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Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 4

Written on March 8, 2014 at 9:21 am, by Eric Cressey

I always tell up-and-comers in the strength and conditioning field, "If you aren't assessing, you're just guessing."  It's not as simple as just doing a sit-and-reach test and having someone hop on the scale for you, though. This series is devoted to highlighting some of the most commonly overlooked components of the assessment process – and here are three more evaluations you might be missing:

1. Previous Athletic/Training Workload – If you're trying to help a client get to where they want to be, it's important to realize where they've been.  For example, someone who has a history of overworking themselves might respond really well to a lower volume program.  Or, an athlete looking to gain muscle mass who has never trained with much lifting volume might be well-served to add some "backoff" sets and additional assistance work.

This is an incredibly important discussion with our professional pitchers, too.  Starting pitchers who have a high workload (some in excess of 200 innings pitched in the previous 8-9 months) need to wait longer to start throwing than relief pitchers who may not have thrown more than 40 innings in a season.  The former group might not start an off-season throwing program until January 1, whereas the latter group might already have eight weeks of work in by that point.

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Discussions of building work capacity get a lot of love in the strength and conditioning field, but I think we often lose sight of the fact that sporting coaches are also looking to build work capacity in the context of the athletes' actual sports.  Now, these two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, but if everyone is always pushing high volume all the time, things can go downhill fast.

2. Quad and Adductor Length - Let's face it: a huge chunk of the population doesn't exercise enough, and even most of those who do exercise regularly don't pay attention to mobility needs. As a result, their entire exercise program takes place in a very small amplitude; they never get through significent joint ranges of motion. Two areas in which you see this probably rearing its ugly head the most are quad and adductor length. 

Your quads are maximally lengthened when your heel is on your butt.  How often do you see someone encounter this position in their daily lives?

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Adductors are stretched when the hips are abducted.  When was the last time you hit this pose in your daily activities – outside of a fall on the ice?

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If you want to do a quick and easy assessment of where you stand on these, try these two (borrowed from Assess and Correct):

Prone Knee Flexion: you should have at least 120 degrees of active knee flexion without the pelvis or lower back moving.

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Supine Abduction: you should have at least 45 degrees of abduction without lumbar or pelvis compensation, or any hip rotation.

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I generally just check these up on the training table when people get started up, but these should provide good do-it-yourself options for my readers who aren't fitness professionals.  Also, if you find that you come up short on these tests, get to work on the two stretches pictures at the start of this bulletpoint.

3. Taking the Shirt Off – This is a tricky one, as you obviously can't do it with female clients, and even when male clients, you have to be sensitize to the fact that it might not be something in which they'd like to partake.  That said, you'd be amazed at how many upper extremity dysfunctions can be obscured by a simple t-shirt.  As an example, this left-handed pitcher's medial elbow pain was diagnosed with ulnar neuritis, and he was prescribed anti-inflammatories for it and sent on his way without the doctor even having him take his shirt off to evaluate the shoulder and neck.

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Needless to say, he sits in heavy scapular depression on the left side, and it wouldn't be a "stretch" (pun intended) at all to suspect that his ulnar nerve symptoms would be originating further up the chain.  Take note on how the brachial plexus/ulnar nerve runs right under the clavicle as it courses down toward the elbow.

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Crank the scapula and clavicle down, and you can easily compress the nerve (and vascular structures) to wind up with thoracic outlet syndrome, a very common, but under-diagnosed condition in overhead throwing athletes.  The more forward-thinking upper extremity orthopedic surgeons are diagnosing this more and more frequently nowadays; elbow problems aren't always elbow problems!

The lesson is that you can see a lot when you take a shirt off.  If it's the right fit for your client/athlete, work it in.

I'll be back soon with more commonly overlooked assessments.  In the meantime, I want to give you a quick heads-up that to celebrate National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness week and help the cause, Mike Reinold and I have put both Functional Stability Training of the Core and Lower Body on sale for 25% off through tonight (Saturday) at midnight – with 25% of proceeds going to MS charities. Just use the coupon code msawareness to apply the discount at the following link: www.FunctionalStability.com.

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Functional Stability Training Sale to Benefit National MS Awareness Week

Written on March 7, 2014 at 11:41 am, by Eric Cressey

I just have a quick "heads-up" blog for you today, as Mike Reinold and I just put both Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body and Core on sale today for 25% off.  It's National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Week, so we'll be donating 25% of the proceeds to MS-related charities.

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Both products are available in both DVD and online-only formats. Don't miss this chance to get these resources at a great price – and help out an awesome cause in the process.  Just head to www.FunctionalStability.com, and enter the coupon code msawareness at checkout to get the discount applied.

Thanks for your support!

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Categorizing Core Stability Exercises: Not As Easy As One Might Think

Written on October 3, 2013 at 9:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Most people try to segment their core stability work into multiple categories when they are writing strength and conditioning programs.  As I discuss and demonstrate in today's video, though, they aren't as easy to subdivide as one might think:

If you're looking for more assessment, coaching, and programming strategies with respect to core stability exercises, I'd encourage you to check out our resource, Functional Stability Training of the Core. It's available in both online-only and DVD versions.

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The Deficit Deadlift: A Strength Exercise You Can Do Without

Written on August 15, 2013 at 7:25 am, by Eric Cressey

The deadlift from a deficit is a strength exercise that has gained some popularity in recent years, and it's popping up in more resistance training programs.  Unfortunately, it's an exercise that sounds a lot better on the internet than it plays out in the real world.  I have a lot of one-time consultations at Cressey Performance with people who have a history of lower back pain after deadlifts, and not surprisingly, a lot of them have attempted the deficit deadlift when they have no business performing it, as the risk-reward ratio is far too high.

To that end, in our recent Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body resource, I devoted a segment of my deadlift presentation to the topic.  Here's a free preview:

To view the rest of the presentation (and eight others), be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/10/13

Written on July 10, 2013 at 5:57 am, by Eric Cressey

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

Sports Rehab Expert Interview – Yesterday, Joe Heiler interviewed me about the new Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body product, although we actually covered a number of topics. The interview is free.  Also, if you're interested in checking out FST – Lower, you can do so here.

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Elite Training Mentorship – The July update was just posted last week, and (along with an article and two exercise demonstrations), I did a webinar on evaluating scapular positioning to determine if the bench press is contraindicated for your clients, particularly those with a history of shoulder pain.

Groin Injuries in Hockey Players – This was an awesome post from Peter Nelson on Mike Reinold's blog – even if you have no interest whatsoever in hockey.  It parallels one of my presentations (Preparing the Adductors for Health and Performance) from the FST – Lower DVD set, and also leads in to some of Mike's material.  You'll get a little taste of the Postural Restoration Institute in this article, too.

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Now Available: Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body!

Written on June 17, 2013 at 4:10 am, by Eric Cressey

I am very excited to announce that my new product, Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body, is now available. This collaborative effort from Mike Reinold and me follows up on the first module in our Functional Stability Training system, FST for the Core, which was a big hit.  Since then, we've had a lot of inquiries about when the follow-up resources in this series would be available – and today's the day.

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FST for the Lower Body is a comprehensive program that combines the way Mike approaches rehabilitation projects with how I approach strength and conditioning programs.  We talk about a ton of topics that merge our philosophies.

The resource takes a hard look at the lower extremity and how to most effectively optimize function.  By addressing alignment, strength, mobility, and dynamic motor control, you can maximize your rehabilitation and training programs to reach optimal performance.

The lower extremities work in conjunction with the core to provide mobility, strength, and power to the entire body.  Any deficits throughout the lower body’s kinetic chain can lead to injury, dysfunction, and a decrease in performance.  FST for the Lower Body aims to help formulate rehabilitation and training programs designed to optimize how the lower body functions.

The FST for the Lower Body program can be applied to rehabilitation, injury prevention, and performance enhancement programs.

For the rehabilitation specialist, the information will help you restore functional activities faster.  For the fitness and performance specialists, the information will help you achieve new progress with your clients to maximize functional and athletic potential.  For the fitness enthusiast, the information will help you gain control of your lower body, maximize functional movement, and reduce wear and tear due to faulty movement patterns.

Here is the outline of presentations and lab demonstrations in the program:

  1. Reinold: Training the Hip for FST of the Lower Body
  2. Reinold: Assessing Lower Body Alignment and Movement
  3. Cressey: Preparing the Adductors for Health and Performance
  4. Cressey: Hip Internal Rotation Deficits: Why You Have Them and What to Do About Them
  5. Reinold: Training the Foot and Ankle for FST for the Lower Body
  6. Reinold: Understanding and Implementing Neuromuscular Control Progressions into Your Programs
  7. Reinold: How to Integrate Neuromuscular Control Progressions
  8. Cressey: 15 Things I've Learned About the Deadlift
  9. Cressey: Developing Lower Extremity Strength and Power Outside the Sagittal Plane

This video resource is available as a purely-online product, or you can also order the DVD set, if you'd prefer to have a physical copy for your library.  And, this week only, it's on sale for just $79.95, far less than you'd pay for even a half-day fitness or rehabilitation seminar.  For more information and to purchase, head here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read/View: 6/13/13

Written on June 13, 2013 at 6:17 am, by Eric Cressey

This week's installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing focuses on "teaser" content from our Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body DVD set, which will be released on Monday.  Check out these three videos from Mike Reinold and me.

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter below so that you'll be among the first notified when it's released.

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Functional Stability Training: Does the Bilateral Deficit Apply to Deadlifts?

Written on June 12, 2013 at 4:52 am, by Eric Cressey

On Monday, Mike Reinold and I will release our new product, Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.  As a little taste of what you can expect, I wanted to give you an excerpt from one of my webinar presentations, "15 Things I've Learned About the Deadlift."  Many of you may not have heard of the bilateral deficit, but it's one of the strongest supporting arguments for including single-leg work in a strength training program. This presentation will make you think about applying it differently with deadlift variations, though.

We're looking forward to releasing this resource "in full" on Monday at an introductory discount.  To be among the first notified, please subscribe to my newsletter in the box below – and you'll receive a free four-part detailed deadlift technique video tutorial as a bonus.

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Today’s Sale: All Proceeds Go to the One Fund Boston

Written on April 22, 2013 at 5:48 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s been a rough week up here in Boston, as I’m sure you all know. For those of you around the country and world that would like to help, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have announced the formation of The One Fund Boston to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston last week.

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Additionally, Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots has offered to match donations to The One Fund Boston, up to $100,000, if donated through the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. This is a fantastic opportunity to double any donation you may want to consider giving.

Mike Reinold and I have decided to offer both Optimal Shoulder Performance and Functional Stability Training for the Core for 33% off today only, with all proceeds going to the One Fund Boston. This is the lowest price we have ever offered on both resources.

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For more information go to either www.FunctionalStability.com or www.ShoulderPerformance.com. Be sure to enter coupon BOSTONSTRONG during the checkout process to get 33% off. We will donate all proceeds from today’s purchases.  We’ll be donating through the Patriots Charitable Foundation, so your purchase should go even further.

If you would also like to donate directly, head to the The One Fund Boston or click here to double your donation by having the Kraft Family match your contribution through the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.

Thanks for helping to support our great city!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 32

Written on February 8, 2013 at 10:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to make your nutrition strength and conditioning programs a bit more awesome.

1. Position your free hand in the correct place during unilateral upper body movements.

2. Improve exercise form by cueing spinal flexion, when appropriate.

In the following video I demonstrate a few exercises where spinal flexion is actually a good cue to keep people in better positions during the movement. It seems counter-intuitive, so what’s the deal?

First off, individuals may start of in a more extended posture. This is often the case with athletes, or really any active individuals. Therefore, cueing flexion brings you closer to neutral. This is something to which Eric devoted a lot of attention in Functional Stability Training.

As someone who is pretty extended, I often find that the appropriate positioning of my spine actually feels rounded over, or flexed. In reality, I am just less extended than usual. Try it out for yourself, and possibly try to grab a quick video so you can relate what you’re feeling to what it actually looks like. I think you will be surprised.

Second, certain exercises fit this description: They are inherently harder to execute without driving through back extension. Additionally, they are not loaded in such a way that erring on the side of being a little flexed is dangerous. With these movements, starting a bit flexed is helping, not hurting.

Third, many people who struggle with “anti-extension” exercises are simply unable to understand what should be kicking in to keep them in the right position. Taking these folks into a position of slight flexion helps them learn to use the abdominals. Before you knock it, try it out. You will find this cue gets most people to neutral, and in the cases where they remain slightly flexed you can gradually teach them to even out.

3. Pull through the floor when performing board and floor press variations.

Great benchers all have one thing in common: they use their lats well in their bench press technique. Using the lats to bench is tough to conceptualize, and even tougher to actualize when training. It was always a major issue for me, and held me back quite a bit. One great way to learn how to engage the lats is with the board press and floor press. When done the way I explain in this video you will be able to get some feed back on the “pulling” sensation you are looking for when lowering the bar. Give it a try!

4. Convert some of your favorite oils into sprays for cooking.

Most of us use oils to coat pans and dishes when cooking. One easy thing you can do to save a few calories, and dollars, is make spray bottles with your oils. It’s fairly easy to find BPA free spray bottles, or you can invest in a Misto, which is a cool little gadget too. I generally use a 3-to-1 ratio of the oil and water in my sprays and that seems to work well. You will notice right away that as little as 6oz of olive oil when converted to a spray bottle will last a LONG time! This means you save money and eliminate unnoticed calories from your diet. Too easy!

5. Consider this blueprint for being a good training partner.

I am lucky that over the past few years, I have had some really solid training partners. When you have a good team, you are always better than you could be alone. Unfortunately, my own schedule and location, has made it tough to keep a training partner around who is on the same page as me with their training. That aside, it got me thinking about what makes a great training partner. Give this a look and see where you can step your game.

  • Be consistent. Nothing is more important to your success in the gym, and nothing is more important to your training partner. SHOW UP, all the time.
  • Shut up and train. We all have better days than others, and your training partner doesn’t need to be dragged into some pity party you are hosting.
  • Coach more. Yelling things like “up!” is a giant waste of your training partner’s time. Unless he or she tends to forget which direction the bar is supposed to move, then take stock in learning what helps them. Talk technique with them, and yell out things that will make or break their lift

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