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Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime – Part 2

Written on September 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today, I've got the second half of an article from former Cressey Sports Performance, Brooks Braga. In this article, Brooks talks about how he prepared himself for the internship with us, but you'll find that his suggestions can help you toward success in any endeavor, fitness or not. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1. -EC

In Part 1, I kicked things off with some reflections on how I used Dale Carnegie and Keith Ferrazzi's advice to build relationships and improve the quality of my interaction with clients. Here, in part 2, I'll discuss how two other authors, Chip and Dan Heath, impacted everything from my study habits to how I coached. Let's get back to the tips...

1. Make use of time in the car and daily activities!

In late December of 2013, as I was preparing to leave Milwaukee for Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, I punched in the starting and destination points on Google Maps, almost afraid to look at what came up.

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17+ hours! How was I going to pass the time? I still had one of my three yearly-allotted good ideas in the bank, so I figured I’d use it since we were so close to 2014.

As I type this, Eric’s YouTube channel has 454 YouTube videos. He has been incredibly generous on YouTube, giving out great content for free on a weekly basis that his followers can take advantage of. Now, for the good idea: take advantage of this one, as my good ideas are like Halley’s comet – they come around once every 75 years or so.

I had the idea to use a YouTube-to-mp3 converter to convert many of Eric’s YouTube videos into mp3 audio files. I was then able to fill 3 CDs worth of incredibly valuable material to listen to on my 17-hour drive to Massachusetts. There was a lot of rewinding, but I got through them multiple times. I’m convinced that listening to Eric and Greg Robins go over exercise tips and coaching cues is what allowed me to be thrown into the fire on my first day and survive during the busiest time of year at CSP.

Don’t have a 17-hour drive to your new job or internship? Consider using this method to maximize your time to and from work in the car. I had a 30-minute drive each day to CSP. That’s an hour of valuable time right there. You can also utilize time spent cooking, cleaning, and a lot more. Play YouTube interviews of the staff members if they exist, listen to videos or podcasts that will help you transition into your role, or anything else you can think of while you do daily mindless activities that eat up time.

2. Prioritize your studies.

As I was studying for a final exam in December, I had an epiphany of sorts.

What was more likely to contribute to me getting where I wanted to be in my career – spending hours studying for a class with a textbook from 1999 or using that time to study material related to my internship at one of the most well-known and connected gyms in the world?

It got me thinking about my educational priorities. As far as my career was concerned, whether or not I got an A or A- in this class was so miniscule compared to the kind of impression I made during my internship.

I'm not saying you should “dog it” in class or “settle” for mediocre grades, but rather, I’m encouraging you to ask yourself the following questions:

a. What are my goals?
b. What can I do today to work towards achieving these goals?
c. Is there something I could be doing right now that is more valuable to my long-term success than what I’m currently doing?

It will be different for you than the next person, so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.

3. Tweak your environment.

If you’re anything like me, you get sidetracked easily on the computer. Consider tweaking your environment. This is a technique discussed in Switch, a fantastic book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

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For example, I regularly use the program “Self Control,” which lets me add whatever websites give me the most problems to a “block list” for a period of time that I choose. You’re unable to access these pages for the time being, and it’s actually a really great feeling. This would be “tweaking the environment.”

In my personal experience, the itchiness to check the latest news or sports scores nearly vanishes as soon as I run “Self Control.” It’s only available for Mac users, but plenty of similar programs exist.

4. Highlight exercises/ideas on which you need to spend more time.

I was pretty stunned when Pete Dupuis, the business director at CSP, sent me the “CSP Exercise Video Database,” a mega Excel-file-of-death with 600+ exercises, all of which I was expected to be able to coach on day 1. I thought I was doomed.

In full-blown panic mode, I decided to make a “notes” column and filled the cells of exercises I knew but thought I should come back to in yellow and did the same for the exercises I had no clue about, this time in orange. Highlighting these exercises really helped me figure out what I needed to work on and ensured I spent my time efficiently. It’s normal to get “stumped” here and there, but having a system to overcome these roadblocks makes it all part of the learning process.

Highlight ideas, themes, and exercises that you know you need to get better at when you come across them. It will help you allocate your time accordingly in the future.

5. Shrink the change.

You might think getting through 600 exercise demonstration videos, reading required material, etc., is a tall task when preparing for your internship, new job, or project. Another great technique from Switch is “shrink the change,” or breaking up large tasks into smaller ones so they don’t seem so daunting.

Does watching 25 short, 15-second videos a day still seem so impossible? If you accomplished this, you’d have it done in less than three weeks.

This also works great for reading. I set goals for reading 10 pages of two different books each night. It’s pretty cool being done with two books every three weeks! The best part is that you usually don’t want to stop after getting through 25 videos or 10 pages, either. The hardest part is just getting started.

Here are a few strategies to ensure a smooth transition into your internship or new job…

6. Talk in simple terms and utilize schemas.

Newsflash: most of your clients won’t understand what “lumbar extension,” “humeral anterior glide,” or “posterior pelvic tilt” mean.

I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but really try to make it point of emphasis to show the client what you’re looking for instead of using big fancy words that will leave their head spinning.

Another fantastic method is tapping into the client’s existing “schemas,” a concept talked about in another one of Chip and Dan Heath’s great books, Made To Stick.

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To illustrate an example, most clients have no issue posteriorly tilting the pelvis when you ask them to flatten out their lower back against the wall on a Back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise.

If you need to cue them into posterior pelvic tilt on an exercise without the benefit of wall feedback, say something along the lines of, “Remember how you flattened your lower back on the wall for the back-to-wall shoulder Flexion drill? Let’s get in that position again.”

This would be taking advantage of the client’s pre-existing “schema” of how to posteriorly tilt the pelvis to bring the lumbar spine into an ideal position.

7. Ask questions.

It can be intimidating being around people who know so much more than you on a daily basis, but try to take advantage of all the knowledge and experience walking around while you can.

One of the first things Tony Gentilcore said at intern orientation was “Don’t be afraid to ask questions!” This is really how you grow as a trainer. If something doesn’t make sense, ask. If you’re working with a client and you can’t remember what a certain exercise is, ask! No one expects you to be perfect! The people around you will probably be glad to help, too – regardless of the environment in which you work.

8. Write down a few trigger words of what you learn throughout the day.

Here’s a little tip I picked up from Alwyn Cosgrove, but with an added twist. Alwyn is a big believer in keeping a daily journal as you get your start in the industry. He advocates writing a paragraph each day detailing what worked with clients and what didn’t work. After a few months, you’ll know what your clients respond to and start developing your training philosophy.

The sheer magnitude of what I learned on a daily basis at Cressey Sports Performance required a little more, though. If I waited until each night to write down my experiences from the day, I surely would have forgotten a lot of what I learned.

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I decided to keep a notebook off to the side at CSP and would bring it with me on break, writing down trigger words of what I had learned that day to jog my memory for later that night. If we were going through a quieter period of the day and I wasn’t needed at that second, I would repeat the process.

9. Don’t be late, ever.

There’s no better way to make a poor impression than by being routinely late.

There’s an easy way to prevent this – if you’re able, plan on getting your own training in before the gym opens for clients. This way, even if you’re running a little behind, it will only affect your workout, not your job duties or clients.

In Summary:

• Multitask whenever possible – YouTube to mp3!
• Prioritize your studies – what is most important?
• Tweak you environment for productivity.
• Highlight things you come across that you need to improve upon.
• Shrink the change – make big tasks seem less daunting to get started.
• Talk in simple terms when instructing clients and utilize “schemas.”
• Ask questions.
• Write down thoughts throughout the day for retaining information.
• Don’t ever be late.

That wraps up this two-part article, and I hope you enjoyed it! I highly suggest you check out the Heath brothers’ Amazon page (note from EC: Decisive is also an outstanding book. Buy the three-book package; you won't regret it.). As with Part 1, feel free to comment with your thoughts or strategies you’ve used that I didn’t cover.

About the Author

Brooks Braga (@BrooksBraga) is the Head Trainer of Athlete Performance Oconomowoc, a sports performance facility in the Greater Milwaukee area, where he works with everyone from professional and youth athletes to general population clients. Between playing college baseball and a brief stint in professional baseball, he completed an internship at Cressey Sports Performance. He operates BrooksBraga.com, where you can subscribe to his free newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime: Part 1

Written on September 18, 2014 at 3:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, Brooks Braga. Brooks did a tremendous job during his time with us - and his preparation before and during the internship was a big reason why. Remember, success isn't accidental. Enjoy! -EC

In late summer of 2013, I began the process of looking for an internship that would complete my undergraduate Exercise and Sport Science Major. I stumbled upon the NSCA job board and found a position at a well-known university in which I was extremely interested. After I clicked on the link, I was expecting to see a job description and long list of duties and responsibilities. Instead, what I saw made my jaw drop.

The entire listing was just a few sentences long. The bulk of it said something along the lines of: “If you’re interested in the position, please read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and submit a one-page essay on how it has affected you.”

Um…what?

Then it hit me – I had seen this book referenced somewhere. I looked at the forum of Mike Boyle’s website, and it was mentioned everywhere. Checked Eric Cressey’s Resources page. Yep. Headed over to the “Amazon Best Sellers” lists:

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And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. “How much was this thing going to run me?,” I thought. Well, about half as much as a Chipotle burrito. I thought I could do without the $4 it costs on Amazon to get my hands on a book so many successful people highly recommend, so I made the purchase and read it cover to cover.

As I worked my way through this fascinating book, I started to realize something: being a good trainer, at least in the eyes of your clients, is probably a heck of a lot more about how you understand and relate to them than it is about whether or not you have the fanciest equipment or use post-activation potentiation methods in their programming.

Although the scope of this blog post is aimed towards those in the fitness industry, it’s my personal opinion that the techniques discussed in Dale Carnegie’s book go far beyond new trainers and interns. You should be able to apply at least 10 principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People immediately, regardless of your business or fitness situation.

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In this two-part article on “Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime,” I’ll share with you how I utilized a few of the strategies from Mr. Carnegie, other resources, and personal experiences to make sure I made the most of the biggest opportunity of my life – interning at Cressey Sports Performance. Part 1 looks at techniques for building a good relationship with co-workers and clients, while part 2 will focus more on training knowledge preparation. Both include strategies to think about before and after you arrive to ensure a seamless transition into your new role.

There are too many wildly successful trainers with subpar knowledge bases running around to count. How does this happen? Well, if you had to choose to spend multiple hours per week with someone who makes an effort to understand you versus someone who doesn’t, which one would it be, regardless of his or her training knowledge? This isn’t to say you shouldn’t focus lots of time on developing your training knowledge, but you get the idea.

Here are a few relationship-boosting strategies to employ with co-workers and clients, with quotes from How to Win Friends and Influence People below.

1. Find common ground.

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

Do your homework on the staff. Read their blogs. Read their recommended reading. Watch their interviews. Read their bios on the company website. What makes them tick? Do you share any mutual interests? Think about ways to bring up common ground in your initial conversations with the staff (without forcing it or being creepy) when you arrive and you’ll find yourself having a smooth transition into being around a LOT of new people all at once.

As for clients: ask, listen, engage. Ask where they’re from, how their weekend was, etc. Jump on the first opportunity you find of common ground and you’ll find the conversation is a lot easier. CSP is home to hundreds of professional, collegiate, and high school baseball players each winter. Having played baseball in college, and then signing a professional contract myself, I made sure to find a way to bring this up humbly to create an instant connection and credibility.

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I was pretty fortunate to have this level of common ground with the client base, but the point remains the same: find mutual interests, experiences, friends, or anything else that comes to mind.

2. Write down and remember the names of people you meet.

“A person’s name is to them the sweetest sound in any language.”

I showed up on the CSP doorstep on the morning of January 2nd. Just a few hours later after intern orientation, I was tossed right into the fire during the busiest time of the year. Dozens upon dozens of professional, college, and high school baseball players and general population clients were walking around. How was I supposed to remember so many names?

I thought back to when I had read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Keith talked about how when Bill Clinton was in college at Georgetown University, he would bring an address book to parties and write down the names and information of people he would meet. Clinton would then study it and remember the individual and their story at conferences or chance encounters in the future!

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The benefits of writing down names of people you meet in public go beyond being the coolest person at the party – it gives you the chance to look over the list later on to help you remember the client’s name for the next time you see them. Believe me, using a client’s name the second time you see them can make a HUGE impression.

Keep a notebook off in the corner of the gym somewhere out of the way so that when you go on break or things get slow, you can quickly jot down the name and a few trigger words to help you remember it for the next time you see them. No more “I’m horrible with names” excuses. If you’re the type of person who remembers every name of every person you meet without trying, I envy you.

3. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

“…the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”

People love to talk about what their passions. Pete Dupuis, the business director at CSP, routinely talks about how general population clients are some of the most amazing people to talk with in a gym that’s known as “the home to over 100 professional baseball players.” Many live interesting lives and have amazing stories to tell, from jumping out of planes wearing a Santa Claus suit to working in product development for one of the world’s leaders in headphones.

Ask them about their lives, interests, work, children, or anything you can think of that might be important to them. Get in the habit of referring back to their interests when you see them again. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about what you hear and the relationship that ensues.

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4. Be sincerely excited for someone when they tell you about an accomplishment or cool experience.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Think about a time when you were telling someone about an accomplishment or great experience of some sort and they seemed genuinely excited for you. Isn’t it the coolest thing ever when someone is seriously happy for something that happened to you, even though it doesn’t benefit him or her at all? If you’re not the type of person who gets excited for another’s successes, at least try to appear like you do. It will go a long way in making them feel special.

Moving into “training” techniques to use while you’re working with clients…

5. Begin with praise if bringing up a fault.

“It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.”

Usually, if there are 10 things you have to get right on a certain exercise, the client is doing 8 or 9 of them correctly and 1 or 2 poorly. When you ask a client to fix a certain aspect of their form, be sure to emphasize what they’re doing right beforehand.

For example, on a single-arm cable row, you’ll often see a client moving too much through the glenohumeral joint and not enough at the scapulothoracic joint. Search for something they’re doing well before addressing the fault. In this example, consider saying something along of the lines of “Great job keeping a neutral lower back. You’re 95% of the way there. Now let’s work on what your shoulder blade is doing…”

6. Talk about your own mistakes first before criticizing someone else.

“It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticizing begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable.”

Personally, I stunk at half-kneeling anti-rotation core exercises on the functional trainer when I first experimented with them. The movements feel awkward for many during their first few sets. When I’m taking a new client through the exercise and they’re having a tough time with form, I make sure to point out that I could have written a short novel about my inability to do them when I started, and that they’ll get the hang of it in no time. Show empathy and the client will keep trying until they get it right.

7. Praise slight improvements and every improvement.

“When criticism is minimized and praise emphasized, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.”

If you spend all of your time dwelling on what your client is doing wrong and fail to emphasize what they’re doing right, you can be sure they are going to feel inadequate and won’t come back to work with you. Sincerely acknowledging what they are doing right will give them the extra motivation to get better.

In Summary:

• Find common ground as soon as possible
• Encourage clients and co-workers to talk about their interests
• Keep a running list of the names of people you meet, and study it
• Be genuinely excited for others’ accomplishments
• Begin with praise if bringing up a fault
• Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing someone else
• Praise slight improvements and every improvement

That’s it for part 1! Check back in soon for part 2 of the series, which will focus more on training knowledge preparation and ensuring a smooth transition into your role. In the meantime, I highly suggest you take a look at Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. Feel free to comment with your thoughts or strategies you’ve used that I didn’t cover.

About the Author

Brooks Braga (@BrooksBraga) is the Head Trainer of Athlete Performance Oconomowoc, a sports performance facility in the Greater Milwaukee area, where he works with everyone from professional and youth athletes to general population clients. Between playing college baseball and a brief stint in professional baseball, he completed an internship at Cressey Sports Performance. He operates BrooksBraga.com, where you can subscribe to his free newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/15/14

Written on September 15, 2014 at 7:09 am, by Eric Cressey

To help kick your week off on the right foot, here are three recommended strength and conditioning readings for you:

Carbohydrate Tolerance: Is it Determined by your Genes? - Helen Kollias pulled together this excellent article for Precision Nutrition. It's not just a research review, though; she also provides some important action items to help you improve your ability to tolerate carbohydrates.

The Radar Gun Revolution - Those of you who are baseball fans will appreciate this candid look at how the radar gun has changed the way that players are scouted. Anecdotally, I can tell you that the best scouts I've met always seem to know when to put the radar gun away (or leave it at home).

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No Dumbbells? No Problem - A few of my online clients don't have access to dumbbells in their home gyms, and it led me to write the "High Performance Training Without the Equipment" series a while back.

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School Size, Geography, and Early Sports Specialization

Written on September 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm, by Eric Cressey

I write a lot about my distaste for early sports specialization here on the blog, and I like to think I've examined it from a number of different angles. That said, I usually focus on the decision of an athlete and his/her parents in this context, but I rarely discuss the situational factors that may govern these decisions. Two perspectives to which I haven't paid much attention are the significant impacts that school size and geography have on young athletes' likelihood of specialization.  This is something I've been pondering more and more as we open the new Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL.

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Mike Robertson pointed out the school size aspect in his Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set, and it really got me to thinking. If you go to a small school and are a good athlete, chances are that you are going to "automatically" be a starter on three different sports teams during the academic year, as they might need you to actually be able to even field a team. Thinking back, my high school graduating class had about 180 kids. One sport athletes really couldn't exist if we wanted to be competitive over all three high school seasons. Not surprisingly, I never had a classmate go through Tommy John surgery, and I can count the number of ACL injuries I saw in my high school years on one hand.

Conversely, if a kid goes to a school with 800 kids in his graduating class, specialization is much tougher to do. If you've got 150 players trying out for the baseball team (and budget cuts are eliminating freshmen and JV teams left and right), you better be spending more time preparing for baseball, if that's your long-term aspiration. The "reward" is higher (more exclusive), but the risk has to be higher as well. In a situation like this, we almost have to ask whether it's better to have a kid that tries out for - and proceeds to get cut from - three teams, or if we'd rather have guys specialized along one course so that they can at least stay involved in organized athletics by actually making a team. I don't think there is an easy or even correct answer, but I do think we have to be cognizant of the challenges facing kids at larger schools.

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Geography certainly plays into this as well. As an example, it's much easier for baseball players in northern states to play basketball, too, because basketball season simply takes place while the snow is on the baseball fields. In Massachusetts, the high school baseball season starts on the third Monday in March, which is several weeks after basketball wraps up, in most cases. Conversely, high school baseball actually gets underway in Florida during the month of January; playing basketball is virtually impossible logistically. And, if fall sports go all the way until Thanksgiving, we're really dealing with a situation where kids might only get an eight-week off-season to work on their fitness and more sport-specific preparations.

We might not be able to change these factors, but we find ways to work around them. It might mean getting an athlete to play recreational basketball instead of "official" school hoops, if schedule won't allow the "real thing" to happen. And, it might mean that we need to work harder in our strength and conditioning programs to create an even richer proprioceptive environment where athletes are exposed to a wider variety of movements if these scenarios "force" them toward increased specialization.

As hackneyed a phrase as it might be, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." I'd say that geography and school size certainly fit in the 10% category when it comes to early sports specialization; we all need to continue to improve on the 90%, though.

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How Strength and Mobility Impact the Pitching Stride

Written on September 2, 2014 at 3:29 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. Enjoy! -EC

In today’s video, we’re going to be discussing stride dynamics in the high-level throw. In order to do that, we’re going to use Zach Greinke as our pro model and then show a few other amateur variations, while going into some detail on how strength and mobility play into the equation for developing this powerful stride.

This is important to understand because a lot of the other qualities we look for in a high-level throw – such as achieving efficient “extension” at release, repeating the delivery, and executing our deceleration pattern consistently in an effort to reduce stress – all rely on having a stable stride pattern. In order to understand how this works, let’s take a look at some of the components that make up Greinke’s stride:

As you can see, one of the defining features of Greinke’s stride is the efficient action of his back leg and hip directing the pelvis down the target line early to set the direction and momentum for the stride. The way this is achieved is often overlooked and ultimately results in “offline” or unstable landings.

If you’ll notice the move that Greinke is making here is a posterior weight shift where he actually pushes his hips back in the delivery by hinging at the hip and not drifting his knee forward over his toes like most amateurs do. By engaging his posterior chain in this manner and not relying simply on his front leg to swing him into landing, he’s able to create a more balanced stride phase that unfolds in a more rhythmic manner, using the lead leg as a counter-balance to the delivery and not the primary power source.

For those familiar with the strength & conditioning world, I typically like to relate it to the initial movement of a one-legged squat to feel the glute and hamstring engagement and then a lateral lunge to stay engaged in the adductors for control of the pelvis. The lead leg action is ultimately just a relaxed extension to counter the posterior weight shift and then a swivel in the hip socket to align the foot for landing.

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The effect of engaging the rear leg’s posterior chain allows us to create both extension and rotation out of the back-side, which is important for maintaining the direction of our force into the ground at landing. If we can’t control the force of our action into the ground, we won’t be able to stabilize our landing appropriately, which has ramifications up the chain into our pelvis positioning, core stability and ultimately into our hand positioning on the ball at release.

If we’re trying to create a level of “extension” at release and maintain our leverage on the ball to throw it with angle, we need to take ownership of our pelvis positioning. If we don’t actively control the pelvis movement into landing, we’re going to have a hard time centering the head of the lead leg in the hip socket, and in turn, accepting the ground reaction force that we’re trying to create. This happens when we lose the tension of our back hip too early, because we swung our lead leg out as the power source and “chased it” into landing. This means we won’t have control of the pelvis upon landing and we’ll be unable to properly pressurize the front leg to keep leverage in the delivery.

This pelvis leverage is essential in making sure we can keep our core stable and allow it to translate the thoracic region forward, instead of rely on it to create motion, which isn’t the primary role of the lumbar region. We want the “core” to simply transfer the energy we created from the lower half efficiently. If we can do that, we allow ourselves to accelerate on a longer line to release, because our path of deceleration is set up to be fully accepted on the front hip’s internal rotation and flexion. If the pelvis is too flat, and relies purely on rotation and not flexion, our line of deceleration becomes much shorter and forces us to handle more of the stress in our throwing arm, which isn’t ideal.

A good example of how both length in the adductors and strength in the posterior chain helped an athlete achieve a more athletic and powerful stride can be seen here. The first clip is a video of a 17 yr old LHP, who was 6’4” 180lbs, and 82-84 at the time of the video:

Notice how his stride pattern is very limited not only in his length toward home, but in its inefficient direction and its ability to allow for a full finish to protect the arm. As you can see, this athlete struggled to get a posterior weight shift out of his gather position, drifted into a closed stride position, and then had too flat of a pelvis position to achieve a proper flexed hip position. As a result, he runs out of lateral rotation in the lead hip and the finish buckles on him. This could be a result of many things, including limited adductor mobility, poor single leg stability, weakness of the anterior or rotary core, etc. Candidly, though, you usually see all these things in untrained pitchers!

Fortunately, this same athlete took it upon himself to devote some quality time to making himself a better athlete, getting stronger, and gaining awareness for the movements the high level delivery was asking of him – and he’s now turned himself into a legitimate prospect. In this more recent video, the athlete is 20yrs old now, 6’5” 215lbs, and 88-91mph, topping at 92mph:

By no means is this athlete a finished product, but you can see where the added strength, mobility, and movement awareness allows him to get into a deeper hip-hinge position, ride out of the stride longer, and certainly take the finish deeper to allow for a longer line of deceleration. The next step for this athlete will be continuing to work on his single-leg stability, as you can see a slight wobble in the landing and a touch of misdirection, but certainly leaps and bounds ahead of where he was three years prior.

To give you an example of where this stride pattern can go, here is an example of one of our more accomplished athletes, Tyler Beede, who was the 14th overall pick in this year's draft and had one of the best amateur stride patterns I’ve seen:

From time to time this athlete will struggle with slight misdirection and postural control, but his ability to pitch 92-96mph with above average off-speed offerings is a testament to the balance and power in the lower half of his delivery.

At the end of the day, everyone is going to present with different levels of mobility, stability and coordination, so you certainly have to leave room in your model to account for individual variance. However, these athletes are good examples of how properly maintained mobility and stability can tie into the high-level delivery to make you a more powerful and durable pitcher in the long run.

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 events in both October and November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational course.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/1/14

Written on September 1, 2014 at 4:12 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Labor Day, everyone! It's hard to believe that September is upon us. Rather than lament the unofficial end of summer, get excited about the following recommended readings for the week:

How the Changeup has Changed the Game - This Sports Illustrated article is "must-read" material for all up-and-coming pitchers.

17 Ways to Set Yourself Free - Martin Rooney never disappoints! In this article, he talks about how as we've added more "free" items to our diets - gluten free, fat free, sugar free, etc. - we've actually gotten more unhealthy.

9 Tips for Dedicated Lifters - Dan John has loads of wisdom to share from his years in the iron game, and this article features some great points.

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How Limited Shoulder Flexion Relates to Elbow Injuries in Pitchers

Written on August 28, 2014 at 8:14 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today, I want to introduce you to one of the screens we do with all our throwing athletes - and what the implications of "failing" this test are.  Check out this six-minute video:

If you're looking for more information along these lines, I'd encourage you to check out one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships, with events running in both October and November.

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“If Only:” 7 Lessons from a Record-Setting Paralympic Medalist

Written on August 26, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, we've got a great guest post from accomplished Paralympic swimmer, Travis Pollen, who shares some wisdom to help up-and-comers avoid the same mistakes he made. Enjoy! -EC

During my Paralympic swimming career, I set two American records, won a gold medal at Nationals, and finished just one spot shy of making the team that went to London. A good deal of my success can certainly be attributed to hard work in the water. In addition to the pool sessions, though, I’m certain I owe much of my speed to weight training. I’m also certain – now that I’m both a personal trainer and graduate student in biomechanics – that my gym experience could have been even more effective had I done just seven things.

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Let’s first rewind to the summer after my first season of high school swimming, when my iron journey began in the smelly basement of the local YMCA. I’d recently stumbled upon Getting Stronger by bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl at the library. This text, though hardly “sports-specific,” became my bible.

My workouts consisted mostly of single-joint exercises performed in random order for 3 sets of 15 reps. Despite the haphazard program design, I realized significant newbie gains, and it showed in the pool. I dropped serious time in all my races the following season.

Over the next few years, I practically “maxed out” on library rentals on topics ranging from plyometrics and isometrics to active-isolated stretching and sports nutrition. Nevertheless, my progress in the weight room stalled. I eventually hired a personal trainer, who helped me get “huge,” in the words of my teammates.

But was size what I really needed? How about body-part splits, crunches, and unstable surface training? Looking back on my program, I see a ton of room for improvement. If only I had known then what I know now – if only I had done these seven things – perhaps I would’ve realized my Paralympic dreams after all.

1. If only I had adopted a training split more in line with my goals...

Although I believed I was lifting weights for performance enhancement, I was unknowingly training like a bodybuilder all along: chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Wednesday, leg (singular, since I’m an amputee) and shoulders on Saturday. Muscles, not movements, were all I knew.

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In hindsight, I was more “show” than “go,” with hulking but stiff muscles. Full-body workouts utilizing techniques like supersets (push/pull) and alternating sets (upper/lower) would have been far more time-efficient. Moreover, they would have left me suppler and with more in the tank for afternoon swim practice, as compared to having two completely smoked muscle groups from my morning body part lift.

2. If only I had prioritized strength and power…

In my prime, I could do 80 consecutive push-ups, yet I could barely bench my own bodyweight. Until I obtained my personal trainer certification, I had no concept of a strength protocol. In fact, I was under the impression that the lower the reps, the bigger you get, end of story. So for fear of getting overly bulky, I spent most of my time in the 12-15 rep range, with a heavy dose of unstable surface training thrown in, since someone I (mistakenly) trusted told me that was how you get strong.

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As a sprinter, my longest race was over in less than a minute. What I really needed was not muscular endurance, but rather power. And power can only be realized, of course, with a solid foundation of strength.

3. If only I had addressed my weaknesses and asymmetries...

I’ll admit it: I skipped leg day. Often. When my schedule got hectic and I missed my Friday workout, instead of going back and making it up, I usually just started fresh on Monday with my bread and butter: chest and triceps. These workouts were the shortest – not to mention the most fun – and I had physics homework to do! I also usually saved “abs” for last, and I almost invariably ran out of time.

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Even when I did do legs, since I didn’t use my residual limb much in the water, I decided not to waste time strengthening it outside the pool. Boy, did my blind eye towards symmetry have a negative effect on my low back. Nowadays, I’ve added bilateral rack pulls, good mornings, back extensions, and hip thrusts in an effort to even out the imbalance. All in all, more of an emphasis on my lower body and core undoubtedly would have provided a performance-enhancing boost.

4. If only I had emphasized closed chain compound lifts for my lower body...

As an amputee, it was important that I play it safe in the gym. My earliest memory of a barbell involves a crowded high school weight room, the less-than-watchful eye of the athletic trainer, high pulls, and – you guessed it – crippling low back pain the next day. After that incident, when I didn’t skip leg day, I stuck mostly to machines (and single leg balancing on a BOSU ball, of course).

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Unfortunately, the leg press and leg extension don’t offer nearly the same carryover to swim starts and turns as squats, deadlifts, and cleans. As it turns out, with proper coaching and lots of practice, I can actually perform all the aforementioned big lifts on one leg – and pretty darn well, at that.

5. If only I had trained my core for three-dimensional stability...

Swimming is all about slicing through the water with as little drag as possible. A floppy midsection that snakes from side to side with every stroke not only leaks a ton of energy but also creates serious drag. Unfortunately, ask most swim coaches, and they’ll tell you the way to a strong core is a few hundred crunches, V-ups, and Russian twists daily. These movements are minimally sports-specific, however, as the only time flexion occurs in swimming is during the flip-turn. And even then, several muscles in addition to the abdominals help generate the movement.

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To create the rigid, canoe-like core that’s truly needed for swimming (and all sports, really), core stability work is the key. Anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion exercises, plus rotational medicine ball work, surely would’ve afforded me a gold medal trunk and hips.

6. If only I had foam rolled and dynamic stretched...

Warm-up? You mean jogging to the gym and static stretching before hitting the leg press? For some reason, despite the fact that I routinely observed the college track athletes doing stick work, butt kicks, and lunges with a twist, I – along with the rest of the swimming community – failed to make the connection that these very same tools could benefit me. If, instead of endlessly stretching my triceps to no avail, I had just done some soft tissue work with The Stick each time I hit the gym, I’m positive it wouldn’t have taken them two hours to unknot every swim practice.

7. If only I had logged my workouts and practiced progressive overload...

We all like to be sore, but the reality is that soreness is not the best barometer for a good workout, especially when it detracts from performance in the target sport. I vividly remember a workout in which I did so many pull-ups I was unable to bend my arms for several days afterwards. Needless to say, this made swimming incredibly painful.

A much better way to assess the merits of a workout is through comparison to previous ones. By simply jotting down my weights, I could have actually tracked how I was doing from session to session and season to season. A workout log would have eliminated the guesswork and provided an impetus to add weight each week, instead of hovering at a 115-pound 10 RM bench press for years on end.

Until Time Machines Are Invented

Each item on the list above seems like a no-brainer now. At the time, though, I believed myself to be decently well-versed in training methodology – or at least as best I could be given the library’s offerings. Even if I didn’t know everything, I assumed my trainer was up-to-date.

If I could go back in time in my quest for Paralympic glory, I’d take with me The High Performance Handbook and get to work again that first summer. But until time machines are invented, I’m happy to settle for educating up-and-comers so they don’t repeat the same mistakes I did.

About the Authortravis7

Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains a blog and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, www.FitnessPollenator.com. You can also find him on Facebook.


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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 5

Written on August 21, 2014 at 9:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

This week, I've been working my way through Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn's new resource, The Elite Athletic Development Seminar. It got the wheels turning in my brain, and the end result was a new installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. Here goes...

1. Experiences are more important than stuff.

I had a good text message exchange with one of our pro athletes yesterday where we discussed how long-term happiness was really much more about the experiences you have than it is about the stuff you possess. When you're on your death bed, you'll look back a lot more fondly on time with family, lives you've positively impacted, and things you've accomplished. You won't be thinking about the nice car you drove, or overpriced watch that you wore.

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I wish that this is a mentality that more young athletes would apply to their long-term athletic development.  An amazing coach and great camp can literally change a young athlete's life. As an example, I'm always psyched to see our young athletes getting the opportunity to "rub elbows" with our pro and college athletes, who have a ton of wisdom they can impart.

On the flip side, I can't say that I've ever seen an athlete's life change dramatically when he bought an expensive new bat or glove. Don't get me wrong; appropriate equipment and apparel are super important for athletic success. However, does a 12-year-old kid need a new glove and bat every single year? It's not like he grows out of them like he would a pair of cleats, and those funds could surely be better devoted elsewhere.

It goes without saying that many young athletes (and their parents) have limited financial resources. I wonder if they'd be in a better position to succeed if they applied the stuff vs. experiences logic to how they managed these resources in the context of long-term athletic development.

2. The process is often more of a reward than the destination.

This is an awesome video that does more justice to this point than anything I can write. These kids will take away important life lessons even though they might not have won their last game. Kudos to the head coach for a job well done.

3. People are asking the wrong questions about weighted baseball throwing programs.

At least 3-4 times per week, someone asks me what I think about weighted balls. I've written about this subject in the past (here), and while my approaches have evolved substantially over the years, I'm still a fan of weighted ball programs - as long as they're implemented with the right athlete, at the right time.

There is actually a ton of research supporting the efficacy of weighted ball programs; they've been around for a long time now, but only caught on in popularity in recent years. What's different about the ones out there now, though, are that they are much higher volume (number of throws) and performed with significantly heavier and lighter balls than ever before. If you crank up volume and use more extreme intensities, you'll get more extreme results - both in terms of fantastic improvements and in throwers who actually get hurt.

So, the question shouldn't be "do weighted balls work?" Rather, the question(s) should be, "Am I physically prepared enough to take on an aggressive weighted ball program, and how can I best fit it into my developmental calendar?"

If you're a 16-year old kid who just finished a 120-inning competitive year and your rotator cuff strength is terrible, weighted baseballs aren't what you need; rather, you need rest from throwing, and quality strength training work.

If you're a professional player with a perfect 14-16 week throwing progression spanning the course of the off-season, you have a great 8-12 week block with which you can work to "get after it." Using Indians pitcher Corey Kluber as an example, we started his 2013-14 off-season throwing program on December 9, and then integrated more aggressive weighted ball work in weeks 5-9 of his off-season throwing program. The big league off-season is so short that you can't get a ton of quality work in without compromising rest after the season or mound work going into the season.

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Conversely, many of our minor league guys will started throwing November 25, and got in about eight weeks of weighted ball work (as part of comprehensive throwing programs that also worked in long toss, flat grounds, and bullpens) before heading off to spring training. Each case is unique, so each program needs to be individualized to the player.

4. Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) drills are an "equalizer" for strength and conditioning professionals.

You've likely heard me allude to the Postural Restoration Institute here on the blog in the past - and with good reason: incorporating PRI drills into our training has been the biggest game-changer in our approach over the past 4-5 years. One of the key principles of PRI is "resetting" individuals to a neutral posture prior to training. We're all asymmetrical, but many folks take this asymmetry (and/or heavily extended posture) to an extreme, and we have to get their alignment back closer to "normal" before we squat, deadlift, sprint, jump, or take on any of a number of other athletic endeavors.

Historically, when folks were deemed to be "out of neutral," we'd need a manual therapist to do soft tissue work, joint manipulation/mobilization, or various hands-on stretching techniques. As Robertson noted in his first presentation of the EAD Seminar DVD set, PRI changed the game for strength and conditioning professionals by enabling them to re-establish neutral in clients and athletes with non-manual techniques, specifically positional breathing drills. Effectively, these drills provide for "self realignment."

Sure, PRI is just one of a few tools in the toolbox nowadays that can be used to accomplish this goal, but it's the one where I've seen the quickest changes.

5. Avoid movement redundancy within the training session.

One point I've made a lot in the past - and Robertson reiterated in one of his presentations - is the fact that many young athletes have a "narrow functional movement base." Basically, they've specialized in a particular sport so early that they've missed out on gross movement competencies (or lost ones they already had from early childhood development).

While we might not be able to change the tendency toward specialization, we can change how we manage athletes who do choose to specialize. In particular, we need to expose them to a broad range of activities that create a rich proprioceptive environment when they come in to train. Key to success on this front is making sure that there aren't redundancies within the training session in terms of movement challenges. For instance, you wouldn't want to have a half-kneeling overhead medicine ball stomp, then a half-kneeling landmine press, then a half-kneeling cable row, then a half-kneeling cable chop, and a half-kneeling cable external rotation. Rather, you'd be better off mixing and matching with tall kneeling, split-stance, standing (bilateral), and even single-leg.

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The same "redundancies" should be avoided throughout the training week, too, but I've found that if you do a good job of making sure there isn't this kind of overlap in each specific training day, the longer training periods seem to take care of themselves. If you look at how Joe Kenn structures his tier system style of training, you see that redundancies just don't happen because he rotates among total-upper-lower exercises in each of his training days. I'm a firm believer that exercise selection is the single most important programming variable, and this illustrates one more reason why that's the case.

Speaking of Kenn and Robertson, their Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set is on sale for $150 off through tonight (Friday) at midnight. I've really enjoyed watching them, and would consider them an outstanding investment for any strength and conditioning professional. It's an experience, not just stuff! Check it out HERE.

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Bear Crawls vs. Crab Walks

Written on August 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I posted on Twitter that I was a big fan of bear crawls because they get you great serratus anterior recruitment, more scapular upward rotation, improved anterior core function, tri-planar stability, and some awesome reciprocal arm/leg activity. They're one of my favorite warm-up and end-of-workout low-level core activation drills.

For some reason, though, every time you mention bear crawls, someone asks about crab walks. Candidly, I don't think so highly of crab walks. In fact, I have never used them - and that's why I didn't have a video on hand of them. As such, this demonstration took place on my kitchen floor at 11:15PM:

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Keeping this position in mind, here are a few reasons that I don't like crab walks:

1. Bear crawls drive more scapular upward rotation by putting the lats and scapular downward rotators on slack as the athlete reaches overhead. With a crab walk, the arms aren't just at the sides; they are actually behind the sides. The lats are as short as they can possibly be - especially if the athlete is allowed to slip into lumbar extension (an arched lower back posture). Most folks lack scapular upward rotation regardless of whether they sit at a computer all day or throw a baseball for a living; we don't need exercises that feed into that problem even more. Additionally, the scapula is generally anteriorly tilted unless it's an experienced athlete with great body awareness. Anterior tilt is an issue we work to combat in just about every population - athlete and non-athlete alike.

2. Crab walks are brutal on the anterior shoulder. For the same reasons I outlined in my article, Are Dips Safe and Effective?, I dislike crab walks. As the humerus (upper arm) is "hyperextended" behind the body, the head of the humerus (ball) glides forward relative to the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket). This puts a lot of stress on the anterior capsule, biceps tendon, and nerve structures that pass along the front of the shoulder. And, it makes the rotator cuff work overtime from a mechanically disadvantageous position.

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3. You don't walk around like a crab in any sport that comes to mind! Seriously, this is the position you're in when you got steamrolled by a running back, or you tripped over yourself! While I get the school of thought that says it's good to be somewhat prepared for just about every potentially injurious situation you'll encounter, we've got a limited amount of training time to deliver exercises that give athletes the most bang for their buck. And, even in young athlete populations, there are literally thousands of other movements we can use with kids to create a rich proprioceptive environment with safe movements they'll actually be able to utilize on a regular basis in life. And, the bear crawl is one of these movements.

Can a lot of athletes "get away" with doing crab walks? Absolutely! However, we never know what kind of long-term structural changes are going to be in place - and we can certainly never truly appreciate what kind of missed development is in play from not including more effective exercises.

To learn more about some of our approaches to assessing and improving upper body function, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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