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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

Written on December 26, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.

1. 5 Things I've Learned About Mobility Training - This article only just ran about three weeks ago, but it still was the biggest hit of the year. Given the popularity, I suppose I should have written it a long time ago!

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2. Why We're Losing Athleticism - This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2014, and was especially popular among parents.

3. Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes? - What started as a Q&A ended up being a lengthy post that kicked off a great discussion.

4. 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises are Essential - We all know core control is incredibly important, but who knew an article about why would be a hit, too?

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5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle Imbalances Revealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 8

Written on December 23, 2014 at 7:34 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the December edition of my musings on the performance world. Our twin daughters were born on November 28, so this will be a "baby theme" sports performance post.

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1. Sleep might be the great equalizer in the sports performance equation.

For obvious reasons, I've been thinking a lot about sleep quality and quantity since the girls were born. Obviously, how well you sleep is a huge factor in both short- and long-term performance improvements (or drop-offs). I think everyone knows that, but unfortunately, not everyone acts on it.

Additionally, I'm not sure folks realize that sleep is probably the only factor in the performance training equation that isn't impacted by socioeconomic status. Good coaching, gym access, massage therapy, and quality nutrition and supplementation all cost money and can be hard to find in certain areas. Getting quality sleep really won't cost you a penny (unless you're forgoing sleep to try to earn a living), and it's easily accessible. tweetSure, you can buy a better mattress or pillow, turn the air conditioning up, or get reinforced blinds to make your room darker, but the truth is that these aren't limiting factors for most people. Usually, the problems come from using phones/tablets/TVs on too close to bedtime, or simply not making time to get to bed at a reasonable hour. That might be why this Tweet I posted a few days ago was well-received.

I think the lesson here is that if you're struggling to make progress, begin by controlling what you can control. Sleep is usually a good place to start.

2. You need a team, but not an army.

Without exception, everyone who has ever had a child is willing to offer advice. Unfortunately, while it's always incredible well-intentioned, it isn't always useful. We've found this to be particularly true because we have twins, which is a total game changer as compared to a single baby. It's like getting a pitching lesson from a golf professional; he might "get" efficient rotation, but have no idea how to apply it to a new sport.

With that in mind, as an athlete, you have to have a filter when you create your team. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and having too many coaches (and related professionals) in your ear can lead to confusion from over-coaching and mixed messages.

Taking it a step further, as a facility owner, this is why I love to hire from our Cressey Sports Performance internship program. We get a great opportunity to determine if folks can seamlessly integrate with our team while still providing unique expertise and value to our clients. It's also why we don't ever have independent contractor trainers come in to coach under our roof; the "team" becomes an "army"and the messages get diluted.

Speaking of internships...

Mastery_Cover3. Apprenticeships are tremendously important for athletes and coaches alike.

The current audiobook on my iPhone is Mastery, by Robert Greene. Greene goes to great lengths to describe the commonalities of success for many of history's great "masters:" Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. One experience they all seem to have in common is a tremendous track record of apprenticeship (or internship) under a bright individual who has gone before them.

It goes without saying that we know this is the best way to learn in the fitness industry. If you need proof, just look at the loads of successful trainers out there who have never opened an exercise physiology textbook, but have logged countless hours "in the trenches" - much of it under the tutelage of a seasoned fitness professional - to hone their skills. As Greene notes, however, not all mentors are created equal, and you have to be very picky in selecting one that is a good match for you.

For us, that meant listening to parents of multiple babies, as well as the nurses at the hospital who had experience caring for twins. As strange as it sounds, it was a blessing that one of our babies needed supplemental oxygen for a few days after birth, as my wife and I effectively got a bunch of one-on-one tutoring from some incredibly helpful nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit. I could have tried to learn it from a book, but there's no way it would have come around as quickly as it did from performing various tasks under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro.

4. Don't take advanced solutions to a simple problem.

I'll admit it: screaming babies terrified me about three weeks ago. While I kept my normally calm demeanor on the outside, every time one of the girls cried, on the inside, I was actually as flustered as a pimple-faced teenager who is about to ask the captain of the cheerleading team to prom. I'd suggest to my wife that we play some music for them, try a different seat/swing, let them cuddle with one another, or play Monopoly (kidding). Not surprisingly, none of it worked.

In reality, the answer is a lot more simple: 99% of the time, they want to eat, get a diaper change, or be held. Seriously, that's it. Who wants to listen to sit in a nice swing, listening to Today's Country radio on Pandora when they're wallowing in their own turd?

Basically, the athletes needed to squat, press, deadlift, and lunge - yet I kept trying to program 1-arm, 1-leg dumbbell RDLs off an unstable surface while wearing a weight vest on a 12-6-9-4 tempo. This is a stark contrast to they way I live my life and how I carry myself as a coach. Lack of familiarity - and the stress it can cause - was the culprit.

Extending this to a coaching context, when you're working with a new athlete or in a new situation (i.e., sport with which you aren't familiar), always look to simplify. Remember that good movement is good movement, regardless of the sporting demands in question.

5. Different athletes need different cues.

Here are our two little angels:

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Even after only three weeks, they couldn't be any more different. Lydia, on the left, can be a little monster. Even the slightest disturbance throws her into a fit, and she wants to eat just about every hour. On the other hand, Addison, on the right, is as mellow as can be. In fact, as I type this, she's quietly sleeping next to my desk - while her sister is in the other room doing her best to wake my wife up from much needed sleep. While the goal is to get them on the same schedule, doing so requires much different approaches for each girl.

In applying this to athletes, you'll have different kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners will need to be put in a position to appreciate it. Auditory learners can be told to do something and usually pick it up instantly. Visual learners just need to see you demonstrate it, and they'll make it happen shortly thereafter. Your goal as a coach is to determine an athlete's predominant learning style in the first 20-30 minutes of working with him. Most athletes will require a little bit of all three (depending on the exercise you're coaching), but determining which approach predominates makes your coaching more efficient; you can get more done in less time, and fewer words.

Wrap-up

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for your support of EricCressey.com in 2014!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/22/14

Written on December 22, 2014 at 7:33 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you're all doing better than I am with your holiday shopping. While I

Kettlebell Swing: How to Cue the Hinge and Never Perform a Squat Swing Again - Here's a great video post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Gentilcore's website. It'll help you to avoid one of the most common kettlebell swing technique mistakes.

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Squat Right for Your Type - Todd Bumgardner authored this insightful piece at T-Nation last week. I see a lot of folks try to jam a round peg in a square hole when it comes to squat technique, and the information in this article can help folks avoid that tendency.

Dodgers Betting Brandon McCarthy Can Shoulder the Load - I Tweeted about this article last week, and I think it's a great message for the blog as well. Brandon McCarthy just got a big contract with the Dodgers, and his recent success can be heavily attributed to the fact that he's healthy and durable for the first time in his career. That came about because he was open-minded enough to tinker with his training approaches - even when he had already "made it" to the big leagues. It's a great lesson for young athletes.

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5 Lessons on Coaching

Written on December 18, 2014 at 6:52 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I've got a guest post from John O'Neil, who is wrapping up his internship at the new Cressey Sports Performance facility in Jupiter, FL this week. John brings an excellent perspective, having been a CSP athlete before entering the strength and conditioning field. Enjoy! -EC

Late in my senior year of college, I didn’t know what I would do next. I wasn’t passionate about my major- mathematics- and couldn’t see myself sitting in a cubicle crunching numbers. My main passion is strength and conditioning and I wanted to become a strength coach. I contacted everyone whom I regularly read to see if I could spend my internship with them, and I quickly realized that the industry is filled with people looking to help out. Todd Bumgardner offered me an internship and I got my introduction to coaching at Ranfone Training Systems in Hamden, CT. I was fortunate enough to go from a summer there to a fall internship at the new Cressey Sports Performance – Florida, where I continue my transition from S&C junkie to S&C coach.

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Here are some of the major takeaways I’ve had as I’ve gone from someone obsessed with the industry to someone actually in the industry:

1. You are a coach.

The most important thing I realized early on in my internships is that I was a coach, first and foremost. I needed to stop worrying about understanding PRI concepts when I wasn’t great at coaching a goblet squat. A basketball coach isn’t worrying about how his team can implement the triangle offense if his team can’t make a layup. During my first weekend at RTS, we hosted a Nick Winkelman seminar. Afterwards, I thanked Nick and told him I was less than a week in to my coaching career and that his cueing and motor learning lessons were stuff that I was looking forward to implementing. Nick responded by telling me that the most important thing at this stage of my career is to get great at coaching what you know, then expand how much you know. Your base of knowledge is only as useful as you can coach it.

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2. Understand your impact.

One conversation I had with Todd early in my internship has resonated with me throughout. “My greatest skill as a coach is my ability to relate to my athletes,” he said. It had nothing to do with the science-related knowledge he has gained over the years. As a coach, your most important role in working with youth athletes isn’t to make sure they can perform a half-kneeling chop correctly; it’s to make sure you’re having a positive influence on said athlete’s life. Most of the people you work with won’t make a living performing these movements and may not even be an athlete beyond high school. Make sure your athletes know you care about them as people first and athletes second.

3. Understand the level of your athlete.

A typical day at CSP could involve working with a 12 year old kid who has never lifted a weight, a MLB player, and a 50-year-old with a 9-to-5 job. Each of these people will need to be coached very differently, and it’s important not only to get great at coaching exercises but coaching to populations as well. The kid is much more likely to need hands-on attention (kinesthetic), the pro athlete probably just wants to see and do (visual), and the middle-aged person might just want to be told what to do (auditory). While these aren’t set in stone, being able to coach everything you coach in different styles is very important.

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4. Understand what kind of “vibe” do you give off.

Admittedly, this is an area in which I struggle, but have worked hard to improve. I’m an introvert by nature and don’t always convey the sense that I want to be where I am. Case in point, many of my girlfriend’s friends think I don’t like them because of the vibe I give off when I’m surrounded by them, which obviously isn’t the case. As evidenced by the energy that Mike, Todd, and Scott bring to the gym, everyone that trains at RTS knows their coaches want to be there, often times more than they do. Todd told me that I won’t get the results I want unless my clients know that I love this stuff as much as I do, and during my two internships it’s something I’ve been very conscious of. While I’ll never be a “rah-rah” style leader, I find it important to implement strategies to build rapport with every client and make sure they know that I want to be there. These are all simple, but easy to let slide. Tony Gentilcore’s blog posts on introverted coaches (here and here), as well as Miguel Aragoncillo’s Hard and Soft Skills of a Strength Coach are great reads that really explain these methods in depth.

5. You must have philosophical flexibility.

Both RTS and CSP share a common trait that I’m sure many in the industry do as well: they are constantly striving to get better as coaches as much as their athletes are striving to get better on the field. In my exit interview at RTS, Mike Ranfone said to me that their goal is not only to offer the best product they can at the time, but to insure that they will offer an even better product one year from now. At CSP, this is the same. Each of these places doesn’t have their system; they have a system that they believe to be the best they can give to the athletes at the current time.

In the strength and conditioning field, people aren’t reinventing the wheel; they are working to see if they can make it spin better.

While your core philosophy will remain the same – good functional movement is good functional movement, and your athletes will still be looking to get faster, stronger, and stay healthy – always be willing to look at new ideas and see how they can make your system better.

While I have learned a lot throughout my two internships, these are the main points that I will take with me wherever I wind up coaching in the future. I’ve stressed to myself to make sure that I realize that each hour I am in the gym is not my 6th, 7th, 8th… hour. Rather, it’s a certain athlete’s first, and I want to make sure that my presence there positively impacts their life. I’ve had a great time as an intern at both locations and would highly recommend going the internship route to anyone interested in becoming a coach.

About the Author

John O'Neil has be reached at joh.oneil@gmail.com, or you can follow him on Twitter.

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New Cressey Sports Performance – Florida Facility Featured on WPBF 25 News

Written on December 17, 2014 at 7:53 am, by Eric Cressey

The Elite Baseball Development program at our new Jupiter, FL Cressey Sports Performance facility was a local news feature the other day. Check it out HERE.

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For more information on the new Jupiter, FL Cressey Sports Performance, check out www.CresseySportsPerformance.com.

"I have used Cressey Sports Performance for my last five off-seasons. CSP has been a crucial part of the success I have had in my career to this point. The programs have helped me gain velocity as well as put my body in a position to remain healthy throughout a long season. Even when I can’t be there to work with them in person, I am still able to benefit from CSP’s resources at my home through the distance-based programs.”

-Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
2014 American League Cy Young Winner
 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/15/14

Written on December 15, 2014 at 8:26 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some good fitness and nutrition reads from around the 'net:

Elite Training Mentorship - In the most recent update, I provide two exercise demonstration videos, and Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo kicks off a two-part webinar series on energy systems development.

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Chocolate and All Its Health Benefits - Examine.com always does a great job of evaluating nutrition and supplementation questions folks have, and this quick but informative article is no exception.

Mastery - I'm currently listening to this audiobook and really enjoying it, as it takes close looks at how some of the greatest "masters" of all time got to that level of proficiency and success in their chosen crafts.

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One of my favorite quotes thus far is, "The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery." The author, Robert Greene, is a huge fan of "apprenticeships," and it goes without saying that these take time. The fitness industry is no exception.

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5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility

Written on December 11, 2014 at 8:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC

Mobility is one of those nebulous concepts that get thrown around the fitness industry a lot. You either have it or you don’t, and if you’re one of those lucky Tinman stiff-as-a-board folks who can’t touch their toes without a yardstick, you’re told to stretch and do more mobility work, which seems akin to carving out Mount Rushmore with nothing more than some sandpaper. We might be here a while if all you have available to you is simply stretching to make your mobility improve.

What we forget to do is ask a very simple question: Why do you feel tight in the first place? Muscles are incredibly dumb and won’t contract on their own. They’re usually told to contract, and they’re good soldiers that do what they’re told. You could cut a muscle out of the body and hook it up to a car battery and have it contract until either the proteins are ripped apart or until you turned off the battery. Also, muscles can’t get confused, so let’s stop using that term while we’re at it, shall we?

Typically a muscle will tense in response to a few different things. The first is the desire to produce movement, which means the normal shortening response happens and people awe and admire the massive weight EC pulls on a daily basis.

The second is as a protective means. A joint that may be unstable or a step away from being injured could cause the body to contract muscles around it in a protective “casting” method that restricts movement in the joint and calls up muscles that may cross more than one joint. An example of this would be the psoas tensing in response to anterior lumbar instability. The runners with chronic hip flexor pain and a forward lean when they pound the pavement, but who stretch their hip flexors (usually poorly and into spinal extension) 3 times a day for 20 years and still have tight hip flexors are a prime example of this. They stretch but don’t improve stability, so the psoas continues to hate life.

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The third is in response to nervous system tone, specifically sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Sympathetic is best exemplified by that one kid who is always bouncing and tapping their foot, can’t seem to sit still, and always wants to run and jump everywhere, whereas parasympathetic would be the stoner who looks perennially half asleep. If you’re constantly jacked up like a cheerleader on a mixture of crack and RedBull, flexibility won’t be a strong suit of yours, even though you could probably pull a tractor with your teeth or scare old women and small children.

The Ultimate Warrior was definitely NOT parasympathetic, nor was he likely to be hitting the splits anytime soon, but he could always bring the house down.

If you’re constantly a ball of stress, your muscles will be in a constant state of “kind of on,” which is to say their contraction is like lights on a dimmer switch. They’re not all the way on, but they’re not off either, they’re just “kind of on.” Being all jacked up all the time might sound cool, but in reality it tends to cause some issues if you can’t turn it down once in a while.

Lastly, and one of the most simple of all, is alignment. If you have a muscle held in a stretched position, it’s going to reflexively increase tension to prevent the muscle from stretching too far and potentially creating an injury.

I know it’s kind of counterintuitive that a chronically stretched muscle would be tight, but consider the effects of something like low back erector muscles and posterior pelvic tilt. If your pelvis is tucked under like Steve Urkel (I’m dating myself here, but it’s a fun game trying to confuse the 20 year olds), the erectors are already on stretch without having to do anything, plus they’re contracting to keep your spine from sliding further into extension. Trying to touch your toes will result in embarrassing results.

So now that you know why muscles can be tight, we can work on them and produce much better results.

Strategy #1: Change your breathing.

One of the first things I usually see when someone tries to stretch into a bigger range of motion than they’re used to is that they wind up holding their breath. This works against you in two ways. First, when you hold your breath, you crank up your sympathetic system, which drives more neural tone to all muscles of the body and causes reflexive tensing. Second, by not breathing you pressurize the entire thoracic spine: all of the intercostal muscles between your ribs, your diaphragm, and even your obliques tense to help increase intrathoracic pressure against that held breath. This causes muscles to hold tension even more.

In many instances, people will hit an end range of motion while holding their breath, and I tell them to breathe. They, in turn, gasp like they just surfaced from diving with Jacques Cousteau, and wind up getting another few inches into their range.

When trying to get range of motion, long deep inhalations and exhalations where you reach on the exhale makes a massive difference. The length of the breath increases stimulation of the vagal nerve, which is responsive to the heart and drives cardiac rate and parasympathetic stimulation into the medulla oblongata, and as a result muscle tension reduction through the whole body. Lower heart rates means a less energy demanding system, which is commonly results in lower arousal, meaning less tense muscles at rest.

Here’s a simple breathing drill you could do to help increase your overall mobility through your shoulders and hips.


Timely to give Eric a baby breathing exercise, huh?

Try this out: Test your toe touch ability and range of motion bringing your arms up over your head. Make a note of both how far you get and also how easy they both felt. One way to gauge overhead range is to stand against a wall, then bring your arms up overhead without arching your low back, and either mark the wall or make a mental note as to how high you bring your arms. Try the breathing drill and then retest your mobility and see whether it resulted in any changes.

Strategy #2: Build stability to create mobility.

As I noted earlier with respect to stability, if a joint is perceived as unstable and potentially about to be injured, the body will clamp down muscles around it. One way to see this in a graphic manner is to look at hip rotation and core function.

Try this out and see what happens: From a seated position, turn your hips side to side and see whether you have good rotational range of motion through both external rotation (where you look at the inside of your knee) or internal rotation (where you look at the outside of your knee). If you find you have poor external rotation, try doing a hard front plank and then retest. If you find you have a poor internal rotation, hit up a side plank and see what happens. Here's the test:

Here's the front plank:

Here's the side plank:

If you noticed a big increase in mobility, you likely had your hips putting on the brakes and donating some stability up to the lumbar spine. By reinstating some of that stability, the hips opened up and had lots of freedom since they weren’t working double time anymore.

Strategy #3: Change alignment from the bottom up.

Foot position can play a massive role in how well you move. Most people who tend to be flat footed wind up with tibial internal rotation, which results in internally rotated femurs. This rotation increases tension through the anterior hips and up the chain further which reduces the range of motion for overhead movements. It also reduces the force production capability through the legs, which makes you less awesome.

If you roll to the outside of the foot, more supination, you increase tension through the posterior aspect of the hip and pushes you into more external rotation, which reduces the amount of internal rotation your have available, and also reduces your ability to move freely down into hip flexion.

Use this little test and see what happens: stand up and roll your feet so that you put most of your weight on the inside, in line with the big toe, and bring your arms overhead and then touch your toes. Make a not of how high and low you go and also how easy they felt. Then roll to the outside of your feet, more weight on the baby toe side of the foot, and see what the movement results are looking like. You might find it’s different in each example, and will showcase how foot position can affect your overall mobility.

Strategy #4: Change alignment from the top down.

Neck position can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, and it plays down in a couple of simple anatomical means. For the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up. If you stand with your head jammed into the back of your neck, you’ll have some smashed up pteryhyoid and stylohyoid muscles, which will alter (not necessarily improve or decrease, but alter) the ability to move the arms around.

Sternocleidomastoideus

Secondary to this, head position will play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord. The chord has the ability to slide up and down in the spinal canal in order to adjust for different positions. Since the nerves can’t stretch, they accommodate range differently by moving along with the rest of the body. When you’re in standing and you tuck your chin to your chest, the spinal chord moves up in the spinal canal. When you look up, your give some slack to the chord and it moves slightly lower.

What this means is that if you were to bend down to grab a bar for something like a deadlift, and you tucked your chin, your available range that the spinal chord could allow movement to occur before it was stretched would be less than if you had a neutral neck, and much less than if you were to look ahead slightly. Additionally, if you have any restrictions through areas like the sciatic arch, it will prevent movement of the nerve through this area and make your range of motion somewhat limited.

Try this out: stand tall and tuck your chin to your chest, then try to touch your toes. Right after, keep your head level with the horizon and try to touch your toes again and see where the change in range of motion comes from. If you noticed a pronounced change, it's time to get cracking on "packing the neck" during your training and everyday life.

Strategy #5: Clean up cranky fascial lines.

This is where some voodoo starts creeping in. The body is more than a collection of individual muscles that all connect to bones and do stuff. They have lines of action where multiple muscles along specific pathways will contract and relax together to produce movement. These pathways are visually represented through the work of Thomas Myers in his outstanding book Anatomy Trains, but can be shown in real time with some simple tricks.

One fun fascial line to work with is the spiral line. It’s a really cool powerful series of tissues and muscles that runs from one foot around the spine and connects to the opposing shoulder, both on the front and the back. By “tuning” fascia in the leg, you can see some pretty immediate changes in range of motion at the shoulder.

I showcased this with a live demo in a recent workshop in Los Angeles, where a participant had some shoulder issues. I had Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Sports Performance fame stretch him into external shoulder rotation, then applied some light pressure to his opposing adductor group to simulate what he would do with foam rolling. Within 5 seconds, he started to get more external rotation, all without me doing anything at his shoulder and with Tony only holding his arm in a position and letting gravity pull him down.

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Try this out: If your shoulders are restricted through external rotation (like laying back to throw a baseball), foam roll your inner thigh, spending time hating life and breathing deep to try to get them to reduce tension and pain, then retest the shoulder external rotation. If you’re restricted through internal rotation, try rolling out your IT bands and see what happens.

Wrap-up

These methods aren’t guaranteed to work for every single person, but they are simple tricks that seem to work well with a lot of people. The good thing is if one of them works really well for you, you could use it on a regular basis to keep your mobility high and to use it in a new way you never had before.

Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 59% off through this Friday (12/12) at midnight.

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Mobility Training

Written on December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been almost ten years since Mike Robertson and I introduced our Magnificent Mobility DVD set. This popular DVD set certainly helped a lot of people, but as with all aspects of the incredibly dynamic strength and conditioning and rehabilitation fields, we've learned a lot about mobility over the past decade. In other words, there are a lot of things I do differently with my training programs these days. I mean, seriously, I looked like I was 12 years old in this video.

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Very simply, mobility is one's ability to reach a desired position or posture. Because many folks erroneously confused it with flexibility (range of motion at a specific joint), the industry as a whole trended toward labeling all mobility issues as true shortness of tissues that crossed the joint(s) in question. As the years have progressed, though, we've smartened up to realize that folks may struggle to get to specific positions because of joint structure (e.g., femoroacetabular impingement), insufficient stiffness at adjacent joints (e.g., poor core control "presenting" as bad hip mobility), density (rather than just length) of the aforementioned tissues that cross the joint, and a host of other factors. To be more succinct, mobility is dependent on much, much more than just tissue length!

With that in mind, I thought I'd highly a few game-changers I've picked up on the mobility front over the years. This post is especially timely, as Dean Somerset's great new product, Ruthless Mobility, is on sale this week at a great introductory 59% off discount.

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1. Soft tissue work is important, even if we don’t know exactly why.

I'm honestly entertained when I hear someone insist that foam rolling is the devil, and we should never do it. People feel and move better after they do it, and it always seems to improve the quality of mobility initiatives that take place subsequently.

I certainly don't think it's truly mechanically breaking down scar tissue, but it's absolutely transiently reducing stiffness in the targeted tissues via one or more of a number of other mechanisms. Just because we can't explain them in complete certainty doesn't mean that "good" isn't being done.

2. Breathing can reduce bad stiffness and establish good stiffness.

This point could also be called, "The yoga folks have been right about breathing for a long time."

It's not uncommon to incorporate positional breathing drills that will transiently improve both flexibility and mobility. To me, that's an indicator that we're both reducing bad stiffness and establishing good stiffness. As an example, take all fours breathing in a flexed position:

I've utilized this with athletes and seen supine shoulder flexion range of motion increase by 10-15 degrees in a matter of 15-20 seconds without actually stretching the shoulder anywhere near its end-range. Additionally, scapular upward rotation (which takes place against gravity) usually improves a bit, presumably because of both the increased recruitment of serratus anterior and reduced downward pull of the lats. Again, this is very much a theory, but it's consistently being tested with great results in our training each day. And, it's much easier than doing loads of manual therapy and time-consuming static stretching (although there are still places for both of those initiatives).

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3. Not everyone conforms to the joint-by-joint approach.

The joint-by-joint approach was first introduced by Gray Cook and developed further by Mike Boyle. The concept is very sound: the body is a system of joints/segments that alternate in the need for mobility or stability. For instance, the ankles need mobility, the knees need stability, the hips need mobility, the lumbar spine needs stability, the thoracic spine needs mobility, the scapula needs stability, etc. This all makes a ton of sense, especially in the general population that is more predictable.

However, there are some glaring exceptions to this rule. You'll see folks with hypermobile hips, and excessively stiff lumbar spine segments. You'll observe thoracic spines that are so flat/extended that they shouldn't be mobilized, and shoulder blades that are so locked down that they demand more mobility training to achieve optimal function. Shoulders and elbows can really go either way.

The point is not that the joint-by-joint approach doesn't hold water; it's actually a tremendously useful paradigm I use on a daily basis. Rather, the point is that you can't "one-size-fits-all your mobility approaches." Everyone needs something slightly different, and every joint really needs a combination of mobility and stability.

4. A lot of people mistake laxity (or, worse yet, instability) for mobility.

Building on my last point, you'll find a lot of people who have so much congenital laxity that they don't need any stretching. Their mobility training is really a matter of attention to soft tissue quality and stability training.

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The problem with these folks is that they can often "cheat the tests." For example, they might have unbelievably perfect overhead squats and shoulder mobility to the naked eye, but if you actually pair these tests up with stability-oriented screens, they may fall well short of what you'd deem "acceptable" movement.

Instability - or an acquired, excessive joint range of motion - is even more problematic. This is where folks will literally "blow out" their normal anatomy to acquire a desired range of motion. An example is the anterior shoulder capsule in throwers; they'll do whatever they can to get the arm back to help generate range-of-motion to support velocity production. Eventually, the shoulder can get so loose that the active restraints (rotator cuff and biceps tendon) can't effectively hold the ball on the socket, and pain occurs with throwing.

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In consideration of both laxity and instability, just because you can get to a position does not mean that you're sufficiently stable in that position.

5. Building and maintaining mobility is like managing a bank account.

It goes without saying that it's easier to maintain mobility than it is to lose it and get it back. Everyone uses the analogy of babies and young children having freaky range of motion and perfect squat patterns, but losing them as time progresses. The assumption is that this occurs because they "make enough deposits:" targeted mobility work and a wide variety of activities throughout their days. Certainly, this is an issue, but I'd argue that it's because of excessive withdrawals, too.

Withdrawals could be sports participation where eccentric stress or direct trauma to tissue beats them down. It could be lifestyle factors like alcohol or tobacco use that negatively impact tissue quality. It could be pushing through faulty movement patterns until bone spurs result. What we take out is just as important as what we put in.

We all start with some money in the bank as children, but it's up to us to have more deposits than withdrawals in this mobility account over the course of the lifespan.

These are really just a few of many observations I've made over the years; there are countless more that could turn this article into an entire novel! With that said, if you're looking for an outstanding, up-to-date mobility resource at a great price, I'd recommend you check out Ruthless Mobility. Dean Somerset has put it on sale this week at an excellent introductory discount, and it also provides continuing education credits for the fitness professionals out there. Check it out HERE.

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Correcting Common Landmine Press Mistakes (Video)

Written on December 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm, by Eric Cressey

I'm a huge fan of incorporating landmine press variations into strength training programs. These awesome exercises are great for building scapular upward rotation, core stability, upper body strength, thoracic mobility, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, folks commonly struggle with technique with the landmine press, so I wanted to use today's video to cover how we coach these drills.

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Black Friday/Cyber Monday Reminders

Written on November 30, 2014 at 11:24 pm, by Eric Cressey

I just wanted to post a quick heads-up on some Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales:

1. The entire Functional Stability Training series is on sale for 25% off. To get the discount, just head to www.FunctionalStability.com and enter the coupon code BF2014 at checkout.

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2. Optimal Shoulder Performance is on sale for 25% off using the same BF2014 coupon code.

3. Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility are all on sale for 20% off. Your best bet for adding them to your cart is through Mike Robertson's product page. The discount is automatically applied; you don't need a coupon code.

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