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Does “Feel” Matter with Core Stability Exercises?

Written on August 20, 2015 at 9:47 am, by Eric Cressey

Just the other day, an online consulting client asked me why he didn't "feel" an anti-rotation chop in his abs if it was supposed to be a core stability exercise. This is a common question in folks who are being exposed to more "functional" core training for the first time.

Really, there are multiple reasons why you won't necessarily feel chops, lifts, and other drills in this regard. I figured I'd use today's article to highlight why that's the case.

1. You're not near the end-range of a muscular action.

The muscular "burn" we're accustomed to feeling at the top of a dumbbell fly or top of a biceps curl is occurring because it's the completion of the concentric phase and the muscle is fully shortened. The length of the rectus abdominus, external obliques, etc. shouldn't change if the drill is done correctly.

2. You're working isometrically.

Most of the time, the "pump" lifters feel with various exercises coming from the "pistoning" action of going through concentric and eccentric motions to bring blood flow to the area. You won't get that feeling as easily when you aren't bringing a muscle in and out of these positions - and with a chop like the one featured above, the goal is to keep the core positioning unchanged. You're working to resist extension and rotation.

Additionally, while you can get a good feel of muscular activation on some isometric drills (e.g., holding the top of a supine bridge with the glutes activated), it can prove to be difficult on drills where adjacent joints are moving simultaneously - as with a chop or lift. With the chops and lifts, you want good rigidity - but not outrageous rigidity that doesn't allow for good movement through the thoracic spine (upper back).

Think about a prone bridge. I can make it be a drill with incredible core stiffness by adding full exhalation and an aggressive bracing strategy; this would really light up the "abs."


If, however, I want to add a reaching component, or even just transfer this bridge into a push-up variation, then I need to tone down my rigidity a bit. The reach can't happen if I don't.

On this front, spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill has spoken about the importance of learning to differentiate between high-threshold and low-threshold core stability exercises. You don't need to brace as hard on a bowler squat as you do on half-kneeling cable chop, and you don't need to brace as hard on a cable chop as you do on a heavy deadlift. Different movement challenges and external loading parameters must equate to different core stabilization patterns. Nobody ever worries about feeling their abs on a heavy deadlift - and it's because it's so far to one end of this low-to-high-threshold continuum.

3. Some muscles can't get a "pump" easily - and potentially without risk - from an anatomical standpoint.

If you do a biceps curl, you can feel a good burn "feel" at the top of the rep because it's not hard to get full elbow flexion and supination. It's easy to shorten the muscle and go through sufficient reps to make that pump happen.

Your spine is a lot different. You've got to go through quite a bit of spinal flexion to truly shorten your rectus abdominus to get that burn - and some people (particularly those who sit all day) don't handle this position well, especially if repeated "cycles" of flexion-extension are needed to get to this burning point. In fact, if you look at the research, repeated flexion/extension cycles is how you herniate an intervertebral disc in a laboratory setting. This is why a lot of military recruits develop back pain with sit-ups.

In short, sometimes, finding that "feel" is a quick path to musculoskeletal pain - so don't force it.

The take-home message is that you don't have to necessarily "feel" an exercise in a particular place in order to have it be a productive inclusion in your training programs. Sometimes, we have to fall back on the fact that if the movement looks good, the muscles are doing what they're supposed to be doing.

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10 Random Thoughts on Core Stability Training

Written on August 4, 2015 at 1:00 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm collaborating with Cressey Sports Performance coach Tim Geromini on today's post, as we both reviewed Dean Somerset's new resource, Advanced Core Training, over the weekend. Today, we'll highlight some of the biggest takeaways from the product - and how it relates to what we do at CSP on a daily basis.

Let me preface this article by saying that I think the world needs another "core training" product, seminar, or article like I need a hole in my head. Seriously, it's the most hackneyed topic in the fitness industry today. However, Dean is a super bright guy and his stuff never disappoints, so Tim and I gave him the benefit of the doubt, especially since the resource clocks in at a hair over four hours and therefore wouldn't destroy an entire day if it was less-than-stellar.

Fortunately, Dean put on a great show. Check out some key takeaways we wanted to highlight:

1. Training your core isn’t just about being stiff and stable: Core training is also about being elastic and malleable. We have to be able to get into positions and then lock down into them to prevent injury. However, we also have to be resilient enough to move through the continuum while being able to control movements. Freedom of the movement you have available is key.

2. The end of pain usually does not mean you have restored structure and function. More often than not, the end of pain just means you aren’t currently irritating those tissues enough to have pain. How many times have your client’s symptoms gone away and came back shortly after? Although the symptoms and pain may be gone, the injury is still there. Progressing exercises too fast can lead to a return in pain.

There is nothing wrong with owning basic exercises for long periods of time.

3. Your diaphragm is the roof and main anchor point for most core muscles: psoas, rectus, multifidus, and transverse abdominis. They also attach to the pelvic floor. When you can control breathing through your diaphragm, you can put yourself in a better position to express core strength.


4. Rotary stability exercises are incredibly important, but they usually occur with the lower body fixed and upper body creating the destabilizing torques. Chops and lifts are perfect examples.

However, in functional activities like the rotation that occurs with golf, tennis, baseball, track and field throwing, and hockey slapshots, there is a separation that takes place between the torso and hips. Effectively, they rotate in opposite directions – so it makes sense to have both “ends” of the chain moving in some of our exercises. A good example is the Dead Bug Anti-Rotation Press, which also offers some anterior core benefits.

5. If you’re always doing relaxed parasympathetic breathing, you won’t generate power. Likewise, if you’re always doing short and choppy breathing, you’ll never relax and will fatigue faster. Let’s take the squat, for example: if your breathing is slow and parasympathetic, your body is not primed to express the absolute force it can. On the other hand, if you’re performing a deadbug as part of your warm-up, you need to relax to activate your core.

6. Try programming for breaths instead of time. During a plank, instead of asking your client to hold the position for 30 seconds, try having them hold the plank for 5 full breaths. This forces them to actually breathe since their focus is getting 5 full breaths out as opposed to trying to survive for 30 seconds. It's an instant shift to quality over quantity.

7. Neutral, Brace, Breathe: when you’re changing positions or setting up for an exercise, the best way to put yourself in the correct position is to own your starting point. In order to do that, you need to reset to a neutral spine, brace your core, and breathe.

8. We really like quadruped walkouts as a “bridge” exercise that can be used as a progression from all fours belly lift toward bear crawls.

This awesome drill gets you not only an anterior core challenge, but also a means of building good serratus anterior function. You can't have good upper extremity function without quality core control!

9. Think set-up, execution, and recovery: to piggy back on the previous point, let’s take the deadlift as an example here. You wouldn’t perform repetition after repetition in rapid fire without resetting. Before going on to your next rep, you reset to a neutral spine, brace your core, and breathe. Instead of thinking of one set of five reps, think of performing five singles. Each repetition is a set in itself.

10. Producing force from lower body to upper body is core dependent. Here at CSP we talk a lot with our athletes about the importance of their core in their pitching delivery. You may have a strong lower half, but without a stable and strong core, that force from your lower body can’t be expressed all the way up the chain if your core gives out.


Advanced Core Training is on sale for $40 off the normal price for this week as an introductory discount. It covers the gambit of core training: everything from how to tune breathing patterns to the desired goal outcome (mobility, strength, reactive speed, etc) to assessing core function. There is a huge hands-on component, which provides a lot of different ideas on how to use exercises and - more importantly - when to use them.To sweeten the deal, Dean's locked down NSCA CEUs for it. In short, I think it's a great resource that has merit for fitness professionals, strength and conditioning coaches, rehab specialists, and fitness enthusiasts alike. Click here to learn more.



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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 12

Written on July 30, 2015 at 6:27 am, by Eric Cressey

With only one day to spare, here's the July edition of "Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training."

1. One of the things I really heavily emphasize to our staff is that we should always be assessing. Obviously, during an initial assessment, we're going to review injury history, evaluate movement quality, and work to build rapport with the new client. However, I'm a huge believer that the initial evaluation should also include an actual training component. This is for three reasons:

a. I want the client to feel like they've actually started working toward their goals, as opposed to just hearing about all the things they need to work on.

b. We have many clients who come from out of town for short-term consultations, so we need to make the most of every training session.

c. I want to actually get a feel for what their work capacity is before I actually write a program for them.

You can measure resting heart rate, ask about training history, and take a whole bunch of other indirect measures of work capacity, but there is no substitute for seeing it first-hand. I've seen pro athletes in the early off-season who are completely deconditioned and struggle to get through incredibly abbreviated, basic sessions with lengthy rest periods. You really have to be able to take a step back and separate yourself from what you are expecting to see on the work capacity front so that you can observe what's really going on. If they are too deconditioned to put in the work you need to optimally effect positive changes with their performance, then your programming better reflect it.


2. I often talk with my baseball guys about how every throwing session either makes you tighter or looser. This sadly hasn't been recognized very well when it comes to individualizing recovery modalities to players' arms.

If you've got a lot of joint hypermobility (collagen deficiency), you'll get looser. If you're a naturally "tight" individual, you'll get tighter and tighter.

If you're loose-jointed, you'll respond well to low-level stabilization drills that essentially "remind" your nervous system of how to create good stiffness and optimal movement at joints (particularly the shoulder).

These looser-jointed athletes also seem to respond better to mild compression (arm sleeves, not aggressive compression). Even a cut-off tube sock works just fine.


Conversely, "tighter" throwers will generally do better with manual therapy and mobility drills. Static stretching after throwing is definitely appropriate, whereas you can skip it with the hypermobile crowd.

Regardless, these two "camps" share a lot in common. They both need great nutrition and hydration and optimal sleep quality and quantity, and they respond well to foam rolling and positional breathing drills. And, keep in mind that most pitchers don't fall to one extreme; they're usually somewhere in the middle, and can therefore benefit from a bit of everything. This is why recovery from throwing is an individualized topic; we have our theories on what works, but always have to get feedback from the athletes on what has yielded the best results for them.

3. Building on point #2, I never quite understood why some pitchers insist on doing their band work after starting pitching outings. It doesn't match up with either the "loose" or "tight" scenarios from my previous point, as fatigue changes everything. Fatigue is the enemy of motor learning - or re-learning, in this case. In my opinion, post-game band work is pretty silly.


If you're tight, get right to your manual therapy and mobility/stretching work. If you're loose, throw on a compressive arm sleeve and do your low-key band work the next day as part of that "stabilization re-education" I outlined earlier.

4. Good coaching isn't just about making clients and athletes move well; it's about doing so efficiently.

To me, there is a hierarchy in play in the coaching progression. First, a coach must know what an exercise is, and then understand how to coach that exercise. The third step is to learn to assess so that one knows when to include the exercise in a program. This last step is key, because to do an accurate assessment, one must understand what quality movement really looks like, how relative stiffness impacts things, and which compensation patterns an individual might resort to during that exercise. If you appreciate and follow this hierarchy, you continue to refine your ability to make technique perfect - but you can do so far more efficiently. 

Once you get to this point, it's all about coaching as many individuals as possible so that you have a giant sample size of incorrect patterns from which to draw. How do hypermobile folks compensate differently than those who don't have as much laxity? Why do individuals with long femurs struggle with an exercise, while those with "normal" anthropometry do just fine? Eventually, answering questions like these becomes second-nature, and that's where the efficient coaching happens, particularly when you learn about internal/external focus cues, and kinesthetic/visual/auditory learning styles.

5. Earlier this week, we had a 6-7 athlete doing stability ball rollouts - and the exercise was (unsurprisingly) pretty challenging for him. The combination of long arms and a long spine put him at a very mechanically disadvantageous position. It got me to thinking about how everyone seems to think about how tall guys have it tough when they squat and deadlift, but nobody seems to carry this thinking over to most core exercises. Imagine being seven-feet tall and trying to perform a stir the pot, where the forearms are a great distance from the feet:

Even on cable chops and lifts, the center of mass on a tall athlete is considerably further up from the base of support. The external loading that can be used is going to have to be lower if you don't want compensations to kick in.

One thing that can actually help a bit in this regard is athletes putting muscle mass on in the lower half of the body. It has a "grounding" effect as the center of mass is shifted slightly lower on the body.

Regardless, though, core stability exercises may need to be modified for taller athletes, especially initially. This might be in terms of regressing (e.g., going to prone bridges instead of rollouts), limiting range of motion (e.g., shortening the excursion on a rollout), or reducing the external loading relative to your "typical" expectations of where an athlete can start. 

6. In case you missed it, Mike Reinold and I have put our entire Functional Stability Training series on sale for 20% off this week. These resources have been our most popular collaborations, and we have modules covering our approach to rehab and training of the upper body, lower body, and core. It’s essentially a snapshot of how we think when designing our programs. You can learn more and purchase HERE. The discount will automatically be applied at checkout.


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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/26/14

Written on November 26, 2014 at 7:17 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope everyone is having a great week and is excited for a great Thanksgiving. It might be a holiday week, but it's still super busy at the new Cressey Sports Performance facility in Jupiter, FL. Luckily, I've got some great content from around the web to share with you.

The Cost of Getting Lean - The Precision Nutrition crew gives you the cold hard facts on what it takes to get to and maintain the body composition you desire.

Foam Rolling Isn't Stretching, but It's Still Important - Dean Somerset delves into the potential mechanisms of action for foam rolling.

How to Fit Core Stability Exercises into Strength and Conditioning Programs: Part 1 and Part 2 - I wrote this two-part article back in 2011 when Mike Reinold and I released Functional Stability Training of the Core, the first in the three-part FST series. Since they're all on sale for 25% off this week, it seemed like a great time to bring these posts back from the archives.

For more information on this sale, check out It wraps up this upcoming Monday at midnight.


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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:


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.


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.



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.


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.


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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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 60

Written on October 24, 2014 at 7:36 pm, by Eric Cressey

This installment of quick training and nutrition tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo.

1. Spread the floor...correctly.

Spreading the floor is a cue that can get butchered very easily. For a new lifter, there is no easily understandable point of reference for what "spreading the floor" even means. Simply barking external cues such as “spreading the floor” may elicit incorrect movement patterns that are better understood with visual cuing, which saves time to begin with.

Watch and listen to this video for more detail:

2. Focus on the bigger picture.

Whether you’re a frequent gym goer, or a trainer or coach looking to help your clients, the following tip is useful when using new exercises and programs. If you’re using this information for yourself to help improve your approach to lifting, just replace the title of “athlete” with “you!"

Say a younger athlete walks into your facility on Day 1 after an assessment. This is their Day 1, and their first exercise after warm-ups is Trap Bar Deadlifts.

How heavy do you tell the athlete to go?

1. As heavy as the rep scheme will allow.
2. As heavy as they think they should go.
3. As heavy as possible, as long as the movement looks clean.
4. Teach that athlete the requisite movement patterns before progressing.

Choice number 4 is a safe bet!

If someone comes in and does not understand the concept of a Trap Bar Deadlift, it is unlikely that you will go as heavy as the rep scheme will allow, all for the simple fact that this person does not even understand the movement, let alone how to properly prepare for a max rep.

The good thing is that you can reinforce a hip hinge movement pattern in a number of ways, and it does not have to be a strict “you can only do this exercise if you have it on your sheet."

Further, sometimes, clients can come in feeling good, bad, sore, or any of a host of other sensations. While these feelings are very subjective and it is a case by case basis, the idea is that you want to keep movement quality above all else despite the external factors that you cannot control.

If a specific movement does not “feel” good due to external factors, regress appropriately. Live to fight and train another day, as opposed to blindly continuing in the fashion of “Well, it’s on the paper.”

In the case of the athlete, performing a kettlebell deadlift in a sumo stance can be appropriate depending on their training experience, especially if you have heavier kettle bells to teach a hip hinge pattern.

To put this statement in another light - how many times will any given athlete perform a deadlift, squat, or lunge? If an athlete begins an appropriately designed strength training program at the age of 14, and continues this program effectively until he is 18, you have over four years of consistent lifting to improve a specific number.

To extrapolate further, given a 4-day lifting program over 52 weeks in a year add up to 208 opportunities to practice a specific movement pattern. Take out holidays, vacation times, finals and midterms for school, and random weeks where there are snags in scheduling (likely about 7-8 weeks of "off time"), and you have a whopping 44 weeks to train a wide variety of movement patterns.

I’m in it for the long haul, so when you have an athlete hell-bent on getting a specific number, it is helpful to remember that the point is to improve in the gym in order to improve on the field.

3. Check out "The Obstacle is the Way."

One habit that I’ve gained over the past few years is learning how to pick up a book that is outside of my comfort zone in order to expand my mental horizons and challenge my current thought processes. Fortunately for me, many of the staff at CSP crush audiobooks and regular books alike, and not just anatomy and physiology minded books either.

A school of thought with which I’ve aligned my mentality is the stoic philosophy - not just a Dead Poets Society rant on free thinking, but rather the attitude on valuing action over non-action and pontificating on the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’s” of life. One book that exemplifies this actionable philosophy is The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, and I have recommended this book to every staff member here to gain a better understanding of how to approach work, life, and other situations.


To give a primer on the book, it essentially boils down to the aptly named title - that is, if there is an obstacle, then there is no other way around it but to simply stare it down and get to work on whatever that available solutions present themselves.

It is not quick, nor easy, but it is simple enough to understand, with possible long lasting effects, which can provide guidance in the face of adversity for any individual, not just athletes.

4. Try Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and whey protein.

Barring fancy names for a quick snack, I’ve been crushing yogurt ever since I started working at Cressey Sports Performance. Consuming Greek yogurt has allowed me to capitalize on macros, and depending on the brand of yogurt you get, you can get upwards of up to 22g of protein per cup. Add in a scoop of whey protein, and some powdered peanut butter (powdered peanut butter is used to aid in the consumption of the yogurt, and doesn’t take away from the flavor, but enhances upon it), and you have yourself a delicious snack.

I have been going with Greek yogurt, with vanilla whey protein powder, and finally adding in powdered peanut butter. It tastes like peanut butter cheesecake, which is an unreal thought in the first place.

5. Utilize a variety of movements in an exercise program.

There are hidden benefits to varying the position that you perform an exercise within your program. When you’re training the anterior core or the various anti-rotation, flexion, or extension movements, utilize different lower body positions to maximize movement variability. This will allow your body to build a stable foundation from which it can improve and build upon as you progress from one exercise to the next.

Here's a basic 3-4 month progression for cable chop variations, where you'll send 3-4 weeks on each step. This will allow a better foundation to be met prior to simply performing all exercises in a standing position.

1. Tall Kneeling Cable Chop - 3 sets of 10 reps per side
2. Half Kneeling Cable Chop (Inside Knee Up) - 3 sets of 10 reps per side
3. Standing Cable Chop - 3 sets of 10 reps per side
4. Split Stance Cable Chop - 3 sets of 10 reps per side

Further, you can vary the breathing patterns that you use within these contexts in order to optimize their effectiveness. When teaching this pattern to athletes, it is important to first allow a constant stream of inhalations and full exhalations, while watching for mechanical positioning of the lower ribs and pelvis, as ideal positioning involves reducing anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension (arching of the lower back). As you find yourself learning how to "own" this specific exercise, introduce a full exhale while maintaining your position as you perform the concentric portion of the exercise.

About the Author

Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is the newest strength coach at the Hudson location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on

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5 Great Analogies for Training Baseball Players

Written on August 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm, by Eric Cressey

In their outstanding book, Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath emphasize that a new idea will always be more readily accepted if it is incorporated into an individual’s existing schema. In an example I've used before here at, if I give you the letters TICDGFASOH and then ask you to list all the letters I included to me 20 minutes later without writing them down, most of you won’t be able to accomplish the task correctly.


However, if I reordered those letters as CATDOGFISH, you’d accomplish the task easily. You know the words DOG, CAT, and FISH – so it would fit into your existing schema. I work to apply this same logic to how I educate my baseball players. With that in mind, here are five analogies I like to use as part of the long-term baseball development process.

1. Arm care is just like making bank deposits and withdrawals.

To me, every action you make with your arm either takes you closer to or further away from arm health.  Every time you do your arm care drills, get in a strength training session, do some soft tissue work, or get your arm stretched out (when appropriate), you're making a deposit in your bank account. Each time you make a throw - especially off a mound - you're making a withdrawal. If withdrawals exceed deposits over the course of a year, you're likely going to go bankrupt (get injured).

2. Bad scapular positioning or scapulohumeral rhythm is like starting behind the starting line - or you're backpedaling when the starting gun fires.

I've discussed the importance of scapular positioning and scapulohumeral rhythmic for throwers in the past - especially in our new resource, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body. Here's a video to bring you up to speed:

In this video, I talk about "ball and socket congruency." In other words, the ball can't ride up, and the socket can't stay too low. I like to refer to neutral scapular resting position as the starting line. If you sit in too much downward rotation, you're effectively setting up behind the starting line. In the photo below, the black line is where the medial border of his scapula should be at rest, and the red line is where it actually is.


Other folks may actually start in the correct position, but begin what should be upward rotation with an aberrant movement - such as a "yank" toward the midline (rhomboid dominance) or into scapular depression (lat dominance). These are the exact opposites of what you want to occur - which is upward rotation, or running toward the finish line.

3. Doing arm care drills with a faulty core recruitment pattern is like shooting a cannon from a canoe.

I always talk about how the spine and rib cage "deliver" the shoulder blade. You can do all the arm care drills in the world, but if you don't know how to keep a stable core in place, you'll never really put your shoulder girdle (or elbow, for that matter) in an ideal position to throw - and you certainly won't effectively transfer force from your lower body. Here's what a lot of athletes look like with their overhead reaching pattern:

Instead of getting good shoulder flexion and scapular upward rotation, they just go into lumbar (lower back) extension. When you see an aberrant movement pattern like this, you realize that it's no surprise that some of the same underlying movement inefficiencies can contribute to upper extremity, core, and lower extremity injuries alike. It's really just a matter of where an athlete breaks down first.

4. Committing to a college really early is like proposing to the first girl you ever date - and then letting her "shop around" for other dudes while you stay faithful.

This observation has less to do with the actual training process, but more to do with long-term management of an athlete. Why in the world does a freshman in high school need to be verbally committing to a college - especially when he can't sign on the dotted line to officially commit until his senior year? If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that we always look back on what we did 2-3 years earlier and laugh, as we realize how misdirected we were. I do it at age 33, and you can just imagine how much faster an impressionable teenage athlete can acquire new views on the world.

It's fine to take your time and see what's out there - and any coach that pressures a freshman or sophomore to commit so young is probably not a person for whom you'd like to play. And, 99% of the time, that offer is still going to be on the table 6-18 months down the road in spite of the false deadlines they throw on you.

Finally, as an "in the know" friend reminded me the other day, don't forget that even if you verbally commit to a school, they're still out there trying to "date" other athletes. If they can find someone who they think is a better prospect than you are, they'll drop you like yesterday's newspaper. The ethical coaches don't do this, but it is nonetheless still a sad part of college sports. With that in mind, it's okay to go on "dates" with different schools and take your time in finding the one that's right for you.

Side note: if you're looking to be a more informed consumer with respect to the college recruiting process, give this a read: 25 Questions to Ask During the College Recruiting Process.

5. Stretching a loose shoulder is like picking a scab; it feels good for a bit, but only makes things uglier over the long haul.

There are a lot of hypermobile (lose-jointed) pitchers out there. It's often a big part of what makes them successful, but it comes at a cost: increased injury risk, if they don't stay on top of their stability training.


What they often lose sight of, though, is the fact that it's just as important to avoid creating instability as it is to train for stability. In other words, continually stretching a hypermobile joint is likely even worse than just leaving out your strength work. The former reduces passive stability, whereas the latter just doesn't improve active stability.

The problem is that a lot of loose-jointed players feel "tight" - and it's usually because they lay down trigger points to make up for their lack of stability. The stretching feels good in the short term, but the trigger point comes back stronger and stronger each time - until you're eventually dealing with a torn anterior (shoulder) capsule or ulnar collateral ligament. Eventually, reducing the passive stability leads to a pathology - just like picking that scab eventually leads to an infection or scar.

Want to learn more about whether or not you're hypermobile? Check out my article, Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 1.

Looking to pick up more analogies we use to educate our players - and get a better feel for our overall system? 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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Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance High-to-Low Anti-Rotation Chop w/Rope

Written on March 11, 2014 at 9:08 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we shared a new "Exercise of the Week" video here at, so I thought it'd be a good time to highlight one I was actually discussing with one of my staff members yesterday.

The split-stance high-to-low anti-rotation chop w/rope is one of my favorite "catch-all" core stability exercises.  While it primarily challenges rotary stability (the ability of the core to resist rotation), we also get some anti-extension benefit from it.  Because the cable is positioned higher up, we must use our anterior core to prevent the lower back from arching in the top position.  By adding a full exhale on each breath, you can increase the challenge to the anterior core even further – and, as Gray Cook would say, use breathing to "own the movement."  Check it out:


Another important consideration that may be overlooked is the fact that rotational movements in sports include both low-to-high (tennis forehands/backhands) and high-to-low (overhand throwing, baseball hitting, tennis/volleyball serving) patterns, yet for some reason, we see a lot more low-to-high or purely horizontal patterns trained.  I love the idea of getting the arms up overhead more often, particularly in athletes who may lose upward rotation, or people who just sit at desks all day with their arms at their sides.

We'll usually work this in during the latter half of a strength training session, and do it for 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps. This video was actually taken from The High Performance Handbook video database, as this exercise was featured in the 16-week program.



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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 8

Written on February 18, 2014 at 8:14 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the eighth installment of my series on coaching cues.  Try putting these three cues to work for you.

1. Bear hug a tree.

I love anti-rotation chops as a way to train rotary core stability. Unfortunately, a lot of people butcher the technique so that they can really load up the weight on these. In short, the closer the arms are to the body, the easier the exercise.  So, if you really bend the elbows, you can use a lot more weight without getting as good of a training effect.  With that in mind, I tell folks to "bear hug a tree" as they're doing these exercises, as it ensures that the elbows are only slightly bent, but still well out in front of the body.

2. Be heavy on the pad.

Chest-supported rows (also known as T-bar rows) are an awesome exercise to strengthen the upper back, and the presence of the pad on the front of the torso is a great external focus point to keep the lifter's technique sound.  That is, of course, only if people use it!

One of the most common mistakes I see is that people will keep their hips on the lower pad, but then extend heavily through their lumbar spine (lower back) to lift the weight.  In reality, it should be a neutral spine posture from top-to-bottom; the ribs have to stay down. The cue I like to give athletes is to "be heavy on the pad." Keeping the chest firmly on the pad prevents the rib cage from flaring up when it should just be movement of the scapula and upper arms.

3. Pull the bar into your upper back.

This was a coaching cue that made a huge difference with my squat. One of the biggest mistakes you see lifters make when back squatting is that they don't take control of the bar. Rather than pulling it down into the upper back to create a good "shelf," they just let it sit there. The last thing you want to be under heavy weights is passive.  By pulling the bar into the upper back, you not only dictate the bar path (it can't roll), but also get the lats engaged as a core stabilizer.

While on the topic of squatting, if you're looking for a thorough squat technique resource, I'd encourage you to check out Jordan Syatt's new resource, Elite Performance Squatting. It's a great two-hour presentation.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/7/14

Written on February 7, 2014 at 6:52 am, by Eric Cressey

Here is this week's recommended strength and conditioning reading.  As it turns out, you could call this the Assess and Correct edition, as it features the three of us who collaborated on this product:

The Secret to Ab Training – Mike Robertson did an awesome job introducing some movements you've probably never seen before.  That said, we've been using them at Cressey Performance with great results for quite some time now.

Thoughts on Long-Term Athletic Development and Training Young Athletes – Bill Hartman doesn't write very often, but when he does, he crushes it!

3 Things Everyone Should Know About the Shoulder – This is a quick read, but has some really useful takeaways if you're looking to wrap your head around shoulder assessment and training.

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