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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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Save 20% on Functional Stability Training!

Written on July 27, 2015 at 6:21 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope everyone's week is off to a great start. And, just in case it isn't, I've got some good news for you: Mike Reinold and I have put our Functional Stability Training products 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.

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You can get any (or all!) of the FST products for 20% off this week only as a special sale to our readers.  No coupon code is needed; the discount will be automatically applied at checkout. That’s under $80 for each of the modules or under $240 for the whole bundle! Click here for more information.

Enjoy!


10 Important Notes on Assessments

Written on February 20, 2015 at 6:45 pm, by Eric Cressey

I'm a big believer in the importance of the "Assess, Don't Assume" mentality. However, it's crucial that assessments be approached the right way in order to deliver optimal results in strength and conditioning programs. Here are ten thoughts on the subject:

1. Assessments are an easy way to differentiate yourself.

With this era of semi-private training and bootcamps, there are still a lot of coaches and facilities out there that pay no attention whatsoever to pre-participation screenings. On one hand, it's a sad commentary on our industry, as one could argue that omitting assessments sets clients up for injuries. On the other hand, it creates an excellent opportunity for skilled coaches and trainers to differentiate themselves in a low-barrier-to-entry industry. If you're not assessing, you're just guessing! Make it a priority to start learning more about your clients/athletes.

2. Thorough assessments include both specific and general components.

In my eyes, every assessment can be categorized as either specific or general. Specific assessments may be anything from single-joint range-of-motion (ROM) assessments to the provocative tests physicians and rehabilitation specialists may use. They identify specific things like elbow extension ROM or whether a particular test elicits pain.

Conversely, general assessments look at global movements and evaluate multiple joints at the same time. Examples include overhead squats and push-ups.

The problem is that both kinds of assessments can fall short. As examples, you may see unstable young athletes who pass all ROM assessments (specific) with flying colors, but fold up like lawn chairs when they do an overhead lunge walk (general).

You may also see athletes with perfect overhead squats, but significantly limited knee flexion ROM that would make you concerned that they'd pull a quad (rectus femoris) while sprinting. These are just two examples, though; there are countless more we could cite.

3. You must always be willing to refer out.

You're better off being a great trainer/coach than you are trying to be an incredibly subpar physical therapist or physician. Even if you had a tremendous knowledge of provocative tests and rehabilitation techniques, as a trainer/coach, you don't have the same resources (e.g., diagnostic imaging equipment) these professionals have. Furthermore, diagnosing is outside your scope of practice, anyway.

I refer out every single week. It creates great opportunities for collaboration that will benefit our clients/athletes, and for our staff to learn from related professionals. If you see something on an assessment that raises a red flag, it's better to be safe than sorry.

4. Don't assess just for the sake of assessing; make it to the point.

My biggest assessment pet peeve is when the process takes too long. You can do an incredibly thorough evaluation in about 30 minutes, and most shouldn't even take that long. The only ones that would require more time would be those with extensive injury histories or other unique circumstances.

                   The sooner you're done assessing,
                   the sooner you can get to training.

5. Assess in the context of both injury history and functional demands.

As a follow-up to point #4, you never want to go into a movement assessment "blind" with respect to the person in front of you. Rather, it's best to first review a health history and have a discussion about training history, goals, athletic demands, and expectations. I find that it's best to perform an evaluation with a better knowledge of an individual's history than it is to look at movement and then work backward from it.

For example, if your pre-assessment discussion reveals that an individual was a baseball player growing up, you can expect to see more external rotation on his dominant shoulder. That might lead you to look more closely at whether he has adequate anterior shoulder stability, and whether his scapula upwardly rotates enough. It also might help to explain a low right shoulder.

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Basically, you need to see the big picture; the "answers" are usually a combination of a bunch of tests, questions, and observations.

6. You have to emotionally separate yourself your personal biases when it comes to assessments.

Baseball players are the largest chunk of my clientele. As a result, I evaluate shoulders and elbows in a ton of detail.

Recently, we started training an NFL punter, though.

I did a thorough assessment with him, but let's just say that we didn't spend a ton of time worrying about verifying that he had perfect elbow ROM. Instead, we spent a lot more time looking at his core and lower extremity; otherwise, the assessment would have taken all day, and we'd acquire a lot of information that wouldn't have a significant impact on his programming.

7. Don't let hypermobile clients/athletes "cheat" assessments.

Just like you need to have both specific and general assessments, you also need to make sure to include both mobility and stability assessments. Hypermobile (loose-jointed) individuals are notorious for cheating assessments that are biased toward ROM. Comprehensive assessments need to also evaluate stability.

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In this vein, the Functional Movement Screen does a good job of looking at both sides of the equation. The shoulder mobility, overhead squat, and straight leg raise tests are general assessments largely biased toward mobility, but the trunk stability push-up, hurdle step, rotary stability, and in-line lunge screens are all predominately stability challenges.

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To learn more about how hypermobile folks can "cheat" assessments, check out my article, 15 Static Stretching Mistakes.

8. Have some feel; don't make new clients (or any clients) uncomfortable.

If a man is overweight and uncomfortable with his body, it's probably not a great idea to have him take his shirt off for a scapular screen. If a woman is seriously deconditioned, it's probably not a good idea to put her through a lunge assessment that she'll fail miserably. And, it's an even worse idea to do these things in front of a crowded gym.

           Remember that the first day is as much about
           building rapport and starting a friendship as it
            is about evaluating how an individual moves.

As has been said in the past, "They have to know how much you care before they care how much you know."

9. Don't forget to highlight what individuals do well, too.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote, “It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.” This point applies to fitness and movement assessments, too. Think about it: would you like to be criticized non-stop for 30 minutes? Probably not.

By contrast, if someone highlighted what you did well while also covering some important growth areas for you, wouldn't these suggestions be more well received? Absolutely.

Again, your goal is to establish a great relationship, not just analyze movement.

10. Remember that training is a never-ending assessment.

Every exercise is an assessment. Each time your clients and athletes move, they're providing you with information. The more you pay attention, the better you'll be able to individualize their programs and coaching cues moving forward.

If you're looking for more information on the assessment side of things, I'd encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training series. These resources go into great detail on evaluating the lower body, upper body, and core.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Wait Until Friday for a Sale?

Written on November 24, 2014 at 9:50 pm, by Eric Cressey

Everyone on the planet has a sale this Friday, so Mike Reinold and I figured we'd get the week started a few days early.

From now through the end of the day this upcoming (Cyber) Monday, you can pick up any of the Functional Stability Training Products and Optimal Shoulder Performance for 25% off. Just enter the coupon code BF2014 at checkout and the discount will be applied.

Click here to check out the Functional Stability Training series.

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Click here to check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

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Don't miss out on this great chance to get our popular products at a big discount! And, stay tuned, as I'll have a few more sales later in the week.

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How to Coach the Deadlift Set-up for Strength and Safety

Written on September 4, 2014 at 7:11 am, by Eric Cressey

I recently was asked how I approach breathing at the start of a deadlift, and - realizing that it was just the tip of the iceberg with respect to the deadlift set-up - I decided I'd post this presentation on the topic. This four-minute video is an excerpt from my longer presentation, 15 Things I've Learned about the Deadlift, which is a component of our Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body resource.

For more information, check out www.FunctionalStability.com.

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Bear Crawls vs. Crab Walks

Written on August 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I posted on Twitter that I was a big fan of bear crawls because they get you great serratus anterior recruitment, more scapular upward rotation, improved anterior core function, tri-planar stability, and some awesome reciprocal arm/leg activity. They're one of my favorite warm-up and end-of-workout low-level core activation drills.

For some reason, though, every time you mention bear crawls, someone asks about crab walks. Candidly, I don't think so highly of crab walks. In fact, I have never used them - and that's why I didn't have a video on hand of them. As such, this demonstration took place on my kitchen floor at 11:15PM:

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Keeping this position in mind, here are a few reasons that I don't like crab walks:

1. Bear crawls drive more scapular upward rotation by putting the lats and scapular downward rotators on slack as the athlete reaches overhead. With a crab walk, the arms aren't just at the sides; they are actually behind the sides. The lats are as short as they can possibly be - especially if the athlete is allowed to slip into lumbar extension (an arched lower back posture). Most folks lack scapular upward rotation regardless of whether they sit at a computer all day or throw a baseball for a living; we don't need exercises that feed into that problem even more. Additionally, the scapula is generally anteriorly tilted unless it's an experienced athlete with great body awareness. Anterior tilt is an issue we work to combat in just about every population - athlete and non-athlete alike.

2. Crab walks are brutal on the anterior shoulder. For the same reasons I outlined in my article, Are Dips Safe and Effective?, I dislike crab walks. As the humerus (upper arm) is "hyperextended" behind the body, the head of the humerus (ball) glides forward relative to the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket). This puts a lot of stress on the anterior capsule, biceps tendon, and nerve structures that pass along the front of the shoulder. And, it makes the rotator cuff work overtime from a mechanically disadvantageous position.

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3. You don't walk around like a crab in any sport that comes to mind! Seriously, this is the position you're in when you got steamrolled by a running back, or you tripped over yourself! While I get the school of thought that says it's good to be somewhat prepared for just about every potentially injurious situation you'll encounter, we've got a limited amount of training time to deliver exercises that give athletes the most bang for their buck. And, even in young athlete populations, there are literally thousands of other movements we can use with kids to create a rich proprioceptive environment with safe movements they'll actually be able to utilize on a regular basis in life. And, the bear crawl is one of these movements.

Can a lot of athletes "get away" with doing crab walks? Absolutely! However, we never know what kind of long-term structural changes are going to be in place - and we can certainly never truly appreciate what kind of missed development is in play from not including more effective exercises.

To learn more about some of our approaches to assessing and improving upper body function, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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Exercise(s) of the Week: Serratus Wall Slides

Written on August 12, 2014 at 8:27 am, by Eric Cressey

Serratus anterior is a really important muscle - and it works hand-in-hand with proper function of your thoracic spine (upper back). Check out these two drills we utilize to get it doing its job:

For more shoulder-friendly training drills like this, check out our new resource, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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5 Great Analogies for Training Baseball Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking to pick up more analogies we use to educate our players - and get a better feel for our overall system? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have events in both October and November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational course.

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Are You Packing the Shoulder Correctly?

Written on May 16, 2014 at 7:13 pm, by Eric Cressey

I gave a seminar this past weekend to an awesome group of over 80 trainers, representing 10 countries. 

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They were an enthusiastic bunch with a lot of great questions, but none stuck out in my mind quite as prominently as when a few of them questioned some comments I made with respect to "packing the shoulder."  With that in mind, I thought I'd pull together a webinar on the topic for you.  It's especially timely, in light of this week's release of Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.  Check it out:

For more detailed upper body insights like this, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body, which is on sale for $20 off this week only.

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