Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Strength & Conditioning Profession - Part 5

The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote during my time as a Master's student at the University of British Columbia (The State of the Strength and Conditioning Industry in North America). This section take a brief look at the importance of training your fundamental movement patterns, and staying away from "sport specific" training. 

Movement and Sport Specificity

Development and/or maintenance of fundamental human movement patterns has become the centre of attention amongst the top professionals in the strength & conditioning and rehabilitation industries today.  Efficient movement patterns will increase an athletes’ performance by making them more proficient with their skills and less prone to injury in their respective sport, while creating the opportunity to be stronger and injury free while training (Cook, 2010).  Many athletes and coaches alike have the perception that ‘if we simply exercise, we will automatically move better’ (Cook, 2010, p.52).  Due to this belief, many coaches subscribe to the idea of more is better.  Athletes will be subjected to an outlandish volume of work, without enough attention paid to the qualities of strength, and movement.  If an athletes’ training regime consists of high volumes of work all the time, then they will not be exposed to the sufficient intensities required to increase their absolute strength.  Absolute strength may be defined as the maximum amount of force one can apply in a given effort.  Strength is the basis for all other performance qualities such as power and endurance (Siff, 2004).  Strength also plays an integral role in developing proper movement patterns.  Once proper mobility has been developed within the athlete, stability must be developed by sequentially becoming stronger (Cook, 2010).  Often times when an athlete is subjected to a high volume of exercise, they will compromise movement quality to gain movement quantity.  While repetitive movements are completely necessary to groove a movement pattern into an athletes’ neuromuscular system, discretion must be taken on behalf of the coach and athlete to stop exercising once proper technique has broken down (Cook, 2010).  As previously mentioned, one of the most important points to consider as a strength coach is that anyone can create a difficult exercise or program, but only the great strength coaches can design challenges appropriate to any athletes needs and abilities.

Another problem, which often runs concurrently with a disregard for movement patterns, is the trend of using exercises which attempt to very closely mimic the sport played.  It is important to note that sport specific exercises do in fact play a key role in a successful sporting career.  The issue is when sport specific exercises are used prior to mastering traits of general fitness and athleticism.  General physical preparation (GPP) is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and movement patterns (Siff, 2004).  This is comparison to specialized physical preparation (SPP) which concentrates on exercises which are more specific to the particular sport.  Problems arise, for example, when parents ask strength & conditioning professionals for pitching specific drills for their young baseball player; however, this young baseball player does not yet possess the strength to simply perform a pull-up or push-up (Cook, 2010).  Athletes must use a progressive mentality to training, just as a baby must crawl prior to walking, and walking prior to running.  GPP should be the early focus of an athletes’ out of sport training, with their training becoming progressively more specific as they have reached full maturation, have decided to focus solely on one sport, and once they have established sufficient proficiency in the qualities of focus within GPP.  Exercises that closely mimic ones sport should be used as a ‘trump card’ of sorts once they are no longer making substantial improvements in the qualities of GPP (John & Tsatsouline, 2011).