May 20, 2002

Sport Specificity

May 20 “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." -Satchel Paige

We will address sport specific training again because we are receiving many e-mails for people who do not understand this concept. It is based on a scientific principle known as the Principle of Specificity. It describes how the neuromuscular system works in relation to athletic training.

Many coaches believe that Olympic lifting will help athletes in their sport specific skills. This is true... IF their sport is Olympic lifting. But many coaches assume that these lifts will help their football, basketball etc... players. That is just like saying that tackling will help you get stronger in the power clean. This is not the way the neuromuscular system works.

Olympic lifting for competition is a sport itself. Playing football requires specific skills to be learned such as blocking, tackling etc... Other sports require their skills also. Every sport has their own risks as far as injury is concerned. The better an athlete gets at their sport specific skills the less chance that they will be injured. For example: football players practice tackling and learn proper technique and know that putting their head down will increase the likelihood that they will be injured. Olympic lifting done improperly has its dangers as well. The more practice these athletes have, the better they will get at the skills of that lift. Obviously, the risk of injury is still present in sports even if their skills are performed to perfection.

Now, strength training as we advocate, is not a sport in itself. We are merely strengthening our muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, etc... to help prevent injuries and provide strength and power to become more explosive in our sport specific skills.

We received an e-mail from a coach that claims he can teach his athletes a power clean in less than a week. He believes that this lift can be mastered by his athletes in this time frame. We do not believe that this is adequate time to teach a lift such as the power clean. That would be like a coach teaching the discus or rotational shot put in less than a week. These athletes are not going to have very good form after a week of training. These skills require years to master because they are very technical. Why do Olympic lifting competitors spend years trying to perfect their lifts they use in competition? They are constantly trying to perfect these lifts because that is their sport. These skills need to be ingrained in their neuromuscular system so that they can become as efficient as possible. Just like a discus athlete, it takes years to master this event. It is very technical.

Strength training in our opinion is best performed in a slow controlled manner to recruit the maximum number of slow, intermediate, and fast twitch muscle fibers.

These exercises enable the athlete to train with a full range of motion as well. StrongerAthletes.com believes that this type of training is better because of the safety and efficiency aspects of our system. We are not saying that the Olympic lifts and their variations are not productive, of course they are. Athletes are capable of developing power performing the Olympic lifts. But is this style of training best in terms of safety and efficiency? We will address those issues next.

StrongerAthetes.com believes that common sense tells us that if you lift an object quickly rather than slowly, you are going to increase your chances of injury. We do understand that the slow lifts or any lift does have its risks but it is less frequent. We have received an e-mail telling us that the bench press is the most dangerous lift that exists. If you perform the bench press in a powerlifting manner then yes the frequency of injury will be greater. If you perform this exercise with a weight that requires you to reach failure at a 6-12 repetition range then the frequency of injury will be less. The only injuries that I have witnessed is when athletes are using maximum weights performing singles and doubles. We are not saying that an injury can not occur with a little light weight but with proper spotting, it is rare. Olympic lifts performed even with perfect execution have a greater risk that the exercises performed in slow, controlled manner. Again, this is common sense and simple physics.

If you are a coach who uses Olympic movements and have not witnessed injury, we applaud you. Keep up the good work, but understand that a greater risk is present. Steve Wetzel, the Vikings Strength Coach, spoke recently at the 2002 National Strength & Science Seminar in Blaine, Minnesota. He made the observation that 1/2 of the NFL teams use a non-Olympic philosophy and 1/2 use the quick lifts. The same percentage can be seen in the Super Bowl Champions. His point being that the main difference between the two styles is the inherent risk of injury. Not lack of explosive power, just risk of injury. Period.

The other issue is efficiency. By this we mean the time spent in the weight room. We believe 30-60 minutes of intense training should be performed. Many Olympic lifting advocates believe in the same. But we feel that if you are performing the Olympic lifts and their variations in this time frame then you are doing a disservice to your athletes. These lifts take a long time to master and once they are mastered then the injury frequency is reduced. So why do football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball etc... athletes do these technical exercises? They would be better off practicing their sport specific skills to get them ingrained just like Olympic lifters perfect the skills of their sport which are the Olympic lifts. That is what they do, it’s their sport.

We have mentioned these issues before in previous articles but many readers have not had a chance to read them. We hope that we have cleared this up so that readers can understand our point of view. If you would like to debate the information presented in this article we would be glad to do so. Give us a response in a professional manner and we will be glad to discuss it further.

Mystery Guest


If you think you know the answer or simply want to chime in with a guess.. drop us an e-mail at our Mystery Guest Trivia Department. All correct answers will be recognized on Friday. "In his tenth year at Penn State, the efforts of, our mystery guest have made a large impact in the squad's overall strength and conditioning habits."

"His strenuous regimen throughout the year is most evident during "winning time," as the Lions' conditioning has helped them secure or win many games in the fourth quarter during his tenure. His efforts were recognized with his selection as the 1997 National Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach-of-the-Year."

"He spent two seasons at the U.S. Military Academy, the second as the head of the strength and conditioning program in 1990-91. A Muskingum College graduate, he started at defensive tackle for two years and at offensive guard for two seasons and was an All-Ohio Valley Athletic Conference first-team pick and a second-team Division II All-American. Our mystery guest spent two years as a graduate assistant football and strength coach at Toledo. At the University of the South (1986-89), he coached football and served as a strength coach in football and baseball."

Again, if you think you know the answer or simply want to chime in with a guess.. drop us an e-mail at our Mystery Guest Trivia Department. All correct answers will be recognized on Friday.

**Note** Much of this bio was taken from Penn State Football.

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note.

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