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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 20

Written on September 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm, by Eric Cressey

In this momentous installment of this series, Cressey Performance Coach Greg Robins introduces you to some valuable lessons he’s learned from the past 14 months of competitive powerlifting training.

With this being the 20th Installment of the series (whoa!), I decided I want to do something different. This post will be longer than the others, but I urge you to read it in its entirety, as the lessons from this past 14 months of training will be worth your time. These tips are based on my own experiences and are applicable to any fitness goal.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

The quote above has followed me for a long time. I keep it in my wallet (it was on a business card I once received). I kept it in my locker when I played baseball, and I taped it inside my wall locker when I went through basic training. My powerlifting journey began at Total Performance Sports in June of 2011. I noticed a corkboard on the wall, and in bold letters, this quote was pinned to the top corner. Surrounding it were updates from different powerlifting and strongman events.

At first, it didn’t convince me to train for a powerlifting meet. However, it did kind of bug me. I’m like that; if you can do it, I can do it. For better or for worse, that’s largely how I operate. Give it a month or so, and training with a group of guys who are all trying to get brutally strong rubs off on you. It’s sort of a survival of the fittest environment. It wasn’t just a pride thing; it was a challenge. If you know me well, you know I am always working on a physical challenge.

Fast forward to July 2011, and the quote got taped inside my training journal; I decided I wanted to do this.
The process was a major change in how I was used to doing things. I had just finished OCS that summer, and for the past two years, my training had been focused on building a lot of relative strength and aerobic capacity. I decided if this was my goal, then I’m going to go after it hard. This included eating a ton, training hard, and taking time to recover. When it was all said and done, I could reassess and see what I thought. This was my first lesson:

1. Embrace a three phase training mindset.

The three phase training mindset is something I live by now. I first learned to embrace it after reading this post from strength coach Dan John. I encourage you to read it, but the important part is in the last paragraph. It reads “Plan the hunt, hunt the hunt, discuss the hunt.” This boils down to approaching training in three phases. 

First, you plan your training. With the help of my training partner, and co-worker at the time, Jamie Smith, a 12-16 week training cycle was born. Additionally, I had always been someone who, in retrospect, was held back in possible strength gains by constantly avoiding gaining too much weight. I decided on day one that I would forgo the constant nutritional dilemma in my head, as well as the urge to finish every workout, and fill every off day, with “conditioning”. I had a plan: do the program to a tee, execute the assistance work I decided ahead of time would target my weaknesses, stop conditioning excessively, and eat like a horse. When it was over, and not before, I would discuss the results.

If you are going to go after a goal, sit down and figure out the best way to get there. Furthermore, assess what you are doing now that may interfere with your success. Prioritize what will have the best transfer and execute with unyielding intensity. As I tell all the athletes at CP, train with a purpose. Once you have carried out your plan with a 100% effort, then you can sit down again and re-evaluate.

This is precisely what I did, and I got exactly what I wanted. I improved all my lifts dramatically, gained 25lbs, and had a whole host of ideas to bring to the table for my next planning session. This leads me into lesson #2.

2. Learn to tweak a program, not “change” it.

Coming off my first meet, I was very happy that our program had produced results, I stuck to my guns with regards to my nutritional approach, and avoided any extra conditioning. That being said, I had managed to gain a fair amount of not-so-lean body mass in addition to a lot of new muscle. Likewise, I was slowly developing into a one trick pony – or a three trick pony (Squat, Bench, Deadlift), as the case may be. While I was surely able to lift a heck of a lot more than ever before, I was getting winded walking up multiple flights of stairs, and feeling a little disgusted in my physique.

While the power lifting purists may scoff at that comment, I knew enough to know that progress could ensue without continuing to become a sloth. I had lived the first two phases of my training mindset, and now it was time to re-evaluate. The important lesson here is that I kept the nuts and bolts of my training program the same. I planned to work off the same percentages, hit the same supplemental lifts in the same sequence, and choose accessory movements that targeted my weakness.

The difference this time around was in how I approached my nutrition, and additional “moving.” Common sense would tell us that you can’t remove two sources of energy (calories, and the addition of more physical activity) and continue to gain. So. I chose to remove one source of energy, and tweak another. I made sure that my calories were still very high, but that they came from better sources.

On top of that, I decided to utilize a nutrient timing protocol to make my calories work towards my goals more productively. I did that by slowly adopting the principles of Carb Back Loading, which you can read about here.

Knowing that my caloric intake was more than enough to gain muscle and strength, I simply placed in “movement” days in a fashion that would promote more calorie burning, but also enhance recovery. This was done by intelligently approaching these days with less intensity, as well as by optimizing the means. An example of this would be running sprints at low intensities 50 – 70% on an elevated (hill) soft surface (grass).

Fast forward 16 weeks, and the new plan had worked as well. I was stronger, leaner, and much more confident in my physique. I even got girls to like me again…phew!

Too often people jump from program to program. Most people jump before the first one is even done; this is silly. There are also a fair amount of people who finish one program and think the most logical choice is to scrap it and start something completely different. This isn’t always stupid, depending on certain factors. However, I would strongly encourage you to think about tweaking programs, rather than abandoning them all together. Conveniently, this leads me to lesson #3.

3. Know thyself.

Being able to put lesson #2 into practice is largely a function of learning to know oneself as a lifter. At this point, I am 3 weeks out from my second powerlifting meet. It is also the 30th or so week I have followed the same program.

It’s pretty funny to think back on the three separate training cycles and how I felt at any given point during the training. I remember saying to myself in week 10 of my second go: “Wow, I feel horrible.” Then, I thought about how I felt during week 10 the first time around: the same. Come week 10 this time, it was same thing. It’s important because I was able to locate an exact point where the volume was getting to me. This means I was able to do two things.

First, I didn’t abandon ship, because this was normal, and I was beginning to taper the volume anyhow. Second, I was able to slightly tweak training sessions in order to optimize my training. As a young fitness enthusiast, I would read about the difference between advanced and novice lifters. A common theme was that the advanced lifter was able to auto-regulate his training. He or she could make calls on how they felt while staying within the parameters of their training approach as a whole. I even thought a few years ago I was one of these people. I would smash it when I felt good, cut back when I felt crappy. In some ways this was beneficial. However, now I am able to do this on an entirely different level, and I’m still new to understanding it. This is a little over a year of understanding how to train for optimal outputs; the best have decades of experience!

If you want to be great, and have great success in the gym, you need to understand how you react to all the stresses put upon you. It may be possible for some of you already, but I guarantee you it is possible for all of you if you stick with a certain approach over an extended period of time and remain cognizant of how you feel under different circumstances.

Bottom line: do something consistently enough to be able to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved. Furthermore, listen to your body. As a side note to coaches: listen to your clients and athletes.

Moving on, my next two lessons don’t flow from the previous ones quite as smoothly as the others. I’ll never be described as a literary genius, but nonetheless, they are good ones!

4. Hammer home technique, technique, technique!

Powerlifting has filled a void in my life. One thing I loved about playing baseball was working on my swing, and receiving skills as a catcher. The neat thing about sport performance is that the most elite athletes are able to blend both tremendous physical outputs with mastery of their sport skill. When a high level of each is achieved, the result is simply amazing to watch.

When I would lift weights in the past, I knew form was important, mainly so that I didn’t get hurt. After all, my weight room antics were mainly done in order to improve performance in activities outside the weight room. Now lifting weights is my sport, and technical mastery of the three lifts is hugely important. While I have obviously gotten a lot stronger over the past year, I attribute a large amount of my success to dissecting my form. I have well over 250 videos of different lifts saved on my computer, and I’ve watched each multiple times and scrutinized for flaws in technique. If you have seen some of my videos on Facebook, you are probably wondering what the heck I am looking for, as it isn’t always pretty. In all seriousness, it has been the single biggest factor in improving my squat and bench press, and a good way to locate little mishaps in timing with my deadlift. If you are a competitive lifter, break down your technique and learn the nuances of each lift from people who have lifted weights you hope to someday lift. If you are a coach or fitness buff, I would advocate the use of video on the big lifts. I also think becoming meticulous with your technique will add a rewarding piece to your training as a whole!

The last lesson is the most important, and in light of what it is, and the fact this article is already a short novel, I will keep it short.

5. Do Less, get more.

If powerlifting has done one thing for me, it has proven this mantra. My training has become focused. I have three lifts I am looking to improve. I have learned that doing too much physically outside of these lifts will negatively impact them. I have learned that doing more mentally (looking at video, crunching numbers, assessing training stress) with these three lifts will improve them.

This is the lesson that can be most easily applied to everyone’s training and life. Don’t do so much that you become mediocre at a lot, and great at nothing. Don’t create so many variables that you cannot locate and manage the ones that matter.

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7 Strategies to Get More Vegetables in Your Diet

Written on September 27, 2012 at 6:23 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach Chris Howard.

As the “nutrition guy” at Cressey Performance, I spend a considerable amount of time looking over three-day food logs from our clients and athletes to help them create healthy food options for their menus. A common dietary trend among our young athletes and even some of our adults is a serious lack of vegetables. As a way to help the world at large consume more vegetables, I have come up with this list of seven strategies to get more vegetables in your diet.

1. Learn to Cook (or at least follow a recipe).

This strategy is a bit different from the other six, but it’s really where getting more vegetables in your diet has to start. Sure, you can eat vegetables raw; in fact, it’s encouraged, but you certainly get more variety from cooking them. Use Google as your friend and search for recipes that include vegetables or just different ways of making something as simple as broccoli. See some of the recommendations below for more information.

2. Include Vegetables in Smoothies.

In this post, Greg Robins talked about eating more pumpkin, and it made me think of a great smoothie recipe to enjoy this time of year. Here it is:

½ cup Canned Pumpkin (make sure it’s the pure pumpkin, NOT the pie filling)
½ cup Plain Greek Yogurt
1 scoop Low Carb Vanilla Protein Powder
¼ cup Walnuts
¼ cup Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
8oz. Vanilla Unsweetened Almond Milk
4oz. Water (just to thin it out a bit)

Throw all the ingredients in a blender and enjoy!

Of course, adding vegetables to smoothies doesn’t begin and end with pumpkin. Spinach is another smoothie-friendly vegetable common among the CP staff. It works in pretty much any smoothie and will usually be overpowered by the other ingredients so that you won’t even taste it. Still, you may get some weird looks from classmates and colleagues as they wonder what is in the green sludge you are drinking.

3. Make Soup/Chili.

Soup and chili recipes are a great way to hide vegetables. Brian St. Pierre has written extensively about his wife’s chili recipe, which is still one of my favorites. However, I have a new recipe that while technically not chili, looks, feels and tastes pretty darn similar. The recipe comes from Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo website. Be sure to check out her version of the recipe here. To make this recipe easier and quicker to make, I have chosen not to stuff the green peppers with the meat mixture, but to chop up the peppers and include them in the meat mixture, instead, which makes it more like a chili. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

4. Don’t Forget about Stir Fry.

While participating in the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Coaching Program, I was introduced to Robb Wolf’s Food Matrix. He outlines a simple set of instructions that really hammer home how simple cooking and eating healthy can really be. Try this “recipe” with your next stir-fry:

1. Put oil in a skillet or wok;1-2 tbsp coconut or olive oil will work well.
2. Put some meat on the skillet or wok; think chicken, beef, or whatever you like
3. Let the meat cook for a minute or so.
4. Add a ton of veggies; I tend to use frozen broccoli, cauliflower, or stir-fry mixes.
5. Stir it around a few times.
6. Let it cook for 5-10 minutes, until the veggies and meat are cooked to your liking.
7. Eat and Enjoy! It’s as simple as that.

This is not only easy to do, but you can also literally change the recipe every night for variety while still using the same cooking methods. Plus, I think this is something that even high schoolers can manage to do without burning down the house.

5. Add Flavor with Spices/Dressings.

Learning how to use spices on foods can really liven up a dish. Sure, there’s going to be some trial and error here, but it’s definitely worth a shot. Here’s a simple way to make kale, a superfood, taste better in the hopes of becoming a staple at your dinner table:

Ingredients
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon seasoned salt (you can substitute any spice you like here)

Directions
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.
2. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
3. Bake on a cookie sheet until the edges brown but are not burnt; it’ll be approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Make omelets a regular breakfast selection.

One of the questions I always get is how to get vegetables in at breakfast. I usually suggest either a smoothie with spinach or pumpkin (see above), or – even better – an omelet. Again, from a variety standpoint, the options are really endless with an omelet. Here are some ideas:

a. Peppers
b. Onions
c. Tomatoes (Yes, they’re technically fruits, but who cares? They are good for you.)
d. Salsa (best for those who are “easing” their way into vegetables)
e. Spinach
f. Mushrooms
g. Asparagus (if you’re feeling bolder)
h. The list goes on and on…

7. Substitute Lettuce for Tortillas on Tacos and Fajitas.

What kid doesn’t love tacos? I know I could eat them every day for the rest of my life and never get sick of them. One way to make them healthier – and maybe a bit messier – is to substitute lettuce for the tortilla. Try experimenting with different types of lettuce to see which you like the best.

Eating vegetables doesn’t have to be boring as long as you’re willing to put a bit of thought into preparing them.  Give these tips a shot – and by all means, share any additional strategies you may have in the comments section below.

About the Author

Christopher Howard received his his Bachelor’s of Science in Exercise Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition, Chris is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Licensed Massage Therapist in the state of Massachusetts, and a Level 1 Certified Precision Nutrition Coach. Chris has been a strength coach at Cressey Performance since 2010. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/26/12

Written on September 26, 2012 at 8:16 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some good strength and conditioning reads to peruse this week:

Do You Have a Management Problem?  – Martin Rooney always has some great content not only in terms of training, but also with respect to how to take control of your life and make all the pieces fit together.  This is one such example.

10 Mistakes Coaches Make – My good friend John Romaniello reminded me that yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my first article at T-Nation.  While it certainly wasn’t my best of all time, I thought I’d use this opportunity to highlight a different one that I wrote over the past decade that stuck out in my mind.

Training the Lactate System – Patrick Ward brings to light some great points that a lot of folks overlook with respect to understanding work capacity, optimizing recovery, and training sport-specific energy systems. If you liked the discussion of heart rate variability that I posted last week, you’ll enjoy this as well.

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Thinking Concentric With Your Strength Training Programs

Written on September 24, 2012 at 6:36 am, by Eric Cressey

When it comes to strength training programs, the basics work.  They always have, and they almost always will.  However, sometimes, they don’t.  The more advanced you get, the more often you’ll need to shake things up to ensure continued progress.

Sometimes this is as simple as taking a deload week, changing your exercise selection, undertaking a specialization program, or bringing in a hype guy to pad your ego.

With that in mind, I thought I’d use today’s post to introduce a way you can integrate some variety in your strength training programs to avoid plateaus and keep things interesting.  That strategy is to go concentric-only. Let me explain.

The eccentric (lowering) portion of each rep is what causes the most muscular damage and post-exercise soreness.  A common deloading strategy that many lifters have employed is to reduce the amount of eccentric work in a strength training program, instead utilizing concentric-only (or predominantly concentric) lifts.  These strength exercises include deadlifts (uncontrolled eccentric or dropping the weight), high pulls, step-ups, sled pushing/dragging, and Anderson squats.  Have a look at this video and let me know how much eccentric work I actually did:

Then, consider that a step-up variation under load allows a lifter to attain some of the benefits of single-leg training without all of the debilitating soreness one feels when sitting down to the toilet for the 3-4 days following walking lunges.

And, consider sled pushing.  It might make you hate life and lose your lunch, but it won’t make you sore.

What folks might not consider is that this doesn’t just have to be a deloading strategy; it can also be a loading strategy.  It goes without saying that if you are employing more concentric-only exercises, you can train more frequently.  So, for those of you who are considering squatting or deadliting 3x/week in a specialization block, you might consider getting more concentric-only work in so that you can still groove movement patterns and load considerably, but without the same degree of tissue-specific damage. 

Utilizing more concentric-only variations can also be very helpful with in-season athletes when you want to avoid soreness at all costs, as I wrote here.  However, it’s important to note that this is not a long-term training strategy.  Rather, it should be a short-term change of pace, as eccentric control is tremendously important for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.  Experiencing eccentric stress is crucial to prevent injuries, performing at a high level, and building muscle mass. Nonetheless, start thinking about how some concentric-only work might help to take your strength training programs to the next level.

To take the guesswork out of your strength training programs, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 19

Written on September 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

Compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to make you just a little more awesome.

1. Consider assigning rest intervals, or using “active rest” to better facilitate the desired training effect.

Assigning rest intervals is a topic of hot debate. Many coaches are against it, some are strong advocates for it, and many don’t pay much attention to it at all. My stance, as it tends to be with so many strength and conditioning topics, is “situationally dependent.”

For many athletes (particularly younger or less experienced ones), assigning rest intervals simply adds an unnecessary variable. Why? It’s largely because the primary goal with these athletes is developing strength and muscle mass. These goals are pretty easily achieved in novice populations. They have little to no training experience and moving weight is going to cause these adaptations, generally regardless of the amount of rest they take between sets.

In more experienced athletes, though, different strength qualities must be trained in order to further advance the transfer of training to sport improvement. In these cases, the amount of rest can definitely alter the training effect, even when moving loads of the same intensity. In his text, Special Strength Training Manual For Coaches, Yuri Verkhoshansky outlines a few basic parameters in regards to this philosophy.

Consider an example: moving a load of 70-90% of one-rep max for as many as 3-10 total repetitions over 4-8 sets, with rest intervals of 3-4 minutes, yields a training effect geared more towards explosive strength development.

Moving a similar load (70-80%) for 6-12 total repetitions over the course of 3-6 sets, with rest intervals of 1-2 minutes, yields a training effect more geared towards maximal strength and muscular hypertrophy. In both cases, the load and set/rep scheme is basically the same. However, by giving the athlete time to recover (3-4 min), we allow them to apply a near maximal output against the resistance every set. This greatly alters the result of the training.

Verkoshansky goes on to provide a number of examples where rest is the most altered variable differentiating between working on explosive capabilities rather than maximal strength, hypertrophy, or localized muscular endurance. Keep this in mind when you utilize exercises in an effort to develop explosive strength, such as jumps or throws. If your goal is to make athletes more explosive, you need to make them rest. At Cressey Performance, we do this by pairing exercises such as med ball throws with mobility drills, which forces an athlete to take more time between sets. This approach has commonly been referred to as “active” rest.

2. Teach people how to be coached.

Does this sound familiar? Your client or athlete is in the middle of a set. He or she is on rep 2 of 5 and you call out a coaching cue: “chest up!” All of a sudden, they turn their head – right in the middle of the repetition – and ask, “what?”

Needless to say, this isn’t a great situation. Luckily, it is one that is easily avoided if you take the time to coach the “little” things right from the get-go. Some of you might be reading this and saying: “Duh, Greg.” Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. In fact, I bet the majority of you don’t touch on the nuances of lifting and getting coached with your clients until an event like this takes place. Do everyone involved a favor: before you teach them anything concerning technique, teach them how to be coached. Make sure they understand that at no point during a lift should they turn their head, talk, or stop midway through, unless instructed to do so. A mentor of mine used to start every new client by getting them in a mock squat position and moving to various spots around them, asking if they could hear him. It was meant to prove that in order to be coached, they didn’t need to move their head. Again, it seems rudimentary, but it’s very important.

3. Roll your adductors on an elevated surface.

Many of you already roll out your adductors (inner thighs). However, in most cases, it is primarily done on the ground. While doing so on the ground is definitely beneficial, you will find the position to be somewhat awkward. Additionally, it is tough to apply enough pressure on the ground to actually get a good effect. Check out this video to see how we utilize an elevated surface to get into a better position; you can also utilize a med ball instead of a foam roller to improve the training effect.

I realize many gyms don’t have this luxury, but you will find that using a weight bench also works, but might feel somewhat awkward. Instead of placing the opposite foot on the ground, just place the opposite knee on the ground instead to make up for the lack of surface height.

4. Go ahead, eat some chocolate!

Who doesn’t like to indulge in some chocolate, and a good cry?  Okay, well at least the chocolate, right? In his popular book, The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth, Dr. Jonny Bowden makes a point to include dark chocolate. Thank goodness, because that stuff is delicious! The best part is that consuming the right kind of chocolate is actually great for our health as well. For starters, cocoa is rich in flavonoids. These are compounds found in plants that help protect the organism from various toxins. When we consume the plant, we also receive the benefits of these compounds.

It is interesting to note that the flavonoids found in cocoa help synthesize nitric oxide. Every meathead knows that nitric oxide helps increase blood flow, that’s why they crush NO workout products like nobody’s business.  Well, that and they think they’re going to make them hyooooge. Seriously, though, the flavonoids ability to modulate nitric oxide has a great effect on decreasing cardiovascular issues (such as high blood pressure) and can help to improve insulin sensitivity. Seek out real chocolate bars, not the kind you find in a mini mart. Make sure it’s at least 60% cocoa or more to get these benefits. Furthermore, while the fat content in real dark chocolate is primarily good fat, it does contain a fair amount of “bad” fat, so it is best consumed in moderation.

5. Volunteer or donate to charity.

This blog has never been about politics, nor will it ever be.  However, with the recent releases of tax returns from both candidates in the presidential race, it’s pretty awesome to see both Romney and Obama donating approximately 20% of their income in 2011 to charity.  I figured this could be the first blog to highlight something that’s not negative about either candidate!  Hopefully more Americans will follow their lead on this front – or at least volunteer their time if they don’t have the resources to contribute financially.  Remember, these tips are about ways to feel better – and that includes the psychological benefit you’ll receive from helping others.

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11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning

Written on September 20, 2012 at 8:05 am, by Eric Cressey

With the off-season at hand, I thought I’d type up some random thoughts that have come up in conversations with professional, college, and high school players over the past few weeks as they’ve wrapped up their seasons and transitioned to off-season mode.

1. Arm care drills don’t really provide arm care when you do the exercises incorrectly. When you do eight exercises for three sets of 15 reps each every single day, but you do all the exercises incorrectly, you’re really just turning yourself into 360 reps worth of suck.

2. Piggybacking on #1, if you think you need 360 reps of arm care exercises per day, you really need to educate yourself on how the arm actually works. Also, when you eventually realize that you probably don’t even need ¼ of that volume to keep your arm healthy, you should definitely pick up a new hobby with all that newly discovered free time. Maybe you’ll even wind up kissing a girl for the first time.

3. In the battle to increase pitching velocity, all anyone seems to talk about is how to increase arm speed, which is a function of how much force can be produced and how quickly it can be applied.  So, we focus heavily on long toss, weighted ball programs, and mound work to try to produce more force.  The inherent problem with this strategy is that it ignores the importance of accepting force.  I’ll give you an example.

Imagine two people side-by-side holding slingshots, each of which has the same thickness rubber band.  They both pull the band back with the right hand and hold the other end with the left. One guy has a limp left hand and his left forearm “gives” as he pulls the band back, and the other guy keeps the left side firm.  They both shoot the rock; which one goes farther?  Obviously, it’s the one with the firm front side; that stiffness enables the arm to accept force.

This is a common problem with many young pitchers who haven’t built a foundation of strength, as well as advanced pitchers whose velocity dips over the course of a season, usually when they lose body weight. If your lower-body strength and power diminishes, you’ll collapse on that front side and leak energy.  And, you’ll commonly miss up and arm side. 

Basically, you need to be strong eccentrically into hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation – which is why the glutes are so important for pitching (check out this post from a while back for more information on the functional anatomy side of things).  Think of pitching with a weak landing leg as throwing like a guy with a slight hamstrings strain; in order to protect yourself, you flop instead of planting.

4. Has an accomplished marathoner every thrown 95mph? Actually, has an accomplished marathoner ever done anything athletic other than running?

5. We definitely need to get John Clayton to cover MLB instead of the NFL.

Baseball hasn’t seen this kind of talent in a non-player since this Fenway Park security guard put the Terry Tate on this deserving schmuck:

6. It amazes me how many baseball players don’t take care of their eyes. They are your livelihood, people! Yearly check-ups are a good start, but if you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about how terrible guys are with taking care of their contact lenses, you’d be astounded. Example: I once had an athlete come in with terribly red eyes, so I sent him to see my wife, Anna, who is (conveniently) an optometrist. He informed her that he’d been putting his contacts in the same solution at night for two weeks. That’s like reusing the same bath water for 14 days – except the eyes are worse because they’re more prone to infection.

7. Why do professional teams spend anywhere from $484,000 to $30,000,000 per year on a single player, yet try to save money by letting clubbies feed all their minor leaguers pizza, fried chicken, PB&J, and salami sandwiches on white bread?

8. This kid has a full scholarship to train at Cressey Performance whenever he opts to pursue it.

See what I just did there? It wasn’t baseball-related at all, but I just tied it in.

9. Strength and conditioning has “changed the game” with respect to early sports specialization as it relates to baseball development. Kids can get away with specializing earlier if they’re involved in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program because these programs afford as much and, sometimes, more variety than playing a traditional sport. This approach to development does, however, depend heavily on the self-restraint of players, parents, and coaches to get kids 2-3 months per year without a ball in their hands. And, they need to seek out opportunities to play pick-up basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and other random games.

10. If you’re already taking 150 ground balls per day during the season, do you really need to do extra agility work? This is like a NASCAR champ hitting up the go-karts on the way home from the race track.

11. The other day, I read a review in the International Journal of Athletic Training that focused on the different biomechanics and pathology of various pitching styles.  The authors (Truedson et al) made a strong case for modifications to training programs – particularly with respect to core stability – based on trunk tilt angles at ball release.  Overhand and three-quarters guys tilt away from the throwing arm, sidearm guys stand upright, and submarine guys tilt toward the throwing arm. Folks have long discussed the concept of posture from a mechanics standpoint, but I haven’t seen anyone who has utilized this information to modify an intended training outcome from a strength and conditioning standpoint.  Obviously, you could easily make the case that submarine pitchers need more rotary and lateral core stability than all other pitchers.

Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations. Rotary core stability exercises educate folks on how to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Sidearm pitchers are much more upright with the torso, so they likely need more anterior core than rotary/lateral core stability.  Of course, you’re still going to train all three.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension, and encompass a variety of drills, starting with dead bug, curl-up, and prone bridging activities. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like reverse crunches, stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Finally, the overhand and 3/4 guys – which are obviously the largest segment – likely just need an equal dose of the three approaches.

For more thoughts on core stability training for health and performance, I’d encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training DVD set.

That concludes this little glimpse into my mind as we enter the off-season.  I’ll probably wind up doing this again every 4-6 weeks as I have discussions on various topics with our pro guys as they return.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/19/12

Written on September 19, 2012 at 12:25 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

How to Get Published – I thought this new e-book from Sean Hyson, Lou Schuler, and John Romaniello was a great idea.  Writing in the fitness industry opened a ton of doors for me at a young age and also helped me to educate myself on a various of topics.  These three guys are super accomplished in the writing world, and it definitely shows with the quality of this product.  If you’re looking to get published (especially in the fitness industry, but regardless of the industry), give this a read.

Weight Training Programs: Assess, Don’t Assume – Last May, I wrote this post up, but it slipped to the archives. It’s worth a read regardless of whether you’re a fitness professional or just a fitness enthusiast.

27 More Nutrition Facts - I’m a sucker for “Random Thoughts” pieces, especially when they come from bright guys like Dr. Mike Roussell.  It’s a great chance to process a ton of information in a short amount of time.

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Omega-3 Madness: Clarifying Recent Fish Oil “Research”

Written on September 17, 2012 at 5:12 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I have a fantastic guest post from Dr. Hector Lopez, an expert in the world of nutritional supplements.  This post comes in response to a mainstream media report (you can read it here) that called into question the benefits of fish oil.  Hector and I had emailed privately about the concerns he had with this study, and I asked if he’d be willing to share his feelings with a larger audience.  Enjoy! -EC

I have been asked for my professional opinion on the recent attention drawn to the September 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association by Rizos EC et al [1].

As you can imagine, the few days have been very busy answering emails/calls from various stakeholders in the dietary supplement and omega-3 fish oil industries. The stakeholders range from friends and family to fellow scientists and colleagues, to high-level executives and principals of client companies. I have a few things to say about the manner (at times disingenuous) in which the meta-analysis has been misrepresented.

Multiple video segments from major media outlets have even quoted some of their experts as saying, “they would rather the public spend their money elsewhere as the proof is in with this study.” Perhaps they would feel more at ease suggesting the consumption of another box of “whole-grain” yet low fiber, highly processed cereal, “natural fruit juice,” or better yet, “linoleate-rich vegetable oils full of omega-6 fatty acids” (hey, they are polyunsaturated too, right)? ☺

I don’t mind the media sharing their opinion, but at the very least, they should attempt to educate the very audience that they are obviously trying to persuade. I find it hard to believe that the public would not be interested in some other material facts to allow consumers to make an informed decision:

1. Out of over 3600 clinical studies and citations retrieved, ONLY 20 were used in this “analysis.”

2. The absence of statistically significant association in these 20 studies between omega-3 and cardiovascular disease (CVD) endpoints does not prove that a significant reduction of CVD with omega-3 does not occur.

3. These 20 studies were on a diseased population that were already using multiple cardiovascular drugs such as beta-blockers, statins, niacin, fibrates, resins, and anti-thrombotics – all of which clearly confound outcomes/ endpoints of interest to dilute and wash-out effects of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Fish oil at this low dose was likely “too little, too late” to show any statistically significant benefit.

4. A similar meta-analysis on secondary prevention was published earlier this year [2].  And, clearly, the older studies showed benefit as these patients were likely not on as many cardio-protective medications. Hence, their was less of a “washout” in effect size.


5. A mean dose of less than 1.4g of EPA + DHA (the fish oils) was used in all 20 studies. This dose is typically far too low to compensate for the overabundance of omega-6 PUFA and imbalance in omega-6:omega-3 consumption in standard western diets. It’s no surprise that previous studies showing benefit of omega-3 fish oil in heart disease have utilized at least 2g of EPA + DHA. Future studies should also take this into consideration. In addition, future studies should attempt to carry out prospective data collection beyond two years.

6. There was no mention, consideration or control for background dietary intake of EPA/DHA or tissue fatty acids profiles. The researchers did not control for this important variable within each individual study included in this meta-analysis, and as a result, there is no way to determine if placebo groups already had sufficient levels of omega-3 in their diet or tissue, which would make it harder to demonstrate treatment effects of fish oil.

7. Clearly, these 20 studies were not adequately powered to detect changes in the CVD endpoints with omega-3 long-chain-PUFA, even if they were in fact present.

8. Interesting, despite all these flaws, based on the Confidence Interval data, there was still a “trend” toward cardioprotection! This was observed in terms of sudden death, myocardial infarction, cardiac and all-cause mortality. In other words, the data in this article still trended toward decreased risk of various cardiovascular disease outcomes. However, the headlines wouldn’t be juicy enough, though, so that was clearly glazed over. Hmm…

9. Sure, most Americans should eat more fish (in their whole food diet), but honestly, how many actually do? Where is the press coverage or meta-analyses looking at PCB/ Dioxin/ Persistent Organic Pollutants/Heavy Metal exposure? I suppose that when this omega-3 story dies down, the environmental toxin exposure story can quickly fill that void.

10. The findings of this selective meta-analysis are in direct conflict with the totality of the scientific evidence that demonstrates a cardiovascular benefit from fish oil in healthy populations, as well as in many of the populations with pre-existing CVD [3-10]. Consumers and health care providers alike continue to feel confident in the use of high-quality omega-3 fish oil for not only cardiovascular benefit, but also for supporting the health of just about every organ system in the body. The long chain omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for everything from the cardiovascular system to the brain and nervous system, immune system, skin, joint and musculoskeletal tissues, to carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and beyond [11-19].

Finally, there is the issue of the potential mega-misrepresentation created by meta-analyses. It is evident that study selection criteria – as well as data extraction/synthesis – may allow researchers to make assumptions of consistency in the design individual studies included in the meta-analysis. As such, these assumptions may lead the authors – or worse, the less discerning media– to drawing erroneous conclusions. These erroneous conclusions then get virally disseminated throughout the general public. Doesn’t this string of events sound eerily familiar?

About the Author
 
Dr. Lopez is recognized for applying his uniquely diverse expertise in spine and sports medicine, endocrinology and metabolism, nutrition & exercise science, and clinical research to improving not only the health and quality of life in his patients, but also athletic performance in recreational and elite athletes. Dr. Lopez received his specialty training at the world-renowned Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine-Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He is currently a principal and the Chief Medical Officer of the Center for Applied Health Sciences, a multidisciplinary Clinical Research Organization in Ohio, and Supplement Safety Solutions, a Nutravigilance, Quality Assurance/Safety and Regulatory consulting company focused on dietary supplement/nutraceutical industry. An international speaker, author of popular press and peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, product developer, he consults for the nutritional supplement industry and professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and Martial Arts. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrHectorLopez.

Note: You can find references for this entire article in the first post in the comments section below.

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How to Balance Pressing in Your Strength Training Program

Written on September 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a quick video I filmed this afternoon that discusses how different pressing exercises have different impacts on how your shoulders function.  This definitely has implications not only in terms of your exercise selection, but also how you perform those exercises.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/12/12

Written on September 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship – In this month’s update, I contributed two exercise demonstrations, an article, and two in-services.  The in-services were “What is the Sports Hernia?” and “Arm Injury Mechanisms in Throwing Athletes.”  This latest update also featured some great contributions from Tyler English.

Hudson Training Facility Expands Footprint, Market – This was a story in the local newspaper about the expansion of Cressey Performance, which gives rise to a new offering (morning bootcamps) in our business model.  If you’re in our area, definitely check it out.

Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL: Guaranteed Results and Soreness – I just wrote this guest blog for Men’s Health; give it a try if you are looking for some new exercise variety (and soreness) in your strength and conditioning program.

The HRV Roundtable – I thought this was an excellent article at T-Nation, as it draws on the experience of a number of very bright guys in the industry to highlight some forward-thinking concepts. 

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