Can You Be More Specific

Specificity is much like pregnancy—it either is or it isn't. For example, specific training for a basketball player could be practicing his jump shot, not shooting a weighted medicine ball. In fact, by attempting to mimic a precise sports movement such as swinging a baseball bat or golf club, you can undo countless hours of skill training. You see, the neuromuscular pathways that allow your brain to tell your muscles exactly what to do—and how to do it—take countless hours of practice. In turn, the use of added resistance (for example, the medicine ball) when copying such movements can disturb that motor memory.

Princeton University's Matt Brzycki is one of the most outspoken strength critics of copying sports movements in the weight room. Says Mr. Brzycki, "Strength training should not be done in a manner that mimics or apes a particular movement pattern. A stronger muscle can produce more force; if you can produce more force, you'll require less effort and be able to perform the skill more quickly, more accurately, and more efficiently. But again, that is provided that you've practiced enough in a correct manner so that you'll be more skillful in applying that force."

Just as we don't advocate different training techniques in the weight room for men and women or the young and the old (more on that in the next few chapters), there's no reason to train athletes from different sports using different techniques. Good form for a cyclist is good form for a tennis player. What should, and will, vary is the selection of exercises since the muscles that are used will differ from sport to sport. That's where we'll customize the programs. For example, a kayaker will do more upper body work than a runner, but the upper body work that they perform they'll do exactly the same.

A few years ago, Jonathan attended a seminar held by John Philbin, an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the NFL Washington Redskins. What surprised many in attendance was that while the Redskins vary their exercises from position to position (no sense in worrying about the throwing arm of the free safety), the form used is exactly the same for any and all of the athletes. Typically, a lithe cornerback can bench press far less than a burly linebacker, but the exercise is executed exactly the same way.

While improved performance is an obvious reason for an athlete—weekend warrior or professional—to hit the weight room, it may not be the most important one. In fact, injury prevention is probably the biggest benefit from a solid off-season training regimen. After all, it doesn't matter how talented you are if you're on the sidelines nursing an injury. Barry Chait, former assistant strength and conditioning coach with the NFL New York Jets, stresses that, "Though we obviously try everything possible to make the players bigger, faster, and stronger, our primary goal is to ensure they make it through the game in one piece. That means never taking any chances in the weight room, and it means working on less glamorous muscles like those in the neck.'

As we mentioned in Chapter 1, "Let's Get Physical!" many athletes used to resist weight lifting for fear of becoming muscle-bound. (One can only imagine how many more homers Mickey Mantle would have hit had he touched a weight during his career. Even if he didn't hit any more dingers, he would have hit them much farther, and he may have avoided the debilitating leg injuries that curtailed his career.) Now that the muscle-bound myth has gone the way of the eight-track tape, many athletes still shy away from the weight room fearing that they'll lose valuable training time that would be better spent practicing their sport.

Certainly we agree that all the strength in the world can't make up for the lack of a sport-specific skill; however, there's no reason to choose between the two. By now, we hope we've convinced you that a sensible lifting program doesn't need to take more than 30 to 45 minutes per gym visit. (Look back at Chapter 2, "Hurry Up and Weight," for some valuable tips on how to find time in your hectic day to make it to the gym.)

Since very few athletes compete year-round—Steffi Graf where have you gone?— there's no reason to have the same program in-season as you do out of season.

Here's how it works. In the off-season your primary goal is to get as strong as possible. During the season, however, you should aim to maintain your strength. If you try to keep up the same schedule while you compete as you did in the off-season, you're begging for overtraining injuries. Of course, if you lay off your lifting completely, you'll quickly undo all the good you've done. Aim for two or three lifting sessions in the off-season and once a week for maintenance in-season. Try to keep your in-season workout on a different day than a hard sports workout, and at least a few days away from a race.

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