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20 Ways to Prepare Young Athletes for Success in Sports and in Life

Written on February 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm, by Eric Cressey

It’s a challenging time to be a parent. The fact that I’m not even a parent yet and I know that speaks volumes.

You see, at the end of my own personal youth athletics career, I went directly to a career in coaching young athletes – and I’ve been there for well over a decade now. To give you a little idea of how times have changed since I was a high school athlete:

a. I’d never heard of AAU soccer (or elite travel teams) when I was playing as a teenager (or 8-year-old, for that matter). I think about three kids in my state were selected to the Olympic Development Program when I was a senior because they were pretty good, but the rest of us didn’t get a trophy for trying – and I don’t recall anyone complaining about this lack of hardware on the mantle.

b. I didn’t send an email or use Instant Messenger until I was a freshman in college (1999). Somehow, I miraculously still managed to have normal social interactions with other human beings. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 23 and in graduate school. And, I’m pretty sure that the gerbil that ran around inside it to keep the power going wasn’t up for working overtime so that I could Snapchat (and the thing couldn’t take pictures, anyway).

c. The guy (Kevin Colleran) who lived next door to me my freshman year in college turned out to be one of Facebook’s first ten employees. So, you could say I had a Facebook friend before Facebook even existed.

By reading this long, meandering introduction, I hope you’ll realize (not that you didn’t already) that kids “these days” are different. They respond to a different style of coaching, and that surely means that parenting styles must be different, too.

One thing I’ve found quite interesting over the past decade or so is that the number of overzealous, pushy, high-pressure parents has increased exponentially. As we all know (and not surprisingly), burnout rates in teen athletes has gone sky-high in this same time period. However, on a more anecdotal level, I know I can speak for myself and many other qualified coaches when I say that the “typical” kid who walks through my door on Day 1 just isn’t as athletic as he used to be. Asymmetries are more profound, injury histories are more extensive, basic movement skill acquisition has been skipped over, and – perhaps more significantly – the athletes are a bit “desensitized” to the overall training process. They view everything as just another game/practice, so the value of each training exposure is a bit less. This was something that just didn’t happen when I was younger and free play was so heavily emphasized; we got tremendously excited for each opportunity to get better, whether it was a summer soccer camp or a new drill or training approach that our coaches introduced.

Now, make no mistake about it: we aren’t going to end the Technology Era, and I don’t expect travel teams and showcases to go away, either. However, we can change our attitudes toward them and behavior surrounding them – and, most importantly, how we interact with our kids with respect to their athletic careers. To that end, I thought I’d throw out some examples of suggestions on strategies I’ve seen employed by parents who have young athletes who are well-mannered and successful while enjoying sports – from little league to the Big Leagues.

Note: while the overwhelming majority of these lessons apply to both males and females, I’ll be using the “he” pronoun for the sake of brevity. No gender bias here!

1. Never overreact - or underreact.

Sports are games, and games are supposed to be fun. If a kid works his butt off, but the outcome isn’t what he’d hoped for, you should talk about the value in the process rather than dwelling on the target destination he didn’t reach. Crack jokes to lighten the mood, and then try to find a learning experience in losing, as opposed to just reaming a kid out and then sitting in silence for the rest of the ride home. In my experience, parents and coaches who overreact and take the fun out of the game are the single most common reason kids give up a sport.

Underreacting can be equally problematic. The process is definitely more important than the destination, but if a kid doesn’t take the process seriously, he should hear about it – just like if he ignores his homework or refuses to take out the trash. If he is rude to a coach or umpire, doesn’t hustle, shows up late to practice, or poorly handles something that is 100% within his control, he should be disciplined for it. Blindly siding with your kid when he misbehaves or is lazy sets a very dangerous precedent, but it also puts a coach in a very uncomfortable situation of having to discipline your kid because you haven’t.

2. Watch competition, but not practice.

When kids play while parents are watching, they are much less outgoing. However, take the parents away, and they’ll let their guards down, make new friends, and try things they otherwise wouldn’t attempt. This is a big part of both physical and social development. When parents stick around to watch practice/training – even if it’s with wildly supportive intentions – kids won’t come out of their shell. Sports are a great way to teach kids to “roll” with different social circles, and it’s important for them to get this experience without helicopter parents interfering.

By all means, go to game and cheer kids on, but don’t stick around to watch practice. As an added bonus, you avoid the possibility of a coach looking over his shoulder the whole time as he wonders whether you’re second-guessing him.  Every coach dreads the parent who wants to live vicariously through his kid, so the more space you give your child, the less likely you are to be perceived like that.

3. Have your kid play multiple sports.

We’ve been telling folks for years now that early sports specialization doesn’t work as well as people think. Kids are more likely to get injured, and they miss out on a well-rounded sports experience that fosters better athleticism and social interactions over the long haul. However, to supplement this assertion, I’d encourage you to check out this fantastic post from Elsbeth Vaino: Does Early Specialization Help? Elsbeth found that 82% of the top athletes from the four major sports in the U.S. actually played multiple sports. Yes, you read that right – and it is verified by my experience with hundreds of professional athletes each year. Here's a great interview with Blake Griffin that Elsbeth posted:

4. Encourage play, not always practice/competition.

Even when the sport in question remains constant, play is different than practice, as it is far less regimented, and there is far more quality movement because there are fewer stoppages for teaching. It also presents a far richer proprioceptive environment and greater opportunity for social development. Kids need to play more – and in a variety of disciplines. Adolescent athletes need practice. Kids don’t need more competition, though; our modern athletic society already plenty of that.

5. Don’t allow kids to get desensitized to losing.

With more and more tournaments being round robin and double elimination formats, I think we have a generation of kids who has been desensitized to losing. It’s even worse when you have kids who play on multiple teams, as losing for Team A doesn’t matter because Team B has a game less than 24 hours later.

Losing is part of life, but that doesn’t mean that we should be satisfied with it. It should motivate us to work harder so that it doesn’t happen again. This doesn’t just apply to sports, either; it applies to life. As a business owner, I don’t ever plan to hire someone who is comfortable with sucking.

As a little example, my sophomore year of high school, I lost a tennis match in the state singles qualifier to a kid I should have beaten 100% of the time. It was an all-day event with several rounds on a hot day in May, and I cramped up badly in the third set of the match because I hadn’t hydrated well. That loss stung for months – but you can bet that I never forget to bring enough fluids to matches ever again. I beat the guy easily in straight sets the following year, too. Losing sucks, but it teaches you lessons.

6. Make kids do manual labor.

One of my best childhood friends grew up on a farm. He bailed hay, fed the pigs, shaved the sheep, dug holes, you name it. He was also a physical specimen who won a state championship in wrestling and would run through a wall in practices if you had asked him to do so.

Beyond the obvious physical benefits of manual labor, I think that it teaches you that a job isn’t over until the project is completed. You don’t just go out and shovel snow for 15 minutes; you shovel snow until you’ve shoveled all the snow that needs to be shoveled. This is true of almost all manual labor one would do around the house; it doesn’t have to be an official job.

I love seeing kids who are task oriented and not time oriented.

7. Get kids involved in charity work.

If you’re reading this, your kid is spoiled. What do I mean?

You can actually afford to have the internet. A lot of parents and kids don’t have that luxury – or any of a number of other ones that we take for granted.

This past fall, one of our pro guys was telling me about a mission trip he took to the Dominican Republic. While there, he was volunteering to do baseball clinics for local kids – and he said that they came out in droves for the opportunity to be coached by anybody, and certainly a recognizable professional player.

His exact words: “It completely changed my life. I had no idea what my Latin teammates in pro ball had gone through.” And, this came from a guy who was already one of the most humble players I’ve ever coached.

Whether your kid winds up successful in baseball or not, I feel strongly that it’s important to embrace the concept of giving back – both in one’s own community and beyond. Perspective like this is also important because it makes you realize that making an error in the ninth inning isn’t the end of the world – when you have a roof over your head and food on the table.

8. Make kids get up 10-15 minutes earlier to make and eat breakfast.

It drives me bonkers when I hear a kid say that he can’t find time for breakfast. Don’t find time; make time!

My most productive time of day is 5:30AM-9AM. I didn’t realize this until I was in my mid-20s. I only wish that I’d learned much sooner that good things happen when you get up a little earlier:

a. When you get up earlier, you learn to go to bed earlier. Look at research on shift workers’ long term health, and you’ll quickly realize that sleeping more hours before midnight is great for your health.

b. The morning world is a more enlightened world. As an example, look at TV shows at night versus in the morning. In the evening, you get sitcoms, comedy, violence, and infomercials. In the morning, you get the news.

c. Intermittent fasting discussions aside, the research pretty much supports that people – and particularly kids – who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Whether it’s because it leads to eating less later in the day, or because people are more likely to eat quality food at home remains to be determined.

d. The world is a lot quieter in the morning, and silence almost always equates to increased focus and productivity.

9. Set an example.

Overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids. This is just one way in which kids model parents’ behaviors. Work ethic, attention to detail, punctuality, and a host of other factors follow suit. I love it when parents come in to train at the same time as their kids at our facility - and the kids do, too (contrary to what parents usually assume).

10. Don’t contest grades in school.

Teachers don’t give grades; kids earn grades. If you start contesting grades, where do you stop? Do you call college admissions counselors when kids aren’t accepted to the school of their choice? Do you call potential employers because they won’t hire little Johnny – who is now 23 years old and still has Mommy doing his laundry and cooking him mac ‘n cheese?

If you don’t respect a teacher or coach’s authority and appreciate their good intentions, then your kid won’t, either.

11. Don’t brag about your kid.

A while back, my buddy Bill Hartman said something along the following lines: “No matter how strong you think you are, there is still a 120-pound woman warming up with your max somewhere.” He was spot on.

If you are proud of your kid, tell him so. And, feel free to tell your family members. However, it should stop there. There is absolutely, positively nothing that is a bigger turn-off to a coach or scout – or even another parent – than a parent that brags about his kid. Why?

They have always seen someone better. And, to take it a step further, I’d say that most folks “in the know” actually realize that there is an inverse relationship between how much a parent brags and how talented a kid really is. Anecdotally, the best players with whom I’ve worked all have tremendously humble parents who have worked hard to keep them grounded even if others always told them how good they were.

Bragging is entirely different than giving valuable feedback, though. If a parent has thoughts or suggestions that can benefit me in training a young athlete, I am absolutely all ears. Don’t by shy; just use discretion.

12. Never send college recruiting emails on behalf of your kid.

I have a ton of friends who are college coaches who deal with recruits every single day of the week. I have zero friends who are college coaches who prefer to deal with parents over kids during this recruiting process.

Candidly, when you send an email on behalf of your kid, you’re saying, “I want you to give my son a scholarship to play XYZ sport even though I don’t think he’s qualified to put together a 4-5 sentence email for himself. Also, I wipe his butt for him, and he still wets the bed.”

Coaches love kids that show initiative and aren’t shy about asking questions. And, I can guarantee kids who are more heavily involved in their own college selection process are far less likely to transfer in the years that follow. They get the information they need, not what you need.

At the end of the day, this is about educating kids on how to be proactive and decisive. These two traits go a long way in sports and beyond.

13. Don’t tell coaches to “kick his ass.”

If your kid isn’t tough by his teenage years, it’s not because a coach hasn’t pushed him; it’s likely because parents have let him get away with murder early on and not held him accountable. Me simply kicking a kid's ass increases his risk of injury and the likelihood that he’ll hate exercise and develop a sedentary lifestyle when his athletic career ends. I will, however, challenge him, educate him, and hold him accountable for his actions in my presence.

14. Don’t allow limp handshakes or conversations without eye contact.

This point shouldn’t warrant any explanation, but I would just add that coaches and scouts really do pay attention to things like this. Sprinting out to your position on the field, picking up equipment after a game, and cheering on teammates are all little things you can do to show that you really care. If you approach one part of your life apathetically, who is to say that it won’t carry over to everything else that you do?

15. Surround kids with unconditionally positive people.

Check out this awesome article about the positive response Colorado Rockies players had to the hiring of Dante Bichette as hitting coach last year. I’ve gotten to know Dante pretty well, and he’s one of the most down-to-Earth and optimistic guys you’ll ever meet. In this article, they quoted Carlos Gonzalez – one of the top players in Major League Baseball – as saying, "Just being honest, I don't want a guy who's always being negative. He's been really good for me already." Guys in the big leagues are conditioned more than anyone else to learn to deal with failure; after all, the best hitters on the planet still fail 60-70% of the time! Yet, they STILL generally respond more favorably to people who are positive. Don’t you think that kids who are less prepared would need that unconditionally positive influence even more?

The secret is to find unconditionally positive people who know their stuff and then put your trust in them. You wouldn’t tell your accountant how to do your taxes, and you wouldn’t tell your lawyer how to write up your contracts. So, don’t tell coaches how to do their jobs after you’ve already recognized that they are experts and mentors in their area.

16. Make kids write thank you notes.

A note of appreciation goes a long way, particularly if it is written or typed with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

17. Educate kids on how to read a situation as casual or formal.

Remember back in high school when you had to dress up on game days? Usually, 90% of the team did it the right way – and there were 1-2 schmucks who stubbornly resisted. They didn’t tie their ties tight enough, wore sneakers with dress pants, or continued to let their khakis hang way too far down on their butts. They’re also the people who have to be forced to write the aforementioned thank you notes, and it usually begins with “thx 4 ur gift.” We’ve even had kids submit internship application essays that consisted of one long paragraph with no capitalization at the beginning of sentences. I’m not making this up.

They live in the texting and tweeting world and have no idea when it’s appropriate to be casual versus formal. I’d wager that most of those guys are still living in their parents’ basement, too. Even more now than in previous decades, it’s important to hammer home that kids need to be more formal in writing, conversation, and dress.

18. Educate kids on the dangers of technology.

This was not something that most of us encountered during our younger years, as Twitter and Facebook weren't around until just recently.  Kids have said stupid things since the beginning of time, but not until now was it easy for something dumb on the internet to "go viral" so quickly.  Every week, we hear stories of professional and collegiate athletes getting into trouble for what they post as status updates on social networks.  Athletes have been fined, released, and not signed in the first place because of stupid things they've said online.  While college and professional teams are doing their best to include social networking training in their education of players, it should start well in advance with some common sense talks with parents.  Otherwise, it's possible to undo a lot of good with one bad post.

19. Don’t give participation trophies.

My good friend Alwyn Cosgrove has written in the past about how there are always "overcorrections" in the fitness industry, as the pendulum goes too far in one direction after a long period at the other end of the spectrum.  He cites the public's perception on aerobic exercise, carbohydrate intake, and static stretching as good examples.  We want them all to be bad or good; there is no middle ground.

Participation trophies are the "yin" to the "yang" of the overbearing parent or crazy little league coach.  Rather than bring the pendulum back to center by educating kids that the true reward is the satisfaction that comes from knowing they did the best they could do, we've given every kid a trophy to make him feel special - even though all the kids get the same trophy.  Yes, the kid who shows up late to practice and swears at the coach gets the same trophy as everyone else.

A trophy is something a kid should look back on years later as a reminder of fond memories of hard work, teamwork, and a job well done.  It shouldn't be something that gets thrown in a box with a few dozen other participation trophies that have absolutely no sentimental or educational value.

My biggest concern with participation trophies, however, is that they a) diminish the value of exceptional performance/service and b) condition kids to think that things will always work out okay in the end. Sorry, but the sooner we make kids realize they don't deserve a party every time they accomplish anything, the better off we'll be.

20. Give kids opportunities to demonstrate responsibility – and monitor performance.

I can only imagine how tough it is as a parent to walk the fine line between doing something for your child and just telling him to figure it out for himself.  From my vantage point, though, there needs to be a lot more of the latter.  Maybe I just see it through this lens because I am often going out of my way to encourage parents to force kids to be proactive during the college recruiting process.  And, I like it when kids schedule their sessions with us, rather than the parents sending the email or making the phone call for them.

That said, I love it when I hear about parents giving kids challenges for them to demonstrate responsibility. Whether there are chores with checklists, or they have to take care of pets, I think it's awesome for kids to be faced with new challenges with monitored performance.  Are all the boxes checked?  Is there dog poop on the floor or a dead guppy in the fish bowl?  Candidly, I can't remember the last time that I hear of a kid earning an allowance; does that even happen anymore?  Fostering accountability at a young age is a powerful thing.

Closing Thoughts

It's taken me over 3,800 words to spit out all my random thoughts on this front, but I wanted to finish with one last thought that isn't so random: I think there is a lot that is right about youth sports these days.  More girls are playing sports than ever before. There are loads of wildly passionate coaches out there who are trying to do the right thing. Information on training and coaching is more readily available than ever before. Sports medicine has improved dramatically to help kids with injuries more quickly and effectively. I could go on and on.

We have to remember that at the end of the day, less than 1% of the kids who participate in youth sports will become professional athletes. However, sports are still an outstanding medium through which to instill a variety of favorable qualities beyond just athleticism. To that end, I hope that some of the suggestions here will help to make kids not only better athletes, but better people, too.

For more information, you may be interested in the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification; I was a co-author of this resource.

 

Related Posts

The Truth About Strength Training for Kids
Your Arm Hurts? Thank You Little League, Fall Ball, and AAU Coaches
Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs: "He's a Big, Strong Kid"
Overbearing Dads and Kids Who Throw Cheddar

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/26/13

Written on February 26, 2013 at 9:01 am, by Eric Cressey

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

What’s in a Toe Touch? – This outstanding article from Gray Cook and Don Reagan serves as an awesome adjunct to my static stretching post from two weeks ago, as I talked about some of the ways to “cheat” a toe touch.

Ultimate Speed Drills – I think Jim Kielbaso is one of the best guys around for teaching speed and agility development. I’ve enjoyed his previous publications, and he just wrote up this new resource for the International Youth Conditioning Association.  It’s very affordably priced, so I’d encourage you to check it out if this is an area of your coaching development that needs improvement.

5 Loading Protocols Under the Microscope – In light of a recent conversation I had during a recent training session, I thought it would be a good time to bring back this T-Nation article I wrote back in 2011.

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3 Tips for Finding a New Space for Your Gym

Written on February 25, 2013 at 6:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest post comes from the Vice-President and Business Director of Cressey Performance, Pete Dupuis.

Since opening during the summer of 2007, Cressey Performance has called three different pieces of property “home”. In just over five years of operation, we have seen our facility footprint expand from just over 2,000 square feet…to a 6,600 square foot unit, which eventually became a 7,600 square foot space…to our current place of business, a strength & conditioning playground that measures to just a shade over 15,000 square feet.

As the Business Director at CP, I have had the (mostly enjoyable) responsibility of identifying potential new property, envisioning its potential, and ultimately executing on our visions. This past summer I had the pleasure of attacking the project of a full-on facility relocation for the second time since CP opened its doors.

Since our Grand Opening in late August, the dust has settled, and in the blink of an eye, we find ourselves six months in to our new lease. We have survived another “busiest baseball off-season” in the history of our business, and I now have the time to reflect on this big step that we chose to take in doubling our space and expanding our staff by two full-time employees.

So, we’ve built three gyms; what did I learn? With a little reflection, I came to three quick conclusions as it relates to finding the right piece of real estate for your business in the fitness industry. 

1. Commercial space that meets your needs is not hard to find.

Seeing as how our economy hasn’t exactly flourished since we began this whole entrepreneurial adventure back in 2007, one lesson we’ve learned time and time again is that property is readily available and not hard to find. As a matter of fact, back in early 2008 when I began to entertain the idea of moving out of our first facility to find greener pastures, I simply kept my eyes open during my drive home.

Within the first three miles of my daily commute from Hudson back to the Boston area, I found three separate street-front signs advertising commercial real estate ranging from 1,000 square feet of available space, on up to as much as 30,000. Most importantly, these weren’t makeshift signs thrown up to catch attention the moment the space became available; these were permanent slots on the address boards that rarely changed. This told me that space was sitting vacant long enough for property owners to pay for signage rather than simply throwing a listing up on loop.net. This also told us that we had leverage before we even walked through the door.

Don’t assume that your hunt for property needs to start on the internet. Drive around. Open your eyes to the signs and buildings you mindlessly pass every single day. There’s a lot more available out there than you’d ever imagine.

2. Your landlord is not your most important contact once the lease is signed.

I ultimately ended up pulling into the parking lot at 577 Main Street in Hudson on an April afternoon in 2008, and was unexpectedly greeted by the Property Manager for the building. This gentleman, Bill, was more than happy to walk me through a vacant unit that was in line with the size and dimensions we were seeking for our next space. Without an appointment of any sort, I stumbled upon an opportunity to tour what ultimately proved to be our home from 2008-2012. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my great customer service experience with Bill on day one would actually prove to be an indicator of what I could expect moving forward.

When upwards of 150 people make their way through your gym on a daily basis, things break. Assuming you pay your rent on time, fixes and modifications are made when you request assistance through the previously agreed upon chain of command, as outlined in your lease terms. However, things get done faster when you’re friendly with the Property Manager. Let’s be honest: shooting Bill a quick text is a lot easier than emailing or calling the building owner, who then forwards the message to his Operations Manager, who then pages Bill to come to their office to discuss the fact that the guys up at CP are complaining that their air conditioner is too loud again.

I have come to the conclusion that, in many ways, Bill is, in fact, the most powerful man at 577 Main Street. More importantly, he is friendly with our clients, actively seeks out conversation with our staff, and truly cares about every square inch of the property on which our building sits. When two feet of snow falls on a Saturday evening in February, Bill spends his entire Sunday plowing. When the ceiling springs a leak in our athlete lounge at 5:30pm on a Friday evening, Bill is in his car and back to our space with a smile on his face. Bill simply gets things done, and you don’t have to ask twice.

If you want to eliminate a lot of headaches and frustration over the lifetime of your lease, I would strongly recommend that you ask to meet the person responsible for maintaining it before you ever sign on the dotted line. Trust me: you do not want to be dealing with Oscar the Grouch every time a light blows out or you need to request that a duplicate key be made for a new staff member. Make it your priority to find your own Bill the Property Manager in addition to simply identifying your dream space. You wont regret it.

3. Patience is a virtue.

During our first four years of operation at 577 Main Street in Hudson, business grew at a rate with which we were very pleased. Our clients regularly filled the parking lot, spent their fair share of money at the on-site café, and generally created a level of foot traffic that caught our landlord’s eye. It was for this reason that he spent the better part of the past two years trying to convince us that we needed to make the jump into “this great unit at the back of the building.” 

While we were happy to humor him by walking through the space and having some extremely preliminary discussions regarding costs associated with such a move back in 2010, the feedback we provided could essentially be summed up in one quick sentence: “It is simply too much space for us.” Not surprisingly, walking away from a discussion like that isn’t made easily when the second largest unit in the building has been sitting vacant for months or even years. Our landlord made it clear that concessions could be made. Offers including a month or more of free rent, considerably reduced dollar-per-square foot figures, and more were extended our way.

Fortunately, since the day we started our business, we have agreed that having more space simply because we can isn’t justification for an expansion. We could have been offered the 15,000 square foot unit for the same monthly figure we were paying for 7,600, but the reality is that we wouldn’t have been in a position to generate the foot-traffic necessary for us to A) create an optimal training environment, B) fund the expansion of our staff to meet the needs of supervising such a spread-out facility, and C) create an image of perceived “busyness” necessary to inspire confidence in those who enter our space inquiring about our services (perceived success is important).

Fast-forward to the spring of 2012, and suddenly the timing felt right.

Well, wouldn’t you know it: not only was the space still available, but it was suddenly even more affordable than before. After approaching our landlord to discuss, we ultimately found ourselves with an entire summer of access to the space free-of-charge to prepare for a busy fall opening, access to the building’s loading-dock-height truck for any and all moving needs, unlimited dumpster space for trash removal during the transition, and an anticipated clientele for the fall and winter that actually justified an expansion to double our space.

The ultimate take away from our experience was that you don’t need to rush to expand your business. Aggressive growth strategies for strength and conditioning facilities are likely to lead to half-empty units with full-size rent invoices in the years to follow. As it turns out, CP is not of the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.

Considering starting or expanding your current fitness business?  Check out The Fitness Business Blueprint, a product I collaborated on with Mike Robertson and Pat Rigsby. It discusses all the mistakes we made when opening our fitness businesses, as well as the common mistakes Pat sees in the businesses for which he consults. Mike and I complement Pat’s business teachings with training-specific information like assessment and program design. For more information, click here.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 34

Written on February 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm, by Eric Cressey

In this week’s installment, Greg Robins has five tips you can immediately apply to your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Add resistance bands to common exercises for variety.

2. Always cook more than you need.

As part of my efforts to help our adult boot camp clients, I talk to them pretty regularly about nutrition. In some cases, I will review a 3-day food log for them. Here is a scenario I encounter every time. I’m not kidding – every single time.

Meal 1: sucks
Meal 2: sucks
Meal 3: a solid, balanced dinner

This goes on for the next two days as well. I get it,; they are busy parents and dinner is the ideal time to actually cook something of quality. By the time I go to the point of food log review we have already discussed the importance of food preparation. Additionally, every class member receives a hand out on his or her first day that touches upon food preparation’s importance. From here, I go on to explain a simple strategy, – one that most everyone can benefit from.

Each time you cook, do so for 2-3 more people than you plan on serving that night. If you don’t have the time, or just don’t want to dedicate a set time to food prep, then do it little by little. Double recipes, cook a few extra pieces of meat; steam an extra few bags of veggies. As soon as you’re done cooking, store the extra in your fridge. If you consistently do this, you should have a plethora of ready to go meals, random raw ingredients, and no reason to have two meals of suck anymore. Easy!

3. Remember that inefficiency can be productive.

Ever notice how often you receive conflicting information from fitness industry experts? It’s pretty prevalent. This is mainly the product of people effectively taking stances to make their products and articles more appealing. For example, one person says squatting is bad, and another says it’s the key to everything. Likewise, the sit-up has been put through the ringer numerous times. Many great coaches are all about doing them; others tell you they are as dangerous as blindfolded racecar driving.

If more readers took the time to examine the information, and less time spreading the information solely based on who delivered it, this would help lessen the confusion. Why?

         Different information is applicable to different populations!

One point I constantly see debated is the one on efficiency, mainly in terms of exercise selection within programming. Sometimes being INEFFICIENT is actually incredibly productive. Take these two examples into consideration next time you think out the programming of yourself or those you train.

A) Pairing competing exercises

People are quick to make sure that paired exercises don’t compete with one another. However, sometimes an inefficient pairing will help your cause. In the case of hypertrophy this is definitely the case, albeit not always the case. If you want to target a certain muscle group, consider pairing two exercises that do essentially the same thing. For example, bench press followed by push-ups, or pull-ups followed by the band pullapart.

The level of fatigue you cause doing this can actually be productive, especially when an all out assault on the muscles in question is your MO.

B) Fat Loss Exercises Selection

In large part, fat loss programming should be about being inefficient. The idea is to cause a great amount of metabolic disturbance. What better way to do this than by making the body work much harder than it normally would? An extra 30-minute walk a day is a great way to burn extra calories. It’s even better when you wear a 15lb weight vest.

Take into account what you are trying to accomplish with your training. After doing so, evaluate if being inefficient (and safe!) from time to time might be productive. Many times, it is!

4. Try the 1-leg dumbbell pullover.

In this post a few weeks ago, Eric talked about how valuable an exercise the pullover is.  Today, I’ve got a good progression for you:

5. Don’t assume athletes have the same goals, if any at all.

It’s pretty common practice when working with general population fitness clients to discuss goal setting. Many personal trainers make a point to monitor goals, and coach people on how to set them. For some reason, very few strength and conditioning coaches talk to their athletes about goal setting. Recently, I stumbled upon this research done at the University of Illinois, and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The study examined the relationship between having an effort goal and self-regulatory efficacy (SRE) beliefs in Division I football players. Self-efficacy is your ability to regulate how you feel in terms of accomplishing tasks and goals. A person with high self-efficacy believes they are capable of whatever they want to accomplish. Furthermore, they are more likely to approach difficulties with a fire to overcome them, rather than avoid them.

I am a huge advocate of stressing the human element associated with fitness and nutrition related success, or lack there of. Naturally, this study appealed to me right away. Interestingly enough, student athletes who met the criterion for having an effort goal had much better SRE. Additionally, as the magnitude of their goal increased, so did their SRE rating.

We can all learn something from this study. First, just having well defined goals (whether they are practical or not) boosts a person’s self-efficacy. So, the next time you want to shut a kid down who has a dream, don’t. Instead, get him talking about it!

Next, make it a point to ask kids about their goals. If they have them, you should know about them. It’s not enough to assume they are training for the same reason as the kid next to them. This brings me to my final point: some kids won’t have goals. I bet there aren’t many kids at the gym who truly “don’t want to be there.” They just have no clue why they are there. Give them direction and help them set goals!

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Youth Sports: A Lesson on Coaching Styles from My Dog

Written on February 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm, by Eric Cressey

It might sound like a silly way to start a fitness blog, but my dog, Tank, is lazy.

Tank can fall asleep anywhere, anytime.  This in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but he also happens to be a blend of two of the most stubborn breeds you can imagine: pug and beagle.  We’ve managed to train him out of his stubbornness pretty well, but he still absolutely hates walking up.  As such, he’ll generally stay in bed as long as he possibly can before he has to go to the gym with me.

In order to motivate him to get out of bed and come downstairs, I’ve exhausted a lot of options.  Originally, I could just call him; then, he got tired of that.

After that, I’d shake the bag of treats – but then Tank got tired of that after a few days.  Sleep was cooler than food.

Then, I’d knock on the front door as if a visitor had arrived – but he eventually smartened up to that.

Next, I would actually open the front door and ring the doorbell.  Tank’s now sick of that. Sleep is cooler than visitors, too.

So, nowadays, the only way I can get my dog out of bed is to physically go upstairs, pick him up, and set him on the floor in the direction of the staircase.  Some might say that his laziness is unparalleled.

I’d actually argue that this situation parallels what happens in youth sports nowadays. They often say that getting a dog is a stepping stone to having a child of your own, but I’d argue dealing with a lazy dog can also teach us a valuable lesson as coaches of young athletes.

You see, kids are just like Tank in that they can become desensitized to you.  Everyone has the story of the crazy little league or high school football coach in their hometown who always threw temper tantrums, broke clipboards, punched walls, cursed at players, berated umpires/referees, and treated everyone like crap.  All the players were certainly scared to death of these coaches for the first few months, and then the novelty of playing for a complete jerk wore off.  Maybe the screaming and yelling was used as a cover-up for a complete lack of knowledge, and people wised up to this reality. Or, maybe this individual just took all the fun out of what was supposed to be a game.

Regardless of how the initial excitement/fear wore off, rarely does one of these lunatic coaches have a favorable lasting impact on a kid.  It’s either because the coaches have very little to teach, or the athletes tune them out very quickly.  The coaches that impacted me the most were the ones who were the most compassionate and understood my unique strengths and weaknesses, but knew how the crack the whip at the right times.  Not surprisingly, they’re the ones who I stayed in contact with for years after I was done playing for them.  And, they’re the kind of coaches I see coming from the great teachings of the International Youth Conditioning Association, of which I’m a proud Advisory Board member.

If you scream, swear, and throw things all the time, athletes will get desensitized to you.  Nobody ever gets desensitized to a close friend, though.  Look at every bit of marketing research, too, and you’ll find that people genuinely like talking about themselves above all else.  That tells me that if you want to have a favorable impact on someone’s life as coach, you better be a very good listener before you even think about talking, let alone yelling. I’m a firm believer that you need to be their friend before you can be their coach. In watching my mother succeed as a high school principal, I’m convinced that this is something that carries over to any “authority” position; people need to like you before they respect you.

It’s not just enough to be popular, though; you have to be prepared. Tank is definitely “man’s best friend,” but that doesn’t change the fact that he wants to ignore me sometimes.  Along these same lines, if you’re going to be successful working with young athletes, you need to have different tools in your toolbox to motivate, inspire, make a point, or even just get their attention. There always needs to be a Plan B, and you need to be able to adapt your coaching style to an athlete’s unique needs over the course of his/her training career.

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Exercise of the Week: Challenging Hip Mobility and Core Stability

Written on February 18, 2013 at 11:29 am, by Eric Cressey

In this installment of Exercise of the Week, I introduce the supine leg whip, a great exercise that can be used to challenge both hip mobility and core stability to improve health and performance.

For more detailed exercise demonstrations like this, I’d encourage you to check out Elite Training Mentorship, where I upload several videos along these lines – as well as my staff in-services – each month.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 33

Written on February 15, 2013 at 9:47 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, here’s this week’s list of tips to make your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs more awesome.

1. Go narrower to improve wider.

People tend to spend a lot of time searching for that elusive exercise that will aid them in bringing up one of their big main lifts. Many are successful in their quest, and over time learn that one movement has great transfer to another. As an example, many people find improvements in the traditional good-morning has direct transfer to improvement in both their squat and deadlift.

Sometimes, however, what you’re searching for isn’t that far removed from what you’re already doing. Slight tweaks to the main lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), will cause you to make huge improvements to the lift in question. Some examples include: creating more range of motion, altering the tempo, or utilizing a different bar. One tweak in particular doesn’t get enough attention, which is unfortunate because it yields consistently great results. So what’s the change? Go narrower to improve wider.

If you want to improve your back squat, consider doing a few training cycles of narrow stance high bar back squats. When you return to a lower bar, wider stance position, you will have great return.If you want to improve the bench press, consider doing more bench sessions, or more sets within a bench session, with a narrower grip.

Lastly, if you’re a sumo style puller, work to bring up your conventional pull. If you already pull conventional, utilize snatch grip deadlifts. The set up for a snatch grip pull is generally a bit narrower, and forces you to drop the hips more so than the conventional deadlift.

2. Don’t limit your grip training to exercises that close the hand.

Admittedly, I have a pretty weak grip. Granted, there are different qualities to grip strength, just as there are different strength qualities. My ability to resist the opening of my hand is pretty good; due mainly to many years of holding heavy stuff. In my recent efforts to improve my ability “crush” and “pinch” I have done a few things. A few in particular I brought up in this Installment 29. Another approach that’s yielded a noticeable difference is training my hand “opening” strength.

The benefit to training finger extension is two-fold. First, doing so helps to keep the joints of the lower arm healthy. If you are doing a lot of heavy lifting or playing sports that are grip intensive, you’re spend a considerable amount time flexing the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Simply doing some work in the opposite direction will create some much-needed balance. Second, improving your opening strength will improve your closing strength. Stronger and healthier is never a bad combination, so what are some exercises to train finger extension. Here are a few I picked up in John Brookfield’s Mastery of Hand Strength.

3. Monitor outputs for more productive “conditioning.”

As I have harped on a few times, conditioning is somewhat of a “garbage term” mainly because it is too generally applied. What you do for conditioning should be in line with your training goals. If your goal is increased performance, in power development for sport or weightlifting, you want to make sure you’re training in a way that aids your end goal. Many conditioning protocols are designed to more or less run people into the ground. If not that, then they are not really designed with any rhyme or reason at all, except to include a day of moving around that makes you sweat and generally hate life for 15–30min. While something of this nature may be productive for fat loss, or to fill an exercise quota in general fitness populations, it is actually taking away from your efforts the other 3–4 days per week. Here are two easy ways to improve your conditioning days. Each is based on the concept of repeating quality outputs.

In scenario 1, you will adjust rest to produce consistent outputs. This is pretty simple. Start to monitor what you get done, and then adjust rest to continually do the same or better. For example, say you are doing 15yd shuttle sprints. You want to get 10 quality sprints in, and you have set a rest interval of 45 seconds between each one. You run the first two in 4.4s and 4.42s, respectively. Your third time is 4.56. At this point you would add 10s to the rest. You run three more with this rest all under 4.5sec. Your seventh sprint is 4.6, what do you do? Add 10s to the rest. Continue like this until all ten sprints are complete.

The same concept can be used for exercises done for repetitions under a given interval. For example, rounds one through three you were able to knock out 15 kettlebell swings in 20s. The fourth round you only got 14. Add 10s of rest, and continue.

In scenario 2, you will monitor outputs and end conditioning sessions (or the exercise) when outputs become unrepeatable. I’d use this after you have done a fair amount of work in scenario 1. This way you have a solid idea of what a good rest interval would be to accomplish ten sets of a given exercise and be able to repeat the same output every time. Once you have an idea of how you are going to set it up, you simply stop the exercise, or session, once you can no longer achieve the same output. Each week, or each session, your goal would be to get more sets in, with the same rest interval before you can no longer achieve the same output.

4. Clean up your step-up execution with this variation.

5. Teach your bench press spotter to give a proper hand-off.

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15 Static Stretching Mistakes

Written on February 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm, by Eric Cressey

One of the most debated topics in the strength and conditioning world in recent years has been whether or not static stretching is necessary and, if so, when it should be implemented.  While I don’t think everyone needs it, and that there are certainly are times when it is a bad idea to utilize, I’m still of the mindset that it can have some solid benefits when implemented properly. 

Unfortunately, like all training initiatives, some people do it all wrong. To that end, I wanted to devote today’s article to covering the top 15 static stretching mistakes I encounter.

Mistake #1: Stretching through extreme laxity.

This is the most important and prevalent one of all, so it comes first.  When I see someone doing this, this is pretty much how I feel:

We’re all have a different amount of congenital laxity.  Basically, this refers to how much “give” our ligaments have.  Some folks have naturally stiff joints, and others have very loose joints.  This excessively joint laxity is obviously much higher in females and younger populations, but, as Leon Chaitow and Judith DeLany discuss in Clinical Applications of Neuromuscular Techniques: Volume 1, it is also much higher in folks of African, Asian, and Arab origin.

When you take someone who is really lax and implement aggressive static stretching, it’s on par with having someone with a headache bang his/her head against a wall.  It makes things worse.

This is a tricky thing to understand, though, because many of these “loose” individuals will comment on how they feel “tight.”  Usually that tightness is just them laying down trigger points as a way for the body to create stability in areas where they are chronically unstable.  They’d be better off working on stability training to get back to efficient movement.

I think yoga has a tremendous amount of applications and we borrow from the discipline all the time, but I think this is where many modern yoga classes fall short; they have everyone in the class go to the same end-range on certain exercises. Folks with serious joint laxity should not only contraindicate certain yoga poses, but also modify others so that they’re training stability short of the true end-range of their joints. Unfortunately, most of the people you’ll see in yoga classes are hypermobile women; you see, they like to do the things they’re good at doing, not necessarily what they need to do.

How do you know if you’re lax, though? I like to use the Beighton hypermobility scale to assess for both generalized congenital laxity and specific laxity at a joint. The screen consists of five tests (four of which are unilateral), and is scored out of 9:

1. Elbow hyperextension > 10° (left and right sides)
2. Knee hyperextension > 10° (left and right sides)
3. Flex the thumb to contact with the forearm (left and right sides)
4. Extend the pinky to >90° angle with the rest of the hand (left and right sides)
5. Place both palms flat on the floor without flexing the knees

One of the biggest problems I see in today’s strength and conditioning world is that we assume all “big, strong” athletes are tight and need aggressive stretching.  As an example, take a look at this high Beighton score in a 6-3, 240-pound athlete.  We do very little static stretching with him – and absolutely none in the upper body.

If someone is really lax, nix the static stretching and instead spend more time on stabilization work.  If they still feel like they need to “loosen up,” tell them to do some extra foam rolling.  They’ll transiently reduce some of the stiffness they’re feeling, but they won’t be working through harmful end-range joint range-of-motion in the process.

Mistake #2. Substituting knee hyperextension for hip flexion in hamstrings stretches.

This comment piggybacks a little bit on mistake #1, as lax individuals (who probably shouldn’t be stretching their hamstrings, anyway) are the most likely to have problems with this.  Because the hamstrings are two-joint muscles (knee and hip), folks will often allow the knee to “give” extra because they are subconsciously trying to avoid an uncomfortable stretch at the hip – or they simply aren’t paying attention.  These are the same folks who have terrible hip hinges on toe touch tests, yet can touch their toes without a problem; they just go to knee hyperextension to make it happen.  As an example, this particular athlete scores really high on the Beighton hypermobility score, and he can actually put his palms flat on the floor with little to no posterior weight shift (the wall blocks him). 

How does he do it? Knee hyperextension. 

We’d much rather get a good hip hinge without resorting to excessive joint range of motion at the knee. You get good at what you train, so if you’re always doing your static stretching in a bad position, you’re going to be more likely to wind up in knee hyperextension on the field – and that’s where ACL injuries occur.

Mistake #3: Not creating stiffness at adjacent joints.

In a previous post, I talked about why stiffness can be a good thing, in spite of the negative connotation of the word.  Stiffness is a crucial part of keeping us healthy and enhancing athleticism.  “Good” stiffness allows us to overpower “bad” stiffness that’s occurring in the wrong places, and it helps to transfer force as part of the kinetic chain.  Static stretching can either be an opportunity to foster good stiffness or develop bad habits.

You see, we static stretch to transiently reduce stiffness (or true tissue shortness).  However, if we don’t stabilize (stiffen up) adjacent joints, it defeats the purpose. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say that I want to stretch my hamstrings in the supine position with not just a neutral position (center), but also a bias toward internal rotation/adduction (left) and external rotation/abduction (right).


 

 

 

Now, let’s see what happens to these stretches if one doesn’t engage the lateral core to prevent the pelvis from rolling toward the direction of the stretch on the ones that go out to the sides.

Mistake #4: Irritating the medial aspect of the knee with 90/90 hip stretches.

Most folks are familiar with doing 90/90 hip stretches or cradle walks as a way to improve hip external rotation in a position of hip flexion.  This is the position I commonly see people using at the point of maximal stretch:

The problem is that many folks crank excessively on the medial aspect of the knee by rotating the tibia (lower leg) instead of the femur (upper leg).  This actually parallels what happens during a McMurray’s Test for medial meniscus pathology:

It’s a pretty safe bet that static stretching into a position that replicates a provocative test is never a good idea – and it’s one reason we use 90/90 stretches very sparingly.  If you are going to use this stretch, however, I recommend that individuals grab the quadriceps on the stretching side to ensure that the majority of the pull into external rotation and flexion comes from the femur and not the tibia.  The opposite hand is simply there to support the weight of the lower leg.

Mistake #5: Substituting valgus stress at the knee for hip adduction/internal rotation stretching.

It’s really important than folks have adequate hip internal rotation, as a loss of hip internal rotation has been correlated with low back pain, and it can certainly predispose individuals to hip and knee issues as well. The knee-to-knee stretch is a popular approach for maintaining and improving hip internal rotation, and it’s also my chosen method for demonstrating how incomplete my goatee was at the time of this picture.  Sorry for teasing you with the view down thunder alley, too.

As you can see from the picture, this position can also impose some valgus stress at the knees if it isn’t coached/cued properly.  So, instead of thinking of letting the knees fall in, I tell athletes to actively internally rotate the femurs (upper leg).  The stretch should occur at the hips, not the knees.

In folks with a history of medial knee issues, we won’t use this static stretch.  Rather, we’ll use a kneeling glute stretch, which still gets a bit of stretch into adduction, which will still stretch several of the hip external rotators indirectly.

Lastly, keep in mind that the knee-to-knee isn’t a stretch most females will ever have to utilize because of their tendency toward a knock-knee posture (wider hips = greater Q-angle) at rest.

Mistake #6: Not monitoring neutral spine during hip stretching.

This point really works hand-in-hand with #3 from above, which talked about establishing stiffness at adjacent joints.  Certainly, maintaining neutral spine falls under the category of “good stiffness,” but because it’s such a common mistake, it deserves attention of its own.  When the hip flexes, you shouldn’t go through lumbar flexion. For this split-stance kneeling adductor stretch, notice the correct on the left and the incorrect on the right:

And, when it extends, you shouldn’t go through lumbar extension.  Again, the correct is on the left, and incorrect (hyperextended) is on the right:

Mistake #7: Not monitoring neutral spine during standing stretches.

Again, this is another point that piggybacks off of establishing good stiffness, but I see a lot of people doing upper extremity stretches – overhead triceps, lats, pecs – in terrible spine posture.  Perhaps the best example is the overhead triceps stretch with the lumbar spine in hyperextension, plus forward head posture further up.

Mistake #8: Stretching your lower back.

There may be times when a qualified manual therapist might want to do some mobilizations on your lower back. The rest of you really shouldn’t be stretching your spine out. Stretch your hips, and mobilize your thoracic spine (upper back), where it’s much safer for you to move. Focus on building up some core stability.

Mistake #9: Stretching your calves – and then wearing high heels the rest of the day.

There’s nothing wrong with the “stretching your calves” part; it’s the high heels part that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Talk about a dog chasing its tail!

Mistake #10: Stretching a throwing shoulder into extension and/or external rotation (and creating valgus stress at the elbow in the process).

I devoted an entire video to this topic last week in my baseball-specific newsletter:

Mistake #11: Stretching through pain or neurological symptoms.

I honestly can’t think of a single reason why anyone should ever stretch oneself through pain. Sure, there may be times when physical therapists may push a post-operative joint through some uncomfortable ranges of motion, but that’s a trained professional making a educated decision.  You stretching yourself through pain is just throwing a bunch of s**t on the wall to see what sticks.  Don’t do it.

Sometimes, an indirect approach is better.  As an example, there is research demonstrating that core stability exercises can transiently and chronically improve hip internal rotation – even without stretching the joint.  If you’re hurting while stretching, see a qualified medical professional to help you devise a plan to work around the issue while reducing your symptoms.

On the topic of neurological symptoms, as an example, intervertebral disc issues with radicular symptoms into the legs may be exacerbated by stretching the hamstrings.  Similar issues can come about if folks with thoracic outlet syndrome perform aggressive upper body stretching. If nerves aren’t gliding the way that they need to be, the last thing you want to do is yank on them.

Mistake #12: Not tightening the glutes during hip flexor stretches.

I’ve written previously at length about how anterior (front) hip irritation is often caused the head of the femur (ball) gliding forward in the acetabulum (socket) during hip extension.  This femoral anterior glide syndrome (described in detail here), was originally introduced by physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann.  Effectively, the hamstrings have a “gross” hip extension pull – meaning that they don’t have a whole lot of control over the head of the femur.  Therefore, we need to have great gluteus maximus contribution to hip extension, as the glute max posteriorly pulls the femoral head back during hip extension so that the anterior hip capsule doesn’t get irritated.

What we don’t consider, however, is that if we stretch a hip into hip extension (osteokinematics), we also need that glute contribution to control the glide (arthrokinematics) of the femoral head.  This is a definite parallel to what I described earlier with respect to stretching a throwing shoulder into extension or external rotation; you don’t just want to do it carelessly. As such, whenever you stretch the hip into extension, make sure that you tighten up the glute:

Mistake #13: Stretching into a bony block.

There are a lot of things that may limit range of motion at a joint.  It could be muscular shortness/stiffness, capsular tightness, muscular bulk, swelling, or guarding due to injury.  In many cases, though, it simply has to do with the congruency of the bones (or lack thereof) at a joint.

In the case of a “fresh” bone spur or loose body at the posterior aspect of the elbow, aggressively stretching into extension could easily provoke symptoms.  Conversely, I’ve seen some elbows with flexion contractures that are a combination of bony blocks and subsequent tissue shortening and capsular tightening that can be stretched until the cows come home with no problem. 

Each case is unique – but at the end of the day, remember that you’re better off being too tight than too loose.  In other words, if you’re unsure about something, don’t stretch it.

Beyond just reactive changes like bone spurs and loose bodies, we also have folks who simply have different congenital or acquired bone structures.  Many individuals have retroverted (externally rotated) or anteverted (internally rotated) femoral carrying angles.  Those in retroversion will lack hip internal rotation no matter how much you stretch them, and those in anteversion aren’t going to be gaining external rotation no matter what you do.  Trying to power through these bony blocks will likely create hip discomfort as well.

We also see retroversion as an adaptation in throwing shoulders, where bones “warp” to allow for more lay-back during the extreme cocking phase of throwing.  This is why most throwers will have significantly less internal rotation on the throwing shoulder than on the non-throwing shoulder in-spite of the fact that they have symmetrical total motion (IR + ER) from side to side; they simply shift their arc.

Before you stretch, you better find out if it’s bone or soft tissue that is limiting you at end-range.  If it’s bone, you’re better off leaving things alone.

Mistake #14: Putting the band behind your head during hamstrings stretching.

This one drives me bonkers.  It screams “I know stretching isn’t hard to do, but I’m still too lazy to put any semblance of effort into doing it correctly.”  Why create forward head posture and neck stress when stretching the hamstrings?

Mistake #15: Not monitoring your breathing.

Nowadays, I’d say that we do just as much “positional breathing drills” as we do actual stretches. The more I learn (particularly from the Postural Restoration Institute school of thought), the more I realize that breathing in specific positions can have a dramatic effect on reducing tissue stiffness. For instance, here is one that all our right-handed pitchers do. 

The left femur is internally rotated and adducted, the left rib flare is “tucked,” right thoracic rotation is encouraged, the lumbar spine is flat, and the right shoulder blade is fully upwardly rotated with a bit of upper trap activation. We cue the athlete to inhale through the nose without allowing the rib cage to “fly up,” and then encourage him to exhale fully, allowing the ribs to “come down.”

We stretch to reduce tone, not increase it – and most athletes are in a constant state of inhalation, which corresponds to a big anterior pelvic tilt and lordotic curve. 

When the rib cage flies up like this, we lose our Zone of Apposition (ZOA), a term the PRI folks have coined to describe the region into which our diaphragm must expand to function.

In this extended posture, rather than effectively use their diaphragm, athletes will overuse supplemental respiratory muscles like lats, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, and pec minor – and these are all areas where we’re always trying to reduce tone. Check out this great tutorial on apical breathing vs. apical expansion from Bill Hartman, as he hits the nail on the head and shows exactly what you’ll see:

Teaching athletes how to control their breathing during stretching – and paying particular attention to fully exhaling on each breath – goes a long way to help reduce sympathetic nervous system stimulation, get rid of unwanted tone in the wrong places, effective favorable changes to posture, and make the most of the stretches you’re prescribing.  I think the folks in the yoga and Pilates worlds have done a good job of drawing attention to the importance of breathing, and we should appreciate that with respect to how static stretching and dynamic flexibility drills are implemented.

Conclusion

There are really only 15 mistakes that were right on the tip of my tongue – to the tune of 2,800 words!  To reiterate, I have a lot of clients/athletes who do absolutely no static stretching, but that’s not to say that it can’t be of benefit to a good chunk of the population.  Just remember that each body is unique, so no two static stretching programs should be alike in terms of exercise selection and coaching cues. 

If you benefited from this article, please share it via Facebook or Twitter, as this is a very misunderstood topic in the world of health and human performance.  Thanks for your support!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/12/13

Written on February 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm, by Eric Cressey

Happy Valentine’s Day Week! While I love all my readers and appreciate your support, I won’t get all sappy on you today.  Instead, our recommended strength and conditioning reading will focus on getting jacked and crushing good food.  What’s not to love?

Strength Training Program: What to Do If You Can’t Squat Deep – This was a guest blog I wrote over at Men’s Health earlier this week. If you don’t have the mobility to squat deep, don’t worry; I’ll give you some alternatives to ensure that your lower body strength training doesn’t suffer.

Limit Protein to 20g Per Meal? – This is an old blog post from Dr. John Berardi, but I’ve had two separate athletes ask me about whether the body can only “handle” a certain amount of protein at each meal.  As such, I thought it’d be a good time to reincarnate this excellent write-up.

Smart Overhead Pressing – This was a great post at T-Nation by Dean Somerset.  If more people would follow progressions like this before jumping into overhead pressing, we’d have a lot fewer shoulder injuries in the weight training population.

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Strength Training Technique: Fine-Tuning the Band Pullapart

Written on February 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm, by Eric Cressey

The band pullapart is a very commonly prescribed exercise improve upper extremity function and correct bad posture.  However, while it may appear really simple to execute, it’s important to make sure that it’s coached correctly, as it’s easy to develop some bad habits.  Check out today’s video to learn more:

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