Updated: Nov 22, 2018
So specificity no errrmmm specificitttttyy ahhh for fuck's sake even after ten years of studying exercise and nutritional sciences I still can't say specificity right the first time around.
So this is the point that I usually differ slightly to the norm, most strength coaches would have placed overload as ranking second in the most essential principles in planning a training program. I highly doubt any coaches would argue the fact that specificity is necessary when it comes to training I just perhaps place a more significant emphasis on this.
As we learned in the last post, a high level of performance is the result of many years of well planned, systematic training and does not occur simply at random. MMMMM maybe that's why the guys and gals who perform random "WODS" never achieve a level beyond average. That's not a stab a CrossFit, well maybe it is a little, but I'm not saying CrossFit is a waste of time I'm just saying its probably not the best way to prepare for an athletic competition.
Wait....... before you get all hot and defensive, I'll back my shit up because that's what we do we provide evidence and reasoning. A program can have excellent overload by a weekly increase in running mileage, excellent phase potentiation by moving from a GPP block to an aerobic block, excellent fatigue management by periods of reduced loading and mileage. But this program won't make you better at strongman or powerlifting because its specific to long distance running.
And while a little bit of aerobic work will even be beneficial to the health of Strength sports athletes too much is detrimental to their performance.
Adaptions are highly specific to the type of training undertaken. So to achieve a high level the training performed must be based on the energy systems that are dominant in the sport, the skills of the sport and the motor abilities required by the sport. Lots of sports have it wrong let's look at boxing for example often boxers do a ton of road running clocking in 10+ miles at a steady state 140bpm for 90mins regularly for fitness. Now let's look at an actual boxing match a maximum of 12 x 3 min rounds separated by 1 min of rest. The limiting factors of a boxer's performance isn't steady state aerobic fitness, its power endurance, reactive power and muscular endurance of medium duration meaning that the Anaerobic Lactic is the dominant energy system and not aerobic. So while I'm not saying that steady state fitness doesn't play a role in the fitness development of a boxer, it's just not as important as the old school coaches think and with a little thinking and planning, coaches could design better training schedules for their athletes.
It is well known that strength training increases both muscle mass and strength and that endurance training improves aerobic capacity, and because adaptions are specific, we must also look at the exercises used to develop the strength or aerobic qualities required by the sport. Another way to look at specificity is the transfer of training results. How does your training impact your competition sport? To understand this better imagine we have three athletes who all training for three months and used the barbell back squat for their strength work, and to keep it simple let's imagine that all three improved their squat strength by 20kg's excellent job well done as a strength coach all your athletes have increased their strength. But now let's imagine that these three athletes perform different sports, Athlete A is a high jumper, Athlete B is a 100m Sprinter and Athlete C is a Swimmer. Now the increase in squat strength becomes less important from Athlete A through to C. So while the increased squat strength may bring about a high level of improvement for the jumper, it will bring very little to none for the swimmer. At this point, the three months training and strength increase is becoming a waste of time for the swimmer because he cannot transfer his training results to his sport.
For those of us involved in strength, sports specificity is pretty simple because the competition movement is also one we can practice in the weight room. In other words to become a good weightlifter one must practice the classic snatch and Clean and Jerk if he or she wishes to become proficient in the movement. Again if you are a powerlifter, you must practice the squat bench and deadlift if you want to become better at them. The only complicated one of the three is strongman, and this is because the competitions vary in events, they also differ between maximal effort events and even events for maximum reps another thing to think about is the equipment used for events varies from competition to competition. While it certainly makes planning a little harder, it makes the sport exciting and fun. So my advice for any strongman or strong woman would be to ensure regular practice with the most common events which are the log, farmers, yoke, tyre flip and atlas stones in my experience.
So while specificity can be highly complicated when it comes to the transfer of training to sports performance. In strength sports, it is a little easier to understand. Specificity is a spectrum, and different exercises fall to varying points of the spectrum this can also vary for person to person to some degree let me explain quickly. So let's say for example that both me and Dean are wanting to improve our squat strength, we identify our weaknesses for me its strength in the mid-range ( quads specifically need strengthening ) and for Dean actually what's holding him back is his ankle mobility so finds it difficult to keep position in the bottom position. If we both perform high paused box squats, I would have the greater transfer because this specifically addresses my weakness while dean will still suffer from poor bottom positions and likely not improve much at all. So while the paused high box squat falls on the spectrum of squat specific training, it will be higher up on my spectrum and lower on deans during the current period of training. I say during the current period because although high paused box squats currently sit low on the exercises Dean should be using it doesn't mean that in 4,8,12 weeks time that this isn't also the exercise that he needs to make improvements. So exercise Specificity adjusts according to individual and period of training.
The spectrum for strength sports.
- Training that involves performing the lifts themselves as they will be performed in competition. ( most specific )
- Training that requires repeat Sub-Maximal work of the competition exercise ( this can also be the competition exercise in strongman, i.e. 80kg Log for as many reps as possible )
- Training that breaks the competition movement down to address specific weak points (i.e. paused squats, hang cleans, variations of the main movement etc. )
- Training that involves training the movement patterns of competition exercises
- Training that involves specific hypertrophy work in isolation for weak or lagging muscle groups
- General Training, fitness work, flexibility
- Training that is detrimental to competition result.
Take a look at your training program perhaps you're putting a ton of effort into the wrong places of the spectrum maybe your even training in a detrimental way.
Now if any of you are reading this have been following us for any length of time you'll remember I often say that we must go back and do general training 3-5 blocks of the yearly cycle. This is usually after a competition or peaking phase, Training to specifically for too long often leads to overuse injuries and weak muscle groups so returning to a general phase allows us to eradicate these problems and prepare the body again for the heavier loading later down the line.
As we move closer to competition, the more specific training should take place with the majority of training replicating the competition exactly.
So while nine months away from the competition you may be performing high volume submaximal work in the competition exercise and isolation type exercises for the muscle groups involved in the competition to increase muscle mass and skill of the competition exercise. Four months out you will not probably have dropped the isolation work and will be practising variations of the competition of the competition movement that works directly on weak points. Two months out you will have moved onto performing the competition movement and replicate it exactly in execution in varying intensities. Then one month out just competition practice.
Performing to a high level on competition day is not the result of random occurrence and should be the goal of any program. As a competitive athlete, it only matters that you put your best foot forward on the platform. This is where personal bests should happen the gym is for training. Nobody cares that you pulled 20kg more in preparation of hit five more reps on the log last week. What matters is what you do when your name is on the board. I think as a strength athlete it's all too easy to get caught up into the dynamic of just maxing out as heavy as possible all the time, but this will only yield results for a limited period before you begin to stagnate. If you love maxing out then a program that calls for different RM's to be hit on different days can be superior as you're able to work at different intensities which are dictated by the RM for the day, week or month. I know the Bulgarians used this latter method but the athletes using it where the elite or the elite I wouldn't suggest copying them.
So make sure you're using the right tools for the job, in order to do so It helps to plan in advance and decided what the purpose of each segment or block of training is trying to achieve this will help you plan exercise intensity, volume and variation. Specificity scores high on how important it is in your training and this isn't just strength sports but rehab, weight loss or any type of training where you have specific goals/targets to hit.
Any questions feel free to ask?