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7 Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

Written on February 15, 2014 at 6:41 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since I posted one of my "Random Thoughts" pieces, so here are seven things that came to mind yesterday.

1. After the initial year or so of “organized” strength training, athletes don’t get hurt because they’re globally weak; they get injured because they’re positionally weak. This dictates the window of adaptation you seek out.

2. The Turkish Get-up is an outstanding exercise for not only challenging athletes, but also re-establishing fundamental movement patterns they may have lost over the years.  However, that doesn’t mean that everyone is prepared for it on day 1.  Obviously, one must have adequate shoulder flexion to hold a kettlebell overhead, but – as the picture below shows – you can’t overlook the importance of having adequate hip mobility and a good hip hinge pattern.

Get-up hip hinge

In short, if you can’t hip hinge and have brutally short adductors, you can’t do a Turkish Get-up…or at least not a good looking one.

3. Taking this a step further, if you're familiar with the Postural Restoration Institute school of thought, many individuals will likely have a harder time "getting into" the left hip if they present with this common aberrant posture:

adductedrighthip

So, if you struggle with the left hand overhead in particular on get-ups, there's a good chance that it's because everything under that arm is slightly out of whack.  For those folks, a left-stance toe touch can be a game changer.

4. Pull a quad (rectus femoris), and you’ll usually bounce back really quickly.  Pull an oblique and it’s much more stubborn. What’s the difference?  The rectus femoris is really all about the sagittal plane, whereas the obliques have a big role in controlling excessive motion in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes.  The more complex the job of the muscle, the more significant the injury – and the longer the rehab.  Hamstrings have roles outside the sagittal plane and can be equally stubborn, too.

201px-Rectus_femoris

5. “This athlete is strong enough” is an observation you might make with some male athletes.  The risk of continuing to load up to try to improve maximal strength far outweighs the potential benefits of those strength increases – and there’s likely a bigger window of adaptation elsewhere in their athletic profiles.  Conversely, I can honestly say that I’ve never met a female athlete who was strong enough. It just doesn’t happen.

6. Downright terrible coaches don’t look to the literature at all, or they do so only to cherry-pick study results that support what they’re already doing.  Mediocre coaches look to these resources so that they can have someone else tell them exactly what to do.  The best coaches read diligently and critically, scrutinizing everything they encounter to determine if it is correct and, if so, how it can be incorporated into their existing philosophies. 

Full disclosure: this is actually an excerpt from my e-book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual. I reincarnated it after a discussion with one of my interns the other day.

uotm

7. Watching the incredible success that the Netherlands has with speed skating makes me wonder how many 100mph arms there might be kicking around in the NBA, NFL, and other professional sports.   Much like we’ve seen with baseball players in the Dominican Republic – where there really aren’t “competing” sports – if you prioritize development one sport across a population, you’re going to find more studs even if that population is smaller.

In the United States, a larger country with more “sports variety,” it makes me wonder if this is actually one more argument against early sports specialization.  Maybe if we were more patient and followed athletes for longer in a general sense, we might discover more freak athletes later in the game?

Former NBA player Tracy McGrady attempting to play baseball is a great example.  He was a very good NBA player, but could he have been a Hall-of-Famer in baseball?  Similarly, does anyone deny that some NFL tight ends could have been NBA power forwards, if they’d directed that focus elsewhere?

Early specialization doesn’t just lead to more injuries and burnout and stunted development; it also potentially redirects good athletes away from sports in which they could be sensational.  Of course, there’s no way to know!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/13/14

Written on February 13, 2014 at 9:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Is Your Vitamin D Supplement Hurting or Helping You? – This might be the single-best thing I've ever read on Vitamin D.  The Precision Nutrition team did a great job with it.

Buddy Morris: The Next Chapter – This is a great podcast at EliteFTS with Buddy Morris, head strength and conditioning coach at the University at Buffalo. I've long been a fan of Buddy's not only because he's a bright guy, but also because he's an example of everything that's right about strength and conditioning. He's humble, super approachable, and always looking to get better – regardless of how long he's been in the field.  This is a "must listen" for up-and-coming coaches.

Cressey Performance on Social Media – You might not know it, but Cressey Performance is well represented on social media.  If you aren't following us already, you're missing out on daily tips, exclusive articles, and the ever popular "quote of the day."  Here's where you can find them all:

Cressey Performance on Facebook

Excellence Bootcamps on Facebook

Cressey Performance on Instagram

Cressey Performance on Twitter

Enjoy!

CP3

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 54

Written on February 8, 2014 at 7:58 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's random strength and conditioning and nutrition tips from Greg Robins:

1. Use a kettlebell to off-set load 1-arm TRX rows.

The TRX (and other suspension trainers) are a great tool for any kind of training. They offer closed-chain horizontal rowing options, which for a long time were only doable by using a barbell inside the power rack.

The only downside is that after some time people’s body weight becomes a bit to easy. We got past that with some of the options Eric mentioned in 10 Ways to Progress Inverted Rows.

With the 1-arm variation, body weight is enough of a challenge to the row portion. However, challenging the rotational stability aspect of the row, while still working at an angle that is doable for the working arm, may take some external loading. Check out this quick fix:

2. Use avocado oil for a change of pace in the kitchen.

Recently, one of our bootcamp clients was nice enough to give me a bottle of avocado oil as a gift for the holidays.

Funny story: it was wrapped tightly and kept its shape; in fact, I thought it was a bottle of scotch! Oh well, maybe next year…

I’ve been using it in the kitchen, and I love it! It’s definitely worth trying out as another option to complement mainstays like coconut and olive oil.  And, in addition to tasting great, it offers some other really great benefits.

For starters, it boasts a really high cooking temperature – over 500 degrees to be exact. It’s also got a solid fatty acid composition, which is great news for our cardiovascular system. Lastly, it not only boasts a ton of antioxidants itself, but actually helps absorption of nutrients in other foods as well. In fact, this study showed that adding avocado oil to a salad boosted carotenoid absorption up to 400%!

Avocado

3. Watch out for this mistake with reverse lunge technique.

At Cressey Performance, reverse lunge varietions are staples in our programming. Reverse lunges offer a great single leg exercise that is more hip dominant, and often time knee friendly, than the forward and walking lunge variations. A big reason for this is the fact that it’s less decelerative in nature – unless, of course, you make the mistake I outline below:

4. Consider this approach to integrating heart rate variability (HRV) data into your training.

A few months ago I began charting my HRV scores using the BioForce technology from Joel Jameison.

I know a lot of folks are talking about using the data to help them maximize their training. Here is what I did, and I think it’s a solid approach for others to try as well.

I decided to record my HRV scores, but not act on them for the first three months I used the application. I wanted to chart the data alongside my training, which for the most part stays organizationally the same year-round. I use block periodization to train for powerlifting meets. Over the course of about 20 weeks, I go through longer periods of loading at lower intensities, medium periods at higher intensities, and shorter periods at very high intensities.

As it stood, I would stay in the first block for four weeks, second for three, and third for two.

I noticed that my HRV scores were high enough to train at full intensity each of my three training days in the first block, all four weeks. However in the second block, I was not fully recovered going into my third week. Moreover, I was also not fully recovered moving into my second week of the last block.

I didn’t change my approach this go-round. Instead, I plan next cycle to load the first block all four weeks, split the second block into two 2-week loading phases, and the third block into two 1-week loading phases.

If you were about to begin using HRV I would recommend the same approach. If your training was productive already, as mine was, chart HRV scores alongside what you normally do, but don’t change the organization. Look for trends like this and adjust the next go around.

This will keep you from second-guessing yourself based on the data, and help you use trends to optimize your training next cycle.

5. Try setting your hands like this on back squats for optimal positioning.

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Strength and Conditioning: What I Learned in 2013

Written on February 5, 2014 at 7:22 am, by Eric Cressey

This is the eighth time I’ve recapped some of the bigger discoveries of the previous year in an article.   As I look back on the previous seven years of content, I notice a number of key observations that have immeasurably improved the way that I coach and program for athletes.  To that end, I hope that the 2013 recap offers some solid pearls of wisdom you can apply right away.

1. Frequent soft tissue work throughout the day works best.

We might not know exactly why soft tissue approaches – everything from foam rolling, to massage, to instrument-assisted modalities – work, but we do know that they help people feel and move better.  With that in mind, we’re always searching for ways to help people get faster results with less discomfort.

Earlier this year, Chris Howard, the massage therapist at Cressey Performance, was flipping back through an old massage therapy textbook and found a little pearl: a suggestion that shorter, frequent exposures to soft tissue work throughout the day is likely more effective than one longer session.  And, it certainly makes sense; our bodies “learn” and adapt better with frequent exposures. 

Candidly, it always drives me bonkers when I see someone foam roll for 30 minutes at the start of the session.  You aren’t going to magically fix everything in one session; you have to be patient and persistent.  In fact, Thomas Myers (an authority on fascia and bodywork), has commented that prominent changes may take 18-24 months to set in. 

Nowadays, when we have an athlete who is particularly balled up in one area, we heavily emphasize repeated exposures.  We recommend that they split massage therapy sessions up into shorter appointments throughout the week.  And, we’ll have them hop on the foam roller 5-6 times per day for 30-60s, as opposed to just grinding away at the same spot in one lengthy session.  It’s not convenient, but the results are definitely noticeably better.

2. Understanding an individual’s movement learning style can improve your coaching effectiveness instantly.

I’ve always divided folks I coach into three categories, according to their dominant learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.

Visual learners can watch an exercise be performed, and then go right to it.

Auditory learners can simply hear a cue, and then go to town.

Kinesthetic learners need to actually be put in a position to appreciate what it feels like, and then they can rock and roll.

ECCishek

While most individuals are a combination of all three categories, one invariably predominates in every single case I’ve ever encountered.  With this in mind, determining an individual’s learning style during my assessment is something I started to do in 2013.  If you can streamline the cues you give, athletes will pick movements up faster, and you’ll be able to get in more quality work from the session.

I should also note that no one of these three categories is “superior;” they’re just different.  I’ve had professional athletes from all three categories.

3. External focus cues rock.

Building on the coaching cues theme, the best presentation I saw this year was Nick Winkelman’s Perform Better talk on external focus cues.

As a brief background, an internal focus cue would be one that made you think about how your body is moving.  Examples would be “extend your hips” or “tuck your elbows.”

Conversely, an external focus cue would have you focus on something in your surrounding environment. Examples would be “rip the bar apart” or “drive your heels through the floor.”  The bar and the floor are points of external focus.

Most coaches use a combination of the two – but with a greater emphasis on internal focus cues.  As Nick demonstrated with an extensive review of the literature, we out to reverse this trend, as external focus cues almost universally lead to improved performance and technique when compared to internal focus cues.

With this research in mind, evaluate the cues you give yourself before each lift.  When you deadlift, are you telling yourself to “keep the chest up” or are you reminding yourself to “show the logo on your shirt to the guy in front of you?”  Sometimes, relating things just a little bit differently can yield dramatic changes.

4. You should learn as much about recovery as you do about training at an early age.

Every decade in life seems to come with new “scare tactics” to make you think that your body is going to fall apart when you hit 30, 40, 50, 60, etc.  I turned 32 in 2013, so I’ve now had almost three years to stew over this.  Recovery just isn’t the same as you age, not matter how great you are with diet, sleep, and monitoring training volume, as degenerative changes kick in faster.  I can tell you this and I’m only at the start of the gradual downslope!

I’ve heard that, on average, strength peaks at age 29.  Obviously, this can change dramatically based on training experience.  However, in my line of work – professional baseball – the “prime” for players is widely regarded as ages 26-31.  Effectively, this constitutes just before the peak, the peak itself, and then just after the peak.  The higher the peak, the longer a playing career a player has.  This is one reason it’s so important to establish a strong physical foundation with athletes early in their career; it’s what will likely sustain their skillsets for longer.

It is equally important, however, to learn about what recovery strategies work well for you at an early age.  In fact, I’d say that not paying more attention to recovery in my younger years was one of the biggest mistakes I made.  It would have not only made my progress faster, but just as importantly, it would have prevented accumulated wear and tear for down the road (i.e., now).

Everyone responds differently to various recovery protocols.  I have guys who love ice baths, and others who absolutely hate icing.  I’ve seen players thrive with compression approaches, and others who saw no change. 

norm602133_10150376122714953_1211762470_n

Some high-level athletes can do great with seven hours of sleep, and others need 9-10 each night. Recovery is a 100% individual thing – and it’s constantly changing as you age and encounter new training challenges.

For that reason, don’t just get excited about the latest, greatest training program on the market.  Rather, try to get just as excited about finding a way that you can bounce back effectively between sessions.  It might be nutrition, supplementation, manual therapy, movement schemes, or initiatives like ice or compression.  The sooner you learn it, the better off you’ll be when you start hearing more and more of the “scare tactics” about age.

Conclusion

These four items were just the tip of the iceberg, as the strength and conditioning field is incredibly dynamic and new information emerges on a daily basis. Luckily, it's easy to stay up to speed on the latest cutting-edge information.  If you're looking for an affordable online resource to help you in this regard, check out Elite Training Mentorship.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 53

Written on February 3, 2014 at 10:05 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's quick strength and conditioning tips!

1. Elevate the feet to make stir the pot a more challenging core stability exercise.

Stir the pot is a great anterior core stability exercise, but a lot of folks claim that it gets too easy.  One quick solution to this is to just elevate the feet on a 12" box, as it effectively works very similarly to a push-up progression.  As an added bonus, you'll get a little bit more serratus anterior recruitment in this position, so you could actually consider it a shoulder health drill, too.

2. Work with gravity before you work against it.

I talk a lot to our staff about the importance of sequencing warm-ups correctly.  As examples, we always do our positional breathing drills before our mobility work, which would progress from ground-based to standing.  One more thing I like to emphasize is the importance of working with gravity before you work against it. 

I've talked about how the bench t-spine mobilization and back-to-wall shoulder flexion are two of my favorite drills for helping to get people out of extension – and we make sure to do them in this order.  With the bench t-spine mobilization, we're using gravity to help us get a good stretch on the lats and long head of the triceps, on top of taking the thoracic spine into some extension.  We just brace the core and resist extension at the lower back.

Conversely, with the back-to-wall shoulder flexion, we have to work against gravity to get the arms overhead the correct way.

This might seem like minutia, but the stiffness reduction we get by working with gravity makes it much easier to work against gravity, as there is less bad stiffness we need to overcome to get to good movement.

3. Hold light weights in your hands to increase the challenge on dead bugs.

Just as we saw with stir the pot, dead bugs can quickly become far too easy.  We'll always add a big exhale at the bottom position of each rep, but even still, this becomes too easy for most lifters.  And, while not every exercise is supposed to be made harder, we do have some wiggle room in this regard with dead bugs.  You can hold some 5-10 pound plates in each hand:

4. Buy a spice rack – or at least a bunch of spices that would theoretically go in a spice rack if you owned one.

Want to add some variety to your bland diet? Having an extensive collection of spices at your fingertips can go a long way in making the same food taste entirely different from one day to the next.  Try turmeric on eggs, or mix up some homemade Mexican seasoning for your chicken by combining chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, and anything else you want to add to the mix! 

One of the biggest advantages of buying the rack as a whole is that it gives you a chance to sample a lot of different options. Once you’ve discovered the spices you like, you can always look to buy them in bulk later on.

spicerack

5. Think "chest before chin" on push-up variations.

One of the most common push-up technique mistakes I encounter is athletes who substitute forward head posture in place of scapular retraction.  When this happens, you'll see the nose get close to the floor while the lower back is heavily arched, the upper back is rounded over, and the elbows are flared out.  I encourage athletes to get the chest to the floor before the chin get there, as it encourages them to be patient and allow the torso to descend.  Of course, you have to be careful to not allow the athlete to crank into a big arch to puff the chest out – but it's still a super-effective cue, particularly with those with less training experience.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/29/14

Written on January 29, 2014 at 8:12 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

5 Myths of Tommy John Surgery – Mike Reinold dispels five of the most common myths regarding Tommy John surgery, and also highlights some very surprising research on the perceptions of this surgery by the lay population.

IMG_7810

Detox Diets and Juice Cleanses: Could They Make You More Toxic? – As usual, the good folks at Precision Nutrition kick out some great content here.  I'll be referring folks to this article every time they ask about cleanses from here on out.

3 Things You Need to Unlearn – This is an excellent piece by Chris Colucci at T-Nation.  I especially liked point #2.

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Is Thoracic Spine Extension Work Necessary? – Part 2

Written on January 22, 2014 at 9:03 am, by Eric Cressey

Today is Part 2 of a detailed series on the thoracic spine from Eric Schoenberg.  If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1. -EC

At this point, we need to quickly touch on the concept of “neutral.”  This is certainly a hot topic in the physical therapy and strength and conditioning worlds, as it should be.  For our purposes, we like to be clear that when someone is too flexed (i.e. fully slumped posture), our cue is to “extend back to neutral.”  In addition, when someone is too extended, the cue would be to “flex back to neutral.”  This holds true in all segments of the body and in all three planes of motion (e.g. pelvic tilt, genu valgus, etc.)  The problem that we tend to see is we don’t grade our correction and “overcorrect.”  This results in fixing one problem only to create a new one in the opposite direction.  

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, he refers to this as the “inverted U curve.”  Its application here is that IF an athlete truly lacks T-spine mobility, then once we properly gain it, continued efforts to improve (rather than just maintain) this mobility will ultimately create a brand new problem (hypermobility).  This needs to be considered when we write new programs and lends itself nicely to the importance of thorough evaluation and re-evaluations.

invertu

To quickly recap part 1, for the purpose of this series, a cue to “extend the T-spine” is really a case of moving out of excessive flexion and learning to control flexion throughout the throwing motion.

In part 2 of this series, we will focus on the postural alignment and movement examination and its implications in developing an individualized exercise prescription for the athlete.  As a quick side note, it is of particular importance to recognize that the body segments don’t work in isolation.  This is a simple statement; however, when attempting to capture the role of a particular body segment or group of exercises, we are missing the big picture if we try to develop a concept without appreciating the kinetic chain.

In our opinion, the hallmark of an effective examination is the ability to properly identify the athlete’s unique postural alignment and movement tendencies.  These exams must be done with the shirt off to appreciate the bony and soft tissue anatomy. With respect to the thoracic spine, we first identify whether that athlete is in flexion, neutral, or extension.

Here's an example of an athlete with a flattened T-spine, and shoulder blades that have no idea what to do!

FlattenedTSpine

Additionally, we need to appreciate the position of the scapula and its impact on the appearance of perceived thoracic flexion.  An athlete that presents with scapular anterior tilt, abduction, and/or internal rotation can easily fool you into thinking that the athlete’s upper back is “rounded” or kyphotic. An athlete with a flat thoracic spine (hypokyphosis) will have a more prominent scapula due to lack of normal contour of the T-spine and ribcage.  In extreme cases, we will see the following:

1. Hypokyphosis (lack of T-spine flexion)

Hypokyphosis

2. Scheurmann's Disease (greater than 60 degrees, and structural)

Scheurmanns

On x-ray, these cases will show a change in the normal vertebral “wedging.”  The intervention in this case is NOT to attempt to fix the mobility issue, but first determine if the issue is osseous/structural in nature.  Just like any other joint (the hip immediately comes to mind), you can’t stretch bone and any attempt to do so will result in an unhappy athlete!  These are extreme examples, but certainly something that warrants inclusion in this article.

However, more commonly in the physical therapy or strength and conditioning settings, we will see more “middle of the road” cases where there is too much or too little thoracic mobility. As you can see in the lateral view below, this athlete appears to be in excessive thoracic flexion, but it's really just anterior tilting of the scapulae.

SideView

However, in the posterior view, you'd be able to appreciate that the T-spine is relatively extended compared to accepted norms (40° flexion = normal curve). 

Moving forward, static alignment does not tell the whole story, so don’t test it alone and don’t let it fool you.  All too often, I hear people trying to prove a point about pitching mechanics or exercise technique and the only proof is a still photo.  This practice needs to stop because it is impossible to capture the complexity of human movement and make a conclusive statement from a screen shot. This concept is why the combination of the postural exam and movement analysis is so critical.

Athletes don’t get injured when they are standing still. They get injured moving (incorrectly!).  For that reason, watch your athlete’s move.  The concepts of FMS or whatever collection of multi-joint movements you like to combine to form a “movement examination” are great tools to collect data on your athlete’s preferred movement patterns.  However, it is also critical to watch the athlete perform the unique movements of their chosen sport. 

In our case, we like to talk to our athlete’s about pitching and we certainly like to watch them throw.  Asking questions like:  “What do you struggle with mechanically” or “where do you break down when you get tired” gives us valuable insight into movement tendencies and injury risk.  With respect to exercise, we observe closely to make sure we are achieving the desired result of the exercise.  In addition, we ask our athletes where they feel a particular exercise to help determine activation patterns and sequencing (motor control).

In addition to watching our athletes throw/pitch, swing, and/or run, we employ simple movement tests such as standing bilateral shoulder flexion (and abduction) to gather critical information about movement quality, timing, and relative stiffness. 

With respect to the video above, consider the excessive extension moment at the thoracic (and lumbar spine) due to increased relative flexibility resulting from poor anterior core stiffness.  This video brings up a lot of questions in my mind:

  • Does this athlete need more mobility work into thoracic extension? 
  • If he attempted these exercises, how can you be sure the motion will even come from the right place?
  • If an athlete is truly “lax” congenitally, then why would they lack mobility at the T-Spine and nowhere else?  
  • Are you sure his lack of shoulder flexion is due to decreased thoracic mobility? 
  • Or, is he too flexible in his spine and too readily pulls into extension due to the stiffness of his lats? 

My point here is we need to consider the fact that improperly prescribed exercise will make the athlete worse than no exercise at all.  So, if you’re not sure, don’t guess.  Refer out or continue to re-assess until it becomes clear what the athlete needs.

Another simple movement test that we will have the athlete perform is standing thoracic flexion and extension.  Here we will assess the timing (quality), location, and amount of available range of motion that the athlete is working with.

It is also good practice to watch an athlete perform an exercise prior to putting it in his program. 

This athlete (also pictured above) demonstrates faulty movement by not getting out of extension at the top of his pushup prior to initiating the “pike” portion of the yoga push up.  When corrected, in the video below, he did a better job of getting his T-spine in position to allow his scapula to have a better platform to upwardly rotate and elevate as his hands moved overhead.  This was not a mobility issue; this was a patterning or motor control problem.

I should mention that in a full examination, we would consider movement testing of thoracic rotation and sidebending, ventilation, rib cage alignment, quadruped position/movement, etc.  But, for the purposes of this series, we again are choosing to focus primarily on the sagittal plane.  Pay attention to the way in which the athlete returns from flexion to get a good idea of his/her recruitment strategies.

In conclusion, the combination of static posture, movement testing, and unique athletic movement allows us to create a well-rounded profile of the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.  Be sure that your examination a) identifies areas of limitation that need to be addressed and b) determines the reason why the athlete has these impairments.

In the third and final part of this series, we will discuss the concepts of relative flexibility and motor control as it relates to the topic of thoracic spine extension.

Also, if you’re interested in more information like this, we would love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, with the next one taking place in June. Click here to learn more.

Home_page1

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/15/14

Written on January 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Does training heavier lead to more hypertrophy? – This excellent review from Chris Beardsley summarizes the research to-date on the impact of various loads on muscle growth.

Heartburn, Reflux, and GERD: 10 Lifestyle and Nutrition Tips for Feeling Better Now – Precision Nutrition's Ryan Andrews wrote this great piece that will benefit anyone who's suffered from these common ailments.

7 Ways to Dominate the Pull-up – Nick Tumminello highlights seven strategies you can employ if you're struggling with pull-ups. Some of them are ones you may have heard, but as we've come to expect from Nick, there are also some innovative new exercises to try.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 52

Written on January 14, 2014 at 6:31 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we published an installment of Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better, but we're back at it today, thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, who has these five tips for you:

1. With deadlift technique, take tension out of the bar one hand at a time.

In my experience the single most difficult lesson to teach a newcomer to deadlifting is how to leverage their weight against the bar. This concept goes by many names, for example: taking the slack out, pulling the tension out, etc. Whatever your cue of choice, learning how to leverage is the “ah-ha” moment for many new lifters. In the following video, I demonstrate a drill that I find very helpful. It may just need to be done in the beginning stages of learning the lift, or it might be something you use for the rest of your life. Either way, it’s definitely worth a look:

2. Use this example to teach the difference between retraction and posterior tilting of the shoulder blades.

To piggy back off the video in point 1, check out this quick video on how to differentiate between retraction, and posterior tilting of the shoulder blades, and why it’s important to learn the latter when setting up for a deadlift.

3. Mimic a good standing posture with prone bridge variations.

The prone bridge, or “plank” exercise is probably the most popular core training exercise since the sit-up. It is an absolute go-to in our programming when teaching people how to resist extension and train the anterior core properly. Unfortunately, it’s also butchered more often than not.

A truly well done prone bridge is one that mimics correct alignment in a good standing posture. It is NOT just a position sans any low back extension. Let’s take a look at what I mean.

First, you need to position the shoulder blades correctly. Too often, people will excessively protract the scaps and embrace a more rounded over upper back position, seen here:

IMG_9444

Instead, slightly tilt the shoulder blades back, and place them in a position more like the one seen here:

IMG_9447

Next, do not allow excessive flexion of the spine from top to bottom:

IMG_9446

In this last picture, we are allowing the person to completely dominate the movement with the rectus abdominis and are not promoting proper recruitment from the internal and external obliques or the transverse abdominis.

To bring this all together, here is a picture of good standing posture with 90 degrees of shoulder flexion; note the similarities to a properly executed prone bridge.

IMG_9442

4. Try out this variation of the lower trap raise.

I like this variation for a few reasons:

  • It allows some of the more extended populations to stay in a better spinal positioning.
  • It promotes proper positioning of the shoulder blades in a back squat or overhead squat exercise.
  • It takes away some of the resistance gravity places on us in a prone positioning.
  • It helps develop a proper squat pattern and bottom position
  • It’s efficient, allowing people to train multiple aspects of good movement at the same time.
  • For more advanced populations you can get rid of the wall, and do it in a freestanding deep squat position.

5. Remember that not everything needs to be “difficult.”

Throughout a strength-training program, you will have exercises that are meant to be loaded up to their limit, and others that are there purely to practice a position or motor control pattern. As a client or athlete becomes more advanced, certain exercises will become less challenging. This doesn’t mean that you need to continually find ways to make a movement harder and harder. Too often, when we do so, we take away from the integrity of the movement.

Sure, you can load up your basic deadlift, squat, and lunge patterns until the cows come home, but exercises like the rollout, prone bridge, or side plank will eventually reach a limit in ways that you can productively make them “harder.” This by no means renders them useless, though. In fact, by loading them excessively, or adding an infinite amount of bells and whistles to them, you will mostly find ways to compensate and stray further from their intention. As they become easier to complete, it just changes their purpose from one of teaching the body, to one of reminding the body how to recruit properly.

Some exercises do have a ceiling, and once it’s reached, you don’t need to try and blast through it. Let them serve their purpose, and let the big movements account for your substantial progressions.

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Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 3

Written on January 10, 2014 at 8:45 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's time for another installment of my series on things you might overlook when assessing a new client or athlete.  Here are three more things to which you should pay attention:
 
1. Shoulder Flexion Range of Motion – This is a valuable test to use in conjunction with a back-to-wall shoulder flexion test. If you can't effectively perform a back to wall shoulder flexion as in the video featured here, then we need to ask "why not?"

 
It might happen because you lack good stiffness in various places – anterior core, lower trapezius, upper trapezius, and serratus anterior, to name a few.  Or, it might be because you're unable to overpower bad stiffness or shortness. Maybe you lack thoracic extension, are too rhomboid dominant, or simply can't get full shoulder flexion range of motion.  To check for this last one, you'll want to put the individual in supine with the back flat and knees and hips flexed.  They should be able to get the arms all the way down to the table – so this would be no good.
 
shouderflexion
 
Shoulder flexion can be limited by a lot of things: short/stiff lats, teres major, long head of the triceps, and inferior capsule.  Regardless of what limits it, though, you can't just take someone with this limited a ROM and plug them into overhead pressing. You're just waiting to chew up a rotator cuff, biceps tendon, labrum, or all of the above.
 
As a little bonus, this is my favorite drill for improving shoulder flexion ROM:
 

 
2. Scapular Upward (or Downward) Rotation – It goes without saying that scapular control – or the ability to position the shoulder blades appropriately – is absolutely essential to safe and effective upper extremity movement.  In order for that to occur, though, the shoulder blades have to start in the right position.  With respect to scapular rotation, "neutral" posture has the shoulder blades sitting at 5 degrees of upward rotation at rest. In the picture below, the black line represents where he should be in terms of upward rotation, but instead, you'll see that he sits in about 20-25 degrees of downward rotation (for the record, there are a number of other things wrong with this posture, so this is only a start!).
 
ScapularDownwardRotation
 
The problem with starting in this much downward rotation (or any downward rotation, at all) is that it's like beginning a race from 20 yards behind the starting line.  When the arm starts to move up, the shoulder blade needs to rotate up to maintain the ball and socket congruency.  If it starts too low, it can't possibly be expected to catch up – so the ball will ride up relative to the socket, regardless of how strong the rotator cuff is to try to prevent that superior migration.  You'll wind up seeing irritation of the rotator cuff, biceps tendon, labrum, or bursa if it's left unchecked.
 
Step 1 is to simply educate people on where the scapula actually should sit, and step 2 is to work on training from that correct new starting position.

3. Constant stretching - I always take note of when I see a client who seems to be stretching "nervously" when they're just standing or sitting around.  You'll often see people cranking on their shoulders, cracking their necks, touching their toes, or any of a number of things that make them "feel better.
 
The problem is that these people are often stretching out protective tension – or stiffness that's there because they lack stability elsewhere.  This is often the case with those with significant joint hypermobility.  They're already unstable, but the stretching is like picking a scab; it gives them temporary relief from the tightness, but only makes things worse in the long run.  It might be hamstrings tightness in someone with crazy anterior pelvic tilt, biceps tightness in those with anterior shoulder instability, or any of a number of other presentations throughout the body.  Unquestionably, though, the most common one is neck stretching in those with poor scapular control.
 
There is no one solution for everyone's problem, but I would encourage you to always ask, "Why is this tight?"  And, don't even think about stretching until you know the answer.
 
I'll be back soon with more commonly overlooked assessments.  In the meantime, if you're looking for an additional resource on this front, I'd encourage you to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.
 
Layout 1
 

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