Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Michael Boyle - Is Sport-Specific Training a Myth?

Michael Boyle at T-Nation, takes a look at sport-specific training and finds it lacking. In general speed is speed and strength is strength, so exercises need to be tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the client's physiology. Tall guys don't squat so well, but they tend to pull pretty well. Long armed guys dont' bench press very well, but they kick ass on dips. These things need to be taken into consideration when training athletes.

Is Sport-Specific Training a Myth?

Strength training is and always will be a major part of the conditioning process for athletes. In fact, nothing seems to help sport performance more than the development of strength and power. This is great news for those of us who've made a career out of helping athletes reach those goals.

But even though we all agree about the importance of strength training, and even though there's some general consensus about the best ways to improve athletes' strength and power, debates have raged for years about the specifics. One particularly contentious debate is over the very idea that there are specifics for training players in individual sports.

Athletes and their parents or coaches love to hear that a particular exercise is good for a particular sport. It makes strength and conditioning specialists like me sound like we know what we're talking about, and it gives athletes confidence in our ability to help them with their individual needs.

Plus, let's be honest about this: The guys who write for fitness magazines love you when they're assigned articles called "The Best Exercise for Every Sport" and you can actually supply them with material that pleases their editors and helps them get paid.

So it's in my best interest to tell people that such things as "sport-specific training" and "sport-specific exercises" actually exist. But is it true?

Let's think about what we're asking here:

Say I'm training two high school kids. One's a cornerback on the football team, and one's a center fielder on the baseball team. Both are fast and would benefit by being even faster. Both would benefit by being stronger and developing more power. Both want to add some muscular size, but not at the expense of their speed or agility. Do I train them differently, even though their goals are basically the same?

In the most fundamental sense, the answer is no. The best methods to develop speed and power are somewhat universal.

However, there is a catch. Although it's dubious to say that certain exercises are better for certain sports, I think it's fair to say that some exercises are worse for athletes who play particular sports.

Best Exercises for Size and Strength

You need more strength and power in some sports, but the way you build it doesn't change.

Should Basketball Players Squat?

Those in the hard-core crowd love to bang square pegs into round holes. One size fits all. If the squat is a great exercise, it must be great for every athlete in every situation. I was one of those guys for years, forcing my basketball players to squat, and searching endlessly for ways to help them learn the right technique.

But then I figured something out: There's a limiting factor in squatting, which I call segmental proportion. What I realized was that athletes with long femurs relative to the length of the torso will be lousy squatters. These guys were almost always forwards or centers, six-feet-five or taller.

But it's not just about height — some tall basketball players are actually very good squatters. And before you launch into keyboard-commando mode in the discussion thread, let me assure you that these segmentally challenged athletes don't lack desire or put out less effort than anyone else.

The problem is that a guy with these proportions needs an extreme forward lean when he squats, making it look like he's doing a good morning. He'll generally be frustrated with his inability to do the exercise correctly, and may suffer back pain.

Eventually, I could identify these athletes before we got anywhere near the squat rack. Basketball players with exceptionally long femurs always look short sitting down. I remember sitting next to one and realizing that, despite the fact he was eight inches taller than me, we were eye-to-eye in a chair.

My advice to athletes and fellow coaches: If you or an athlete you train is built proportionally and can squat with good form, go for it. If the athlete is "all legs," be careful: You're looking at a square peg.

Best Exercises for Size and Strength

Beware of the segmentally disadvantaged squatter.

The problem of segmental proportions isn't exclusive to basketball players anymore. In the past five or six years I've seen a growing number of offensive linemen in football who have what I call "basketball builds." They tend to be 6'5" or taller, with long legs and relatively short torsos.

Everyone knows football players in general, and linemen in particular, should squat early and often. But this square peg/round hole training methodology leaves a lot of the taller linemen with back and knee problems. The back issues are exacerbated by the fact they play positions requiring spinal extension.

Good solutions for bad leverage:

For strength, use front squats, belt squats, single-leg squats, single-leg squats with the rear foot elevated (also called Bulgarian split squats), and/or trap-bar deadlifts.

For power, try Olympic lifts from the hang position above the knees, along with Vertimax jumps.

Final thought:

Physics rule in all sports. The reason there are so few short NBA players is the same reason there are so few tall Olympic lifters. It's much easier for a short person to do an Olympic lift from the floor than it is for a tall person. Keep this in mind if you're unusually tall, or train tall athletes. The diameter of a plate is constant; it gives short athletes good leverage and puts tall ones at a disadvantage.

Read the whole article.

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