Training

5 Questions with Coach Greg Robins


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Greg Robins is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Greg has worked with clientele ranging from general population to professional athletes. His unique experience in many different aspects of fitness, strength training, and athletic preparation have helped him become an unbiased authority on all things fitness and performance related. Outside of coaching Greg is a former collegiate baseball player, active member of the MA ARMY National Guard, and enjoys power lifting.

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1. If someone is struggling to hit depth in the squat, what do you see as the most common culprits and what suggestions would you make to them to improve their depth?

You can definitely attack this from a few angles. Before looking to place the blame on some kind of actual limitation, I would see how far we could get with some solid technique instruction. The pendulum has definitely swung to the side of “corrective exercise.” In my opinion there are just a lot of coaches who are making a living on being “corrective exercise” guys.

Everyone wants to tell you that squatting is some exercise up on a pedestal that few will ever achieve the ability to do safely. As a coach they are doing people a big disservice. On one hand they’re keeping perfectly able people from doing some quality movements. On the second hand, they are feeding this wave of gym goers and athletes who are suffering the old adage of “paralysis from over analysis.”

That was a long introduction to say that the first thing I would do is watch them squat, and see where we can improve their approach. The most common culprit is they don’t know how to squat. From there you may just need to regress the variation of the movement. Try something a little easier to pick up like a goblet squat, and hammer down the basics.

If you can’t seem to coach them into a good position, then you can look for deficiencies. The first thing I’ll do is give people a 10lb plate and tell them to hold it out at arms length and perform the squat. Many times the person will instantly gain the ability hit depth. We didn’t make them more mobile, flexible, etc. What we did do is give them the ability to shift their center of gravity back without falling over. That tells me that we just need to really work on the relative stiffness or strength of their abdominals in relation to the big muscles in the back like the lats, erectors, etc. These people are stuck in an extended posture, and shift all their weight forward. That’s why squat shoes help these folks so much. Sure, they add a little ankle range of motion, but they also put everything forward, so that the center of mass is realigned.

The other areas I would look at for a true movement limitation would be, ankle dorsi-flexion, hip internal rotation, and adductor length.

2. What is something that athletes need to be doing more of?

I had written down a few different answers for this one. However, when I looked at the question again I decided I would approach this from a different angle. There are a lot of different training based items athletes could be doing more of, but I would put the lack of these modalities use on the coach more so than the athlete.

There are two things I think athletes need to be doing more of. The first is putting more value into their recovery measures. Items like nutrition, sleep, stress-reduction, massage, etc.

It’s no different than say the athlete was the 40 year old women who wanders into the gym looking to lose 20lbs. The trainer gives her a great plan to execute at the gym, and nothing else.  It’s one month later, and still no progress. While the trainer was making 4 hours out of the week very productive, she was going home and having 3 glasses of wine and a chocolate bar every night.

Most athletes are the same way. It’s on us as coaches to make them aware of quality recovery measures. However, it’s on them to carry them out. For the vast majority, they could be doing more.

The second is that many athletes could be doing more advocating for themselves. I’m not talking about blowing up their twitter feeds talking about how great they are. I’m talking about stepping up when under qualified coaches are continually putting them in risky situations. I’m also talking about taking ownership of their chosen athletic path.

Let’s get one thing straight. I am totally one of those lower your shoulder and work harder kind of guys. So I’m not opening the door for whining and preferential treatment. What I’m saying is that when a 15-year-old kid throws 20 innings in a single week because he or she is the only kid on the team who can throw strikes, that isn’t right. If the coaches aren’t going to budge, the athlete needs to stand up for him or herself.

Additionally, I can’t stand when an athlete walks into our facility, I sit down with him or her and their parents, and the parents conduct the entire conversation while the athlete keeps their head down. That’s why I direct all my questions at the athlete, and if they don’t want to be there it’s not very difficult to see. The most successful athletes I have seen were the ones who clearly begged their parents to start training, and while gracious that their parents allowed them the opportunity to train, didn’t want them to be involved with the process virtually at all. Athletes, especially at the high school level, need to be taking a lot more ownership for their athletic career.

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3. What suggestions would you make to baseball players in regards to making gains in their training while being in-season virtually all year?

I think your question brings up a great point, and the biggest part of my answer is in the question itself. Baseball is a difficult sport to train for in the conventional sense. The first reason being that it is more skill dependent than virtually any other team sport. The second reason, as you’ve alluded to, is that there is a very short window to prioritize preparation rather than competition.

Another thing that is worth touching on quickly is that the pitcher must be approached differently than the position player. I think a position player has more room to make or maintain training gains in season.

The biggest piece of advice I can give baseball players is to define an off-season. Whether you are on the professional or youth level, there needs to be some time off from playing ball competitively. In most cases this is going to be maybe 12 – 16 weeks long. That needs to be the time where you can have a pretty highly concentrated amount of general preparation.

From there, how you approach training is going to be different based on what level of baseball you are playing. As a professional player the in-season is not a time where you are going to make many gains in training. Between the frequency of games, and the traveling, you are mostly managing not withering away to nothing. Moving down from the highest level of baseball to lowest I think you will see more time to, and more of a need to, make (or at the very least maintain) positive results from training in season.

So what I’m saying is: one, define an off-season. Use that time to improve on all general physical preparation means. Your off-season may never be long enough to move from general to specific means as effectively as you might with other sports. There should be a heavy emphasis on general preparatory exercises. Due to the high velocity nature of throwing a baseball nothing you do in the gym will have a ton of transfer to that motion. Second, depending on the level of baseball you have reached the in-season may or may not be a time to make gains in general categories. If you’re a youth athlete you can’t afford to not improve in season. If you are a high-level high school, college, professional player then you might need to do what you can to maintain and again, define an off-season and use all of it!

4. If a pitcher wants to throw harder, what are your 1st 3 suggestions to him?

First, examine your mechanics. Get with someone who can break down your delivery and help you make it more efficient. Steer away from people who want to fit you into their “scheme.” Find a coach who can teach you to optimize your individual delivery.

Second, gain weight and get stronger. There is a positive correlation between bodyweight and velocity. There is a saying in some baseball circles: “mass equals gas.” Furthermore, baseball pitchers are among the worst physically prepared athletes I have ever seen. It’s amazing what a little time in the gym can do for some of them.

Third, get a good long toss program. As I mentioned before, there is very little you can do in the gym that has a very direct or linear transfer to throwing a baseball. Therefore, you need to learn to organize how to use varying efforts of actually throwing the baseball to get a stronger arm.

5. If a batter wants to swing harder, what are your 1st 3 suggestions to him?

The first thing is exactly the same as the throwers: get a good hitting coach. Baseball is far to skill dependent for this to not be the first answer to either hitting or throwing. Anyone who tells you other wise doesn’t understand the game. Find a hitting coach who can help you make your approach more efficient.

Second, I could go with getting stronger again, but I think hitting can be a lot more dependent on how “fast” you are. You will hear a lot about a guy who swings a “fast” bat. In reality, that guy may just be able to process everything a lot faster, and put what he is capable of into motion quicker. A lot of that is something you either got, or you don’t. What I’ve noticed is that the great hitters generate force from the ground very efficiently and the transfer of force leads the whole swing from that back leg, into the back hip and into the front hip. When guys don’t process the visual data fast enough, they are also too slow with the lower body. The result is a very upper body driven swing. So my second suggestion is to learn how to use the lower body, isolate that hip movement, and work on it’s speed in the gym using various medicine ball drills.

Third piece of advice is to examine your ability to move efficiently. Rotational power is about creating whip, and being efficient. If you can’t move well at the hips, while keeping a solid mid trunk, and allowing the upper trunk to stay slightly rotated behind then you’ll pull off every pitch and be significantly slower as well. There is something to be said for adding strength and size, but don’t let it come at the expense of how well you can move, and control movements.

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