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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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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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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 7

Written on November 18, 2014 at 7:45 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this month's edition of "musings" on the sports performance training front. Here goes...

1. Professional athletes don't need "special" exercises; they just adapt faster and need special progressions.

One of the most important lessons coaches can learn with professional athletes is that they don't need crazy advanced exercises. Far too often, coaches will assume that because a client is a high-level athlete, he/she will automatically require some fancy, innovative drill. The truth is that they need the basics, just like everyone else. You'd be amazed at how poorly some of the most high-level athletes you'll see actually move when you get them out of their sporting environments.

That said, they are unique in their ability to adapt to a given stimulus quicker than their "less athletic" counterparts. Movement quality will improve dramatically from one week to the next, and strength and power can increase much faster than you'd expect from "normal" folks. This is obviously a blessing, but can also be a burden, as it means programs may need more updating on-the-fly to continue challenging the athlete. Additionally, you have to be cognizant of the fact that their strength levels may actually increase faster than their motor control and connective tissues can safely handle. In other words, you have to be careful not to load bad patterns or degenerative tissue tendencies.

2. Don't worry about the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum if you're untrained or detrained.

With over 55,000 views on YouTube, this is one of my most popular videos ever:

The lessons here have tremendous value to athletes of all ages and ability levels - except novice trainees, or athletes who have recently been detrained. In other words, if we're talking about a 13-year-old kid who has zero resistance training experience, or an athlete who just finished a long, grueling season and has lost appreciable strength, then you need to build strength up first.

Effectively, treat these scenarios as if an athlete is all the way to the right (speed) end of the continuum. They need to build a foundation of strength up before they'll benefit from any of the other modalities - or even be able to perform them safely. This is one reason why handing an aggressive weighted ball program to an untrained 13-year-old kid might be harmful, and why doing a ton of plyos with a volleyball player who just finished a long season is silly. Give them what they actually need, not just what you think is "sexy."

3. Efficient rotation is efficient rotation - and consistent across multiple sports.

One thing I'm really excited about with respect to our new Jupiter, FL Cressey Sports Performance facility is working with a wider variety of rotational sport athletes beyond just baseball. My business partner, Shane Rye, is an accomplished lacrosse coach, and Jupiter also happens to be home to loads of golfers of all levels. I've also got a big tennis background, and am excited to explore opportunities on that front.

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There are a load of commonalities among all rotational sports, and it's going to be exciting to see how our training approaches impact these other sports. How can I be so sure?

Have you ever noticed how easily baseball and hockey players pick up golf? And, have you noticed how many athletes were drafted in multiple rotational sports? Think of Tom Brady in baseball and football, and Tom Glavine in hockey and baseball. These guys weren't what you'd call "powerhouse" athletes; in other words, they weren't freak athletes that played baseball and football. Rather, you could argue that they're just guys who learned to use their bodies really efficiently in rotational patterns.

4. "Where do you feel it?" is as important a question as "How does it look?"

Every once in a while, you'll observe an athlete with a movement that looks absolutely perfect, but might not be "felt" in the right place. Or, it might even actually cause pain. This is why it's so important to always solicit feedback on where an athlete (especially a beginner) feels an exercise, as opposed just assuming it was fine just because it "looked good." As an example, I commonly see athletes who "feel" all their shoulder exercise rotation drills in the front of their shoulder, which is the exact opposite of what we want.

Without getting too "geeky" on this front, many times, the reason we have discomfort or the "wrong" feeling with drills is that athletes are paying close attention to the osteokinematics - gross movements of internal/external rotation, flexion/extension, adduction/abduction - of the joint in question, but not paying attention to the arthrokinematics of that same joint. In other words, the rolling, rocking, and gliding taking place needs to be controlled within a tight window to ensure ideal movement.

In the external rotation variation, as we externally rotate the arm, the humeral head (ball) likes to glide forward on the glenoid fossa (socket). The glenohumeral ligaments (anterior shoulder capsule), rotator cuff, and biceps tendon are the only things that can hold it in the socket. In a throwing population, the capsule is usually a bit loose and the cuff is a bit weak, so the biceps tendon often has to pick up the slack - which is why some folks wind up feeling these in the front, thereby strengthening a bad pattern. There are also a bunch of nerves at the front of the shoulder that can get irritated, but that's a blog for another day!

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5. Making your room colder can be really helpful for sleep quality.

Everyone knows that turning off electronics before bed is important for sleep quality. Additionally, getting your room as dark as possible definitely makes for better sleeping. Very few people pay attention to the temperature of the room, though. I can definitely speak to its importance, though.

As many of you know, my wife and I moved to Florida in early September. As part of this transition, I made three trips back up to Boston over the course of September-November. On each of those trips, my sleep quality was insanely better than I have in Florida. The difference? Roughly 8-10°F in the temperature of my sleeping environment. With that in mind, we're cranking up the air conditioning a bit more - and thanking our lucky stars that the Florida summer has wrapped up. If you're having trouble sleeping, tinkering with the temperature in your sleeping environment might be a good place to start. Also, I'd encourage you to check out this great guest post I published a while back: Sleep:What the Research Actually Says.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/17/14

Written on November 17, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

It was a big "catch up on work" weekend for me, so the new content will be out later this week. In the meantime, here are some great reads from around the 'Net for you:

Traumatic Brain Injuries - Cressey Sports Performance athlete Sam Fuld wrote up this great guest post for Gabe Kapler's website. Sam had a concussion this year after a collision with the outfield wall, and here, he discusses his recovery. It's yet another example of how we can't view concussions as "just another athletic injury."

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How to Fix a Broken Diet Infographic - Precision Nutrition created this awesome resource to demonstrate how to quickly "clean up" one's nutritional program for optimized outcomes.

Inside Man: The Veteran - This is an excellent interview with the CEO of TRX, Randy Hetrick, who was also a Navy SEAL for 14 years. I love the fact that the TRX story is a good example of how many successful companies emerge because the founder tried to "solve a problem" instead of just trying to "start a successful company." Whether you're an entrepreneur, fitness buff, or both, this is a great read.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Installment 9

Written on November 12, 2014 at 7:58 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been nine months since I last posted an update to this coaching cues series, so this post is long overdue! Here are three technique coaching cues you can put into action:

1. "Follow the arm with the eyes."

We'll often see individuals who try to do thoracic mobility drills like the side-lying windmill, but wind up turning them into potentially harmful stretches for the anterior shoulder. Basically, you'll see too much arm movement and not enough upper back movement. One way to increase movement of the upper back is to "drive" it with the eyes, which effectively keeps us in a more neutral neck position. Check out the demonstration video from The High Performance Handbook video library for more details:

2. "Build up tension through the hamstrings over the next five seconds."

I normally don't like internal focus cues, but this would be an exception. I generally use this cue specifically when we have a beginning lifter who is learning to deadlift, but it can also be incorporated with an intermediate lifter who struggles with early knee extension and the hips shooting up too early. Basically, it slows the lifter down, but still encourages him to apply force into the floor.

I'll have the individual set up the starting position, but not initiate the deadlift unless everything is perfect - from the feet up to the head. Then, I'll tell him to gradually build up tension in the hamstrings over the course of five seconds, with the bar slowly breaking the floor at the end of that period of time. It won't lead to great bar speed (something we ultimately want), but that's not of great concern when we're simply trying to optimize technique.

As an important add-on, make sure the athlete has already taken the slack out of the bar before you initiate the hamstrings cues:

3. "Where the arm goes, the shoulder blade goes" - and vice versa.

This is a coaching cue I recently heard physical therapist Eric Schoenberg use at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, and I loved it. It simplified something I'd been trying to create with kinesthetic coaching (actually putting an athlete's shoulder blade in the position I wanted).

There are a lot of folks out there still teaching clients and athletes to "lock down" the scapula during rowing exercises, or make the rowing motion segmented into "retract and THEN pull." The truth is that the upper extremity doesn't work like this in the real world; otherwise, we'd all move like robots. Healthy upper extremity action is about smooth, coordinated movements of the scapula on the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) while the ball and socket (glenohumeral joint) maintain a good congruency, just like a sea lion balancing a ball on his nose.

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If you move the ball (humerus) without moving the socket (sea lion) with it, the ball falls off (comes unstable). The same thing can happen if you move the socket without moving the ball. The question then becomes: what active or passive restraints have to pick up the slack for the excessive motion that takes place? It can be the biceps tendon, rotator cuff, labrum, or shoulder capsule.

If we teach people to move the shoulder blade and humerus independently of one another - and load that pattern - we're really just establishing a faulty movement strategy that can't be safely reproduced under higher velocities. You can learn a bit more in this video:

Hopefully you enjoyed these tips and will benefit from applying them in your strength training programs. If you have other exercises you'd like covered, please just let me know in the comments section below.

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Trust in the System: How Being an Optimist Will Help You in Strength and Conditioning

Written on November 4, 2014 at 6:57 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm always trying to learn about things we can find outside the strength and conditioning industry that may in some way benefit the way we coach athletes. I recently finished up the audiobook, The Pursuit of Perfect, by Tal Ben-Shahar, and there was a section that really stood out for me.

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It can be quickly summed up with this quote:

"Those with a positive view of old age lived on average more than seven years longer than those with a negative view."

Immediately, I began thinking about this message's implications with respect to training progress, coaching approaches, and running a business.

As an eternal optimist, this quote resonated with me. With respect to personal relationships, I joke that I don't have any enemies; I just have raving fans who are in denial. I do my best to see the good in people and always try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, even if a first impression was less than favorable. In short, I feel like good things happen if you think about good things!

Applying this to the strength and conditioning field, I've always said that I want athletes to see training with us as a competitive advantage for them. I want them to know just how meticulous we are in our assessments and programming, and how nobody else takes as much pride in delivering baseball-specific training. I want them to know we're getting out to do continuing education instead of "getting comfortable;" have developed a great network of everything from pitching coordinators, to physical therapists, to nutrition consultants, to orthopedic surgeons to help them get the best training and care; and have built a system where our training model dictates our business model (not vice versa). I want them to know we've fostered an environment where they can train around individuals with similar goals and look forward to training around people who want to "get after it."

In short, them having an extremely positive view on training with us is vital to their success. If they don't buy in, they're starting behind the 8-ball.

"Buy in" doesn't always happen, though - and it's for one of two broad reasons:

1. The athletes' personalities don't allow it; they're skeptical of everything.

2. The program simply isn't worth buying into; the athletes have no confidence in it.

In the first instance, as an example, I've actually had a few people request refunds for The High Performance Handbook before even starting the program. Conversely, I've had other folks that open up the program and instantly email me about how excited they are to try out some new exercises, or how they're really excited to finally have some good structure in their training programs.

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Which group do you think is going to train harder and with more consistency over the long haul? If you're questioning a program (or a coach) before you even try it (or him) out, you might as well just stay home. You have to get your mind right before you can get your body right.

There are parallels in the business world, too. When business owners encounter new ideas (especially from other industries) that may be worthwhile to incorporate in their existing structures, many immediately insist, "My business is different; it won't work for me." Usually, these are the same business owners who spend their entire professional careers (which are often short-lived, because they go out of business) speaking negatively about their competition, as opposed to emphasizing their own unique strengths. Clients and athletes perceive and dislike pessimism, regardless of the industry.

The "hardcore" evidence-based crowd in the health and human performance industries can trend in this direction, too. They're often so pessimistic about every new idea because it's not backed by research that they completely discount anecdotal evidence supporting new ideas. It's important to remember that everything we understand with research-backed certainty was just a theory supported by anecdotal evidence at one point, though. And, if we wait around for the peer-reviewed literature to "approve" everything we do, we'll miss out on a lot of beneficial stuff, and the industry will progress at a snail's pace.  Evidence-based practice is tremendously important, but you can't combine it with unyielding pessimism.

In the second scenario above, some programs and coaches just aren't very good. And, the problem about delivering a low-quality product is that word spreads much quicker than it does when you do a great job. In our business, if a kid drops a weight plate on his foot, word spreads quickly. If we train 100 pitchers in an off-season and none of them has an arm surgery, though, nobody really hears about it. Building credibility and a confident following of athletes takes time.

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I think college strength and conditioning is the best example. We have some athletes who absolutely dread going back to school in September because their programs are the exact same thing every year, and there is no element of individualization. It's the same old repeatedly-photocopied-program from 1989, plus loads of distance running. They have no confidence in their programs before they even show up because they've experienced it first-hand, know its reputation, and are keenly aware of the fact that it hasn't changed at all.

Conversely, take a college program that wants to do right by their guys with continuous improvement. Right now, we're hosting an Elite Baseball Mentorship at Cressey Sports Performance. It's the fifth time we've offered our upper extremity course, and we've had strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and baseball coaches from dozens of top tier D1 schools attend over the years. Many of these coaches go out of their way to tell us just how excited their athletes are to hear that the coaching staff is attending. Seeing their coaches want to get better enhances their confidence in the program. When they return, the athletes get excited when they see new exercises implemented, a new piece of equipment in the weight room, or some updated coaching cues to clean up movement. A dedication to continuous improvement among coaches fosters an environment of optimistic, motivated athletes.

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What's the take home message of this post? Put on a happy face, be open-minded, give people the benefit of the doubt, and try new things. Doing so might not add seven years to your life, but it'll certainly help you build a life that's a lot more fun to live.

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6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises Are Essential

Written on October 30, 2014 at 7:46 am, by Eric Cressey

This time of year, I'm doing a lot of assessments on professional baseball players who are just wrapping up their seasons.  One of the biggest issues that I note in just about every "new" athlete I see is a lack of anterior core control. In other words, these athletes sit in an exaggerated extension pattern that usually looks something like this:

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And, when they take their arms overhead, they usually can't do so without the ribs "flaring" up like crazy.

This is really just one way an athlete will demonstrate an extension posture, though. Some athletes will stand in knee hyperextension. Others will live in a forward head posture. Others may have elbows that sit behind their body at rest because their lats are so "on" all the time.

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This isn't just about resting posture, though; most of these athletes will have faulty compensatory movement patterns, too. Once we've educated them on what better posture actually is for them, we need to include drills to make these changes "stick." Anterior core drills - ranging from prone bridges, to positional breathing, to dead bugs, to reverse crunches, to rollouts/fallouts - are a great place to start. Here's why they're so important:

1. Breathing

The muscles of your anterior core are incredibly important for getting air out. The folks at the Postural Restoration Institute often discuss how individuals are stuck in a state of inhalation, with each faulty breath creating problematic accessory tone in muscles like scalenes, lats, sternocleidomastoid, pec minor, etc. These muscles aren't really meant to do the bulk of the breathing work; we should be using our diaphragm. Unfortunately, when the rib cage flies up like we saw earlier, 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.

Zone-of-Apposition

(Source: PosturalRestoration.com)

Bill Hartman has a great video demonstrating good vs. bad breathing here:

 

Step 1 is to get the ribs down and pelvis into some posterior tilt to reestablish this good zone. Step 2 is to learn how to breathe in this position, emphasizing full exhalation.

Step 3, as you may have guessed, is to strengthen these "newly rediscovered" patterns with good anterior core training.

2. Resisting extension.

This one is the most obvious benefit, as the muscles of the anterior core directly combat too much arching of the lower back. If you aren't controlling excessive lumbar extension, it's only a matter of time until you wind up with lower back irritation - whether it's just annoying tightness, a stress fracture, a disc issue, or something else.

3. Better force transfer and lower back injury risk reduction.

The research on core function is pretty clear: its job is to transfer force between the lower and upper body. Spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill has spoken at length about how spine range of motion and power are positively correlated with injury risk. In other words, the more your spine moves (to create force, as opposed to simply transferring it), the more likely you are to get hurt. How do you prevent your spine from moving excessively? You stabilize your core.

4. Indirect effects on rotary stability.

For a long time, I looked at control of extension as "separate" from control of rotation at the spine. In other words, we did our anterior core drills to manage the front of the body, and our chops, lifts, side bridges, etc. to resist unwanted rotation. However, the truth is that these two approaches need to be treated as synergistic.

As an example, every time I've seen an athlete come our way with an oblique strain, he's sat in an extension posture and had poor anterior core control - even though an oblique strain is an injury that occurs during excessive rotation. All you need to do is take a quick glance at the anatomy, and you'll see that external obliques (like many, many other muscles) don't function only in one plane of motion; they have implications in all threes - including resisting excessive anterior pelvic tilt and extension of the lower back.

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What this means is that you can't simply ignore coaching in one plane when you think you're training in another one. When you do your chops and lifts, you need to prevent lumbar hyperextension (arching) . And, when you do your rollouts, you can't allow twisting as the athlete descends. Finally, you can add full exhales (a predominantly anterior core challenge) to increase the difficulty on rotary stability exercises.

5. Improved lower extremity function and injury risk reduction.

Lack of anterior core control directly interferes with lower extremity function, too. If the pelvis "dumps" too far forward into anterior tilt, the front of the hip can get closed down. As I described at length here, this can lead to hip impingement.

With a squat variation, while some athletes will stop dead in their tracks with this hip "block," others will slam into posterior tilt to continue descending. This is the "butt wink" we've come to see over and over again in lifting populations. When neutral core positioning is introduced and athletes also learn to manage other extension-based compensations, the squat pattern often improves dramatically. This can "artificially" be created transiently elevating the heels, turning the toes out, or by having an athlete hold a weight in front as a counterbalance.

Additionally, athletes in heavy extension patterns often carry their weight too far forward, throwing more shear stress on the knees during lunging and squatting. The more we can keep their weight back to effectively recruit the posterior chain, the better.

6. Improved shoulder function and injury risk reduction.

The lats can be your best friend and worst enemy. On one hand, they have tremendous implications for athletic performance and aesthetics. On the other hand, if they're "on" all the time (as we often see in extension-based postures), you can't get to important positions with the right movement quality. Overactive lats will limit not only shoulder flexion (overhead reaching), but also upward rotation of the shoulder blades. I covered this in quite a bit of detail in Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?. Moreover, with respect to elbow function, overactive lats can be a big issue with allowing throwers to get true external rotation, as I discussed here:

If you're using your lats as an "all the time" core stabilizer, you aren't just at risk of extension-based low back pain, but also problems at the shoulder and elbow. If you can get your anterior core control under control and normalize the length and tone of the lats, your "healthy exercise pool" for the upper body expands dramatically. Getting overhead is easier, and you'll feel stronger in that position. The same goes for external rotation; not surprisingly, pitchers always say that their lay-back feels smoother after soft tissue work on the lats, as an example.

Wrap-up

These are just six benefits of training the anterior core, but the truth is that they could have been broken down in much more detail as they relate to specific injuries and functional deficits. If you're looking to learn more on this front - and get a feel for how I like to train the anterior core - I'd encourage you to check out my presentation, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core.

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Timing Adjustments and Their Impact on the Pitching Delivery: A Case Study

Written on October 16, 2014 at 9:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Matt Blake, the pitching coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts. Matt is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

I recently Tweeted out a picture of some mechanical changes a pitcher had made and it received a lot of responses. As such, I decided I would follow up with a little more depth and context to this particular picture to help shed some light on the thought process that goes into making mechanical adjustments. So, for starters, here’s the picture in question, with the left side being the original delivery and the right side being the revised version.

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Typically, when discussing pitching mechanics, I avoid using still shots, because they can be very misleading. In this particular case, there were some substantial changes that were made in this landing position, which I thought encapsulated a lot about the enhanced movement quality of the delivery as a whole, which we’ll unpack in further detail here.

For those familiar with the pitching delivery, the first thing that should jump out at you is the extremely late arm action in the initial delivery. This could be classified as an “inverted arm action” at landing, where in this case, the elbow isn’t necessarily hyper-abducted (elevated) above the shoulder, but the hand is definitely below the elbow. In a Cliff's Notes version, this positioning is generally regarded as increasing stress on the shoulder and elbow. This is in part due to the orientation of the humeral head in the socket at landing, as it’s in a position of excessive internal rotation and pinned into the front of the socket. As a result, we’re not in an optimal position to get the rotator cuff to function to center the head for a clean ball in socket rotation.

This is coupled with the fact that we’re adding more torque to the joint since we have more range of motion involved in getting the hand to full lay-back before accelerating to release. That being said, there are plenty of pitchers who throw very hard and have successful big league careers pitching with an inverted pattern, and the reason they throw so hard may very well be due to their inverted pattern, so you have to constantly weigh the risk/reward of making mechanical adjustments for pitchers.

As an example, Billy Wagner had an inverted pattern and multiple injuries, but was hitting 100mph before it was industry standard to hit 100mph - and he accumulated 422 saves in a successful big league career.

wagner1024px-Billy_Wagner_on_September_15,_2009

When weighing this potential risk/reward, some of the questions might include:

  • Where is this pitcher currently in the developmental process?
  • What type of stress does he currently report during or after throwing?
  • What can we gain by making adjustments?
  • What do we have to lose by adjusting this current delivery?

These are important questions to consider, because you’re obviously not going to take a big leaguer at the tail end of his career, and adjust what has got him to that point. Conversely, you might adjust a 15yr old high school pitcher, who throws hard, but has erratic command and reports a high level of stress after he’s done throwing.

In this particular case, we had a sophomore in college, who had a track record of success in high school, and was looking to establish his role in a very competitive program with a strong history of winning. His contributions as a freshman were limited in part due to command issues and his velocity would be erratic going anywhere from 82-90mph on any given day.

With these considerations in mind, it became apparent in looking at the the delivery in its current state, that these mechanics might be a limiting factor in commanding the ball at a competitive level, as well as sustaining his velocity on a consistent basis. On the flip side, though, if we reduce the inversion in his arm action, we may lose a mph or two of velocity initially, as we learn to “re-tension” the delivery and create force in a different manner. In order to fully comprehend these issues, let’s take a look at this delivery in full:

As I stated in the video, the crazy thing about this delivery is that for how extremely late that arm action looks in that still shot, it’s really a misrepresentation for how much I like the feel of this delivery as a whole. There’s a lot of quality movement that’s “loose” in nature, and this athlete has a good feel for creating “extension” in the throw, so we really don’t have to adjust the integrity of his movements, but more the timing associated with some of the actions, and at the crux of it, the athlete’s mindset for creating leverage in his throw.

If you look at where this delivery starts to break down, it’s in the excessive “counter-rotation” of his shoulders that creates too much length in the throwing arm and that couples with an exaggerated extension of the back leg into landing.

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As a result, the hand can’t catch up and “get on top of the ball” at landing and our pressure into the ground ends up being poor. This combines to create an issue for the stabilization pattern as a whole now, because the front leg can’t brace to create a fixed point of rotation to anchor the throw, as it has to allow for the torso to translate forward in an effort to create time for the hand to get into position behind the ball. So, as you can see, by the front knee ending up working into a more flexed position, we’re diffusing the ground force reaction we’re trying to convert into rotational power, and the pelvis loses its leverage on that front hip, flattening out our rotation. When this happens, you’ll notice that the path of the hand is actually diverted wide instead of keeping an efficient driveline through the target. Without a firm landing position that allows us to accept force properly, and keep the rhythm of our sequencing intact, our command and velocity will continue to be erratic in nature.

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Once we identified these issues, we had to rule out that there wasn’t a mobility or stability issue that was limiting our ability to move through more functional positions. In this particular case, mobility definitely wasn’t the issue, and even though the stabilization pattern was currently poor, the athlete did have the ability to stabilize. It really just came down to his awareness for what he was trying to accomplish. So, once we came to agreement that these were things that could be fixed and would be beneficial to his development in the long run, we had to start re-organizing the focus of his repetitions.

Anytime you’re making changes, it’s essential to understand root causes and not just symptoms. For me, the inverted arm action was a symptom of a misdirected focus in the delivery. We needed to make the focus less on length and extension in the throw and more on strength in the landing and properly sequencing his rotations through the chain. By creating a stronger stride pattern and tying the timing of the arm path into the lower half sequencing, we would have a more connected and repeatable delivery that had a more efficient stabilization pattern. Let’s take a look at what shook out over the next seven weeks and then we’ll discuss some of the altered components.

As discussed in the video, the first thing that should stand out in the revised delivery is the compactness of the arm action, and from there, the angle of the ball flight out of his hand. And, to be honest, I could run through every drill that we did to get him to this point, but I don’t know if it’s really the drills themselves that are important. I think we could have accomplished this in a multitude of ways, as long as we kept the focus on cueing him to be “strong into the floor.”

deliver4

Now, that being said, we definitely used versions of the “stride drill” to coordinate the rhythm of the back-hip rotation and arm action, and we did our share of step-behind shuffles to speed up his timing and learn to accept force properly upon landing, but if the focus on trying to create force into the ground and working from “top-to-bottom” on the baseball wasn’t in place, I don’t think either of those drills would have mattered.

Changing his focus and “pre-throw vision” for what his ball flight should look like helped him organize his body into this revised delivery. By placing the importance on being “strong into the floor”, it didn’t allow him to put himself into these overly extended positions, whether it be the lower half or the arm action, as he came to understand these weren’t “strong” positions. Ultimately, understanding the importance of landing in a position that allowed him to accept the force and transfer it up the chain was crucial in this process.

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At the end of the day, the most important part of making any type of delivery change is getting “buy-in” from the athlete himself. It doesn’t matter what I think a delivery should look like unless the athlete understands and accepts why it’s important for him to make these changes, because ultimately he’s the one who has to throw the baseball.

In this particular case, we had a college pitcher who is on the cusp of turning himself into an impact pitcher in a competitive college program. If getting himself into more efficient positions in his delivery allows him to command the baseball more consistently, and he can reduce the erratic nature of his velocity, he’ll give himself a real chance to be a reliable college performer and we can begin to entertain the possibility of becoming a pro prospect.

All in all, I’m really proud of the work this athlete put in over the summer and I think these rapid changes speak volumes about the level of commitment he has to his development, as changes of this magnitude aren’t common in this time frame and they certainly don’t happen by accident. Needless to say, there’s still a lot of work to be done to “own” this remodeled delivery. It needs to become second nature and highly repeatable in order for this athlete to be able shift into a narrow-minded focus on just competing in the strike zone, but I’m certainly excited to see where his continued effort leads him.

For more pitching discussion, you can follow Matt on Twitter.

Looking for more video analysis and training insights like this? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have an upper extremity course in November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational experience.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/15/14

Written on October 15, 2014 at 6:47 am, by Eric Cressey

For this week's installment of "Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read," we've got something for just about every taste in the health and human performance industry: nutrition, sports performance, and psychology/mentality:

Blood Sugar Management: What Your Doctor Doesn't Know About Glucose Testing - Dr. Brian Walsh of Precision Nutrition discusses how monitoring blood glucose is more complex than one might think.

17 Helpful Things Hyper-Neurotic People Can Do for a Better Life - Miguel Aragoncillo is the newest edition to the Cressey Sports Performance team, and here, he talks about ways to relax instead of overanalyzing.

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Exercise of the Week: Heidens with External Rotation Stick - We were talking about this exercise in quite a bit of detail yesterday at our Elite Baseball Mentorship, as it's one I really like to work in with our pitchers to teach them to accept force. 

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