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7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum

Written on June 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm, by Eric Cressey

Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Italy, and fitness nuts that we are, we frequented several hotel gyms - none of which were particularly well equipped. Here's the one from hotel in Florence; yes, it was just dumbbells up to 10kg.

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Immediately upon leaving, I sent an email to Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg (@AndrewZomberg), who I knew was the guy to write up a post on having a great training effect without much equipment. This is what he pulled together; enjoy! -EC

Greater equipment availability generally yields greater efficiency because in order to induce structural or functional adaptations, you have to “force” the body to do so. Unfortunately, getting to a gym is not always feasible. The good news? Resistance training does not always have to depend on cable machines, power racks, and barbells.

Inaccessibility to gym equipment can be discouraging. The good news is that by creating structured programs and discovering new ways to challenge yourself with progressions, you can easily elicit a comparable training effect, just as if you were in a gym. Here are some options:

1. Body Weight Exercises

Undoubtedly, your body weight is the easiest, most accessible piece of equipment to utilize anywhere, anytime. Allowing for a more natural range of motion, body weight exercises enhance spatial awareness and improve the proficiency of movements since no other load is being used.

Progression: Alter the range of motion by increasing the total distance of the movement. For example, when doing a push-up, rather than keeping your feet in contact with the floor, try elevating them to increase stability demands of the core as well as the shoulder girdle. You can also add isometrics to any bodyweight exercise at halfway points and end ranges to impose added stress. You can use tri-sets to keep rest periods short and work in some bonus mobility work.

Sample Bodyweight Workout

Perform each tri-set three times:

A1) Body-Weighted Squats
A2) Push-up
A3) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilizations

B1) Reverse Lunge
B2) Prone Bridge Arm March
B3) Rocking Ankle Mobilizations

C1) 1-Leg Hip Thrusts off Bench
C2) Side Bridge
C3) Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

2. TRX Suspension Training

Easily portable, this piece of equipment can be anchored almost anywhere and targets virtually every muscle group. The TRX suspension trainer is a great tool for full-body awareness, as most of the exercises call for optimal body alignment from head to toe. It also places a significant emphasis on the core by challenging your ability to resist unwanted movement in every plane of motion at the lumbar spine.

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Progression: Lengthen the lever arm to reposition your center of mass further from the anchor to increase the total range of motion. Or, slow down the lift to create a greater time under tension effect thus imposing muscular damage for hypertrophy gains.

Sample TRX Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

TRX Anti-Rotation Press: x 8/side
TRX Inverted Row: x 10
TRX Bulgarian Split-Squat: x 8/leg
TRX Push-up: x 8
TRX Fallouts: x 10
TRX Overhead Squat: x 8

On a related note, if you haven't checked out EC's article, 10 Ways to Progress an Inverted Row, it's definitely worth a read!

3. Dumbbell and Kettlebell Exercises

Often found in hotel gyms, these are very affordable for the home or office and provide a wide range of exercise selection. Their biggest advantage is they provide enough options to gain a solid training effect. If the weight selection is too low, you can use higher volume schemes and minimize rest periods. When completing these complexes, execute the exercises without dropping the implement to increase the overall intensity.

DB Progression: Use stability balls, or half and tall kneeling positions to create a greater instability factor. Or, focus on the eccentric portion by taking a few more seconds to lower the weight in order to stress the muscle.

KB Progression: Turn the kettlebell upside down to a “bottoms-up” position to change the dynamic of the exercise. By moving the object’s center of mass further from the rotation (your wrist), you create more instability, forcing co-contractions of all the muscles of the upper extremity.

Sample Dumbbell Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

DB Goblet Squat: x 8
DB Renegade Row: x 8/arm
Offset DB Split-Squat: x 8/side
1-Arm DB Floor Press: x 10/arm
DB Prone Arm Marches: x 6/arm
DB Burpees: 3 x 15

Sample Kettlebell Complex:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

KB Front Squat: x 6/side
KB 1-Arm Row: x 8/arm
KB 1-Arm, 1-Leg RDL: x 8/leg
Half-Kneeling 1-Arm KB OH Press: x 10/arm
KB Swings: x 20
1-Arm KB Bottoms-up Waiter’s Carry: x 25 yards/arm

4. Resistance Bands

Very portable, bands are inexpensive and create an accommodating resistance effect. In other words, where you are biomechanically the weakest, the band will reduce its level of tension at that given position. The same effect will occur as you become biomechanically stronger; the level of tension will increase at that specific range. Bands also allow for direct arm and hip care for deeper muscles that provide the adequate stability for these multi-planar joints.

Progression: Play around with your base of support. Utilizing a narrow stance or tall kneeling position will alter the stability demands, making it more challenging to maintain joint neutrality. Or, add isometrics at the end range by holding the contraction for 5 seconds.

Sample Band Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Band Squats: x 10
Band-Resisted Push-up: x 10
Side-Bridge w/Row: x 8/arm
X-Band Walks: x 12/side
Standing Split-Stance Vertical Anti-Extension Press: x 12
1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift: x10/arm

5. Medicine Balls

Affordable and found in many hotel gyms, these are great for linear and rotational power, given how quickly you must produce force for maximal output, and how the stretch-shortening cycle plays into each exercise. Medicine balls are also good for core activation due to their emphasis on optimal alignment with overhead and rotational patterns.

Progression: Speed up the movement to increase your heart rate and enhance your power skills. Or, simply add more volume to the complex.

Sample Medicine Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Med Ball Slams: x 12
Rotational Scoop Toss: x 8/side
Side-to-Side Overhead Slams: x 8/side
Tall Kneeling Chest Passes: x 12
Hip-Scoops to Wall: x 12

6. Gliders

Very portable, gliders (our favorite is the ValSlide) can conveniently be replaced by household items - like furniture sliders or even towels - if you're in a pinch. Given their size and usage, these disks provide a tremendous amount of direct and indirect core work, since most of the exercises force you to fight against gravity in an anti-extension and anti-rotational manner. Gliders also improve stability due to the unnatural surface environment on which each exercise is performed.

Progression: Change your base of support by elevating an arm or leg off the floor. Decreased points of stability will call for greater concentration of the core in order to maintain optimal spinal alignment during each movement. If accessible, add an external load such as a weighted vest for a real challenge.

Sample Glider Routine:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Reverse Lunges: x 8/leg
1-arm Push-up: x 8/arm
Leg Curls: x 12
Bodysaws: x 10
Mounting Climbers: x 30 seconds

7. Stability Ball Exercises

A staple in most hotel gyms and very affordable for home or office use, stability balls provide a level of volatility that challenges your strength. Basically, in order to combat the dynamic perturbations of stability balls, additional muscles must co-contract to prevent joint deviations.

Progression: Elevate your feet or attempt pause reps at the end range to make the unstable environment even more challenging. Or, create additional perturbations by having a training partner hit the ball in different directions in an effort to knock you off your stability during the lift.

Sample Stability Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Elevated Push-ups: x 8
Leg Curls: x 10
Stability Ball Rollouts: x 10
Dead Bugs – arms and legs: x 6/side

A Few Notes

  • Be sure to invest a few minutes with soft-tissue work and ground-base and dynamic movements to prepare your body for the workout and prevent injury.
  • Be mindful of areas that need more emphasis than others. For example, structural balance is a common issue due to postural adaptations. Placing more emphasis on the posterior chain and upper back will reduce the overused areas and still provide a solid training effect.
  • Select "casual" rest intervals for most programs. But if you decide to create a greater disturbance, reduce the rest time. Just make sure the load is relatively low so form is not compromised. For complexes, the goal is not to put the object down until you have completed the entire round of exercises prescribed!
  • Make an effort to log your workouts. Noting your exercise selection, volume, load, and tempo will spare time in programming your next workout so you do not backtrack but rather progress.

Give some of these ideas a try next time you're in an "equipment pinch" and I think you'll find them to be a lot harder than they look!

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Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike – Part 3

Written on October 11, 2013 at 6:50 am, by Eric Cressey

Today marks the third installment of this series on trunk position at foot strike during the pitching delivery.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.  In those installments, we outlined the problem of early and excessive lumbar (lower back) extension, and how to address it with drill work.  In today's final installment, we'll introduce some drills we like to use with our athletes to teach them about proper positioning and build stability within those positions.

At the end of the day, there are a few things that can contribute to a pitcher drifting into excessive extension from the time he begins his leg kick all the way through when his front foot strike.  Obviously, the foremost concern is what cues the athlete has been given that may be leading him in this direction.  Once those have been cleaned up, though, we have to look to see how physically prepared an individual is to get to the right positions. I think the first question you have to ask in this case is, "Where does the posture start?"  If an athlete looks like this at rest, he's going to at least look like this dynamically – and this heavily extended posture is going to be much more exaggerated.

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With that in mind, step 1 is to educate athletes on what acceptable resting posture is.  In this case, we need the athlete to learn to bring the pelvis and rib cage closer together, most notably through some posterior pelvic tilt.  Once that has been established, here are some of my favorite warm-up drills for athletes with this heavily extended posture. You'll notice that exhaling fully and learning to get the ribs to come down are key components of these drills.

In addition to these low-level core stability exercises, we'll progress to some balance drills, especially in the early off-season.  Effectively, we're teaching athletes to resist extension and rotation in single-leg stance.  Yes, it's static balance training, but I firmly believe these drills have carryover to bigger and better things at higher speeds. And, you're certainly not going to overtrain on them, so you've got nothing to lose.

With all these exercises out of the way, it takes a lot more high level core stability for this posture to carry over to the high level throw.  You need to improve both anterior core control (your ability to resist excessive extension/arching) and rotary stability (your ability to resist excessive rotation at the lower back).  I've outlined loads of options on these front, but here are two to get the ball rolling for those who aren't up to speed on my writings just yet:

And, remember that the different types of core stability never work in isolation – especially during the basebal throw.  Check out this video for more details:

The core stability you build must, however, be accompanied by a strong lower half.  Candidly, I don't think having a huge squat is necessary.  Athletes seem to get much better carryover from deadlift variations, in my experience – likely due to the fact that the deadlift does such a tremendous job of teaching good hip hinging.  We see so many athletes who drift (LHPs toward 1st base, and RHPs toward 3rd base) early in the leg kick and subsequent movement toward home plate in part because they can't hip hinge at all.  Once you've gotten that hip hinge back (in part with the toe touch video from above), you have to strength train in that pattern to get it to stick.  For the most detailed deadlift technique video tutorial out there, check out my free one here.

Additionally, single-leg strength is insanely important, and there are lots of ways to attack it. 

I think it's equally important to be able to build and maintain strength outside the sagittal plane, especially when it comes to carrying that good hip hinge over to movements when a pitcher is starting to "ride his hip" down the mound.  With that said, definitely check out an article I wrote previously, 7 Ways to Get Strong Outside the Sagittal Plane.

Once you've established hip and shoulder mobility, core stability, and lower half strength, you can really start to make the most of your medicine ball training.  As you can see, I think Tim Collins is a great example from which young throwers can learn a lot, as he has built up a lot of these qualities to make the most of a smaller frame in order to consistently throw in the mid 90s.  That said, I couldn't ask for a better demonstrator for our medicine ball drills for a few reasons.

First, he always throws the ball with intent; there are no half-speed reps. If you want to develop power, you have to try to be powerful in each throw during training.  Second, his direction is outstanding.  You never see him drift forward as he builds energy to apply with aggressive hip rotation. Third, he's got a great hip shift, which is necessary to get the most out of his posterior chain.

As a follow-up to that video, CP coach Greg Robins has a great tutorial here to teach you how to get "in and out" of your hip on rotational medicine ball exercises:

As you can see, there are a lot of different factors that contribute to an athletes being in excessive extension – but also allowing that extension to carry over to their pitching mechanics to the point that trunk position will be out of whack at foot strike.  Additionally, these exercises should demonstrate to you that athletes who land in a very extended position – but still have success and don't want to change things – will need to take special precautions in terms of physical preparation to make sure that their bodies don't break down over time with this delivery style.

This wraps up our series on understanding trunk position at foot strike during the pitching delivery; we appreciate you following along for all three articles!I If you'd like to learn more about how we manage throwers, be sure to register for one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.  The next one will take place December 8-10.

 

 

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Free Presentation: Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes

Written on June 30, 2013 at 6:18 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since I updated the free bonus I give to all my baseball-specific newsletter subscribers when they sign up for this free mailing list, so I figure now is as good a time as ever.  With that in mind, by entering your name and email in the opt-in below, you'll be emailed access information so that you can watch my 47-minute seminar presentation, Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes.  I've given this presentation to more than 10,000 coaches, players, sports medicine professionals in the past 18 months, and it's been a big hit.

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In this free presentation, you'll observe a lot of our Cressey Performance athletes training and learn:

  • Why different athletes need different approaches to power development
  • Why it’s essential that you learn to train outside the sagittal plane
  • Which medicine ball and plyometric variations I use with baseball players
  • Why not all throwers have identical deceleration patterns or training needs
  • How your arm care programs can be improved to reduce the risk of injury and improve throwing velocity

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Hope you enjoy it.  Thanks for your continued support – and please don't hesitate to share this page to those who you think might be interested in and benefit from the information I present.

*Note: We respect your privacy and won't share your information with anyone.  Instead, we'll deliver you awesome content on a regular basis!


Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 30

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.

OR

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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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 15

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.

Ingredients:

- 4 large fresh chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (average 8oz per breast)
– 4 cups fresh spinach
– 2 tbsp of garlic
– 1/4 cup walnuts crushed
– Salt
– Fresh ground black pepper
– Olive oil (not extra virgin)

Directions:

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.
2. Rub both sides with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
3. Lightly wilt spinach in non-stick pan, or if using frozen just thaw.
4. Spread roasted garlic paste onto one half on inside of chicken breasts.
5. Sprinkle with crushed walnuts.
6. Place spinach on top of walnuts.
7. Fold top over and place on a rack fitted inside a sheet pan or roasting pan.
8. Place chicken in oven and bake for 20 minutes on 400. Then reduce heat to 325 and roast for an additional 30 minutes, or until inside stuffing reaches 145 degrees.
9. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Nutritional Information (four servings)

Calories: 407
Protein: 55g
Carbohydrates: 4g
Fat: 19g

*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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5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

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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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/19/12

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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Exercise of the Week: Figure 8 Rotational Medicine Ball Shotput

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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Medicine Ball Workouts: Not Just for Athletes

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, we've now made the switch to the Perform Better Extreme Soft Toss Medicine Balls. I've found that the rebound is optimal on these, and they still provide great durability (which has been an issue with not only other "padded" options, but also other rubber models that are using more filler materials). This is what our preferred option looks like:

pbextreme2672PL

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.

If you're looking for a lot more detail on the specific medicine ball exercises and workouts we do with our clients, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

FST1

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Throwing Programs: Not One-Size-Fits-All

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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