours hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park.  Not a bad view from the top, huh?

Su: More sprinting on the beach, this time for 12 sprints of about 60yds.

Mo: Travel Day, so not much moving around besides the 2-3 mile walk on the beach that morning

We arrived home at midnight, and I was back to my normal lifting schedule on Tuesday.

As you can see, this wasn’t a ton of training time.  In fact,  I don’t think a single one of these sessions lasted more than 20 minutes, and all of them were done outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  I’m not saying that you have to include this much exercise in your vacations, but I am trying to show that if you are interested in maintaining an active lifestyle even when you travel, that it can be done quite easily and without a ton of time invested. Plus, most of these were body weight training exercises, so you don’t need a lot of equipment to get them done.

Have some vacation exercise strategies of your own?  Please share them in the comment section below.

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