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3 Tips for Improving Your Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion

Written on June 18, 2015 at 11:27 am, by Eric Cressey

I've often alluded to how important I think the back to wall shoulder flexion drill is as both an assessment and actual training exercise. Today, I've got three strategies for improving your performance of this exercise:

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 11

Written on June 12, 2015 at 7:20 am, by Eric Cressey

Earlier this week, the Major League Baseball Draft took place, and when all was said and done, 27 Cressey Sports Performance athletes had been selected. To that end, I thought it was a good time to type up this month's Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training installment, as the draft has been what's on my mind. Point #1 is a lead-in to the points that follow.

1. I actually posted this on my Facebook page and was surprised at how many "likes" it got, so I'm sharing it here - especially since I think it'll serve as a jumping off point with respect to culture.

The biggest compliment a client can pay to CSP is when a parent trusts us to train their son/daughter during the teenage years when they're young and impressionable and need good role models to model positive behaviors.

The second biggest compliment a client can pay to us is when a professional athlete trusts us with his/her career.

The annual MLB Draft is the time of year when these two compliments coincide, and we get to see how point #1 can lead to point #2 as dreams come true. Congratulations to the 27 CSP athletes drafted over the past three days; thank you very much for having us along for the ride.

It's always awesome to see guys we've trained through their high school years transition to professional athletes. These scenarios not only provide lessons on long-term athletic development, but also the importance of creating a culture at the facility that makes training fun over the long haul.

2. I recently finished up the audiobook, Unmarketing, by Scott Stratten.

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One of the key messages Stratten drills home is that customers have to like you before they can get to know you, and they have to know you before they can trust you. Obviously, in the strength and conditioning field, our athletes/clients are our customers. This "like-know-trust" is an important message, because long-term athletic development - and certainly working with professional athletes (or those trying to become pro athletes) is all about trust. They need to trust that you're giving them the appropriate programming and cues they need for success.

He goes on to discuss how many businesses put the carriage in front of the horse on this point. They don't work to build a relationship with their customers before trying to monetize them. It's like asking someone to marry you in the middle of the first date. I immediately thought about how our business model has impacted our training model.

When a new athlete comes to CSP, they're individually assessed and we have a chance to spend anywhere from 20-60 minutes getting to know them. It's not only a chance to review injury history and go through a movement evaluation, but also an opportunity to build rapport by learning about goals, training history, and common interests. It also gives us a chance to subtly demonstrate our expertise and relate a plan of attack for how we can help. In short, an initial evaluation is about learning about so much more than just whether an athlete has sufficient hip internal rotation!

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Conversely, think about what happens when an athlete walks into a facility where every athlete does the same program on the dry erase board, and there isn't an assessment to kick things off. In these scenarios, the trainers/coaches really haven't done anything to get to know the athletes, and they certainly haven't gotten these athletes to "like" them. The road to building trust has gotten started with a pretty messy detour - and it'll take a long time to build things up.

3. We really go out of our way to create context for our athletes when we're coaching. In other words, our coaching cues need to build on what an athlete already knows. A front squat is easier to learn when you've already done a goblet squat, and a rotational medicine ball shotput can build upon what an athlete knows from baseball hitting. However, I don't think people ever recognize the importance of creating context for success - and I'm a big believer that it's been a huge part of the results we've gotten.

Everyone knows that for years and years, the world dreamed of having someone run a sub-4-minute mile. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister accomplished this great feat - and thereafter, it became very commonplace. Granted, the sports media somewhat unfairly sensationalized the "quest" for the 4-minute-mile, but the message is still very much the same: once you've seen someone accomplish something that appeared very daunting, you're more likely to be able to accomplish it yourself. The 27 CSP guys drafted this year have watched over 50 guys get drafted in the three years ahead of them - and, just as importantly, they've had a chance to rub elbows with them during training. Success leaves clues - and clues help to create context for more success.

4. On the whole, at young ages (younger than 16), I think the notion of "Sports-Specific Training" is actually pretty silly. We can all agree that good movement is good movement, regardless of whether a young athlete plays soccer, football, lacrosse, or basketball. Overhead throwing athletes, though, are - at least in my opinion - a very important exception to the rule.

In all these other sports, we can adequately prepare for the most common injury mechanisms with well coached general training exercises in our strength and conditioning program. However, how many weight room exercises do you see that help an athlete build stability in this position?

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If you have an athlete that goes through this kind of lay back - whether it's with baseball/softball, swimming, tennis, or any other overhead sports - you need to train them to build stability in this position.

5. In all, there were 1,215 players drafted earlier this week over the 40 rounds. That's astronomically higher than any other professional sport - and in no other sport do you more quickly go from being a big fish in small pond to being the small fish in a big pond. As of right now, only two of the 41 first round (plus supplemental round) picks in last year's draft have made it to the big leagues. Conversely, if you're a first rounder in the NFL or NBA, you're in "the show" right away pretty close to 100% of the time.

In other words, there is a lot of time for things to go wrong for draft picks while in minor league baseball. Injury rates are at all-time highs, players may get into trouble, and others might just discover that they don't have the talents necessary to compete at the highest level. Scouting baseball players is an imperfect "science" - and, sadly, 90% (or more) of these 1,215 players won't "make it."

For this reason (and many others), I heavily emphasize to our staff and athletes that our #1 job is actually to educate our minor league guys on how to be advocates for themselves and understand what is unique about how they move. If we can give them the best training and nutrition insights possible - and teach them how to practically apply them throughout a long season - they stand much better chance of making it to the big leagues. Strength and conditioning coaches may not be able to impact talent (at least not directly), but we can impact one's ability to display it consistently. In fact, this is what the wall of our assessment room looks like:

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6. I've talked in the past about how all our arm care programs work proximal to distal. In other words, we focus on core control, rib positioning, and thoracic spine mobility, then move to scapular control, then to the glenohumeral (ball and socket) joint, and then down to the elbow. It's because there is somewhat of a "downstream" effect. Improving thoracic rotation can improve shoulder internal rotation. Getting an athlete out of a heavily extended core posture can get the latissimus dorsi to calm down, which takes stress off the elbow. Taking care of scapular control might even relieve nerve impingement that's causing symptoms into the hand. The possibilities for this "downstream" effect are really endless.

Conversely, though, there isn't an "upstream" effect. Nobody's thoracic spine mobility improves if you do some soft tissue work and stretching to get some elbow extension and supination back. Improving rotator cuff strength won't get rid of lower back pain.

This is why I think improving anterior core control in baseball players can be such an unbelievable game changer. We know that improving function in the sagittal plane is generally easier than improving it in the frontal or transverse planes, and the anterior core is really responsible for resisting lumbar extension.

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Additionally, the core is the furthest "upstream" option to impacting function. So, if you're a believer in the concept of minimum effective dose (and I am), your goal should be to work on the easiest, most impactful stuff first. Anterior core is that option in a baseball population.

In fact, it's so important that I did an entire 47-minute presentation on the topic. If you haven't checked out Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core yet, I'd encourage you to do so.

AnteriorCore

Congratulations again to all this year's MLB draft picks! Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/8/15

Written on June 8, 2015 at 9:21 am, by Eric Cressey

It's not just any Monday, as today kicks off the 2015 MLB Draft, which is always a big event in the Cressey Sports Performance world. To that end, I thought I'd use this installment to highlight a few old posts I've made on the subject. There are some good lessons on perseverance and long-term athletic development in these articles.

6 Key Qualities for Long-Term Athletic Development - This was my 2014 post-draft feature, where I discuss key characteristics of successful players.

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MLB Draft Thoughts: Talking vs. Doing - This was the 2013 post-draft feature, which highlights that actions speak louder than words.

Draft Q&A with Eric Cressey: Part 1 and Part 2 - This two-part article was actually an interview of me for Baseball America prior to last year's MLB Draft. I think it delves into a lot of important topics for up-and-coming players as well as coaches and parents.

Enjoy the draft!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/1/15

Written on June 1, 2015 at 6:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy June, everyone! Let's kick this month off on the right foot with some recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success - I just finished up this best-seller from Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School. It was an outstanding look at some factors that characterize those who are successful in the business world, and there are definitely a lot of applications to coaching. I've already recommended it to several friends who manage training facilities.

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Why Tommy John Surgeries Won't Cease Any Time Soon - This ESPN The Magazine article does a good job of addressing the social (as opposed to physiological rationale) for why arm injuries continue to be such a problem.

Are You Consuming, Producing, or Engaging? -  Todd Hamer is a good friend of mine who always has great insights on coaching, and this is no exception.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/26/15

Written on May 26, 2015 at 6:56 am, by Eric Cressey

In light of the holiday weekend, I'm a day late with this week's recommended reading, but I promise it will be worth the wait:

The International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification - I very proud to have co-authored this resource for the IYCA, and it's on sale through the end of the day today (Tuesday). Just enter the coupon code MDCERTSALE at checkout to get $100 off.

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It Won't Kill You to Grill - With yesterday being the "unofficial start to summer," Brian St. Pierre's article for Precision Nutrition is very timely. He discusses how to grill without any concern for health risks.

Memorial Day Musings on Player Development - Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, shares some great stories on success in spite of adversity, and highlights the importance of long-term views on development.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/18/15

Written on May 18, 2015 at 4:54 am, by Eric Cressey

Good morning, everyone. In following with Monday tradition, here are some good strength and conditioning readings to kick off your week:

6 Mistakes Experienced Lifters Make - Ben Bruno was spot-on with his points in this article at T-Nation.

Durability on Decline for Today's Players - This MLB.com feature brings to light some pretty crazy numbers on how injury rates have gone up in professional baseball - both due to change in the game, and how players prepare.

35 Ways to Transform Your Body - As always, the folks at Precision Nutrition come through with practical advice for those looking to improve their nutrition and training programs. Here, they highlight lessons from their most successful clients.

Finally, just a friendly reminder that we're ten days out from the early-bird registration deadline for the Alex Viada seminar at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. This will surely be a great event you won't want to miss. You can get more details HERE.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 10

Written on May 15, 2015 at 9:22 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the May installment of this popular strength and conditioning series.

1. Train OUTSIDE.

One of the things I've noticed over the years - both with sprinting and long tossing - is that athletes seem to "hold back" when they're indoors. They won't run at top speed when there are only 40-50 yards of turf ahead of them because they're already worrying about decelerating before they even really get moving. And, with throwing, there just seems to be more inhibition when an athlete is throwing into a net - as opposed to throwing to a partner who is pretty far away. Maybe it's the quantifiable feedback of actual distance, or maybe it's just less restriction - but the effort is always better.

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To that end, it's mid-May and the weather is getting really nice around the country. Now is a perfect chance to get out and sprint in the grass or at the local track. Don't miss this chance, as it'll be snowing again before you know it!

2. When selecting exercises, prioritize upside over avoiding downside.

This will be the "glass is half full/empty" point of the day - and I'll use an example to illustrate it.

Let's take the question of whether or not to prescribe bench presses for baseball players. I, personally, don't prescribe them for this population, but there are still a lot of strength and conditioning coaches out there who do.

Their argument is that they aren't as big a problem as has been proposed. In other words, they're protecting against the downside.

My mindset, by contrast, is to highlight the lack of an upside. In a population where shoulder and elbow issues are astronomically high, does this exercise provide substantial benefit such that it deserves a place in our programs? Does it deliver a better training effect than a push-up variation or landmine press, for instance?

In other words, it's not just a discussion of "good vs. bad;" it's a discussion of "optimal vs. acceptable." Even if some players can "get away with" bench pressing, are we really doing right by these players if our approach to training is to simply try to justify that our exercise selection isn't doing harm?

3. Use fillers to break up power training sets.

Optimal training for power mandates that athletes take ample time between sets to recharge. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes have a tendency to rush through power work because it doesn't create the same kind of acute fatigue that you'd get from a set of higher-rep, loaded work. In other words, you'll want to rest more after a set of five squats than you would after a set of five heidens, even if you were attempting to put maximal force into the ground on each rep with both.

To that end, one thing I commonly do is pair power training exercises with low-key corrective drills. We call these drills "fillers," but that's not to say that they aren't very important. We might pair a rotational medicine ball training drill with a wall slide variation. This helps us get more quality work in with each session, but just as importantly, slows the athletes down to make sure they get the most out of their power training exercises.

4. Coach standing posture.

Static posture assessments are boring; I get it. However, they can still be incredibly telling. Here's an example...

Last weekend, during a two-day seminar I was giving, a trainer approached me and asked about his chronic bilateral knee issues. He described his soft tissue initiatives, mobility work, and strength training modifications in great detail; it was clear he'd put a lot of thought into the issue and was clearly frustrated, especially having been through physical therapy a few times without success. When he was done describing everything, I looked down at his lower body and asked, "Do you stand like that all day?"

He was just "hanging out" in a bunch of knee hyperextension. A follow-up toe touch screen looked pretty similar to this:

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The toe touch is obviously a movement fault, but he was in a bad starting position before the movement even started. If you stand in knee hyperextension all day - especially if you're a personal trainer on hard, unforgiving surfaces all day - your knees will hurt. It doesn't matter how much you foam roll or modify your strength program. You have to learn to stand correctly before you learn to move correctly.

With that said, apply this to your athletes. How many of them do this during down-time in practice or games? And, next time you watch a Major League Baseball game, watch how many position players just "hang out" like this between pitches - and wonder why we see more hip and back pain on the right side.

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Sometimes, the easiest solutions aren't the most obvious - even when they really are obvious if you know where to start looking!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/11/15

Written on May 11, 2015 at 8:33 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy belated Mother's Day to all the mothers who read this blog; I hope you all had a great day yesterday! As a belated gift, here are some recommended resources for the week:

A Doctor's View of CrossFit - I thought this was an excellent interview at T-Nation with Dr. Stuart McGill, arguably the world's premier spine specialist. He definitely covered some points that haven't been mentioned previously in the Crossfit debate, and you'll find quite a few one-liners you'll want to commit to memory. One that stood out to me: "Olympic lifting must find the lifter. Not the other way around given the special anatomical gifts needed to lift with efficiency and injury resiliency."

An Interview with Eric Cressey, by Jason Glass - Jason and I talked shop a few weeks ago, and you can listen to the podcast online now. We covered a lot of topics, the foremost of which was training rotational sport athletes.

Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing - I had a great conversation with a seminar attendee this weekend about this very topic, so I thought I'd bring this great guest post from Jeff Albert (minor league hitting coordinator for the Houston Astros) back to the forefront.

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4 Keys to Making the Most of Summer Baseball

Written on May 5, 2015 at 7:19 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida coach, Tim Geromini. Tim has seen summer baseball on both the collegiate and professional levels, and today, he shares his insights on how players can thrive between June and August. Enjoy! -EC

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The topic of whether or not to play summer league baseball has been debated quite a bit over the last few years. Eric wrote a great article about it (HERE). This article is not designed to make the case for or against playing summer league baseball, but rather to give some points on how to make the most out of your experience if you decide to play. With four seasons in summer league ball under my belt, I’ve heard the phrase “this was the best summer of my life” more times than I can count. Assuming it is the right timing and situation for you, here are four keys to making it the best summer of your life on and off the field.

1. Get your mindset right before you arrive, and stick with it.

This might seem like an easy one, but you’d be surprised how many guys come in with the wrong mindset every year. Summer league baseball should not be what it’s made out to be (party time!) in movies like Summer Catch. Rather, it’s a chance to become a better player and person. I’m not saying you have to be sound asleep in your bed right after the game ends, but you should understand the true reason you are there.

You are there to learn more about the game and become a more complete player. Some coaches will not do much teaching, but rather let you play your style and make some adjustments. Others will be incredibly critical and teach you until the day you leave. I’ve seen both coaching styles work. What are the common traits of players who’ve thrived under both circumstances? The players were open minded, incredibly positive, and wanted to get better. If you’re willing to accept another way of thinking, keep a good attitude about it, and do it with a determination to be better, you are doing everything you can to improve on and off the field.

2. Be part of your host-family.

Most players will live with a host family, and you are lucky to have that opportunity. Be part of that family for the summer and beyond. If you have a host-brother or host-sister, you have an opportunity to positively impact that person’s life. They look up to you, just as you would have when you were younger. Hang out with them, teach them, and learn something from them. I always loved seeing my players playing with their host families on the field after games. Whether its dinner with the host-parents, running the bases with their host-brother, or playing a round of mini-golf with them after the game, it’s a great way to spend your summer. On a related note, most of our Major League Baseball guys at Cressey Sports Performance keep in close contact with their host families from their college and minor league days, as they’ve built life-long friendships.

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Remember that you also represent the town for which you play. Be a gentleman on and off the field.

3. Rest and Recover.

In many cases, players are playing competitively 8-10 months out of the year. Summer league is at the tail end of this run, when your body is exhausted. Sleep and nutrition are your keys to be able to perform every day. It’s difficult to play your best and be mentally in the game on a few hours of sleep every night. A hidden form of recovery is to get yourself out of the sun when you can. Baseball camps, practices, and games can make for upwards of 8 hours in the sun all day. Get yourself in the shade or in a cool, dark area when you can. Some teams will have a rule where your host family provides a certain amount of meals for you each day. Take advantage of this to get your calories in and make healthy decisions. The most successful players I have seen took rest and recovery seriously.

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4. Train!

There’s no way I could write this article without highlighting the importance of training during the summer. If you follow this website, I trust you know the benefits of training and are proof of the results. I must say, however, that many athletes think the summer away from their college strength coach is their opportunity to not see a weight room. You don’t have to train every day. In fact, trying to train 6 days per week while playing 5-6 days per week can do more harm than good. I always shot for 2-3 training sessions per week for my guys, depending on their situation; this kept them fresh and strong. The non-training days are just as important to improving tissue quality and maintaining mobility. Whether it’s doing it yourself by foam rolling and going through some dynamic flexibility drills, or seeking manual therapy elsewhere, it’s important to get your work in on these fronts.

Conclusion

There are a number of ways to make summer league baseball an enormous success and something you will always remember. These four always stuck out to me and I hope it can help some of you in the future. I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts on other important factors in summer baseball in the comments section below.

About the Author

Tim Geromini is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL. Prior to joining the CSP team; Tim spent time with the Lowell Spinners (Class A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox), Nashua Silver Knights (Futures Collegiate Baseball League), Cotuit Kettleers of (Cape Cod Baseball League), and UMass-Lowell Sports Performance. You can contact him at timgero@gmail.com and on Twitter.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 9

Written on April 30, 2015 at 8:16 am, by Eric Cressey

With only a day to spare, here's the April edition of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training.

1. Don't forget pauses can be beneficial with single-leg training, too.

Working pauses into your lifting can yield tremendous benefits, as they reduce contribution of the stretch-shortening cycle and force a lifter to work much harder to produce force from a dead-stop. For some reason, though, they usually only get applied to "big bang" bilateral exercises like squats, bench presses, and (obviously) deadlifts. I actually really like to program pauses into single-leg work to improve carryover to what athletes really encounter in athletics and the real world. Here's an example:

2. Try the 1-arm cable rotational row from a low setting.

I love incorporating rotational rows in our athletes' programming. Many coaches only program this as an upright variation where the cable is set at chest height. I think this overlooks the importance of athletes learning how to "accept" force on that front hip. Hip rotation rarely occurs in isolation in athletics; rather, it is generally concurrent with flexion/extension and abduction/adduction. By lowering the cable a bit, you challenge things in a bit more of a sport-specific manner - and, in the process, add some variety to your athletes' programs.

3. Make sure put your intensive rotator cuff work after your overhead work.

I recently reviewed a program that paired Turkish get-ups with cable external rotations. While both are great exercises, the last thing you want to do is fatigue the rotator cuff before you go overhead, where it needs to work really hard to keep the humeral head depressed relative to the glenoid fossa. Likewise, be careful about doing all your cuff stuff early in the session, then progressing to overhead carries later. My feeling is that you just do enough to turn the cuff on during the warm-up, then train your highest stabilization demands (e.g., overhead supporting/carrying), and then head to the more direct (fatigue producing) stuff.

4. Different strength qualities make different athletes successful.

We have two athletes - both left-handed pitchers - make Major League Baseball debuts this week. The first, Jack Leathersich, is a relief pitcher for the New York Mets, and he just has one of those insanely "quick arms." In other words, it's almost as if he doesn't know how to throw a ball softly; it really jumps out of his hand. I think it's a function of his natural "reactive ability."

The second, Tim Cooney, is getting a start in his big league debut today for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He's not as naturally reactive as Jack is, but you could make the case that Tim is the strongest pound-for-pound professional pitcher we train. I've seen him do Turkish get-ups with a 100-pound kettlebell, and walking lunges with the heaviest dumbbells in the gym. He can make up for less reactive proficiency by falling back more on pure strength. I think this "strength reserve" also helps Tim as a starter, whereas reactive capabilities tend to fall off as fatigue sets in, which is probably why Jack has thrived as a reliever.

This static-spring relationship closely parallels the absolute strength to absolute speed one I shared in the past.

The more "static" guys are strong and need more reactive training, which largely takes place on the speed end of the continuum. The more "spring" guys need to keep prioritizing strength as a foundation for effective stretch-shortening cycle function, as you can't display force quickly if you don't have enough force in the first place.

I'll be back soon with another installment during the month of May!

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Individualizing the Management of
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