Jan 9, 2002

Skill Transfer in Sports Training

January 9 "Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful,committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

StrongerAthletes.com maintains that performing a weight room exercise in the attempt to simulate specific skills in a sport cannot happen. Yet many coaches seem to think that this does happen because others just do what other teams do or misinterpret the
meaning of the Principle of Specificity. The athlete must train the muscle in a controlled manner with full contractions while fully exhausting the muscle then go out and do the actual skills of the sport they are training for (blocking, tackling, spiking, jumping, throwing etc.)

Lorne Goldenberg in his article “The Application of Weightlifting For Ice Hockey Training,” published in Strength and Health, states, “I tested the players for a maximum hang clean in training camp. They did not do much lifting during the season due to a poor training facility and my part-time status as their strength coach. However, when I re-tested them at the end of the season, they were able to demonstrate over 90% of their earlier training camp hang clean scores simply by playing hockey.”

We stress that coaches who think that the hang clean will help their athletes become better hockey players should believe that playing hockey will help them become better at the hang clean. And the Goldenburg study proves that this cannot happen. If hang cleans develop the same neuromuscular pathways as skills in hockey the athlete should perform at a higher level at the end of the season then at the beginning. But this is not the case.

Does performing hockey skills feel anything like a hang clean? A football tackle? A wrestling takedown? Hitting a home run in baseball? Some coaches may think so but that defies the Principle of Specificity. We maintain that it does not. The following statements are relating power cleans to sport skills and we believe that it could pertain to hang cleans or any other olympic lifting movement as well.

Matt Brzycki, strength coach at Princeton, gives a great analogy of this concept. “If there were a correlation between power cleans and other sports skills then highly successful weightlifters would excel at literally every sports-related movement that they attempted. So, if five members of the Bulgarian National Weightlifting Team were placed on a basketball court they should easily win every game! Naturally, this wouldn’t happen. That’s because there is absolutely no “carryover” between power cleans and other athletic skills.”

Furthermore, Brzycki continues, “ A movement like a power clean is also an extremely complex motor skill. Like any other motor skill, it takes a lot of time and patience to master its specific neuromuscular pattern. This valuable time and energy could be used more effectively elsewhere—such as perfecting your dribbling or shooting skills.”

An argument that we hear all the time is from coaches who want their kids to become “explosive” and thus have them practice the cleans. Brzycki address this concern as well, “If explosiveness demonstrated during a power clean, for example, did somehow transfer to a skill like a lineman driving off the line of scrimmage, why doesn’t it work the other way? Why doesn’t improvement in your ability to explode off the line of scrimmage improve your ability to do power cleans?” Similar to the Goldenburg example the answer lies in the Principle of Specificity.

Ken Mannie, strength coach at Michigan State, in his article “The Case Against Explosive Weight Training” explains, “Movement specificity is a term that has long been misinterpreted by the NSCA. To say that, "the snatch and clean are very similar to other athletic movements such as jumping," is to contradict many of the basic principles of motor learning.” This fact is supported by R.A. Magill, “Performing a certain type of lifting movement with the hope that it will transfer to a sport-specific or position-specific task is useless. The central nervous system acquires, stores and uses only meaningful information when movement is required.”

Jason Hadeed in his article “Sport-Specific Training: The Neuromuscular Connection” states “It is important to understand that most sport's skills are finely tuned, motor coordinated movements that take several years to master. It is possible to improve on those movements by increasing the strength of the surrounding muscles, which is done with a sensible strength training routine. We cannot improve these skills by adding additional weighted implements without risking the efficiency and specificity of the original skill.”

Today’s comments are to serve two purposes. First that Olympic lift movements such as the cleans, are not transferable to the sports specific, athletic arena. A stronger athlete who uses appropriate practice time on become “explosive” through sport specific techniques will, in the end, become more “explosive”. Secondly, we want to point out that the ideas presented here at StongerAthletes.com are not from left field. In fact these ideals of safety and efficiency are alive and well in many athletic circles across America. It is a simple fact that many of today’s coaches are simply uneducated about the benefits of Olympic lifting and we hope to serve as a resource for those who are seeking reason.
Brzyki, Matt, “The Complete Dirt on the Power Clean”.

Magill, R.A. Motor Learning: Concepts and Applications, 3rd Edition. Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1989.

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