Friday, May 8, 2009

Blog Moved

My blog has been moved to Check it out for more tips and other information!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

To BOSU or Not To BOSU?

Here is an article that I found on Men's Health that is looking at the perspective of one of the best performance coaches in the world, Mike Boyle.

Don’t worry, I promise this is not another article on the benefits or detriments of “functional training.” Every expert has their own opinion, and to be honest, I fall somewhere in the middle. It’s not the end all, be all of training (just because not everyone views what is functional the same way)—but it has its place in any routine.

Some might argue that the BOSU ball is a functional trainer’s best friend (thus making me think that those in love with functional training have a serious love for blue balls…but I digress). For the bottom line on BOSU training, I consulted with Mike Boyle, owner of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning. Boyle’s words carry significant weight as there are very few in the game who know more than him, and his advice might help your training and save your body from injury. Here are his thoughts on the BOSU:

It’s primary uses:“I really only use it for push-ups and some hip extension stuff. We never stand on them. I like unstable upper body stuff but don't really have much use for instability of that type with lower body. I do like it as "platform" for various hip extension exercises for glutes. I like unstable upper body work as it adds a stability effect that really stimulates the scapula stabilizers. I also think it adds additional core demand to a push. Lots of bang for the buck.”

On what to avoid:“I avoid lower body work because the dome shape makes it not real world. I think lower body instability should be subtler, like an Airex pad versus something overly unstable like the BOSU. Too unstable limits loading. Moderate instability promotes use of stabilizers.”

On how to use it to improve hips/glutes:“The BOSU is great for hip work as it is more stable than a stability ball. It makes a comfortable platform but is not too unstable when it is flat side down.”

The bottom line: The BOSU has a place, but it’s not for unlimited exercises. Any training program that completely revolves around the BOSU is probably flawed, and thus inherently limiting the amount of progress you can make. And if you want to make your pushups more difficult using the BOSU, just wear a weighted vest for added resistance, or prop your feet up on a bench or step.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Clearing Up the Warm Up Confusion

There are many benefits of a warm up before physical activity. A few include faster contraction and relaxation of the agonist and antagonist, faster reaction time, improved strength and power, improved oxygen delivery and, most importantly, decreased injuries. A past and continuing trend to warm up is static stretching. Static stretching occurs when you hold a position that stretches a muscle for a given time (usually 15-90 seconds). Static stretching can be beneficial depending when it is used.

Static stretching develops something called a “specific joint relationship.” If the bones get drawn closer together than desirable, the impingement of connective tissue at the joint can cause numerous problems, especially nerve pinching. This can initiate a range of neural activity from muscle spasms to feelings that the muscle has been torn. By stretching and keeping the joints healthy, you can continue to train and perform without injury.

Through personal training, I see many things used incorrectly. Static stretching as a warm up is one of those things used incorrectly. In most cases, static stretching will make you weaker and decrease your performance if used before physical activity. This has been well documented in literature and numerous studies. Static stretching decreases motor neuron excitability, increases tendon slack, decreases stiffness, decrease formation of muscular adhesions, and alters actin-myosin position. At the ideal muscle length, the actin and myosin have the best capability to make contact and cause a muscular contraction. However, a fully elongated position doesn't allow the actin and myosin fibers to make enough contact to have a strong muscle contraction.

Static stretching should be used post workout and can help develop this “specific joint relationship.” Other benefits of using static stretching post workout are to improve imbalances between sides of the body, decrease injury, and improve length-tension relationship in muscles. These factors will lead to improved movement patterns and posture helping relieve low back and knee pain.

So what should be used as a warm up? Dynamic stretching is an ideal choice. Dynamic stretching occurs when you actively move a joint through its range of motion. An example would be high knees or carioca. The benefits of using dynamic movements as a warm up include mimicing movements that will be used, increasing body temperature, improving strength, and improving neuromuscular function while moving through an active range of motion.

Another great choice as a warm up is self-myofascial release using a foam roller. Self-myofascial intentions are similar to that of a massage by working on the tissue. Static stretching and dynamic work address the length of the tissues, and tissue work addresses the quality. Imagine a rubber band with a knot in it. It's not going to stretch the same as it would if there wasn't a knot, right? Now, get the knot out and watch how it lengthens easily. Your muscle-tendon units aren't much different. If there are balls of adhesions and scar tissue, they will never lengthen the way they should. Self-myofascial release through a process called autogenic inhibition causes relaxation, improves tone of the muscle, and breaks up these adhesions and scar tissue.

Self-myofascial release is a technique that has became popular in the training world due to its ability to improve tissue quality in a way traditional stretching cannot. Follow these simple but effective tips and reap the benefits of increased performance and decreased pain.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unstable Surface Training

I find myself saying while explaining different training ideas quite a bit "it depends". And using things such as Swiss balls and Bosu balls are no different. It depends on the situation but in many situations that unstable surface training is used, it shouldn't be. Here are four reasons why:

1. You'll burn fewer calories. You won't be able to use nearly as much weight on an unstable surface as you would on a stable surface performing the same exercise. Burning calories (and hence, fat) is all about progressive overload (stressing the body). BOSU balls and the like are inferior in this regard.

2. You will actually make yourself weaker. Gaining strength is all about force production (being able to transfer force from the ground up). By training on an unstable surface, you're promoting "leaks" and really limiting the amount of force you can generate in any given exercise. For athletes, this is crucial.

Additionally, unstable surface training undermines all three phases of the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), especially the amortization phase. Using devices such as BOSU balls actually delays the amortization phase. From an athletic standpoint, one seeks to minimize this phase as much as possible to prevent loss of a significant amount of the energy accumulated and stored as a result of the preloading (eccentric) phase.

3. Core Strength? Please don't be that person who claims that unstable surface training is great for training the core. I can have someone do the same movement on a stable surface and activate the "core" just as much.

4. Safety. On more than one occasion I've seen people fall and injure themselves while performing exercises on an unstable surface. For example, squatting on a SWISS ball. Every time I see someone attempt this, I cringe. Free-weight exercises have been proven safe when performed on stable surfaces, but there isn't much data out there which showcases the efficacy of unstable surface training in regards to safety.

In the end, I just don't think training on unstable surfaces is worth it. Again, if you're training for the circus they're great! However, I feel that people would be much better served steering clear of them in the long run.

Terrific Tuesday

1. Email from a new client:

Next week is my last week and I would like to know if I can continue working with you. My progress has been more than I ever could have expected and I am thrilled. You provide encouragement and the “mental push” (ok, sometimes a big ole’ mental shove) I need in a way that allows me to learn. My goal is to be able to walk away with good knowledge (and confidence) of each exercise so I can continue on........

2. I was asked to write a bit about choosing whole grains:

Most people (overweight and obese) don't handle a carbohydrates all that well because of the simple fact of what they do to your blood sugar levels. (Most bodybuilders actually increase their carbohydrate intake while trying to put on weight) A rise in your blood sugar levels leads to a spike followed by a drop, leading to your metabolism not only slowing down but you itching you get some more food into your mouth! There are even donut and cereal products claiming to be whole grain!

Good one, show me the ingredients please

A better choice is to eat carbs (along with other simple sugars) after a workout. Your body actually needs and wants these carbohydrates post workout to start the recovery process. (A even better choice is Cytofuse which contains the quickest form of carbs immediately starting the recovery process) There are a few choices of carbs that are actually "whole grain"; old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, amaranth, quinoa, wild rice and sprouted organic whole grain products (like Ezekiel).

A great article was wrote about The Safe Carbs - Whole Grains

3. There a many reasons to eat your vegetables. An interesting perspective: Covering Your Nutrition Acids (And Bases)

4. I think eating before bedtime (1-2 hours) has got a bad rep. Your body benefits greatly from having muscle mass. Our goal should be a stay away from a muscles wasting (catabolic) state. To prevent this we need some protein before bedtime. A great choice being:

Cottage Cheese and/or blend of proteins like that in Ultra Peptide.

5. Thanks for the birthday wishes! I was told I don't need to worry getting old till I turn 25. Guess I have another year till I have to worry.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Distance Running

It's track season and I've been seeing a lot of kids running around town. Kind of brought the following article to mind, not only for baseball players but any athlete who is looking for long distance running as a recovery aid:

By: Eric Cressey

The management of pitchers between starts is one of the most debated topics in the world of baseball training. Some pitching coaches want multiple throwing sessions between starts, while others insist that a single bullpen is sufficient. Athletic trainers debate on whether or not a pitcher should ice after a throwing session. And, specific to my realm of expertise, there are differing opinions on what kind of running programs are appropriate for pitchers between bouts of throwing.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a pretty well-read guy – and I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything along the lines of a truly logical argument for or against a specific running program for pitchers. So, I guess that’s where I come in with this piece.

With that in mind, I’ll be very blunt with you: I despise distance running for pitchers (and the overwhelming majority of other athletes, for that matter). While many pitching coaches are probably reading this and cursing my name already for going against the norm, I’d encourage you all to hear me out on this. Below, I’ll outlined NINE reasons why distance running is not the correct course of action – and then, in my next installment, outline a new model for training between starts that we’ve used with great success at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels.

Why Distance Running is Not the Answer

Reason #1: Immunity Concerns

As a strength and conditioning coach, my number one priority in working with athletes is to keep them healthy. This refers not only to musculoskeletal health, but also general health. In an outstanding 2006 review, Gleeson wrote that “postexercise immune function depression is most pronounced when exercise is continuous [and] prolonged.” Interestingly, this review also noted that many of these symptoms are “attributable to inflammation of the upper respiratory tract rather than to infectious episodes (1).” In other words, distance running between starts is more likely to cause and spread sickness in your clubhouse than that tramp in the right field bleachers who wants to hook up with every guy in your bullpen.
Strike 1.

Reason #2: Endocrine Concerns

Here’s a little excerpt from an email I got from a minor league guy I work with in the off-season:
Yesterday might have been the roughest day of my career. It started by getting back from our game Sunday night at 11:30PM. I couldn’t fall asleep until at least 12:30AM, and then we had a 3:30AM wake up call to catch a bus to the airport for our flight at 6:15AM. We had a layover for an hour and a half, then got to the next city at 11AM. We drove to our hotel and I got to my stinky room at the Sleep Inn and tried to catch some sleep – except we had to be at the field at 4PM.

Days like this are the norm for many professional (and particularly, minor league) pitchers: late nights, early wake-up calls, red-eye flights, long bus rides, and – as a result – completely warped sleeping patterns. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, the diet that accompanies these travels is less than stellar, particularly when clubhouse food isn’t exactly gourmet or healthy. And, let’s just say that a lot of ballplayers at the collegiate and pro levels far too much alcohol, and that has direct negative consequences in terms of sleep and tissue quality.

So, basically, we’ve got absurd sleeping hours, terrible dietary habits, too much alcohol – and one of the longest seasons in sports. Effectively, we’ve done everything we possibly can to reduce lower testosterone and growth hormone output, creating a mess of a hormonal environment. Frankly, you could get this same hormonal response by forcing pitchers to watch Golden Girls reruns while sitting on bicycle seats and downing estrogen tablets – and you wouldn’t have any incidences of plantar fasciitis.

Instead, you know what’s done instead? Distance running! Yes, the same distance running that is responsible for the markedly lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol levels in endurance athletes. It’s like putting a new engine in a car with square wheels: studying for the wrong test.
It almost makes you wonder if some guys used performance-enhancing drugs just to counteract the negative effects of their running programs!

Strike 2.

Reason #3: Mobility Concerns

One of the issues with distance running is that it doesn’t allow for sufficient hip flexion to truly activate all the hip flexors. Specifically, we get a lot of rectus femoris recruitment, but not much activation of psoas, which predominately is active above 90 degrees of hip flexion. Likewise, you really aren’t getting much hip extension at all.
So, on the whole, by using a repetitive motion like jogging for an extended period of time, pitchers are losing mobility in their hips – and that’s the very mobility they depend on so much to generate stride length and, in turn, velocity.
Frankly, runners are the athletes (and I use that term loosely) I see with the most marked lower extremity dysfunctions due to the lack of range-of-motion in the jogging stride – and the fact that they pile so much mileage on this faulty movement pattern. I am a firm believer that we were made to sprint, not jog.
Strike 3. The batter’s out!

Reason #4: Negative Effects on the Stretch-Shortening Cycle

Here, I need to get a bit geeky for a second so that I can explain the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The easiest analogy I can use is that when you want to shoot a rubber band at someone, you pre-stretch it before you release your shot. Muscles work the same way; pre-stretching them (eccentric action) prior to shortening them (concentric action) stores elastic energy and helps that muscle generate more force. Anecdotally, I’ve heard estimates that as much as 25-30% of pitching velocity is attributed to elastic energy – or how effectively someone makes use of the stretch-shortening cycle.

Where we’re different from rubber bands is that we can actually train those elastic qualities to make our tendons more efficient at collecting, temporarily storing, and releasing that elastic energy to help us run faster, jump higher, and throw harder. It’s why doing plyos, sprinting, and throwing medicine balls can do wonders for a player’s performance.

With the stretch-shortening cycle, we need three things, according to Komi (2):

1. a well-timed muscle preactivation before the eccentric phase
2. a short, fast eccentric component
3. immediate transition (minimal delay) between stretch (eccentric) and shortening (concentric) phases. This period is known as the amortization phase, and the shorter it is, the less elastic energy we lose (as heat).

To be honest, #1 takes care of itself. For #2 and #3, though, we are definitely working against ourselves with distance running, as the importance of the SSC rapidly diminishes as exercise duration continues. In fact, the vertical jump only predicts sprinting performance up to 300m (3).
In other words, the longer exercise goes, the more we “muscle” it instead of being relaxed. What do we know about guys who try to muscle the ball to the plate? They don’t throw hard because it impairs pitching specific mobility and they don’t let the arm whip through.

I will take a guy with a good vertical jump over a guy with a high VO2max anyday. Distance running conditions guys to plod instead of bounce – and this definitely has implications in terms of chronic overuse conditions.

Strike 1.

Reason #5: Strength and Power Reductions

As just one example of how stressful the pitching motion is on the body, the humerus internally rotates at 7,500°/second during the acceleration phase of throwing. It takes a lot of strength and power to generate this kind of velocity, but just as importantly, it takes a lot of strength and power – and in a timely fashion – to decelerate it. We need to not only be able to generate enough force to resist and control this acceleration at end-range, but also be able to generate this force quickly (power). To that end, you would think that conditioning for pitchers would be similar to that of strength and power athletes, who avoid distance running altogether.

Instead, most pitchers run several times a week. When was the last time you saw a marathoner throw 95mph?

Additionally, in many cases, coaches encounter Latin American players who have never had access to weight-training equipment – and this is a huge window of untapped potential. Using distance running when these athletes could be devoting more time to getting stronger is a huge hindrance to these players’ development, as it conditions them to go longer instead of faster. At some point, you have to put more horsepower in the engine instead of just changing the oil.

We know that when we first get young athletes started with weight training, there is a huge transformation to make them more athletic in the 8-10 weeks that follow. You would be surprised at what good training can do for many advanced pitchers in the initial phases, too. The reason is that, unlike position players, many pitchers are (to be blunt) one-trick ponies. They know how to throw a nasty cutter, a crazy 12-to-6 curveball, or a slider with a funny arm-slot. So, it’s always been “okay” for them to be completely unathletic outside of their delivery. They might get guys out, but they’re long-term gambles teams because of their increased risk of injury; weak, immobile bodies break down the fastest – just like distance runners. Additionally, being able to quickly recruit muscles (and do so powerfully) is crucial for rapidly stiffening joint complexes to create stability and prevent acute injuries like ankle sprains and ACL ruptures. Strength and power athletes are much better off in this regard than endurance athletes.

Strike 2.

Reason #6: Inappropriate Intensities

In what was – at least in my eyes – a landmark study, McCarthy et al. (1995) looked at “compatibility” of concurrent strength training and endurance training. Traditionally, the attenuation of strength and power gains has been a big issue when endurance exercise is added to a strength training program. As I noted in Cardio Confusion, these researchers found that strength and power loss was only an issue when the intensity of the endurance exercise was greater than 75% of heart-rate reserve (HRR) (4). I can guarantee you that the majority of pitchers who are running distances are doing so at well over 75% HRR.

As I’ll note in my recommendations at the conclusion of this article, I strongly feel that the secret is to stay well above (circa-maximal sprinting, in other words) or below (70% HRR, to play it safe) when implementing any kind of running. The secret is to avoid that middle area where you don’t go slow and don’t go fast; that’s where athletes get SLOW! And, ideally, the lower-intensity exercise would be some modality that provides more mobility benefits.

Strike 3. The batter’s out!

Reason #7: Nobody likes to babysit.

Simply put, running is babysitting. Catcher is actually the position that requires the most endurance in baseball, but we don’t run catchers extra, do we? Nope – and it’s because we have bullpens for them to catch, batting practice for them to take, and all the other responsibilities associated with handling a pitching staff and being a pseudo coach on the field.

My business partner actually was a division 1 pitcher almost ten years ago, and when I brought up this argument, he smiled and nodded, replying with, “When I was a pitcher, all we did was shag fly balls and run poles.” Meanwhile, 57% of pitchers suffer a shoulder injury during a competitive season (5) – and that doesn’t even include elbow, lower back, or lower-extremity injuries! At the major league level, pitchers are 49% of the players, but they account for 68% of the time on the disabled list league-wide (6). Running isn’t going to prevent these problems; it’s going to exacerbate them.

Strike 1.

Reason #8: Distance running ignores existing imbalances.

Baseball is an at-risk sport for a number of reasons. You’ve got an extremely long competitive season, overhead throwing, and – possibly most significantly – unilateral dominance. Switch hitters and guys who bat right and throw left (or vice versa) tend to be a bit more symmetrical, but the guys who bat and throw on the same side tend to have the most glaring issues. Many really smart dudes – most notably, Gray Cook – note that asymmetry is quite possibly the best predictor of injury. When we get pitchers after a long season, our first goals are to address range of motion deficits in:

1. lead leg hip extension (tight hip flexors)
2. lead leg hip internal rotation (tight external rotators)
3. lead leg knee flexion (tight quads)
4. Throwing arm shoulder internal rotation (tight posterior rotator cuff and capsule)
5. Scapular posterior tilt (tight pec minor and levator scapulae)
6. Throwing arm elbow extension (tight elbow flexors)

I knocked back some caffeine, splashed some water on my face, and really put my thinking cap on to see if I could come up with a rationale for how distance running addresses any of these issues. In the end, I had nothing. I came to the realization that jogging negatively affects the majority of them – and pitchers would be better off just shagging fly balls instead of splitting time between that and long runs. At least they move side-to-side when they’re chasing fly balls.

Strike 2.

Reason #9: It’s really boring!

I am a firm believer that the best coaches are the ones who engage their athletes. The best coaches I had in my athletic career were the ones who made me look forward to each training session. With that said, the only people who look forward to distance running are – you guessed it – distance runners!

Most of the ballplayers you’re coaching have always seen running as a form of punishment for doing something wrong; they hate it as much as I do (okay, maybe not that much). And, truth be told, they’d hate it even more if they realized it is limiting their development as athletes.
Strike 3. The batter’s out – and the side is retired.

I have always disliked it when people criticize the status quo, but fail to offer solutions of their own. With that in mind, the next installment of this series will outline my personal perspective on how to attack the time between pitching outings.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm Getting Old

1. A very well written blog on Chocolate.

2. A newsletter on Chronic Pain and things you don't get from your physical therapist.

3. I want to write my article for next week on static stretching but just like everything else in the training world it depends. It's so hard to try and write on anything without explaining how each situation is different. There are so many ifs and buts.

4. I've wrote quite a bit on how I feel about slow steady aerobic work. It's not effective if you goal is weight loss. Simply put your body gets efficient at the same thing over and over. Instead try the following:

Warm up:
5 minutes

20 seconds at 90%
10 seconds recovery/rest

Repeat for 4 minutes/8 times

Active recovery/walking for 3 minutes

Repeat a total of 3-6 times depending on fitness level

Cool Down:
5 minutes

This can be used with about anything from basic movements such at squat and presses (thrusters) to running on a treadmill. It should be intense and get your heart rate up quite a bit more than slow steady work. You'll keep that heart rate up longer after your workout, in the end leading to more calories burnt.

5. I'm getting old, 24 on Sunday. Things just seem to fly by.

6. Website up and running. Some minor things need to be changed but very excited on it!!