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Written on January 25, 2013 at 11:08 am, by Eric Cressey
Here are this week’s strength and conditioning tips, courtesy of Greg Robins.
1. Stress the “Hip Shift” with rotational med ball drills.
In this video I would like to detail the most important factor when using medicine ball exercisess to improve rotational power. Additionally, I have included a couple drills to help athletes with shifting from one hip to the other.
2. Consider adding work before you take away rest.
Often, you will set up your training sessions based on work to rest ratios. For example:
5 sets of 5 with one minute of rest.
30 seconds of work with 30 seconds of rest.
Whether we are working to improve an athlete’s work capacity, or programming for a fat loss client, the idea is that we are calling for consistent high output efforts with incomplete rest intervals.
My suggestion is that you add repetitions or small increases in time BEFORE you take away rest. Why? The answer is simple: if you want high outputs, you are more likely to get them when you have more rest, albeit incomplete rest. Over the course of a program, use a progression where you add work first, then go back to where you started and take away rest the second go around. This way you are more likely to get better outputs.
Using our first example:
The first month would include adding 1 rep per workout or adding a few seconds while keeping the 1 minute, or 30 seconds of rest, respectively. In the following month, you can keep the work at 5 reps or 30 seconds and take away small amounts of rest each workout. In the months to follow you can start to combine elements of each.
3. Know when to buy organic produce when you’re on a budget.
I have never been in a situation where I didn’t need to count my pennies when it came to buying food for the week. That being said, I have filled my head with too much information not be informed when it comes to the safety of the food I buy. Therefore, I have to be consider how I can stay smart with my food choices and my finances. One of the best pieces of advice I received a while back had to do with when to buy organic produce. As a rule of thumb, I buy organic fruits and veggies when I plan on eating the skin, and I don’t when I plan on removing the skin.
For example, when it comes to berries, apples, and leafy greens, I always go organic. When I buy bananas, pineapple, or spaghetti squash, I just buy the cheapest I can find. Keeping this in mind, I also tend to buy fruits and veggies that fit my budget at the time in respect to my rule of thumb. Give it a try and save some dough!
4. Try this variation of the reverse crunch.
5. Consider this study when developing your strength and conditioning programs.
Earlier this year, I presented at our first annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar. I spoke on the various qualities of “strength” an athlete may acquire and display. A large part of what I stressed was the relationship between strength qualities and how some exercises (and improvement of said exercises) share a more direct relationship with increased performance in an athlete’s sport of choice.
Recently, I came across this study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers examined how various field related strength and performance tests correlate to a golfer’s club head speed (CHS). Not surprisingly, it was found that better rotational medicine ball throw outputs and squat jump outputs correlated with better CHS.
The study describes the finding as “movements that are more concentrically dominant in nature may display stronger relationships with CHS.”
The take away is that we must make sure that our athletes have great absolute strength (which can be measured eccentrically), but also the ability to call upon that strength quickly and use it concentrically. If there is a major deficit between their ability to use their strength against a very sub maximal load (such as a golf club, baseball, or their body), then we are missing the mark in making them more productive on the field. Be sure to test and improve not only maximal strength numbers, but also power outputs in time dependent situations. These can include testing and programming various jumps, sprints, and throws.
Looking to take the guesswork out of your strength and conditioning programs? Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.
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Written on August 20, 2012 at 5:14 am, by Eric Cressey
Here’s this week’s list of random tips to make you a little more awesome with your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, with contributions from Greg Robins.
1. Outsource your cooking innovation.
One of the reasons folks “cheat” on their diets is that they don’t do a good job of incorporating variety in their healthy food choices. Unless you are one of the 1% of the population who has outstanding willpower, eating the same thing over and over again is a recipe for feeling deprived – and that can only lead to some less-than-quality time with Ben and Jerry.
If you’re someone who isn’t all that creative in the kitchen, consider allocating some funds to a cookbook that features healthy recipes. One of my favorites, Anabolic Cooking, is actually on sale for 52% off ($40 off) this week only.
2. Make roasted chicken breast with spinach and walnut stuffing.
Speaking of the cookbook; here’s a great recipe from it.
- 4 large fresh chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (average 8oz per breast)
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Butterfly chicken breasts (cut along side and lay out flat leaving attached at one end like a book) and lay out flat on cutting board. You can pound it slightly to flatten a bit if you want.
Nutritional Information (four servings)
*A special thanks goes out to Anabolic Cooking author Dave Ruel for allowing me to reprint this recipe.
3. Consider using concentric-only exercises for “off-day” training.
The most stressful, and therefore demanding part of an exercise is actually the eccentric, or lowering phase. This is where the majority of muscle damage occurs, and the part that will elicit the most muscular soreness. If you’re like me, you enjoy doing some kind of physical activity on a daily basis. Some people scoff at the idea of never taking a rest, but in reality, moving is good for you, and it can be done daily. If done incorrectly, it can interfere with recovery and lead to overtraining. If done correctly, it can keep you focused and actually speed up your recovery.
While there are multiple ways to go about off day exercise correctly, one option is to use mostly eccentric-free exercise choices. As examples, think of sled pushing, dragging, and towing. Additionally you can attach handles or a suspension trainer to your sled and do rows, presses, and pull-throughs. Another option is medicine ball exercises, which can be organized into complexes and circuits, or KB and sledgehammer swings, which all have minimal eccentric stress. These modalities will get blood flow to the appropriate areas and give you a training effect that won’t leave you sore, or stimulated to an extent that mandates serious recovery time.
4. Keep track of more than your one-rep max.
The ultimate rookie mistake in strength training is going for a one-rep max too often. You rarely need to train at the 100% intensity in order to get stronger. The issue is that most people only have that number as a benchmark in their minds. Therefore, the only way they know to measure progress is to constantly test that number over. This has two major flaws.
First, they train at that intensity too often, and all too often miss repetitions, essentially training above 100%. This teaches their body to miss reps, and leaves them neurally fried and unable to perform. Second, they get impatient with their training because they don’t realize new personal records throughout the training cycle. The consequence is that their impatience leads to unscheduled, and too frequent, attempts at new one-rep personal records, bringing us back to point number one. “What gets measured, gets managed,”so make a point of keeping track of repetition maxes. Testing your 3- and 5-rep maxes, for example, are also perfectly good ways to measure progress. Actually, they are better numbers to monitor as training those intensities is more repeatable.
5. Make your home a “safe house.”
No, I am not talking about replacing the batteries in your smoke detectors, although that is certainly important. What I am referring to has to do with nutrition. Your home should be a place where you are unable to make poor nutritional choices. Discipline is a function of decision making, or making choices. Many people relate great discipline to an ability to say “yes” or “no” in response to a question – even if it comes from one’s own mind (“Should I devour that box of donuts?”).
The truth is most of us might not be disciplined enough to make great choices at the drop of a hat, but you can be disciplined enough to prepare yourself for those moments that test you. Instead of keeping unhealthy foods in your house, have the discipline to throw away excess desserts after a party, and not keep certain foods in your fridge or cabinets. You can set yourself up for success, or you can tempt yourself by continually trying to prove you have the incredible discipline to only eat these foods in moderation. You will find that when you limit the consumption of more “relaxed” foods to “outside venues,” you will be eating them with other people, and therefore are more likely to eat less of them, enjoy them more, and have them less often; these are all good things!
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Written on May 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm, by Eric Cressey
We have quite a few baseball coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches who stop by Cressey Performance to observe our training. While they are the ones visiting to learn, I actually learn quite a bit about the “norms” in the baseball strength and conditioning field by listening to them tell me about what surprises them about what they observe at CP. Here are some of the areas that seem to surprise quite a few people:
1. They’re surprised we don’t do more sprint work and change-of-direction training.
The competitive baseball season essentially runs from mid-February all the way through early September, and during that time, guys are sprinting, diving, and changing directions constantly during fielding practice. They’re also on their feet in cleats for an absurd number of hours each day. To that end, when the off-season rolls around, most guys want a few weeks away from aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction work. Once they get their rest, we typically go to twice-a-week movement training sessions for October through December, usually on off-days from strength training. I prefer to break them up so that we can get more quality work in with our strength training program, and also so that the sessions don’t run too long. Once January 1 rolls around, the volume and intensity of sprinting increases, while the strength training program volume is reduced.
Summarily, because we often separate our sprint/agility work from our resistance training, many folks get the impression that we don’t do much movement training – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a big part of our comprehensive approach to baseball development; we just fit it in a bit differently than most coaches, and emphasize or de-emphasize it at different point in the year.
2. They’re surprised how much medicine ball work we do.
One of the reasons there is a bit less movement training than you might see in other strength and conditioning programs is that we do a ton of medicine ball work, particularly during the months of October through January (for our pro guys).
Medicine ball drills are great for not only training power outside the sagittal plane, but also because it helps to iron out excessive asymmetries while maintaining pitching- and hitting-specific mobility. Our guys may do 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during their highest volume phases.
You can learn more about the medicine ball exercises we incorporate in our program by checking out Functional Stability Training.
3. They’re surprised that we don’t Olympic lift our baseball guys.
In our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set, I spoke at length about why I don’t like overhead pressing and Olympic lifts in light of the unique demands of throwing and the crazy adaptations we see in throwers.
Moreover, while the Olympic lifts might have great power development carryover to the sprinting one encounters on a baseball field, the carryover to power in the frontal and transverse planes just isn’t as pronounced. In other words, power development is extremely plane-specific. I’ll take medicine ball work and non-sagittal plane jumping exercises over O-lifts for baseball players in a heartbeat.
4. They’re surprised we don’t do more band work.
It’s not that I think bands are useless; I just think most guys use them incorrectly, and even when used correctly, they just don’t really offer that much advantage other than convenience.
The fundamental issue with bands is that the resistance is generally so light that guys can quickly develop bad habits – poor humeral head control, lumbar hyperextension, etc. – while doing them. They’d be much more effective if guys would just slow down and use them correctly. I am also not a fan at all of using the bands to get the arms into all sorts of extreme positions; you’re just using a passive implement to create more laxity in an already unstable shoulder. If you want (and need) to stretch a shoulder, do so with the scapula stabilized.
Additionally, I’ll take cables over bands whenever possible simply because the resistance is heavier and it matches the strength curve for external rotations better. Throwers are generally weakest at full external rotation, yet the band has the highest tension in this position; meanwhile, the cable’s resistance remains constant. Obviously, manual resistance is ideal, but bands are a distance third.
5. They’re surprised how “aggressive” our throwing programs are.
The overwhelming majority of our guys long toss, and many of them throw weighted baseballs at certain points of the year as well. They pitch less and throw more. They all still get their 2-3 months off from throwing each year, but when they are throwing, they work hard.
This is in stark contrast to some of the throwing models I’ve seen in professional baseball, where many organizations limit players to 90-120 feet with their long tossing, and the only time a baseball is “weighted” is when it gets wet on a rainy day. Guys take so much time off that they never have any time in the off-season to actually develop. I firmly believe that while you have to have strict limits on how you manage pitchers, you also have to stop short of completely coddling them.
These are surely just five areas in which we deviate from the norm with respect to baseball development, but important ones nonetheless.
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Written on April 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm, by Eric Cressey
Here’s a list of strength and conditioning stuff you should read/watch for the week. The theme of this week will be Functional Stability Training, our new resource.
Integrating Medicine Balls in a Strength and Conditioning Program – This is the introduction to my medicine ball presentation from the event, and it also highlights a few of our overhead medicine ball stomp variations. FST also includes a bunch of rotational medicine ball exercise progressions we utilize, as well as mobility/activation drills we utilize as fillers between sets.
To Arch or Not to Arch? – This old blog post talks about arching when one squats. It might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Glute Bridge Exercise Progressions for Rotary Stability – This post from Mike Reinold shows how to progress what can quickly become a boring exercise, even though it’s super valuable.
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Written on March 5, 2012 at 6:46 am, by Eric Cressey
With spring training upon us, I thought I’d draw this week’s exercise of the week from a recent video shoot I did with Stack.com and New Balance Baseball at Cressey Performance with two of our big leaguers, Tim Collins (Royals) and Steve Cishek (Marlins) . In this video, Tim demonstrates the Figure 8 Rotational Medicine Ball Shotput while I do the voice-over.
Most of my comments serve as a general overview with respect to how we approach medicine ball workouts in general, but there are a few key points/observations I should make with respect to the Figure 8 drill in particular.
1. Notice (especially at the 1:20 mark) how Tim works to keep his head back prior to aggressively rotating through the hips and “launching” the ball. This piggybacks on something I discussed in my recent posts on increasing pitching velocity by improving stride length; if the head comes forward, you’ll leak energy early, as opposed to storing it and snapping through with aggressive hip rotation later on. Notice Tim on the mound; his head (and, in turn, the majority of his body weight) remains back well into his delivery.
This drill helps to teach guys how to control and time their weight shift.
2. A while back, Matt Blake wrote up a good piece on how we utilize the Figure 8 drill with pitchers; you can check it out HERE.
3. Some folks will make the mistake of going too heavy on this drill. The med ball shouldn’t weigh any more than ten pounds – and we usually stay in the eight-pound range. Making the med ball too heavy won’t just interfere with generating the ideal power; it will also lead to athletes creating too much tension in the upper traps and levator scapulae to resist the downward pull of gravity. This gives us too much tension in the neck and upper back, and interferes with the good “scap load” and long deceleration arc we’re trying to create.
I hope you like it!
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Written on June 10, 2011 at 9:44 am, by Eric Cressey
Q: I know that you work a ton with baseball players and that medicine ball workouts are an integral part of their training at Cressey Performance. However, I’m not a baseball player – or a competitive athlete in any discipline, for that matter – and I’m wondering if I should still consider adding medicine ball workouts to my strength and conditioning program. Are there benefits that I can’t get from a traditional strength training program with comprehensive mobility drills?
A: This is a great question – and I’ll start off by saying that we actually have quite a few athletes at Cressey Performance who aren’t baseball players. Plus, we firmly believe that everyone has an athlete in them, so our training mandates a functional carryover to the real world for everyone. Integrating some medicine ball workouts – even if the volume and frequency aren’t as high as in our rotational sport athletes – can definitely add some benefits to a strength and conditioning program. Here are seven of those benefits:
1. Real World Transfer – Regardless of how effectively a strength and conditioning program is designed, it’ll usually be very sagittal plane dominant. Integrating some rotational medicine ball training immediately increases the number of movements from which you can choose in the transverse and frontal planes.
2. Low-Impact Fat Loss Medleys – Look at all of the fat loss programs out there, and the overwhelming majority of them require a lot of impact – whether it’s from sprinting/jogging, jumping rope, or taking step aerobics. Performing medleys of various medicine ball throws not only allows you to increase volume in a program while minimizing stress on the lower extremity, but also affords some much appreciated variety in a program that might otherwise be dominated by a lot of boring cardio equipment.
3. Better Integration of the Core -With a correctly executed rotational med ball throw, the power should come predominantly from the lower half – which means that it should be transmitted through a stable core so that the energy will be appropriately utilized with thoracic rotation to get to the arms and, in turn, the ball. This sequencing is no different than lifting a bag of groceries, swinging a golf club, or going up on one’s tip-toes to grab something on the top shelf. If you move in the wrong areas (lumbar spine), you’ll eventually wind up with back pain – but if you’ve handled the rotational challenges of medicine ball workouts with perfect technique, you’ll be protected in the real world.
4. Improved Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Spine Mobility – When performed correctly, medicine ball exercises serve as an outstanding way to “ingrain” the mobility you’ve established with a dynamic warm-up prior to training. Additionally, we utilize mobility and activation “fillers” between sets of medicine ball drills to not only slow people down between sets, but also address issues they have that might warrant extra attention.
5. A Way to Train Power Outside of the Sagittal Plane – Research has demonstrated that the biggest problems with folks as they grow older are not just the loss of strength, muscle mass, and bone density, but the loss of power – or how quickly they can apply force. It’s this reduction in power that makes elderly individuals more susceptible to falls. We can’t always train power “optimally” in some older adults because of ground reaction forces being too stressful, but most can learn to apply a significant amount of force to a medicine ball – whether it’s rotationally or with an overhead stomp/throw variation. Everyone should obviously build a solid foundation of strength and mobility before undertaking these options, but when the time is right, they are great additions.
On a related note, here’s a video I filmed a while back that shows how medicine ball workouts fit into our overall approach to developing power in athletes.
6. Reduction of Asymmetry - Most of us are very one-side dominant, and while I have no aspirations of ever expecting folks to be completely symmetrical, I think that training with rotational medicine ball drills can go a long way in ironing out prominent hip and thoracic spine asymmetries. This has been one reason why they comprise such an integral part of our off-season baseball training programs; these players spend their entire lives in an asymmetrical sport.
7. A Way to Blow off Some Steam – Lifting weights is great for letting out some aggression after a bad day, but throwing a medicine ball is on a whole different level. In most cases, I encourage folks to try to break the medicine balls on every single throw. As you can see, we’ve broken quite a few…
When we integrate medicine ball workouts with our adult fitness clients, it’s usually a matter of three sets two times per week between the mobility warm-ups and strength exercises. If it’s used for fat loss, though, we’ll include medleys at the end of the strength training programs.
As for a specific brand of medicine balls that we use, I’ve found that the rebound is optimal on the First Place SOLID Medicine Balls. Note these these are not the “swirled color” ones, which have far too much rebound to be useful for much of anything, in my experience. This is what our preferred option look like:
However, due to what is apparently a worldwide rubber shortage, the quality of the balls has gone down in the past year, and we started breaking these at astronomical rates. As such, we switched to the Dyna-Max brand recently, and while we still break some, it is a “slow leak” of stuffing, rather than a complete “rupture.” The bounce isn’t as “true” as you’ll get with rubber medicine balls, but you can still get the job done.
With all that in mind, how many you break will be heavily dependent on how much you incorporate medicine ball workouts and how powerful your clients are. The medicine ball lifespan will be a lot longer in a facility catering to middle-aged women than it will be at Cressey Performance, where 85% of clients are baseball players executing 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during certain portions of the year.
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Written on February 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm, by Eric Cressey
Yesterday, New England Sports Network (NESN) ran a feature on my work with Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox. In the background of the video, you’ll notice several other professional athletes (including a pro soccer player and pro triathlete) doing their thing, too. What’s perhaps more interesting, though, is that you’ll even see some general fitness clients getting after it at the same time.
It reminded me of an interview Chad Waterbury did with me for his website a while back; the focus was what ordinary folks can learn from professional athletes, and how they’re alike/different in the gym. I think that there are some valuable takeaway points:
CW: You work with a lot of high-performance athletes. What are three principles that apply equally to athletes and non-athletes?
The lay population often sits in front of a computer for 8-10 hours a day, but many pro athletes have 4-8 hour flights or 10+ hour bus rides where they’re sitting – and because they’re taller, sitting is even more uncomfortable and problematic. Like everyone else, they spend time surfing the internet, Skyping, playing video games, and goofing around on Facebook/Twitter. The advances in technology have hurt everyone from a physical fitness standpoint – but brought the “Pros and the Joes” closer together, believe it or not.
They’re also very similar in that they want the most bang for their buck. Most pro athletes are no different than anyone else in that they want to get in their training, and then go to visit their families, relax, play golf, or whatever else. They really don’t have interest in putting in six hours per day in training outside of the times when they have to do so (namely, in-season).
All that said, if I had to pick three principles crucial to the success of both populations, they’d be the following:
1. Realize that consistency is everything. I always tell our clients from all walks of life that the best strength and conditioning programs are ones that are sustainable. It’s not about working hard for three months and making great progress – only to fall off the bandwagon for a month. This is absolutely huge for professional athletes who need to maximize progress in the off-season; they just can’t afford to have unplanned breaks in training if they want to improve from year to year.
If a program isn’t conducive to your goals and lifestyle, then it isn’t a good program. That’s why I went out of my way to create 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training options – plus five supplemental conditioning options and a host of exercise modifications – when I pulled Show and Go together; I wanted it to be a very versatile resource.
Likewise, I wanted it to be safe; a program isn’t good if it injures you and prevents you from exercising. Solid programs include targeted efforts to reduce the likelihood of injury via means like mobility drills, supplemental stretching recommendations, specific progressions, fluctuations in training stress, and alternative strength exercises (“plan B”) in case you aren’t quite ready to execute “Plan A.”
2. You must balance competing demands, and prioritize the ones that are the most pressing at a given time. Using our professional baseball pitchers as an example, their training consists of strength training, mobility drills, medicine ball throws, movement training, and the throwing program (which is near daily in nature). In the Cressey Performance system, when the throwing program ramps up, the medicine ball work must come down substantially, and the strength training tapers off just a bit. You simply can’t keep adding sets and reps without subtracting something else and making a tradeoff, as athletes only have a certain amount of recovery capacity, and it’s hard to fine-tune an exact movement like throwing a baseball if you’re fatigued from everything else.
Managing competing demands is arguably more challenging in the general population, as their jobs outside the gym are usually more stressful than those that face many professional athletes – meaning that the Joes and the Janes have less recovery capacity with which to work. It seems logical that when you add something to a program, you have to subtract something else – but I’m constantly amazed at how many people decide to just keep adding more volume when they can’t lose fat or gain muscle mass fast enough. Sometimes, you just need to change the composition of the program, not add more and more, thereby creating three-hour marathon training sessions. This leads to my next point…
3. The success comes from the overall program, not just the individual parts. In other words, synergy is everything.
The aforementioned pitchers can’t just go out and start a throwing program after doing nothing for three months. Rather, they need to work to enhance their mobility and get stronger, more reactive, and more powerful first. If they skip these important steps, they increase their likelihood of injury, make it harder to re-acquire a skilled movement, and reduce the likelihood of improvement.
In the general population, a good strength and conditioning program consists of tremendous interdependencies. Your deadlift technique and strength depends on the training you’ve done in the previous month, week, and day – and how thorough and targeted your mobility warm-up (or lack thereof, in many unfortunate cases) was prior to that day’s training session. Those trainees who have the best results are the ones that line everything up – from nutrition, to strength training, to mobility exercises, to movement training, to metabolic conditioning, to recovery protocols.
CW: It’s common for people to think they’re advanced when they’re really not. Can you mention a few things a pro athlete typically does that a weekend warrior shouldn’t do?
Then again, I wouldn’t really recommend that to Terrell Owens or any professional athlete, for that matter, but I digress…
To be honest, in the context of resistance training, a lot of professional athletes aren’t really as advanced as you might think, especially after a long season that’s taken its toll on them. Many of them have a ton of similarities with our general fitness clients – but just have different exercise contraindications and energy systems needs.
I think the better comparison would be between novice lifters (less than one year of resistance training) and those with years and years under their belt. They have to do things quite a bit differently.
As a first example, the novice lifter can handle a lot more volume because he (or she, of course) is relatively neurally inefficient. If this lifter did the volume of an advanced athlete, he might actually undertrain on volume (and possibly overdo it on intensity to the point that it’d interfere with picking up appropriate technique).
Second, a really advanced lifter will often need to deload on intensity – meaning that when it’s time for a “backoff week” – he’ll often keep the sets and reps up, but take a lot of weight on the bar. It’s just about getting reps in. A novice lifter, on the other hand, is better off keeping the intensity up and dropping the number of reps.
Third, a novice lifter can often be more aggressive in terms of caloric intake because there is such a large window of adaptation ahead in terms of muscle weight gain. I gained 50 pounds in my first year of lifting, but nowadays – even though I’m five times as strong as I was then – if I can go up 3-4 quality pounds a year, I’m thrilled. Surely, lifters are the opposite ends of the experience continuum can’t have similar caloric needs – even if the more experienced ones are heavier. Skinny novice guys can sometimes get away with eating like absolute crap as long as there are enough total calories – and still end up getting bigger. I certainly don’t advise it, but it’s one more way to show that novice and experienced lifters are horses of different colors, and that you have to be honest with yourself on where you fall on this continuum so that you train and eat optimally.
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Written on December 13, 2010 at 10:00 pm, by Eric Cressey
In part 1, I made the case for long toss as an effective addition to a throwing program. Today, we answer the question, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?” Let’s look at the top four reasons why someone may not be approaching long toss optimally.
1. They structure it incorrectly.
By far, the biggest mistake I see from pitchers when they’re long tossing is that they don’t utilize compression/pull-down throws at the end of the session. These throws teach the pitcher to get on top of the ball and bring the release point down to where it should be with pitching – but they do all this with the increased arm speed you get from long tossing. Effectively, you use compression throws to transition from your longest throwing distance to a flat ground session (this is a practice you’ll see from a LOT of MLB starting pitchers in pre-game warm-ups before they ever step foot on a mound).
Typically, our guys use a compression throw every 45-60 feet on the way back in (it almost amounts to a brisk walk back in). So, if a pitcher went out to 300 feet with his long toss, he’d take compression throws at about 250, 200, 150, 100, and 60 feet. I joke with guys that the last throw at 60 feet should pretty much scare the crap out of their throwing partners. If you’ve seen Trevor Bauer crow-hopping downthe mound for his last warm-up pitch prior to every inning, you know what I mean. Not surprisingly, Bauer is an Alan Jaeger/Ron Wolforth long toss disciple. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about it: “[Bauer] starts behind the rubber, runs over the mound and throws as hard as he can to the plate, from about 54 feet. I’ve heard reports that those throws have registered 100 mph…”
Some guys – particularly those with a history of control issues and the guys who are trying to tinker with their mechanics – are wise to go into a brief flat-ground (or regular) bullpen right after these compression throws. It’s a good chance to transfer the arm speed and athleticism of long toss into a little more of a sport-specific action. I’ve also seen quite a few pitchers who have improved their change-ups considerably by long tossing for part of the session with their change-up grip, and then integrating it into one of these post-long-toss flat ground or bullpen sessions. It helps with keeping the arm speed up in pitchers who tend to slow down the arm for change-ups.
2. They become good throwers and not good pitchers.
I’ll be straightforward with this one.
If you can long toss 350 feet, but pitch at 80-82mph, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and use that general motor potential to your advantage.
If you can long toss 350 feet, but have a 1:6 strikeout:walk ratio and have pitches hitting the backstop, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and actually throw strikes.
If you can long toss 350 feet, but are getting shelled because you just throw a very straight 93mph and don’t have any secondary pitches, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and learn some other pitches. The average fastball velocity is higher in low-A than it is in the big leagues, you know…
3. They think long toss covers all their needs.
There are a ton of different factors that contribute to pitching success and longevity. Once you can throw a ball a long way, there is a tendency to think that you’ve done what you need to be successful, but in reality, there are a lot more things to address to prepare your body and long toss is still pretty specific, in the grand scheme of things. As is often the case, the greatest benefits are usually derived from doing the things that you don’t do particularly well (yet). Bartolo Colon, for instance, might be able to long toss 330 feet, but he might have a heart attack on the light jog to the outfield to partake in that long tossing session.
4. They don’t long toss on a straight line.
It seems like a no-brainer, but you should throw on a straight line. If the guy 250 feet away is 20-feet to the left of “center,” you’re teaching yourself to either stay closed or fly open with your delivery. Stand on the foul line or line yourself up between foul poles, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to “get aligned.”
As you probably appreciate now, while long toss is usually a tremendously valuable inclusion in most throwing programs, it isn’t a perfect fit for everyone – and that’s why each unique case must be considered individually.
Don’t forget that long toss guru Alan Jaeger has put his popular Thrive on Throwing DVD on sale for 25% off for my readers for a limited time only. Click here to learn more.
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Written on December 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm, by Eric Cressey
Long toss may have been scorned by quite a few baseball traditionalists, but I am a big fan of it – and our guys have responded outstandingly to the way we’ve used it. Perhaps it’s just my “1+1=2” logic at work, but I just feel like if you can build up the arm speed to throw the ball a loooonngggg way, then you’ll be able to carry that over to the mound as soon as you get your pitching mechanics dialed in. And, this has certainly been validated with our athletes, as we have loads of professional pitchers who absolutely swear by long toss (both off- and in-season).
So, you can understand why I got excited when my good buddy, Alan Jaeger – a man who has devoted a big chunk of his life to getting long toss “accepted” in the baseball community – was featured in this article at MLB.com about what a difference it makes – including for the Texas Rangers on their road to the World Series a few years ago.
I was, however, not a fan of this paragraph in the article:
“Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Mills has a business built around teaching mechanics and maximizing velocity, and he is a staunch opponent of long tossing. He has released countless YouTube videos angrily decrying this practice. In his latest, ‘How Long Toss Can Ruin Your Pitching Mechanics and Your Arm,’ he says, ‘Why would you practice mechanics that are totally different and will not help a pitcher during a game? And why would you practice throwing mechanics that are clearly more stressful where the arm does most of the work?’”
Taking it a step further, here’s a Dick Mills quote I came across a few years ago:
“Training will not teach you how to apply more force…only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program…no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you.”
While I agree (obviously) on the importance of mechanics and timing, effectively, we’re still being told that long toss, strength training, and weighted balls are all ineffective modalities for developing the pitcher – which leaves us with what, bullpens and stretching? It sounds like every youth baseball practice in the country nowadays – and all we’re getting now are injured shoulders and elbows at astronomical rates. Something isn’t right – and the message is very clear: specificity is a very slippery slope.
On one hand, when it comes to mechanics, you need to throw off the mound to get things fine-tuned to achieve efficiency.
On the other hand, research has shown that arm stress is higher when you’re on the mound (there is less external rotation at stride foot contact with flat ground throwing). Additionally, every pitch that’s thrown is really a step in the direction of sports specialization for a youth baseball player – and something needs to balance that out. Why?
Well, specializing at a young age is destroying kids. As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery pitched “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue.” And people think that kid need more work on the mound? What they need are more structured throwing sessions (practice, not competition) and a comprehensive throwing and strength and conditioning program to prepare them for the demands they’ll face.
But those aren’t specific enough, are they?!?!?! Well, let’s talk about specificity a bit more. Actually, let’s read – from renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, a guy who certainly knows a thing or two about why people get injured:
The physical presentation of differently trained bodies often provides a signature of the type and style of activity that developed it. Those who are exclusive in their activities seem more often be molded to their activities, and sometimes actually over-molded. These individuals can actually lose movements and muscles that would make alternate activities much easier.
Specialization can rob us of our innate ability to express all of our movement potential. This is why I encourage highly specialized athletes to balance their functional movement patterns. They don’t so much need to train all movement patterns, they just need to maintain them. When a functional movement pattern is lost, it forecasts a fundamental crack in a foundation designed to be balanced. The point is not that specialization is bad—it only presents a problem when the singular activity over-molds to the point of losing balance.
While there are probably 15-20 awesome messages we can take home from the previous two paragraphs, here’s the big one I want to highlight: it’s our job as coaches to find the biggest window of adaptation a pitcher has and bring it up to speed – while simultaneously keeping other qualities in mind.
If he’s stiff, we work on mobility. If he’s weak, we get him strong. If he’s a mechanical train wreck, we get him more bullpens. If his arm speed isn’t good, we work more on weighted balls and long toss. If you just take a 5-10, 120-pound 9th grader and have him throw bullpens exclusively, he’ll get better for a little bit, and then plateau hard unless you get him bigger and stronger.
How does this work? It’s a little principle called Delayed Transmutation that Vladimir Zatsiorsky highlighted in Science and Practice of Strength Training. Zatsiorsky defines delayed transmutation as “the time period needed to transform acquired motor potential into athletic performance.” In other words, expand and improve your “motor pool” in the off-season, and it’ll be transformed into specific athletic performance when the time is right.
And, as I wrote in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, “the more experienced you are in a given sport, the less time it will take for you to transform this newfound strength and power [and mobility] into sporting contexts.” This is why professional pitchers can find their groove each year MUCH easier than high school pitchers in spite of the fact that they probably take more time off each year (2-3 months from throwing) than the typical overused kid who plays on 17 different AAU teams.
That said, there’s a somewhat interesting exception to this rule: really untrained kids. I’ll give you two examples from the past week alone at Cressey Performance.
We had a high school senior and a high school junior who both just started up their winter throwing programs to prepare for the season.
The first told me that he was sore in his legs after throwing for the first time in his life. Effectively, without throwing a single pitch or really doing any lesson work (or even throwing off a mound), this kid has managed to change the neuromuscular recruitment patterns he uses to throw the baseball. Strength, power, and mobility took care of themselves: delayed transmutation.
The second told me that his arm feels electric. Ask any experienced pitcher, and they’ll tell you that your arm is supposed to feel like absolute crap the first 4-5 days after an extended layoff, but it always gets better. However, when you’re a kid who has gotten more flexible and packed on a bunch of muscle mass, it’s like all of a sudden driving a Ferrari when you’re used to sharing a minivan with Mom: delayed transmutation.
Specificity is important in any sport, but a it really is just the work as far to the right as you can go on the general to specific continuum. Elite sprinters do squats, lunges, Olympic lifts, jump squats, and body weight plyos as they work from left to right on the general-to-specific continuum to get faster. So, why do so many pitching coaches insist that pitchers stay as far to the right as possible? Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference.
In a very roundabout way, I’ve made a case for long toss as something that can be classified as beneficial in much the same way that we recognize (well, most of us, at least) that mobility drills, foam rolling, strength training, movement training, and medicine ball drills to be excellent adjuncts to bullpens. In the process of learning to throw the baseball farther, we:
1. push arm speed up
2. train in a generally-specific fashion
3. improve contribution of the lower half
4. realize another specific, quantifiable marker (distance) of progress
5. keep throwing fun
6. train the arm with just enough LESS specificity to help keep pitchers healthy, as compared with mound work
The question then becomes, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?” In part 2, I’ll outline the most common mistakes I’ve seen:
When I told Alan Jaeger that I was sending this article out, he graciously offered to set up a 25% off discount code on his Thrive on Throwing DVD set for my readers. This outstanding DVD set thoroughly teaches players and coaches how to approach long tossing, and Alan has also applied a discount to his J-Bands and his Getting Focused, Staying Focused book for pitchers. Here’s a link to the discount page.
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Written on November 9, 2010 at 3:00 am, by Eric Cressey
I received a few separate emails this week from folks wondering how I plan our guys’ off-season throwing programs to include everything from long toss, to weighted baseballs, to mound work.
Most people expect to be handed a simple throwing program – as one might receive with an interval throwing program following rehabilitation. The truth is that there isn’t a single throwing program that I give to all our guys; rather, each is designed with the athlete’s unique needs and circumstances taken into consideration.
With that in mind, I thought I’d outline some of the factors we consider when creating a throwing program for our professional baseball pitchers (many of these principles can also be applied to younger throwers):
1. Where they struggle on the mound (poor control, poor velocity, lack of athleticism, etc.)
2. Whether I want them using weighted balls in addition to long toss and bullpens or not
3. How many innings they threw the previous year (the more they throw, the later they start)
4. Whether they are going to big league or minor league spring training (we have minor league guys an additional 2-3 weeks)
5. How much “risk” we’re willing to take with their throwing program (we’d be more aggressive with a 40th rounder than a big leaguer or first rounder; here is a detailed write-up on that front)
6. Whether they are a starter or reliever (relievers can start earlier because they’ve had fewer innings in the previous year)
7. What organization they are in (certain teams expect a LOT when guys show up, whereas others assume guys did very little throwing in the off-season and then hold them back when they arrive in spring training)
8. Whether guys play winter ball, Arizona Fall League, Team USA/Pan-American games, or go to instructionals
9. Whether they are big leaguers (season ends the last week in September, at the earliest) or minor leaguers (ends the first week in September)
10. What each guy tells you about his throwing history and how his arm feels. Any pitcher can always tell you more than you can ever accurately assume – so you just have to be willing to listen to him.
Here are a few general rules of thumb:
1. Most throwing programs from professional organizations don’t have their pitchers playing catch until January 1 – and I think this is WAY too late to give pitchers adequate time to develop arm speed and durability in the off-season.
2. Relievers start earlier than starters (we are starting our relief pitchers three weeks ahead of our starters this year, on average).
3. Medicine ball volume comes down and throwing volume goes up.
4. Most of our guys who don’t go to instructionals, winter ball, the fall league, or Team USA start in November. Starters are generally right around Thanksgiving among minor leaguers, with some relievers a bit earlier. Big league guys don’t start throwing until mid- to late-December or even January 1.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it gives you some insight into some of what goes through my mind as we work to increase throwing velocity and arm health.
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