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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/25/15

Written on August 25, 2015 at 3:09 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm in Taichung, Taiwan with the Team USA National Team (baseball) as we play a few exhibition games before heading on to Japan for the 18U World Cup. Here's the panorama shot from our floor in the hotel:

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With all the traveling, I'm a bit behind on pulling together new content, but here are some good reads from around the web to check out:

5 Reasons Why Experiencing Your Business Can Improve Your Business - Here's another great post from my business partner, Pete Dupuis. If you run a fitness business (or any business, for that matter), you'll pick up some good insights from this post. 

Why Advanced Exercise and Nutrition Strategies Usually Backfire - This excellent article from Craig Weller for Precision Nutrition really hit home for me, as I spent a lot of time talking nutrition with 16-17 year-old athletes over the past ten days!

5 Cool Things to Make with Protein Powder - I'm looking forward to trying out some of these recipes from Dani Shugart when I get back from my travels.

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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."

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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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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/17/15

Written on August 17, 2015 at 8:25 am, by Eric Cressey

Good morning! I hope you had a great weekend and are ready to kick off the week with some quality strength and conditioning reading from around the web. Here goes!

Post-Exercise Cold Immersion - I've always been skeptical of ice baths, and in this post, Bret Contreras presents some of the research on the topic - and how this approach may not live up to the hype.

Peer Leadership: 8 Thoughts on How to Make the Most of an Opportunity, Others, and Yourself - Greg Robins authored this post for Pete Dupuis' site, and I thought the messages were fantastic, regardless of your industry. 

5 Great Analogies for Training Baseball Players - I wrote this just over a year ago, and it was pretty popular. I'm a big believer in working to create context for our athletes when we coach them, and this describes a few ways to do so. 

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How Gravity Impacts Exercise Progressions and Regressions

Written on August 12, 2015 at 5:40 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that if you want to help trainees of all experience levels succeed with strength and conditioning programs, you have to understand progressions and regressions. And, whether we're talking about mobility drills or strength exercises, coaches need to understand how gravity impacts one's ability to perform a specific drill. As you'll learn in today's video, it can either make an exercise easier or harder, depending on how we position the individual performing the drill: 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/10/15

Written on August 9, 2015 at 10:51 pm, by Eric Cressey

I just got back from a trip to California and haven't had a chance to blog yet, so we'll kick off the week with some recommended reading from around the 'Net. It's all Cressey Sports Performance content this week:

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Tips for Avoiding the Intern Applicant "Declined" Pile - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, has reviewed more fitness resumes in the past eight years than you can possibly imagine, and there are some great lessons in this article, as a result. They're applicable across multiple industries, too.

EC on the Well-Traveled Wellness Podcast (Part 2) - Here's the second half of my conversation with Jake Schuster. We cover everything from long-term athletic development, to injury mechanisms, to fiscal responsibility in athletes, to upper extremity assessment.  

Why Gym Culture is So Important - This is a quick read from CSP co-founder Tony Gentilcore, but I'd call it "must-know" material for anyone who runs a training facility or manages athletes' training in any capacity. My favorite part of the blog is actually that Tony gets right to the point (for once) instead of rambling on about his cat, favorite movies, and what he had for dinner last Saturday night. 

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5 Lessons Learned From Training Those With Low Back Pain

Written on August 6, 2015 at 4:47 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset. Dean's made a name for himself as a "low back and hip" guy, and this post demonstrates this expertise. It's especially timely, given the release of his new resource, Advanced Core Training, which is on sale at a great discount this week.

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I’ve had the distinct honor of working with a wide variety of clients. Some have been fresh from spinal surgical intervention following an injury, others had congenital issues where they were born with some sort of spinal irregularity, others just had low back pain. I’ve also worked with some Olympic champions, Paralympic hopefuls, professional sports teams, and pretty well every type of client in between, and today’s post is all about highlighting some of the commonalities among these very broad and different types of clients.

#1: They Usually Do Something Poorly.

I had the opportunity to do end-of-season testing on a local professional hockey team a few years ago. This meant I had direct access to some of the best hockey players in the world to see how they moved. While they could likely outskate and maneuver anyone on the ice, their ability to control their movements in the specific tasks asked were somewhat shaky on occasion, and in some instances, consistently so through the entire team.

Consider hockey players live their entire lives with their sticks on the ice and bent over. Shoulder pads prevent a lot of overhead movement, and getting checked into the boards frequently can cause some significant wear and tear on the shoulder joints, not to mention the rest of the body. Its no surprise very few of them had the ability to score well on an overhead squat assessment since they only ever put their arms overhead when they score a goal, and if you’re on an offensively challenged tem, that won’t happen much.

Additionally, since flexion is such as important position for their sports, they had no problem doing that, but had a lot of trouble controlling their spines into extension. The goalies could hit the splits in any direction, but many of their leg movement testing would have indicated that they were “tight” and required more stretching. If someone can go in and out of the splits in multiple directions, they don’t need more stretching.

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With many people who aren’t elite athletes, they’ll also have some sort of a wonky movement pattern here or there. These may not directly cause injury, but they might increase the relative risk that something could happen. Think of a hip hinge, for example. A known mechanism of injury is low back flexion with loading and some degree of rotation. This is the common first timer setting up for a deadlift and not knowing what the heck they’re doing. In fact, that’s how Rob Gronkowski injured his back when he was a standout at Arizona and almost cost him a shot at the NFL.

The thing about increased risk is it won’t guarantee an injury occurs, just that there’s more likelihood that it would. If I bought a lottery ticket, there’s a 1 in 15,000,000 chance that I win big. If I bought 1000 tickets, there’s now a 1,000 in 15,000,000 million chance that I win, or 1 in 15,000 chance. It doesn’t mean I will win, just that my odds are higher.

Now, if I were to teach that beginner how to hip hinge well and reduce the pressure on their low back while also using their hips to produce the power for lifting the weight, there’s a greater chance that they will be successful and less of a chance they will get injured. Gronk showed even a great athlete who is unfamiliar with a certain movement can still do it with risk, and still get injured, just like a beginner stepping foot inside a weight room for the first time.

#2: The Value of Isometric Exercise Can’t be Overstated.

Dr. Stuart McGill’s lab at The University of Waterloo just released a very interesting study that looked at the effects of using isometric exercises like planks and dead bugs as well as more dynamic exercises such as Russian twists and rotational throws to train the core in two very different groups:

a) beginners who were naïve to resistance training and exercise in general,

b) Muay Thai athletes who were savvy to training concepts and instructions.

Half of the naïve group did isometric training and half did more dynamic training, and the same went for the savvy group. There was a control group as well; they didn’t train for the 6-week duration of the study.

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Afterwards, all training groups saw improvements in both their fixed core strength and range of motion, and also in their response to more reactive stress to the spine. The isometric groups in both the naïve and savvy groups saw bigger improvements than the dynamic training groups.

While isometric exercises may seem very rudimentary and “beginner,” they can still prove beneficial to more advanced athletes and lifters, especially in terms of ease of set-up, relative risk to the individual doing them, and - most importantly - in quantitative outcomes, such as those measured in McGill’s research. It’s very exciting to see that a basic staple exercise, performed well, can benefit individuals of all experience level.

#3: Breathing is More Than Just Inhale/Exhale.

Getting beginners to do core-intensive training usually results in one question from me, repeated consistently through the entire series:

“Are you breathing?”

A go-to response for many is to hold their breath through core intensive movements. While this isn’t a bad response per se - especially if they’re trying to use a valsalva to increase spinal stability during a movement like a deadlift - not being able to inhale and exhale in pace with an exercise can actually reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Additionally, the speed of breathing can dictate whether a movement is more of a relaxation or mobility movement or whether the goal is speed and reactive capability development. In either case, being able to breathe through an entire set is vitally important to see the best potential improvements.

When breathing for improving mobility or parasympathetic activity, inhales and exhales should be long and full. I usually recommend 3-5 second inhalations and 3-5 second exhalations. For speed and power development, inhales are best with more of a sniffing action where air is taken in quickly and with some development of negative pressure through the ribs and abdomen, and exhaled forcefully and quickly, much like a martial artist throwing a strike. Boxers do this very well, exhaling on impacts to improve not only their ability to not gas out, but to improve the stiffness of their spine to improve the power of their punches.

This short, sharp exhale causes the abdominal muscles to brace very hard and very quickly, essentially momentarily turning the core into stone to allow for a solid strike to generate some impact.

Try this while you’re reading this article: place a hand on your stomach and sniff in quickly through your nose and feel what the abdominal muscles do. Then exhale sharply through pursed lips, like you would if you were throwing a very crisp jab. Did you feel how hard the abs became for the second you inhaled and exhaled? That’s your power center.

Clients along the entire continuum from rehab to elite performance can benefit from learning how to use their breathing to develop the specific goals they’re looking to accomplish. Rehab clients can use the sniff inhale and hard exhale effectively, as it doesn’t necessarily apply aberrant stressors to the spine or connective tissue, but does have a beneficial effect on the strength and reactivity of the core girdle as an entire unit. Simply doing forceful breathing, when appropriate to do so, is itself an effective conditioning tool for many.

#4: Core Strength Training Should Trump Core Endurance Training.

What’s more likely to lead to problems: having to lift 5 pounds 50 times, or having to lift 50 pounds 5 times? Most people would say lifting the heavier weight would be riskier, and I would say if the person didn’t know how to move it to reduce their risks and to take advantage of their leverages, then yes.

However, many training programs heavily prioritize development of core endurance, with higher rep ranges and longer duration isometric holds. While endurance is important, I would argue the ability to generate repeated bouts of higher threshold contractions would have much greater implications to spinal protection, athletic development, and resiliency, while also making the lower threshold contractions less stressful to the body.

A simple way to do this is to alter the methods used to get to a specific volume of training. For instance, let’s say you want to do three minutes of planking. You could do one long sustained plank for 180 seconds, or you could do 18 bouts of maximum intensity 10 second holds, where the goal is to try to contract everything so hard that your hair follicles turn into diamonds and you make it rain like never before. The three-minute sustained plank will challenge you, but you’ll be able to still do something afterwards. The 18 rounds of 10 seconds max effort planks will wreck you.

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Consider it for strength training as well. Instead of doing 3 sets of 10 with a moderate weight, use a more challenging weight to get through 6 sets of 5 and using an appreciably heavier weight.

For lower capacity clients, this can be a great way of building up volume for those who may not have the endurance to go through longer sets or bigger volumes all at once. It also allows for more set-up and learning opportunities for each exercise than doing one or two larger volume sets would allow.

#5: Core Training Should be Vector, Speed, and Intensity-Specific, Not Just Muscle Specific.

Training a movement like an anti-rotation press to overhead raise sounds awesome and does a lot to work on controlling stability through transverse and frontal plane, all in a relatively slow and controlled manner. Asking, “What does this work? Like, your obliques or something?” can be a fair question, but only scratches the surface of what’s going on.

For athletes who compete in relatively specific directions and actions without the elements of contact and chaos, they can benefit from training with a high degree of specificity to their goal activities. For the less specific athlete or for the non-athletic client, they can still benefit from more variable-dependent training, depending on their goals. For instance, a 50-year-old accountant with a history of low back pain may not need to do max velocity rotational throws, but they could still benefit from some rotational velocity training to help prepare them for the eventual frozen sidewalks that they’ll have to walk around in Edmonton in a few months, or perhaps for the games of golf they’ll play when they Snow Bird south for the winter.

For rehab clients, the direction-specific element speaks volumes to whether they have a directional intolerance to certain movements. For instance, some clients can’t handle flexion-based movements very well, so involving some flexion progressions they can work with would be good, whereas full range crunches probably wouldn’t be beneficial. Slower movements to develop control would be important, but involving some higher velocity movements they could control and replicate would also be beneficial in case they encountered those kinds of scenarios on their own. An example would be if they stepped off a curb and had to catch their balance before falling or jerking their spine into a potentially disastrous situation.

Closing Thoughts

To recap, everyone from elite athletes to recovering spinal injury clients and everyone in between can involve core training into their programs in very similar ways, but with minor differences here and there to accomplish their specific goals. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to do, if you know how to do it.

This is where Advanced Core Training comes in. Dean has created a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to programming and coaching core stability exercises. You'll pick up new assessment ideas, innovative exercises, and coaching strategies you can employ to improve outcomes with your clients and athletes. The resource is on sale for $40 off this week, and it includes NSCA CEUs. Click here for more information.  
 

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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.

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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.

Wrap-up

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Is One-on-One Personal Training Really Dead?

Written on July 25, 2015 at 6:30 am, by Eric Cressey

Just about every fitness business coach out there will vehemently assert that one-on-one training is "dead," and that you have to go with semi-private (small group) training to stay relevant and profitable. Obviously, we work with almost exclusively semi-private training at Cressey Sports Performance, so I think there is some merit to this assertion.

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The rationale for both the business and client is sound. The business can see more clients in a given amount of time, which is a deviation from popular trainers being limited to the number of hours they can train. The client gets more affordable training, allowing them to participate more frequently and do so with a more flexible schedule. Plus, there is added camaraderie from training alongside others in a motivating environment. Win/win, right? 

With that said, there are still some very profitable fitness facilities doing extremely well with one-on-one training thanks to their geography. Usually, these facilities are in affluent cities like New York where rent is very expensive and higher training prices can be charged. It's also common with celebrity trainers who may have clients who seek out privacy during training sessions. My last three true one-on-one clients have all been MLB All-Stars who had short time-frames with which to work, significant injury histories, and challenging family schedules that didn't make our semi-private "pro group" hours feasible for them.

Taking this a step further, though, I've always said:

       Your business model should never dictate your training model.

Business rationale aside, though, I'm of the belief that one-on-one training is vital to the long-term success of the coaches, not just the business in question. One-on-one training is where you hone your craft, learning to get more efficient with your cueing. It's where you learn how to be conversational with clients without interfering with the flow of the session. It's when you learn how to "read" clients: do they learn best with visual, auditory, or kinesthetic cues? It's when you learn to manage a schedule, and build rapport with clients who are new to the "gym scene."

Every single one of our coaches at both the Massachusetts and Florida facilities were successful personal trainers before they were successful semi-private coaches. And, each of our interns needs to demonstrate proficiency in a one-on-one context before we'd ever consider letting them handle scenarios with multiple athletes simultaneously. We hire exclusively from our internship program, so nobody works at CSP unless they've thrived in one-on-one training already; I feel like it's that important.

tonyb

You see, we might be predominantly semi-private training, but all of our clients receive a lot of one-on-one attention, particularly in the first 1-2 months of training. We created the baseball strength and conditioning "niche," and a big differentiating factor is that we meticulously coach arm care drills in ways that are slightly different for each athlete, depending on their presentation. Can you imagine teaching a prone 1-arm trap raise to 5-6 people at the same time?

One of the "concessions" you make with larger group training is that you are going to let some less-than-perfect reps "go." I've watched large hands-on sessions at conferences with fitness professionals as the participants, and there are bad reps all the time - and this is in a population that should know exercise technique better than anyone! It's just reality. For me, though, I don't want a single bad rep performed with any of our arm care work. The baseball shoulder has so little margin for error that anything less than perfection with technique is unacceptable.

If we teach it meticulously up-front, we not only create a great movement foundation that will make it easier for the individual to thrive in a semi-private environment, but also clearly establish in the client's eyes that we are still taking into account their unique needs. We can do all this because we have sufficient staffing to make this work.

ECtable

Conversely, if you're a single trainer and insist on billing in a semi-private environment and don't want shoddy exercise technique under your roof, you better carve out some time in your schedule for individual instruction. You have to move well before you move a lot.

What does this mean for the original assertion that "one-on-one is dead" (with a few notable exceptions)? Well, I'd argue that it should read:

One-on-one training is dead from a billing standpoint. It's still vitally important from a coaching standpoint - particularly in facilities that don't want to just deliver a "vanilla" product.

The same coaches who tell you to go to semi-private training will usually encourage you to go to watered down, one-size-fits-all programming templates. That might work okay if you're just doing general fitness training, but it fails miserably if you're working with clients who want to be absolutely awesome at what they do.

One-on-one training takes place every single day at Cressey Sports Performance, a "semi-private" facility that has done double-digit growth in every year since it opened in 2007. And, I know of loads of other facilities that incorporate it extensively under the semi-private umbrella.

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One-on-one training isn't dead. It's just being called something else.

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Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Serratus Wall Slides with Med Ball

Written on July 21, 2015 at 6:28 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since I posted a new "Exercise of the Week" feature, but to atone for the wait, I've got a great one for you. I actually came up with this one myself while brainstorming a bit during my own warm-up a few weeks ago.

Serratus anterior is an incredibly important muscle for shoulder health, as it is really the big player in making sure there is a "rotation" component to scapular upward rotation (watch this video first if you need more information on that). Long story short, as you can tell from the picture below that depicts its positioning and line of pull, serratus anterior is hugely important for healthy shoulder function. This is particularly true in movement patterns involving reaching, whether it's out in front or overhead.

serratus

Loss of serratus anterior function is incredibly common in those with shoulder pathology, but we also see it really commonly in those who are pain-free but don't move well. To that end, we like to include specific serratus anterior targeted drills in our warm-ups and as low-key "fillers" between heavier compound lifts during our training sessions.

The research has demonstrated that serratus anterior recruitment is highest when you have more than 90 degrees of shoulder flexion, and this assertion really recognizes that this muscle does far more than just protract the shoulder blade; it is a key upward rotator. As such, we train it to assist that function:

Coaching Cues

1. Make sure the athlete is not in a heavily extended (arched lower back) posture, and don't allow forward head posture.

2. If range of motion allows, reach behind the back with the opposite hand to monitor the position of the inferomedial (inside/bottom) border of the scapula. It should stay "snug" to the rib cage, not wing off.

3. Think of "wrapping" the scapula to the armpit as the arm goes up. I'll usually manually guide the shoulder blade with my hands as I'm first instructing this. You can usually see if the movement is sufficient through an athlete's shirt.

4. Actively push the medicine ball into the wall the entire time. In addition to training the protraction function of serratus anterior, you'll also likely get some reflexive rotator cuff recruitment. This is a 4-pound med ball, but you can really work anywhere from one pound to six pounds.  

5. The athlete should only feel this along the scapula near arm pit (reference the anatomy picture above for a frame of reference). There should be no anterior shoulder discomfort. If there is, it's a sign of one of two things:

a. Pectoralis minor taking over to protract with anterior scapular tilt
b. Excessive movement of the humerus (upper arm) without sufficient scapular movement

5. Don't force upward range of motion. The arm really shouldn't get above 140-150 degrees, and most people don't even need to go this far. Note that the medicine ball doesn't say in the hand the entire time; it rolls to the elbow. This is a great ROM "check" that tells you how far up you should go.

6. Control things down slowly; don't yank to the bottom.

7. For added benefit, you can add a full exhale at the top of each rep to help solidify the pattern.

I'll generally program this for sets of 6-8 reps on each side. 

If you're looking for some more serratus anterior programming options and detailed coaching cues, check out this video:

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