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Exercise of the Week: Integrating Hip Mobility with Core Stability

Written on April 4, 2014 at 5:14 am, by Eric Cressey

In this week's installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce one of my favorite "combo" drills for hip mobility and core stability.  I actually came up with the lateral lunge with band overhead reach myself in the summer of 2012 as I was thinking up ways for our throwers to have better rotary and anterior core stability as they rode their back hips down the mound during their pitching delivery. I introduced the exercise in phase 2 of The High Performance Handbook, and got several emails from customers who commented on just how much they liked it.  Give it a shot!

The name of the game with this exercise is "bang for your buck."  You're getting anterior core stability that'll help you prevent the lower back from slipping into too big an arch.  You're getting rotary stability that'll help prevent excessive rotation of your spine.  You're getting hip mobility that'll enable you to get into new ranges of motion.  And, you'll build lower body frontal plane stability so that you can perform outside of just the sagittal (straight-ahead) plane.

I'll usually do three sets of 6-8 reps per side. Enjoy!

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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.

pronekneeflexion

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

supineabduction

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.

lowleftshoulder

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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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Prisoner Lunge Walk with Pec Stretch

Written on August 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm, by Eric Cressey

Those of you who have followed along with my "Exercise of the Week" series probably can tell by now that I'm a fan of "big bang for your buck" exercises.  This isn't just limited to multi-joint strength exercises like deadlifts, bench presses, lunges, squats, overhead presses, chin-ups, and rows, though.  Rather, it can also apply to mobility exercises because – let's face it – single-joint warm-ups are boring and take too long.  Here's one mobility warm-up drill we'll use to improve thoracic mobility and pec length while opening up the hips.  Simultaneously, you're training the anterior core to resist excessive lumbar extension (arching at the lower back).

For the throwers out there reading this post, be sure to avoid really cranking those elbows back; chances are you already have plenty of range-of-motion.  Just focus more on resisting the excessive arching of the lumbar spine.

Looking for more great mobility drills like this?  Check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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5 Ways to Counteract Wearing High Heels

Written on July 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from CP coach, Greg Robins.

This week, my girlfriend is off competing for the Miss International title. I am really proud of her, as she is doing so to raise awareness for her charity. She asked me how she could cancel out some of the negative repercussions that come along with wearing heels for seven days straight. It got me thinking, and I decided to take my advice to her and make it into a post for the readers out there who regularly wear high heels – or train females who do so.

It almost goes without saying, but wearing footwear that includes an excessive heel lift (i.e. high heels), greatly alters the alignment of your entire body. When we are misaligned, certain areas of the body will be asked to do more than they should, while other areas, in turn, are unable to fulfill their duties. We recognize this problem and its ill effects with people who function day to day with poor posture and movement habits. When we choose to wear this type of footwear, we are forcing ourselves into a poor position, regardless of where we were prior. To make matters worse, most of us are not in a particularly great position barefoot. The addition of heel lifts, as high as 2 – 4 inches, certainly does not help. 

That being said, high heels are a fashion statement, and sometime ladies just want to look glamorous. I certainly am not one to advocate against wearing something that makes you feel like a million bucks. However, if you don't want to feel like the polar opposite of that the next day, try applying these five tips!

1. Do more self massage.

I recommend keeping a golf ball, lacrosse ball, and (if possible) a foam roller or piece of PVC pipe on hand. As we touched on above, wearing high heels will cause a few muscle groups to work overtime. The idea with all of our tips is to "undo" what you have "done." With that in mind, we need to start with a concerted effort to take down the tone down of these overactive muscles. 

Use a golf ball to massage the bottom of your feet. This can be done by placing the ball underneath your foot while standing. Apply a generous amount of pressure while rolling the ball in various patterns along the underside of the foot. 

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Like wise, you can do a similar thing on the muscles of your calves with either the golf or lacrosse ball. In a seated position, place the ball under your calf and apply pressure while rolling the ball around the back side of your lower leg. 

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Another great spot on which to use the ball is the front side of your upper leg. Attack the hip flexors by using the lacrosse ball and/or foam roller. In a prone (face down) position, use the implements to massage the quadriceps (thigh) as well as the high, anterior (front) of the hips. While I would make these two spots the priority, you would be well advised to work on the outer thigh, and inner thighs as well. Check out our foam rolling progression in the video below. Pay extra attention to the portion targeting the lower extremities.

2. Facilitate the inhibited muscle groups.

Once you have finished with the self massage techniques described above, you will want to "re-ignite" the areas that were inhibited by the mal-positioning of a high heel lift. I like people to start from the core, and work their way out. There are three easy to use activation exercises to get you going. First, you can use a low level breathing exercise. Breathing exercises will help facilitate the diaphragm, and the external / internal obliques. By doing so, we can help "turn on" the mid-section correctly, get you away from an extended bias, and further bring down the tone of your body. A great option is the the deep squat breathing with lat stretch. Check out the video below. 

Next, we can facilitate the mid section a little more aggressively by adding some movement of the limbs while controlling the core. Dead bugs are a viable option here. Check out this video:

Lastly, some easy glute activation is in order. The glutes function in all three planes of motion. Therefore, it is important that we facilitate their function correctly. For lesser trained individuals I would recommend hammering the sagittal plane first and foremost. Supine bridge variations are the best place to start. From there, we can work into a side lying clam variation. Lastly, for the more prepared individuals an exercise such as the bowler squat is a nice way to activate the glutes in all three planes. Check out the videos and pictures below.

3. Stress foot/toe and ankle function.

When wearing heels, the most obviously altered joints are the toes/foot and the ankles. It is important that we address them appropriately. The toes will be constricted by the narrow toe in most of these shoes. Because of this they will no longer function normally during gait. Additionally, the ankles will be placed into a position of plantarflexion permanently. With this in mind, there are a few easy exercises that should be done in order to restore proper function of the foot and ankle. The first would be some low level mobility drills for the ankle, stressing dorsiflexion. Knee break ankle mobs are terrific in this scenario.

Furthermore, some ankle "alphabets" are also a great way to restore function to both the ankle and the foot.

Lastly, I would recommend doing toe pulls as well to wake up the feet, and toes. Check out the video below from Hitting Performance Labs showing us the toe pull exercise made famous by the folks at Z Health.

4. Re-groove a posterior weight shift.

The heel lift causes us to shift our center of mass forward. This can be a big problem, namely for all the reasons we talked about in the opening of this article. In order to combat this, we need to re-groove a posterior weight shift. Basically, the idea is that we need to re-teach our body what right feels like. Eric did a great post on the effectiveness of the left-stance toe touch, you can read it here. For now, make sure that you implement this exercise as often as possible, especially when you find yourself wearing heels!

5. Take a break whenever you can.

Finally, you can offset the problems associated with wearing heels by simply taking them off whenever possible. If you have 10-15 minutes where you can catch a break, do so! If you really want to make progress, use that time to do some of the drills above. 

If you regularly find yourself in heels, I hope this article helps you out. Additionally, if you know someone who wears heels on a regular basis (I know you do!), then please share this with them!

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Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Mobility Training for Catchers

Written on March 16, 2013 at 6:25 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, my good friend Joey Wolfe has a great guest post on the topic of training baseball catchers.  Joey’s a really bright guy with a lot of experience on this front; I think you’ll enjoy this. – EC

One of the biggest challenges for young players is being able to make adjustments to their swing, throwing mechanics, running mechanics, etc. Sometimes mental barriers get in the way of making the adjustment, yet often times it is a physical limitation; more specifically a mobility, stability or sequencing issue. As a coach it can be very frustrating trying to get a player to make an adjustment to their mechanics that their body is simply unable to make. A good coach will try to figure out another way to communicate the adjustment to the player. A great coach will figure out where the problem lies. This is where the strength & conditioning coaches come in. Although most of us may not know what it means to beat the ball to the spot, all of us should have a good understanding of how to improve the mobility of our athletes. It is this skill set that will directly affect the performance of our athletes.

The main responsibility of any catcher is to catch the ball. If a catcher cannot consistently catch the ball he will quickly find himself playing in the outfield. A catcher has many responsibilities; handling the pitching staff, calling pitches, receiving, blocking, throwing; the list goes on. In order for a catcher to be successful they must first and foremost be comfortable. Without the proper mobility the catching duties can quickly go from hard to impossible. Here are the three areas that stand out as the limiting factors in regards to mobility for catchers.

1. Limited ankle mobility: It is imperative that a catcher has mobile ankles. Having mobile ankles allows the catcher to comfortably get in a squatting position. With nobody on base (primary stance) a catcher is generally going to sit into a deep, comfortable squat with the ankles slightly everted. Stiff ankles have a tendency to put more stress on the hips. Also, without ankle mobility a catcher’s ankle sway will be limited. Ankle swaying is extremely important for catchers, especially at the lower levels because pitchers tend to lack command of their pitches. Ankle swaying allows the catcher to get their nose and body in front of the ball without moving the receiving arm too much. When there is a lot of movement with the receiving arm the pitch doesn’t look as good from the umpire’s vantage point. Finally, if an ankle is locked up it will limit the catcher’s ability to get in the proper throwing position to deliver the ball to second base. Although the movement may start at the hip, the ankle needs to have the appropriate amount of mobility to allow the ankle to externally rotate so the back foot can get in the correct position. Here are some of our favorite ankle mobility exercises.

Multiplanar Wall Ankle Mobilizations (previously described by EC here)

Ankle Inversion with Band

Sit with the band attached to your inside foot with a pad under calf so heel is off the ground. Use only your ankle, pull toes to stretch the band shin and return to the starting position for prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during the exercise. There should be less motion moving your foot out than in. This exercise will work the muscles in your lower leg and challenge the coordination in your ankle.

Ankle Eversion with Band

Sit perpendicular to a band that is attached to the outside of your foot. Place a pad under your calf so the heel is off the ground. Move your ankle away, stretching the band for the prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during exercise. There will be less motion moving your foot out than in. Working the muscles in your low leg and challenging the coordination in your ankle.

2. Poor thoracic mobility: It has been pretty well documented that limited shoulder mobility and/or thoracic extension will impede one’s ability to get into the correct squatting position. Well imagine trying to catch an Aroldis Chapman fastball or a Tim Collins curveball if you can’t get down in a comfortable squatting position; not fun! Remember, the key to being a successful catcher is being comfortable. The absence of thoracic mobility is highlighted when a catcher has to get down into their secondary stance (two strikes on the batter and/or a runner on base). What you’ll find is a rounded upper back and shoulders that roll forward. This creates three problems.

First, it makes for a smaller target for the pitcher. Pitchers want a big target to throw to, not a small one. Therefore, generally speaking, it is the catcher’s job to make himself look as big as possible.

Second, it limits the catcher’s ability to receive the ball comfortably from the pitcher. Often times the catcher will feel “locked up” when they are unable to move freely through their t-spine. A low and away curveball from a right-handed pitcher will give them fits and you can forget about a good right-handed two-seam fastball or filthy left-handed slider. Basically any pitches that require the catcher to go get the ball will create challenges for a catcher that is tight in their t-spine.

Third, when a mobility issue is present the lengthened muscles will serve to dissipate the force transfer from the ground and lead to slower feet. This will make it near impossible to do anything quickly. Whether it is going down to block a ball, throw a runner out or back up first base, being tight up top will effect what is going on down below. Here are a few great exercises to help improve mobility in the t-spine.

Thoracic Spine Mobility – Double Tennis Ball

Tape two tennis balls together to for a “peanut” shape. Lie on your back with the balls under your spine just above your lower back and your hands behind your head. Perform 5 crunches. Then raise your arms over your chest and alternately reach over your head for 5 repetitions with each arm. Move the balls up your spine 1 to 2 inches and repeat the crunches and arm reaches. Continue moving the balls up your spine until they are just above your shoulder blades and below the base of your neck. During the crunches, try and “hinge” on the ball rather than rolling over it. Think about keeping your ribs pushed down to the ground during the arm reaches, as if you were getting a deep massage in your mid to upper back.

Side-Lying Extension-Rotation

Quadruped Extension-Rotation

3. Bad hip mobility: Last, but certainly not least, on the list of mobility restrictions is bad hip mobility. Of the three limitations I have mentioned, this one may be the biggest culprit in young catchers today. Given the number of hours kids spend sitting in class, watching T.V. and playing video games, it comes as no surprise that their hip mobility is negatively affected. We often find that the catchers we work with lack internal rotation (internal rotation deficit), and are short/tight in their hip flexors and adductors.

Two of our favorite stretches to address an internal rotation deficit are the knee-to-knee stretch and the supine dynamic hip internal rotation stretch. Allowing for more rotation in the hips is going to free the catcher to better perform the ankle sway, which really starts at the head of the femur. That internal hip rotation gives the ankles and the rest of the body a better chance to get in front of the ball when receiving a pitch and also allows the feet to get in the proper position when throwing the ball.

Lying Knee-to-Knee Mobilization

As Eric mentioned a few weeks ago in his epic post 15 Static Stretching Mistakes, the lying knee-to-knee stretch can impose some valgus stress at the knees if it isn’t coached/cued properly. So, instead of thinking of letting the knees fall in, tell the athlete to actively internally rotate the femurs. The stretch should occur at the hips, not the knees.

Supine Dynamic Hip Internal Rotation

When addressing the adductors (groin), we are advocates of doing as much soft tissue work as one can stand. It’s not easy to get in to all of these areas with a foam roll, so we’ll often we’ll have our clients use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball (if they can handle it). After hammering these areas with some soft tissue work, we’ll have our catchers do a few lengthening exercises. A couple of our favorites are the Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs and the Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch. When done right, both of these exercises emphasize the importance of hip mobility while maintaining core stability. Here’s a look at some of these exercises.

Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs

Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch

Simple and easy way to stretch some of the tightest muscles in the body. Squeeze the glutes of the knee that is on the ground, then push the hips forward. To progress, raise your arms overhead.

Typically, catchers are big guys who – for their size – move free and easy, especially in the aforementioned areas. Being a good catcher is more than just being big and strong. It is about being big and strong while maintaining your mobility and flexibility. Anyone can add size and strength, but if your movement is compromised in the process, then it is almost certain that you will see a decrease in performance. Spend some time doing these mobility exercises before, during (preferable) or after your workouts for the next few weeks and see how much better your body feels. Good luck!

About the Author

Joey Wolfe is the owner and founder of Paradigm Sport, a Santa Cruz based training business that specializes in performance training for athletes. Before his career as a strength & conditioning coach, Joey played baseball professionally in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He now works with dozens of youth, high school, college and professional baseball baseball players. Joey’s aptitude in the specific skill sets as well as the strength and conditioning aspects of the game provide him with a unique perspective from which to work with his clients on multiple levels. He can be reached at joey@paradigmsport.com.

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Exercise of the Week: Challenging Hip Mobility and Core Stability

Written on February 18, 2013 at 11:29 am, by Eric Cressey

In this installment of Exercise of the Week, I introduce the supine leg whip, a great exercise that can be used to challenge both hip mobility and core stability to improve health and performance.

For more detailed exercise demonstrations like this, I’d encourage you to check out Elite Training Mentorship, where I upload several videos along these lines – as well as my staff in-services – each month.

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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Alternating Lateral Lunge with Overhead Reach

Written on December 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

It’s been a while since I introduced a mobility exercise of the week, so I figured I’d introduce a new one that we use with a lot of our athletes nowadays.

The alternating lateral lunge with overhead reach gives you all the benefits – adductor length, hip hinge “education,” and frontal plane stability – that you get with a regular lateral lunge variation.  However, by adding in the overhead reach, you get a greater emphasis on optimal core stabilization and mobility and stability at the shoulder girdle.

In this position, we’ll coach different athletes with different cues.

If it’s an athlete who is stick in an exaggerated lordotic posture, we’ll cue him to engage the anterior core and keep the ribs down as the arms go overhead.

If it’s a “desk” jockey who is very kyphotic, we may have to actually cue him “chest up” because he’s so rounded over; we have to bring him back to neutral before we even worry much about the anterior core involvement.

If it’s a high school athlete who has really depressed shoulder blades, we will actually cue him to shrug as he raises the arms to complete scapular upward rotation in the top position.

Conversely, if it’s a client is already very upper trap dominant, we may have to cue a bit more posterior tilt of the scapula during the overhead reach.

In other words, this is a great example of how you can take a good exercise and make it even more effective, especially if you individualize coaching cues as much as possible.  Try it for a set of five reps per side as part of your warm-up and let me know how it goes!

Looking for more mobility drills like this?  Be sure to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Table Adductor Dips

Written on July 17, 2012 at 6:56 am, by Eric Cressey

In this week’s mobility exercise of the week, I’ve got an excellent drill for reducing stiffness in the hip adductors.  I came up with this exercise when I realized that I wanted to be able to do more drills to improve hip abduction range-of-motion, but I didn’t always want them to be ground-based.  And, just doing lateral lunge variations all the time can get a little boring for athletes.  Enter table adductor dips.

I especially like to use this with our throwers because it actually parallels some of the hip angles we see with the pitching delivery, so it makes for a great warm-up and off-season maintenance/improvement exercise.  I also like it for them because they can do it out on the field without having to roll around in the grass (which would be the case with a lot of other adductor mobility drills).

In terms of coaching cues, it’s important to keep the weight on the support leg’s heel and sit back “into” the hip.  The majority of the weight should be on the down leg, with minimal pressure put on the leg that’s up on the table.

As you go through the exercise, brace the core to ensure that the movement comes through the hips (flexion and abduction) at the bottom position, rather than just allowing the lower back to round.  Having the arms out in front as I do in the video above can help as a counterbalance to prevent your butt from tucking under.  If you’re super stiff, you may want to consider holding a ten-pound plate out at arm’s length as an additional counterbalance.

At the top position, be sure to extend the hips all the way to stand tall between each rep.  I usually cue folks to activate the glute on the support leg to finish each rep.  This will also help guarantee that you’re stretching the adductors in both flexion and a neutral position.

We’ll typically do sets of eight reps on each side during the warm-up period.  This can, however, be held for a longer duration as a static stretch at the end of a training session.

For more drills like this, be sure to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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Strength Exercise of the Week: DB Goblet Lateral Lunge

Written on April 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that poor adductor length is a huge problem in many of the athletes I encounter, particularly those participating in sports (e.g., hockey, soccer, baseball) involving a lot of extension and rotation.  As a result, we always spend a lot of time with self myofascial release, static stretching, and mobility exercises for the adductors.

As I’ve written in the past, though, after you transiently reduce stiffness in a tissue, you want to build some stability through that newfound range-of-motion.  Unfortunately, it isn’t exactly easy to load folks up in the frontal plane, and some folks still won’t be able to get in to a lateral lunge position without pitching forward.  Enter the Dumbbell Goblet Lateral Lunge, which borrows the “counterbalancing” benefits we see with a traditional goblet squat to allow us to get back “into” the hip and build some longer-term mobility in the frontal plane.

I don’t worry about folks really loading this up; in fact, form tends to break down a bit if you go heavier than 40 pounds with the dumbbell.  We’ll usually include it as the last exercise on a lower-body day, for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

We spend a lot of time focusing on building strength and power, but a lot of times, movement quality gets overlooked.  Here’s an exercise that helps you to improve the latter without forgetting the former.  Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

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Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It – Part 3

Written on February 22, 2012 at 8:06 am, by Eric Cressey

In part 1 of this series, I touched on some of the mechanical factors one must consider in relation to increasing stride length in pitchers.  Then, in part 2, I got discussed physical factors – hip mobility and lower-body strength/power – that govern how far you can stride.  In wrapping up today with part 3, we’ll work our way up the kinetic chain to discuss three more physical factors that control stride length.

3. Rotary Stability – As I discussed in my recent article at T-Nation, What I Learned in 2011, hip mobility “sticks” better when you have adequate rotary stability, so we’ve been doing more of our core stability exercises in more “extreme” positions of hip mobility.

If you’re going to push the limits of hip abduction, internal, and external rotation range of motion, you need to be sure that you have adequate rotary stability to be stable in these positions in weight-bearing and not destroy the spine.  Anybody can just get into these positions in slow speed, but not everyone can control the body precisely with a combination of isometric and eccentric muscle action at the high velocities we see with pitching.

Additionally, many of the big-time long stride guys rely heavily on controlling lumbar spine hyperextension as they ride the back hip down the mound.  This is something you’ll see if you watch the deliveries of smaller, athletic guys like Tim Lincecum, Tim Collins, and Trevor Bauer.  If they don’t maintain adequate anterior core function, they’ll wind up with extension-based back pain in no time.

4. Thoracic Mobility – Throwing and hitting (and really any rotational challenge like a hockey slapshot or tennis stroke) present a unique challenge to an athlete: the hips and shoulders are temporarily moving in opposite directions.  This creates separation, which allows an athlete to store elastic energy and create velocity via the stretch-shortening cycle.

The first issue to consider is that not all separation is created equal.  You can create separation with the hips and lower back – and jack up a lumbar spine over time.  The goal is to having adequate thoracic spine mobility to ensure that this separation occurs higher up (and engages the upper extremity well).

The second issue is that the more you push the limits of hip mobility, the more you must push the limits of thoracic mobility.  We’ve always heard “equal and opposite” when it comes to the throwing arm and glove arm, but the truth is that it probably apply to the lower half and thoracic spine as well.  You simply don’t see guys with terrible thoracic mobility getting way down the mound, as that lack of thoracic mobility would cause them to leak forward with the upper body.  I covered this in part 1, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that the head doesn’t stay behind the hips long enough, so throwers lose separation.

The third issue is that poor thoracic mobility will really interfere with getting an adequate scap load, so the arm speed will be slower.  Throwing with a poorly positioned scapula is like trying to jump out of sand; you just don’t have a firm platform from which to create force.

A very basic thoracic spine mobility drill that would be a “safe” bet for most throwers would be the quadruped extension-rotation.

This drill doesn’t crank the shoulder into excessive external rotation, which may be a problem for the really “loose” arms in the crowd. Progressions for the really stiff pitchers would be the side-lying windmill and side-lying extension-rotation.  I also like the yoga plex, a drill I learned from Nick Tumminello, as a means of syncing everything up with a longer stride.

Note: be sure to read this shoulder mobility blog on why not all thoracic spine mobility drills are created equal for throwers!

5. Quick Arm – When I say that you have to have a quick arm to have a long stride, I really just mean that you need some upper body power to make things work.  The longer the stride, the quicker your arm must be to catch up in time to create a downward plane and throw strikes.

You simply don’t see guys with long strides competing at high levels unless they have a quick arm that can catch up to the lower body.

When a guy’s arm isn’t quick enough to catch up to his lower half, you see him miss up and arm side.

This type of thrower would be better off shortening up his stride (at least temporarily) and spending more time on good throwing programs to increase arm speed.

This is one reason Justin Verlander is great.  If you watch him, he’s not an insanely long stride.  Rather, he’s shorter with it, and much stiffer on his landing leg to create an awesome downward plane.  Plus, he actually does have a ridiculously quick arm and outstanding secondary stuff.  A lot of pitching coaches would try to lengthen his stride – and while this might work, I don’t know about you, but I think overhauling a Cy Young winner’s mechanics is silly.

The “long stride, slow arm” issue is (in my experience) most common in young, lax players who have the joint range-of-motion and just enough stability to get a long stride, but don’t have adequate arm speed to catch up.  This is really common in the 14-17 age ranges, and I think it’s one reason why so many of these kids respond incredibly favorably to long toss; it teaches their arms to go faster and keep up with their strides.

Conversely, as you start to deal with 18-year-olds and older (or kids who have grown quickly), you start to see that preparing everything below the arm is arguably more important than arm speed.  You don’t pitch in college or professional baseball unless you have a reasonably quick arm, and getting more aggressive with the lower half to stride longer is often exactly what guys need to make the big velocity jump.  Likewise, when guys don’t take care of the lower half, but continue on aggressive throwing programs, they often wind up with velocity drops, injuries, or control issues because they’ve lost the separation that made them successful.

Closing Thoughts

While a long stride can certainly be advantageous in the throwing motion, as I’ve shown in this series, forcing it when you don’t have the right physical preparation or mechanical coaching in place can actually hurt an pitcher’s performance and health.  Remember that the best changes are subtle ones; in other words, you might increase a stride by six inches over the course of a year, not in a single session.

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