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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/20/14

Written on October 20, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

It's a big week for us at Cressey Sports Performance, as we're in the home stretch and about to get into our new training facility in Jupiter, FL. If you want to follow along, I'll be posting some progress pics on my Instagram account. While I won't have much time to pull together new content this week, I can definitely tell you the following articles will be well worth your time!

Widening the Aerobic Window - Mike Robertson has published some excellent stuff on energy systems development in the past, and this article does a great job of building on them.

The Six Characteristics of a Good Dynamic Warm-up - I reincarnated this old post on Twitter yesterday, and it was a big hit. So, I thought I'd remind the EricCressey.com readers, too.

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How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are - I always love reading research on social phenomenons and how people behave. This Wall Street Journal article highlights some entertaining stuff in this realm.

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Avoid These 3 Baseball Warm-up Mistakes

Written on February 6, 2013 at 4:59 am, by Eric Cressey

At Cressey Performance, we manage a ton of baseball players throughout the year.  In doing so, we often notice trends – both good and bad – that emerge in the things they start applying on their own.  Here are three warm-up mistakes I commonly see players making before they pick up a ball to throw:

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 14

Written on August 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of quick tips you can put into action to improve your strength and conditioning and nutrition programs, courtesy of CP coach Greg Robins.  This week, Greg focuses on improving your warm-ups.

1. Integrate new movements into your warm-up first.

A solid warm-up should do a few things for you; in a nutshell, it needs to prepare the body for the task at hand. At Cressey Performance, we do this via soft tissue work, mobility drills, and various low level activation exercises. Essentially, we are working on our weak points (from a movement standpoint), so that we can solidify these new ranges with our strength training. Therefore, the warm up itself is a great spot to work on any new movements we want to externally load down the road. As a believer in training efficiency, I would rather see more time spent loading what can be safely loaded, and not spending as much time in the “meat” of the training session working new movements. If you have movement patterns that need practice, do a few sets in the warm up. As an example, CP coach Chris Howard is currently working the steps of the Turkish get-up as part of his warm-up routine before he loads it up. Other options include: frontal plane exercises such as lateral lunge variations, squat variations, and lunge or split squat variations.

2. Put a time limit on you warm-up.

A thorough warm-up includes a lot, and each piece is important. That being said, it doesn’t (nor should it need to) take more than 15 minutes. As I said before, the warm-up needs to prepare you for the task at hand, and that task includes crushing your training session. In order to make that happen, you want to leave the warm up area sweating, fired up, and ready to train. Too often, I see people allow the warm-up process to morph into a 30-minute affair. Not surprisingly, these are the same people who comment on the tediousness of the process, and the fact that their training sessions seem like two-hour affairs. Focus on what needs to get done, and get it done. Scrap the small talk, and get to work! I can properly do all my self massage and 10-12 warm up exercises in 15 minutes, and so can you. When I finish my shirt is damp, my adrenaline is pumping, and I am ready to do work. You need to do the same. Next time you get into the gym, set a timer and condense your 30-minute marathon of a warm-up into 15 minutes. The difference in training quality will be immediately noticeable, and your distaste for warming up will be a thing of the past.

3. “Floss” your joints during self-massage.

I picked this tip up awhile back from strength coach and physical therapist Kelly Starrett. It has made a huge difference in how my elbows, knees, and shoulders feel after warming up. When rolling out you will often find “knots” or areas that are noticeably more tender than others. Stop on these regions, keep constant pressure on the area, and take the nearest joint through some active ranges of motion while the implement used for massage is still applying pressure. I have found this to be especially helpful with a lacrosse ball placed just above the knee, just above the elbow, and under the shoulder. Other options include simply flexing and extending the knees, elbows, and shoulders while rolling across the IT bands / quadriceps (knee), upper and mid back (shoulders), and upper arms (elbows). Here are a few examples:

4. Mimic the day’s big exercise with a lower load variation first.

As a powerlifter, my training sessions always begin with one of the tested lifts: squat, bench, or deadlift. While this may not be the case for the general population or athletes, more times than not they are still beginning with a big compound movement. Instead of diving right in to the lift at hand, consider doing a few light sets of a similar movement that will help ingrain proper technique and give you additional time to orient the body to the day’s main movement pattern. I have found the goblet squat to be a great way to set up for successful squatting. Band resisted good mornings or KB swings are good for the deadlift. Finally, something as easy as a few sets of pushups can help with the bench press.

Each of these options will help raise your core temperature, fire up the CNS, and give you some sensory feed back on how the lift should feel (or will feel) on the given day.

5. Consider using MCTs for pre workout nutrition.

I’ll finish this warm-up edition with a suggestion on how to warm up your body from the inside out. Many people tend to fuel their body pre-workout with various supplements (mostly full of garbage), or with carbohydrate-rich concotions. Instead, consider using a healthy source of fat: Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). The benefits are numerous, and especially advantageous for those looking to increase fat oxidation during the workout. This study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that consumption of MCTs as part of a weight loss plan improved overall weight loss. After ingestion of MCTs, the free fatty acid levels are raised, and more available to be used as energy. Supplementing with MCTs pre workout is therefore a terrific option for those on low carbohydrate diets looking for pre-workout energy and increased fat loss. You can get your MCTs in via coconut oil, MCT oil supplements, or even quality coconut milk products. Add in a small amount of BCAAs or whey protein, and caffeine for a boost that will keep you fueled up while aiding you in staying lean.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 8

Written on June 23, 2012 at 7:33 am, by Eric Cressey

In collaboration with Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here are some tips to get just a little more awesome this weekend.

1. Hard start, easy finish.

This phrase applies to almost everything in training and in life. In short, putting in the work up front is going to benefit you ten-fold throughout the rest of your…

Exercise Set: Put the time in to set up a lift correctly (bar placement, spotters, foot position, etc) and you will make the entire set go off smoothly.

Training Session: Don’t skimp on your warm-ups. Make sure you spend the 15 minutes to hit self massage, mobility, and activation work.

Training Block: Make the time to make a plan. If you do not have the time (really?!), or the knowledge (fair enough), then seek out someone to make a plan for you.

Training Career: If you’re new to the game, take the proper amount of time to learn correct movement patterns, build general work capacity, and understand technique. If you’re not, and these sound like foreign concepts, have you considered pressing rewind?

2. Meet the bar.

3. Address lagging body parts with frequency.

If you have a body part that isn’t making the grade, the answer could very well be to adjust the frequency in which you train it. Training variables such as volume and intensity are household names, even if their application is often butchered. Frequency is a less-considered variable in your training program. The frequency at which you train a muscle group can have a profound effect on its growth. Additionally, high frequency protocols can produce major surges in strength when programmed correctly. Using high frequencies to make gains in strength is definitely more complex. The more demanding the exercise selections (think deadlifts, squats, cleans, etc), the more tinkering you’ll need to do in the overall management of volume and intensities. Luckily for you, using higher frequencies to illicit gains in “size” isn’t as involved.

Here is a good place to start: choose an area (i.e. arms) and add a specialization day to your strength training program. Make this days short, but challenging. This is a good time to utilize drop sets, forced reps, pre-exhaustion etc. Stick with the same area for three weeks, back off a week, and either choose a new area for three weeks or continue with the previous selection. Maybe you’ll do calves like Tony does?

4. Appreciate that various characteristics relate to throwing velocity.

A study conducted in 2009 by The Open Sports Medicine Journal looked at the relationship between six anthropometric (body height, body mass, body mass index (BMI), arm span, hand spread and length) and four physical fitness (aerobic capacity, explosive power of the lower limbs, flexibility and running speed) characteristics and their relationship to throwing velocity in female handball players. The study found that “throwing performance is significantly correlated with all variables calculated in this study except of the body mass index. This suggests that high performance requires advanced motor abilities and anthropometric features.”

This isn’t revolutionary, and the study does not go into details (that have been found important to velocity) such as joint mobility, stiffness and laxity. However, it is interesting to note that the researchers ranked each characteristic in order of importance in terms of the effect on velocity:

1. Hand Spread
2. Playing Experience
3. Arm Span
4. Body Height
5. Standing Long Jump
6. 30m Sprint
7. Sit and Reach
8. Body Mass.
9. VO2max
10. Body Mass Index

As you’ll see, the recipe for success will always be a combination of genetic pre determents, mechanical skill (sport practice), and physical performance traits (explosiveness, strength, etc). Two out of three of those you have control over, and if you are willing to put the work in, you can make up for quite a bit that Mommy and Daddy didn’t pass on to you.

EC’s notes: three interesting asides to this…

First, it’s interesting that body mass index wasn’t more highly ranked, as body weight has been shown to have a significantly positive association with throwing velocity in baseball pitchers. The primary difference between these two populations, of course, is that the handball players aren’t throwing downhill on a mound, so perhaps having a greater body mass benefits pitchers because they’re more “gravity-aided?”

Second, this is friendly reminder that your silly long distance running won’t do anything for throwing velocity.

Third, the researchers only tested straight-ahead (sagittal) plane measures of power development. If they’d tested power development in the frontal and transverse planes, I’d expect to see a greater value for these measures.

5. Don’t limit yourself.

Have you heard this before?

If I do everything you say, and work as hard as possible, do I have a shot at: making it, losing 10lbs, benching 315?

The answer is always YES; why would it be NO? We are all capable of impressing – and even surprising – ourselves with what we are capable of doing. Not everyone (even with an insane work ethic) is going to look like Captain American or play on ESPN. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you never shot for something less than that. You gave everything you had, and you ran that course until it was over. Wherever that point may be, you arrived there knowing that you didn’t leave anything in the tank. This is the absolute most you could do, given the tools you had, and you can be happy and fulfilled knowing that. If you attack everything with that mentality, you will be successful and happy with the result, even if that result isn’t exactly what you thought it was when you got started.

This is an important lesson to remind young athletes and adult clients alike. Teach them to respect the process, and find value in the journey. Remind them that many variables are not within their control, but their effort is.

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Random Friday Thoughts: 8/27/10

Written on August 27, 2010 at 2:01 am, by Eric Cressey

I didn’t do a “random thoughts” feature last week, so I’ll have to be extra random this week to make up for it.

1.  Bam!

guyswalksintoabar

You weren’t expecting me to come out with such amazing humor, were you?  Let that be a lesson to you; nobody is more random than EC (and nobody pulls off referring to himself in the third person better, either).

2. We all know that warm-ups are importance for enhancing power output, grooving appropriate neural patterns, and avoiding injury.  Here is some cool research that demonstrates how much more effective an active warm-up is than a passive warm-up when it comes to metabolic responses to exercise.  Namely, those who undergo an active warm-up demonstrate increased oxygen uptake and lower heart rate at a given workload than those participating in a passive warm-up (or no warm-up at all).

Anecdotally, I can tell you that there have been some days where I have felt like there was lead in my shoes and that there was no way I could get any interval training in on a day I’d planned to do so.  However, after a good dynamic flexibility warm-up, things “miraculously” got a lot easier.

3. A big congratulations go out to CP baseball athletes Jordan Cote, who committed to Coastal Carolina, and Joe Napolitano, who committed to Wake Forest. Both made their decisions last week and were featured at ESPN Boston.  We’re proud of our boys!

4. Likewise, I’ve got to give a congratulations to CP athlete and Lincoln-Sudbury All-American soccer player Cole DeNormandie, who became the second CP athlete featured on the cover of ESPN Rise Magazine in just the past few months (he joins Vanderbilt-bound pitcher Tyler Beede):

cole-espn-rise

5. Mike Robertson published a three part series on Knee Pain Basics this past week; it is absolutely fantastic and I’d strongly encourage you to check it out.  Here are the links:

Part 1 – Philosophy
Part 2 – Programming
Part 3 – Coaching

Along these same lines, if you haven’t checked out Mike’s Bulletproof Knees Manual yet, I’d strongly encourage you to do so; it’s an excellent resource.

bpk

6. Greg Robins recently came down to spend some time observing the madness at Cressey Performance, and wrote up a detailed review of his experience; check it out: Science and Attitude: My Trip to Cressey Performance.

7. Here is a link to a great blog from Bret Contreras; it’s definitely worth a read: Sprint Research, Biomechanics, and Practical Implications – An Interview with Matt Brughelli.

8. I need some advice from the dog lovers out there.  Both my fiancee and I grew up with dogs and are thinking about getting a puppy after our wedding (less than six weeks away right now).  We both agree that we want something small – but at the same time, I’d like something that doesn’t make me want to instantly turn in my man card, like the silky poo for which she is currently pushing:

silkypoo-450x300

I actually really like bulldogs, but that’s going to be a tough sell for her unless it’s a “hybrid” where you can’t see a whole lot of bulldog.  Plus, I know a lot of people have said that they have a higher propensity for health issues.  I like puggles, mini pincers, and a few others, but what do those of you in-the-know suggest?  Thanks for any help you can offer!


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Coordination Training: A Continuum of Development for Young Athletes

Written on August 17, 2010 at 7:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest blog comes from Brian Grasso, the director of the International Youth Conditioning Association.

The myths and falsehoods associated with coordination training are plenty.  I’ll outline the “Top 3″ here:

1.       Coordination is a singular element that is defined by a universal ability or lack of ability

2.       Coordination cannot be trained nor taught

3.       Coordination-based stimulus should be restricted to preadolescent children

This article will provide a broad-based look at each of those myths and shed some light on the realities behind coordination training as a continuum for the complete development of young athletes aged 6 – 18.

young-athletes

1. Coordination & Young Athletes

Largely considered a singular facet of athletic ability, it is not uncommon to hear coaches, parents or trainers suggest that a given young athlete possess “good” or “bad” coordination.

This generalization does not reflect the true nature of the beast, or specific features that combine to create coordination from a macro-perspective.  Coordination is, in reality, comprised of several different characteristics:

  • Balance – a state of bodily equilibrium in either static or dynamic planes
  • Rhythm – the expression of timing
  • Movement Adequacy – display of efficiency or fluidity during locomotion
  • Synchronization of Movement – harmonization and organization of movement
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation – the degree of force required to produce a desired result
  • Spatial Awareness – ability to know where you are in space and in relation to objects

While many of these traits have great overlap and synergy, they are unmistakably separate and can, in fact, be improved in relatively isolated ways.  That’s not to suggest that your training programs should necessarily look to carve up the elements of coordination and work through them in a solitary manner.  Just a notation intended to show that coordination as it relates to young athletes can be improved at the micro level.

youth-soccer

2. Coordination – Can You Teach Young Athletes?

The answer, in short, is yes.

Coordination ability is not unlike any other biomotor; proficiencies in strength, speed, agility and even cardiovascular capacity (through mechanical intervention) can be taught, and at any age.

The interesting caveat with coordination-based work, however, is that its elements are tied directly to CNS development and therefore have a natural sensitive period along a chronological spectrum.  The actuality of sensitive periods tends to be a contentious topic amongst researchers and many coaches.  Some of these individuals are not satisfied with current research and are therefore not eager to believe in their existence and others who accept sensitive periods of development to be perfectly valid.  It’s worth pointing out that I am in no way a scientist or researcher, but have read numerous books and research reviews on the subject and feel satisfied that they do exist and can be maximized (optimized for a lifetime) through proper stimulus.

This “optimization” issue is the true crux of the matter.  Especially during the very early years of life (0 – 12 years) the CNS contains a great deal of plasticity, or ability to adapt.  This plastic nature carries through the mid-adolescence, but then significantly decreases from there.  Many mistake this point as an implication that the human organism cannot learn new skills in any capacity once their CNS has passed the point of being optimally plastic, but this is not true.  Skill of any athletic merit can be learned at virtually any age throughout life.  What the plasticity argument holds is that these skills could never be optimized if they were not introduced at a young age.

Why Michael Couldn’t Hit: And Other Tales of The Neurology of Sports is a fascinating book by Dr. Harold Klawans.  Klawans presents a review of his prediction that Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of all time, would not become an extraordinary baseball player during his attempts to do so with the Chicago White Sox.

whymichaelcouldnthit

Dr. Klawans contented that because Jordan did not learn or practice the specific motor and hand-eye aspects of hitting baseballs when he was young, no matter how great an athlete he was, he would never be able to do so at an advanced level.

Inevitably, Dr. Klawans was correct.

The case for neural plasticity suggests that during the formative years of growth, it is imperative that young athletes be introduced to all types of stimulus that fuel improvement to the elements of coordination listed earlier.  This is one of the very critical reasons that all young athletes should play a variety of sports seasonally and avoid any sort of “sport specific” training.  Unilateral approaches to enhancing sport proficiency will meet with disastrous results from a performance standpoint if general athletic ability, overall coordination and non-specific load training is not reinforced from a young age.

This bring us to the final myth…

3. Teenage Athletes Are ‘Too Old’

Now, while there is truth to the matter that many of the sensitive periods for coordination development exist during the preadolescent phase of life, it would be shortsighted to suggest that teenage athletes should not be exposed to this type of training.

Firstly, much of the training of coordination takes the form of injury prevention.  Any sort of “balance” exercise, for example, requires proprioceptive conditioning and increases in stabilizer recruitment.  With “synchronization of movement,” large ROM and mobility work is necessary.  “Kinesthetic differentiation,” by definition, involves sub-maximal efforts or “fine-touch” capacity that is a drastically different stimulus than most young athletes are used to in training settings.

Beyond that, there is the matter of motor skill linking.  According to Jozef Drabik, as much as 60% of the training done by Olympic athletes should take the form of non-direct load (i.e. non-sport-specific).  To truly stimulate these rather advanced athletes however, one option (which is a standard during the warm-up phase of a training session) is to link advanced motor skills (coordination exercises) together creating a complex movement pattern.

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For example:

Run Forward —> Decelerate —> 360 Jump —> Forward Roll —> Tuck Jump

Or

Scramble to Balance —> 1-Leg Squat —> A Skips —> Army Crawl —> Grab Ball/Stand/Throw to Target

In each of these patterns, we have represented:

  • Spatial Awareness
  • Synchronization of Movement
  • Balance (dynamic and static)
  • Movement Adequacy
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation
  • Rhythm

I have used warm-up sequences just like these with high school, collegiate and professional athletes from a variety of sports.

Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association – the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org.

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The Best of 2009: Articles

Written on January 3, 2010 at 10:00 am, by Eric Cressey

In place of “Stuff You Should Read” this week, I thought it might be cool to direct you to our most popular pages and videos for 2009, according to our website statistics.  Presumably, these are the ones that people forwarded to friends the most, and/or the ones that caught the most people’s eyes.  This excludes pages like the homepage, baseball content, products, etc.  Here we go:

Medicine Ball Madness – This piece outlined some of the medicine ball work I do with both my baseball guys and the rest of our clients.  It was so popular that it actually led to me deciding to cover this topic at my Perform Better talks for 2010.

Hip Internal Rotation Deficit: Causes and Fixes – This Q&A on what the lying knee-to-knee stretch does actually led to a discussion of the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Front vs. Back Squats – This is a different kind of discussion on a debate that’s been going on for years.

Crossfit for Baseball – Controversial?  Yup.  I got a little hate mail for this one, but on the whole, I think I was pretty fair with how I approached it.

“Quad Pulls” and Sprinting Warm-ups – This article discusses how the term “quad pull” might not be the most accurate one out there – and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

A Common Cause of Hip Pain in Athletes – This piece discusses femoral anterior glide syndrome, a term coined by Shirley Sahrmann.

Next, we’ll feature the most popular product reviews of 2009.


Get Your Butt in Gear II

Written on September 13, 2004 at 2:56 pm, by Eric Cressey

In Part I we covered some pre-training measures you can use to get your glutes fired up and ready to go. Now it’s time to get to work on strengthening them. Before we discuss the exercises, let’s go over four regulations. If you violate these four groundrules, we’ll kick your ass (no pun intended).

1) You’ll use a full range of motion (ROM) on all exercises, even if you’re the most inflexible person alive.

2) You’ll drive/lead with the heel and not prance around like a sissy on your tiptoes.

3) You’ll keep the torso erect (chest high and scapulae retracted) to ensure a full ROM.

4) You’ll check your ego at the door and decrease the weight if necessary to perform the exercises correctly!

Every rule doesn’t apply to every exercise, but more often than not, these little cues will help you to increase your gluteal function and strength. Now, let’s move on to the exercises!

Continue Reading…


Get Your Butt in Gear

Written on September 6, 2004 at 2:52 pm, by Eric Cressey

We need an appropriate balance between strength and mobility in our hips. This is true if we want to squat or deadlift more weight, jump higher or sprint faster. A world-renowned philosopher by the name of Coolio may have said it best: “You can’t have da’ hop if ya don’t have da’ hip!” It’s no surprise that athletes in sports like Olympic lifting, powerlifting and sprinting have amazing overall development in both flexibility and strength of the hip musculature.

We see tons of injuries to the hamstrings and lower back, but rarely encounter any sort of injury to the glutes. The fact of the matter is that most athletes are tight in the hamstrings, lower back and hip flexors. This collection of problems is related to a lack of strength and motor control in the gluteal muscles. When the hip flexors (antagonists to the gluteus maximus) are overactive, the gluteus maximus becomes weak via a mechanism known as reciprocal inhibition.

Furthermore, when our “butt” muscles aren’t up to the task, the hamstrings and erector spinae muscles are forced to work overtime to compensate. This is known as synergistic dominance. This unfortunate cycle often results in injury, or at the very least, sub-optimal levels of performance.

Continue Reading…


Feel Better for 10 Bucks

Written on July 12, 2004 at 2:41 pm, by Eric Cressey

Ten bucks doesn’t buy much nowadays. You could pick up a day pass at some commercial gym, or pull off the co-pay on a visit to the chiropractor. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to swing a mediocre Russian mail order bride.

Or, you could just go the safe route with your $10, take our advice, and receive a lifetime of relief from the annoying tightness so many athletes and weekend warriors feel from incessantly beating on their bodies. Don’t worry, this isn’t an infomercial. We just want you to pick up a foam roller for self-myofascial release and deep tissue massage.

Continue Reading…


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