Training

Rethinking Specificity

Specific training involves practicing the exact moves of your sport at the same forces, velocities, angles, muscle actions, timing, sequencing, and a host of other variables that make your practice almost exactly like your competition. Specificity is the message that old Eastern Bloc weightlifting texts try to get across to the reader (in my opinion). Bulgaria kicked the Soviet Union’s ass back in the day when Ivan Abadjiev started coaching because Bulgaria increased their specific training tonnage during the Olympic cycle way more than any other country. Lots of things can make you better, but nothing will get you better at the thing you want to do more than practicing that exact thing. Soccer and basketball both have goals at opposite ends of the playing surface. You have teammates that you can pass the ball to in order to matriculate it down the playing surface towards the goal you’re trying to score on. You play defense when the other team moves it towards the goal they’re trying to score on. You run, you pass, you dribble, you shoot, you play defense, and you try to gain possession of the ball when it is loose. So many similarities…yet nobody is dumb enough to train their basketball team with soccer only. Why, because there are plenty of differences between the two once you get past their similarities. Basketball is elevated soccer where you replace your feet with hands.

I’m a big fan of the Strengthcoach podcast. The reason is because I love listening to Mike Boyle talk in the coaches’ corner segment. He’s from Massachusetts. I’m from Massachusetts. He’s a Springfield College alum. I’m a Springfield College alum. He’s blunt and says what he wants. I haven’t earned the right yet, but I’m blunt and I say what I want. Of course I like Mike Boyle. Plus he’s one of the best in the world at what he does. Even if you don’t like him, admit to yourself that he’s done it as good as anybody has ever done it in this field. Maybe he did it different than you would have, but he’s done it, and you probably haven’t. Mike was talking about conditioning soccer players in one episode. Soccer players and coaches seem to love conditioning drills that incorporate the ball. Coach Boyle saw this as a training strategy with limitations. Sure running a 300 yd shuttle while dribbling a soccer ball is hard, and it seems somewhat specific to soccer, but you know what was harder for these athletes and seem to yield bigger results? Running 300 yd shuttles without the ball. Why? Because now they had to run faster than they would have it they were still dribbling the ball. Coach Boyle stated that making these guys run without the ball was less specific to soccer, but it made them a better athlete and better athletes end up being more dynamic individuals when they are on the field. I listened to what he said and took away a different conclusion. Most of the time a soccer player is on the field they do not possess the ball. They are running with the ball. They possess the ball for a very limited time and generally never run full speed while dribbling the ball (yes this does happen, but less often). Most of the time when soccer players run full speed they aren’t dribbling the ball…they’re chasing someone or they’re chasing a long pass. Coach Boyle wasn’t reducing the specificity demand on the athletes. He was increasing it. 300 yd shuttles without the ball are more specific to a soccer player in training than 300 yd shuttles with the ball. Interesting…

See the thing is, everything is about perspective. Everything you see is because you’re looking at the world from your perspective, not mine. We might see specificity slightly different from each other. I bet we do at the moment. If I told you that running without a soccer ball is more specific to soccer than running with a soccer ball, maybe you’d look at me cock-eyed until I showed you game film and proved that shuttle running mechanics in soccer are done more often without the ball than with the ball. Now I’ve shifted your perspective. We’re all shifting our perspectives all the time. At first a new perspective is uncomfortable and weird. Then you get used to it, and it seems normal…you start asking yourself, why doesn’t everyone see things my way?

A comfortable known perspective to many of us in the strength and conditioning/iron competitor world is that program design swings on a pendulum from general to specific. More volume with movements that aren’t exact to the sport movement with lower intensity far away from the contest, shifting towards more intensity with movements that are done in the contest as we move closer to the contest…sound familiar…sure, even if this is a sentence that conjured up your hatred of linear sequencing periodization models. What if I were to tell you that I never swing a pendulum from general to specific? What if I were to tell you that my pendulum is always stuck full blare on specificity? What if I told you that right now I’m dong 3 sets of 10 for squat, dead, and press and I’m a strongman athlete? You’d probably tell me that I’m pretty deep in the general side of the pool. From your perspective you’d be right. From my perspective I might chuckle.

I just did the Arnold Classic Strongman Fitness World Championships at the Arnold Classic (can somebody please change the small guy division’s name and get rid of the word Fitness please…I’ll pay you $100 so I don’t have to be called anything with Fitness in the name) two weeks ago. I don’t really feel like picking up a heavy circus dumbbell any time soon. I don’t feel like picking up a yoke. I’m sick of training those Arnold Classic specific events. I don’t really give a crap about any contest until next November when Amateur Nationals rolls around again. I’m in my, “off season”. I’m not doing specific loading right now (you got me, I lied…my loading is general). I’m still training specific though. I’m shortening muscles that are too long in my body. I’m lengthening muscles that are too short in my body. I’m getting the timing and sequencing of my deep spinal stabilizers to fire more towards text book standards. I’m finding bony alignment in 3 planes. I’m addressing my muscle imbalances and postural deficits, and I’m doing it with the best specificity that I can.

I will unabashedly hype the Postural Restoration Institute. Why? Because Ron Hruska is smarter than anyone else I’ve ever met. I have no benefit in hyping them. I’m not associated with PRI. I don’t work for them. I don’t get any kick back from people going to their courses. I just think they’re better at teaching you applied anatomy and physiology than anybody else in the world. I think they’ll tell you all the logical scientific answers that will let you realize why you’re in pain and why you have, “bad shoulder mobility” better than anybody else will. Why? Because Ron Hruska figured out specificity of what goes wrong with the human better than anybody else I’ve ever seen. Let me give you examples as I understand them (note that I am not Ron Hruska. I am a moderately intelligent human who has listened to Ron and others talk PRI. I reserve the right to be wrong, and if I am, it is I who is wrong, not PRI).

I am training myself with specificity right now because I am doing the following things…(in no particular order). 1. I’m shortening my left biceps femoris. 2. I’m shortening my left abdominal side wall. 3. I’m shortening my right glute max and posterior fibers of right glute medius (primarily external rotator fibers). 4. I’m shortening my left anterior fibers of glute medius. I’ll stop there even though I’m doing a list that probably extends into the 30’s at this level of my understanding of what to shorten. I’m stopping there because this is what I mean about Ron’s level of specificity.

See the thing about smart people is that they see patterns really fast. Ron has seen many patterns. Vladimir Janda saw patterns before Ron did. Janda saw the crossed syndrome patterns. Ron saw crossed syndromes and then noticed that they were a little bit different left and right (I just oversimplified the last statement to a level that makes me want to puke, but it gets the point across). Ron’s patterns aren’t called upper and lower crossed. Some of the names of his patterns are things like, the Left Anterior Interior Chain (AIC) pattern, the Right Brachial Chain (BC) pattern, the Right Temporomandibular Cervical-Cranial (TMCC) pattern. The left AIC is hypertonic in humans compared to the right AIC. The right BC is hypertonic in humans compared to the left BC. The right TMCC is hypertonic compared to the left TMCC. Why? I’ve got some thoughts of my own that I’ll share in the future. Ron’s got thoughts of his own that take him about six separate courses that are approximately 17 hours each to get across to you. The why is incredible stuff, but it’s complicated as all hell. What I want you to appreciate is that if your heart is on the left side of your body and your liver is on the right side of your body you exist in the three previously mentioned patterns. You may have compensated and slid into some other patterns as well, but trust me, you’re a left AIC, right BC, right TMCC individual…YOU! Don’t believe me? First, do yourself a favor and learn what these patterns are. Second, wait a week after you learn and think it all through. Third, accept that you are who I said you were going to be.

If you work with me I’ll test you. I’ll remove my bias from the testing. I’ll collect data. That data will support my hypothesis, because my hypothesis is rooted in functional anatomy that I learned from Ron Hruska, and quite frankly that guy is not wrong very often, but I’m a scientist so I’ll make sure I’m extremely objective in the process. I’ll figure out how deep you are into your pattern. I’ll figure out what the main driver of your pattern is. Then I’m going to train the exact muscles that are too short to gain length, and I’ll train the exact muscles that are too long to shorten and gain leverage.

When you are in your off season I’m going to figure out what you need to do to get out of your pattern of pathomechanics and movement dysfunction. When I get you as neutral as possible with my corrective strategies I will load you. Since much of this information and these techniques will be new to you, I’ll load you like a beginner during this phase. Because you’re integrating new muscles that weren’t working properly into force production challenges these exercises are in a sense all new to you. I want to induce adaptations in these muscles that haven’t been recruited in a long time. If these muscles adapt, your organism strength will improve. When it is time to swing your loading scheme from general to specific, now you have a better organism to load specifically for your event.

I am going to write more articles that will be more specific to muscles, movements, training programs, and technique tips for events amongst other things, but I need to shape what my perspective looks like first. If you don’t know how I’m looking at things, you’ll have no clue why I’m doing things the way that I’m doing them. I love me some specificity because specific training improves performance in the thing that you want to do in life. I just view specificity a little different now because you have specificity as it applies to an event/sport, and you have specificity as it applies to what is going on with YOUR body.

Pat Davidson is an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Springfield College. Pat’s academic background includes an M.S. in Strength and Conditioning and a Ph.D in Exercise Physiology. Pat competes in Strongman in the 175 pound class, and has coached Springfield College Team Ironsports members to national championships and world championship appearances in Strongman. Pat specializes in using Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) concepts to keep athletes healthy and block program designs to help elite athletes raise their physiological fitness capacities to the highest possible levels. Pat is launching Delta Training Systems (Dynamic Exercise Leading to Adaptations) in the spring of 2014. Services include seminars, in person evaluations, online evaluations, coaching for optimal lifting performance, strength and conditioning for all types of athletes, and program design. If you’d like to contact Pat, his email address is [email protected], and his cell phone is (508) 685-8455. Don’t be afraid to give a call or shoot a text, you don’t have to be a stranger…let’s talk shop. 

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