Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thoughts On General v. Specific Programming For Sport

A few months ago, I was involved in a roundtable discussion with a couple of guys I admire on which lift is better for improving power, the power clean or the box squat. Contrary to what many thought I would say, I said the box squat. I wasn't interested in all the USA Weightlifting and NSCA experiments that "proved" how much power was generated by this lift and improvements in power. I was basing my conclusion off three things: 1) Competing in the Olympic Lifts; 2) Coaching the Olympic Lifts; and 3) Training athletes for a living at a Division 1 school.

My stance on the box squat (hey, the olympic squat wasn't a choice) was simple:
1) I am a perfectionist and the lifts have to be close to perfect. They aren't with beginners, especially athletes from other sports who aren't training to be weightlifters. Therefore, I want to teach something that is easier to learn.
2) Weightlifting is a sport in and of itself. The efficacy of using one sport to train for another is something I'm still not sure about. Although weightlifting is fun, it takes years to master (how about 12 to build a world champ).
3) Many athletes cannot land a jump correctly with no load, why on earth would I want them to land a jump with external resistance? I actually had to teach the entire volleyball team at Rutgers how to land from a jump and reload for the next jump. You would think that a team full of jumpers would know how to land. Apparently not...
4) There are other methods that are easier to teach, more cost-efficient, and produce the same results: Weighted jumps, throws, etc.

I bring this up because I just read a short article on Elite Fitness regarding the same thing in sprinters. Carl Valle, the author, stated he worked on his athlete's weakness, which he perceived to be strength in the squat as opposed to teaching him to be "more explosive" by using the Olympic lifts. Here's the article: http://www.elitefts.com/documents/watt_a_lie_carl_valle.htm
Carl makes some great points, not the least of which is most athletes, even world class athletes, are already practicing most of what they need to be great at their respective sports. It's the job of the coach and/or strength coach to find the things that will make the athlete better. Usually, Occam's Razor applies--the simplest solution is the answer: Weak? Make him stronger. Slow? Make her faster. It's usually one of these two. It's not brain surgery.

Therefore, use the easiest method for you to teach combined with the easiest method for the athlete to learn. Usually the lower the skill, the easier it is to pick up and the faster the results.
For absolute strength gains, squat, deadlift, press, chin, pull-up, dip, bench, and row yourself stronger. For power, sprint, jump, and throw as hard and as fast as you can. Add weight when necessary (KBs are also good here--ballistics). Only after that learn new skills like the Olympic lifts to improve your power. Body and movement control are the key, unloaded, then loaded. I'm pretty sure Michael Jordan was the World's Greatest Basketball Player without to much Olympic lifting. That man could move.

Practice the basics and focus on perfecting the "general" before hyer-focusing on the "specific." Let's face it, very few of us will ever work with elite athletes, by which I mean, Olympic or International and World Champions. Some of those guys may need some specific work. The rest of us just need to be generally stronger or faster and general programming will get us there.


Blogger Brett Jones said...

Great post Geoff!
Pavel's latest PTPMonthly had a great article on Foundation Strength - very similar train of thought.

5:03 AM  

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