On June 14-16th of this year I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend the Elite Baseball Mentorship program at Eric Cressey’s training center in Hudson, MA. For those of you who don’t know who Eric is you can check out his website here. Basically he is THE go-to-guy in the USA for high school, college and professional baseball players.
For those of you who have been to our facility here at The Baseball Zone you will be happy to know that our facilities were almost identical, only opposite in a way! I mean that Cressey’s gym is 15,000 sq. ft. with the majority of his facility being designated for strength and conditioning with two bullpen lanes; while ours is 15,000 sq. ft. with about 3,500 sq. ft. of that being strength and conditioning and the rest baseball.
Like us they have NO fancy machines or lots of treadmills; just equipment suited for building strength, power and speed. They had tires, sledge hammers, squat racks and lifting platforms, dumbbells, a turf for their sleds and prowlers, and a cinderblock wall for medballs…sounding familiar to somehwere you might be training already?! In all, it was nice to see that from philosophical and practical perspectives, from gym layout to equipment to training methodologies, we were already very congruent with the baseball industry's best, but I still nevertheless anticipated that they had so much to offer to help me become a better strength coach for my athletes, and they did.
The mentorship was heavily focused on the upper body and the mechanics of throwing, specifically pitching. We gained additional understanding about:
- the unique demands placed on an individual during a pitching motion
- the biomechanical breakdown of the pitching motion
- common injuries pitchers face & movement and mechanical issues that can contribute to these injuries
- assessment that can help identify these issues
- strength/conditioning programming strategies
- exercise recommendations
- coaching cues
- and finally hands on interaction with athletes on the floor training. It was an information/action/excitement packed 3 days!
Because there was so much information given I’ve decided to highlight my top 8 takeaways from the mentorship. Most were not necessarily "new" to me or vastly different from the way we do things already, but they all were nonetheless rich in providing learning opportunities and new tools to help me become a better coach and help our athletes become better prepared for success. These folks see the best of the best, and a large number of them, so their experience is second to none and being able to tap into it is, and was, so valuable.
- Do not assume, Assess.
- This was a major theme of the mentorship and helped me develop some new ideas for our own assessment protocols
- Correct bad movement patterns before they become habits, and correct habits before they become injuries
- Do not let athletes get really good at moving bad
- If something does not look right but you cannot pinpoint what it is, video the movement. Review it in slow motion.
o Many movements (cleans, jumps, running, pitching, etc.) are too fast to analyze with the naked eye
o If you are not using video to analyze the motion, you are just guessing
- Assessment can occur both up front, prior to the start of a program, and also "on the fly" as the program progresses. An up front assessment is great, but that can't be all there is. It could be argued that the more important assessments are the ones that are occurring all the time as the athlete progresses and evolves. Programs should have both elements.
- The same exercise will need different cues
- You can show 2 athletes the same movement; one will have no problem with it while the other may struggle
o You must be able to describe and cue each exercise in your repertoire in multiple ways
- Example: When coaching an athlete to deadlift, one cue may be to keep their back straight or in a neutral position. Some athletes do not know what this feels like and cannot do it. However, a second cue, ‘stick your chest out’, can usually get the same result.
o From here, bring to attention to what the neutral spine position feels like
- Creating context is another great way to help cue a troubling exercise. Relate the movement back to something they are familiar with.
o If you are having an athlete struggling to get their hips back in a squat, get them to imagine they are reaching their butt back to sit down.
- Question what you are currently doing. Can it be done in a better way?
- This mentorship made me question the way I handled my athletes’ - especially pitchers' - warm-ups and mobility/prehab. I did a lot of mobility work with most of my pitchers without considering how lax many of them are. Pitchers, by nature, usually have some degree of laxity in their extremities. Further stretching and mobilizing them may not be the best approach for injury reduction. Many of them would benefit far more by working on stabilizing these joints.
- Get to know your athletes' movement patterns; are they hypermobile, relatively normal, or very restricted? Again, if you do not assess, you are guessing.
- Was mobilizing and stretching all my baseball athletes hurting them? Probably not. Was it the best approach I could have taken with them? Again, probably not. Always strive to know more and be better for your athletes’ sakes.
- (Tip - If your sports performance expert "knows it all", then they're probably no longer questioning what they are doing which should sound an alarm for you)
- When programming, remember these 5 things
- These are fundamental philosophies practiced by most reputable strength coaches, but it was still beneficial to gain an understanding of the Cressey group's practical applications of them.
- What is acceptable movement?
o When you have multiple athletes on the floor you do not always have time to make sure everyone’s exercises are picture perfect. Know what is safe and acceptable movement for each exercise. But if an athlete is not moving acceptably take the time to correct them.
- Demands of each sport
o Not all exercises and types of training are beneficial to each sport.
o A gymnast doesn’t need to come to the gym and work on plyometrics; they get enough of that within their sport. They need to focus on strength. Similarly, baseball players do not need to be running long distances. They need strength, power and speed.
- Athlete’s unique needs
o Do they have a previous or current injury that restricts them? Are they hypermobile, normal, or restricted? Are they weak or strong? Quick or slow? What position do they play?
- Time of year
o Is your athlete in-season? Off-season? Pre-season? Training will differ greatly depending on the time of year. Know where your athletes are in their Macrocycle and plan accordingly.
- You will never be able to do everything you want to
o As a strength coach I want to make my athlete’s the best, I want them to have the best programs they possibly can, and I want to do my best for them. However, I have quickly realized that I cannot fit absolutely everything I want into every program.
o Injury, playing/practicing schedule, rides, commitment levels, weather, or facility/equipment availability can all interfere with what would be the ideal/ultimate program.
o The idea is to do the best you can within the constraints placed on you, and learning to be okay with that.
- Too much, or too little
- Training for many baseball players (especially pitchers) usually falls into two categories; excessive coddling or ‘just do what the football players are doing’.
- Both can be sub-optimal and even dangerous to a player’s season or career.
- Baseball athletes can be pushed incredibly hard as long as exercise selection is appropriate. We witnessed a number of athletes at Cressey Performance working out, and frankly they "got after it" at a level not always seen by our own baseball athletes. So, it is ok guys (and parents), you're not that delicate - bust your rear end!! We will not put you in dangerous positions, only ones that will challenge you and make you better.
- Pitchers Can PRESS!!
- YES! IT’S TRUE, PITCHERS CAN PRESS! OH MY GOD, SOUND THE ALARMS!!!
- Despite what you may have heard from your local guru, ex-player, coach who hasn't seen a gym in 20 years and has zero qualifications, super parent, and so on, it is perfectly safe for pitchers to press, and they should be pressing in order to strengthen and protect their shoulders.
- However, there are presses that are great and others that should be avoided
o The BEST Pressing Option, Push-up Variations
o Landmine presses, cable presses
- Biomechanical Understanding
- On the start of Day 2, Matt Blake, gave an in-depth talk about the biomechanical breakdown of a throwing/pitching motion. Coming from a non-baseball, kinesiology background this was a great learning opportunity for me. It complemented the everyday access I have to two of the best in Canada, my co-workers and fellow Mentorship attendees, Ryan Armstrong & Rick Johnston (which gave us 3 team members at the seminar - more than anyone from Canada, by the way).
- I will never use this information to teach someone how to throw or correct throwing patterns (that is not my areas of expertise) but gaining further knowledge into the breakdown of this movement has given me a better understanding of what the body is doing, how it is moving, and key things to look for and avoid in the gym. I now have a better appreciation for the fastest movement humans are capable of, and can use this knowledge to build more informed programs.
- Individualized Warm-ups
- It is a commonly held that the best strength and conditioning programs are individualized to each athlete’s needs, injury risk, position, and goals (although this doesn't mean that EVERY ATHLETE is going to have a completely unique program different from everyone else's - keep that in mind folks. Your little snowflake will have similar issues and similar starting points as players with similar needs. This may result in similar programs to each others' in the gym). But less thought is generally put into an athlete’s warm-up.
- For the majority of athletes a generic warm-up is perfectly fine, but could it be better? Are there certain athletes that would benefit from a more individualized warm-up? The answer was yes.
- There are many factors to consider:
o Facilities available
o Being a starting or relief pitcher
There are so many other useful tidbits of information I learned over the 3-day mentorship; it was hard to pick just a few to talk about. For any individual working with baseball players at any level, I would consider attending one of the mentorships at Cressey Sports Performance. These individuals are truly leaders in the area of baseball strength training, and their willingness to teach and share their knowledge is an opportunity that should not be passed up.
If you want to learn more about SST click here or to try our baseball strength training programs, try a FREE Demo-session with us! Or, If you want to hear more about a topic I touched on today or about any topic in particular (baseball-related or not) shoot me a quick email: [email protected]
Courtney Plewes BScKin, CSCS
Lead Sports Performance Coach - The Baseball Zone & Sports Specific Training (Mississauga)
Image courtesy of ericcressey.com