Anti-sport specificity

November 30, 2008

My big project in my business class this semester was to create a business and make a business plan and do a couple presentations on it (elevator speech + presentation to investors). Anyways my group decided on creating a fitness company that specialized in training athletes. A few times during our conversations both amongst ourselves and with our professor, the subject of training and sport specificity came up. The general idea out there is that there are certain special exercises that you only do with athletes of a given sport because it mimics the sporting activity somehow. (When I used to train to play baseball, I thought the same thing, and that these exercises were somehow “magical” because they were specific to actions encountered in baseball).

Knowing what I know now, I was wrong!

Here’s the thing, anything an athlete does in the gym falls under general physical preparedness (GPP). Any strength training is purely GPP (unless they’re a powerlfiter or Olympic weightlifter)…obviously in field or court sports, sprinting can be specific.

Bench pressing = GPP

Bench pressing = GPP

The other thing is the idea that there are special exercises for athletes in certain sports. This comes from the idea that performing an exercise that closely mimics a specific sporting movement with weight will make you more powerful in the actual sporting movement in competition. Something I learned early in my time at SST a couple summers back was that adding load to a sport specific pattern (eg. throwing a med ball like a baseball) causes an altered motor pattern. That means that with the added weight, the nervous system doesn’t fire the muscles the same as in the actual sporting movement. Strike One.

Also here’s where we have a slippery slope: can sport specificity lead to imbalances??

At first glance the idea of using sport specific exercises seems like a good idea because the athlete will be spending more time practicing the movement desired in competition (with load no less). However between games and practices (especially at higher levels and in year-round team programs), the athlete is getting an ample amount of repetition of sporting movements, so the giving them exercises that mimic these sport movements ends up feeding this imbalance. In the spring I remember listening to Karen Wood, the University of Oklahoma volleyball strength coach, and she talked about how after the season is finished and off-season training resumes, they do not quarter squat; they deep squat. She said that in volleyball so much of the sport is performed in a quarter squat position, that she had players perform full squats in the off-season to restore balance. I thought this was bang on! A sport specific approach would have dictated that these girls just do quarter squats since thats what they encounter in competition, but this would just increase any quad dominance. So much for reducing injury risk…

Strike two.

The third strike is pretty straightforward. If an exercise worked to teach a baseball player how to produce force well, why would I withhold that exercise from a hockey player?? Muscles don’t know that they’re being trained for basketball or hockey or sumo wrestling. All they know is that a message is being sent to them telling them they need to contract an adequate amount of fibers to be able to do whatever is being asked of them. A common scenario that gets thrown around is you have to train the knee muscles for a soccer player. So for a baseball player or gymnast, it wouldn’t be important to do these exercises; they’re knees don’t have to be strong?? Strike three. Batter’s out.

The idea of sport specificity just doesn’t take everything into account. There’s more to improved athletic performance than performing sporting movements with weight in the hopes of creating improved strength in those movements.



Here we go, back for a second straight installment of Random Thought Fridays!!!

1. One more week of classes!!! (I know, thats quality information right there!)

2. I played 3 years on a year-round travel baseball team in the hopes of getting a baseball scholarship. Looking back, I definitely don’t think it was the best way to achieve my goals…not to mention that fact that I “specialized” in baseball from a very young age. This is not to say that in this real world of ours, it didn’t provide me with the best opportunity to accomplish my goals. However, developmentally it does not make the most sense. For the sake of brevity, the issue is simply what is popular vs. what is best for the athlete.

3. Treating injuries: looking at the pain site vs the pain source. I’m a strength coach, so remember that for me this refers to

Pain site vs. pain source

Pain site vs. pain source

post-rehab training or simply reducing injury risk in healthy athletes. With that said, I find it interesting and beneficial to know information specifically dealing with the physical therapy field, provided its from a quality source. One of these topics is the idea of treating an injury by looking at the pain site or the pain source. Basically treatment based on the pain site is treating the symptoms; essentially a bandaid solution. Treatment based on pain source on the other hand looks at the cause of the pain and treats that. For my line of work, basically switch the word “pain” for “areas of concern realized from an assessment” — for instance, during an overhead squat test, the individual’s knee cave in. Treating the pain site would be like saying “okay we then have to strengthen the knee”. Treatment of the pain source would be finding out what is causing that dysfunction to be present at the knee — is it something at the hip?? at the ankle?? etc.

4. Just because its Friday and just because I like comedy, enjoy the video of “John Madden” on Letterman

Happy Friday!!


Who should train for power??

November 20, 2008

Not 21st century fitness programming

Not 21st century fitness programming

Yesterday afternoon I was watching a dvd of fitness expert Alwyn Cosgrove’s presentation from the 2008 Perform Better summit ( You can check out the site for more information, however just to summarize, Perform Better runs one of the premier continuing education lectures series in the fitness industry.

Anyways, Alwyn’s presentation was titled “21st Century Fitness Programming”….to get an idea of what he covered, you can take a look at my “Mistakes in the Gym” posts: Exercise selection and General training. To further expand on that, the presentation was about “based on what we know about the body now, how has effective program design changed”.

One area really stuck out in the presentation — power development, and he said it himself in the presentation: “Why do we only do power training with athletes?”. I know this is an area I’ve neglected in my own training for some reason (in all honesty, I don’t have a good one). Back to the presentation, Alwyn used the example of a senior rushing down a flight of stairs to get the phone vs. a college basketball player — who has a higher risk of falling. Now to take it out of context of the presentation, this made me think of the debate on training for aesthetics: should we create a performance-based program or a  mass-building (somehwat bodybuilder-ish) inspired routine? In the performance-based program, it is reasoned that muscle gains will take care of themselves provided proper nutritional habits are in place. In the typical mass-building program though, little focus is given to actual skill performance. Simply put, it is a program with far less variety in terms of stimuli.

Looking back on my recent programs I’ve done, I’ve realized that I have fallen in the trap of the typical muscle building routine. I guess you can add this to my Mistakes in the Gym list (maybe I’ll start having to write a monthly article on that covering what I’ve learned and changed each month…)

Dont forget your power exercises!

Don't forget your power exercises!

Anyways with the next phase of my program I am going to include power training exercises for the first time in a very long time, and see what happens…after all, I’m my own favourite guinea pig! :)


PS – also, the obesity epidemic here in North America is just that, an epidemic. Here’s a trailer for a documentary called Killer at Large that covers the epidemic in the US and a girl who at just 12 years old is getting liposuction. When I heard about this and watched the trailer, I was pretty speechless to say the least. What is this world coming to…

One of my mistakes in the gym??

One of my mistakes in the gym??

I began my goal of beginning a career in fitness about two and a quarter years ago when I signed up for a personal trainer certification course at a YMCA in St Catharines at the beginning of my second year at Brock. As I mentioned 2 posts ago in the first installment of this series, I had been lifting weights for several years before that, which gave me lots of time to do stupid stuff in the gym!

1. Never doing less than 6 reps per set: My set/rep progressions for those first 3-4 years of training were only go from 10 reps to 8 reps to 6 reps (occasionally above 10 too), and add a 4th set when I got down to six reps per set. Now, for a beginner is this something to get all hell bent over — no — however once the beginner’s body has become accustomed to the repeated stress of strength training, using lower reps is necessary to build maximal strength.

2. Only doing the stuff I liked: Like a lot of unaware people, I stuck to using exercises that I was good at. Unfortunately it is usually the things we don’t like to do that we need to be doing! I missed out on years of chinups and bent-over rows and deadlifts because when I tried them I saw how weak I was at them. Instead of seeing the opportunity to build some serious muscle mass on the back side of my body, all I saw was the inital failure of being weak that first time. Unfortunately this is human nature — we do the things we like and are successful at, and we skip the things we don’t like or are unsuccessful at. Sorry, but in this instance, following human nature will not lead to above-average results!

3. Training like a bodybuilder: When I started lifting, I weighed about 115-120 soaking wet…at age 16! Little did I know that focusing on bodybuilder-esque high volume routines would not be most effective for me. I just needed to get stronger — at the basics! I didn’t need to do concentration curls, or flies from 3 different positions. I’ve always been told by my coaches and teachers that I had a very good work ethic, so fast forward to when I was 19 in my first year of university, and you would’ve seen me doing 2 hour weights-only workouts sessions (since renamed marathon sessions). Its great to have a good work ethic however what I didn’t realize was there’s a difference between working hard and working smart.

4. NOT EATING ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!: I can’t put enough exclamation marks behind this. When I was working out I didn’t change anything about my diet! I thought that all I had to do was lift weights to get big, become a superstar baseball player, and get all the girls! I’m going to end this list at this point because it was the biggest mistake I made in my quest for bigger guns and that baseball scholarship I so desperately wanted! To add to this, the trainers that gave me workouts when I was playing travel team ball never told me about nutrition and how it related to training and getting results. This isn’t a knock on them though entirely, since in hindsight I don’t know how I didn’t figure it out for myself.

As I have become a trainer and working at SST, I have made it a goal of mine to not make that mistake with any of the athletes. Fortunately at SST, we do a nutritional conselling with each incoming athlete, however I remember that when I was in high school, hearing something once wasn’t enough to get me to make it a habit. So I make sure to ask about an athlete’s nutrition if they have let me know that their goal is body composition related, to offer some amount of accountability to them.

Not the healthiest but a meal that size would have put some weight on 16 year old me!

Not the healthiest but a meal that size would have put some weight on 16 year old me!

These are only 4 of many mistakes I’ve made in the “iron game”, I encourage you to share yours!

Happy Tuesday!


2391.gif1. Last weekend the Brock Women’s soccer team advanced to the national championship game held in BC against the host university. Unfortunately they lost 1-0, but walked away with a silver medal! Pretty awesome stuff there!

2. One of the strength and conditioning coaches that has played a large part in helping me develop not only an ever-developing deep knowledge of training but also helping me put together a training philosophy is Coach Mike Boyle. I bring this up because he is having his annual winter seminar next February, and I signed up. Its going to be my first professional seminar so I’m pretty excited about that, plus the list of presenters is top-notch!

I’ve actually been waiting for this seminar since I missed the sign up for last years by a couple days. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to make that same mistake twice.

3. Some baseball news: The AL Cy Young award was given out yesterday and Cliff Lee won. Nothing against him, because he did have an awesome year, but Halladay should have won! To be as dominant as he is while pitching more innings than every other pitcher in ther league and having the most complete games by far should be considered more. 

4. So nothing really training related today. Happy Friday!

Doc Halladay

Doc Halladay


I got my first real exposure to strength training in high school phys ed (in grades 7/8 I used to dabble in some bodyweight training but this wasn’t based on any real instruction). When I was 16 and started playing baseball for a travel team, I started working out at the local gym on my own. In those early years…all the way up until I started educating myself more about strength training and pursuing my first personal training cert at a YMCA, I did some pretty bonehead things. So this post is about some of the mistakes I’ve made in the gym before I “saw the light” regarding (poor) exercise selection…are you making any of these?

  • Smith Machine (bench press, shoulder press, squats,…anything): I used to use this because working out by myself back in the day, I figured it was safer than risking embarrassment in front of the buff gym guys that I looked up to at the time. Unfortunately the smith machine, which essentially eliminates the need for the body to recruit stabilizer muscles, creates a dangerous environment once free weights are used because your body forgets how to stabilize the weights. I used to do smith machine squats with 250 pounds on the bar when I was 17 or 18…when I tried free weight barbell squats, I could barely stabilize 185 pounds…and that was for a quarter squat! The big problems with this apparatus is that is has little carryover to real-life activities and it inflates the ego!

    The worlds most expensive coat rack...

    The world's most expensive coat rack...

  • Concentration curls and Triceps kickbacks: This doesn’t require an extensive explanation, just there are many exercises that are far more effective at promoting muscle growth in the arms!!
  • Leg extensions and other leg machines (leg curl, leg press): The first thing to consider was I was training to become a better baseball player (or so I thought); these however machines do not carryover to sport performance. What I should have been doing is lots of single-leg exercises and learning how to squat and deadlift properly.
  • Trunk rotations: In the gym I first worked out at (a community centre gym by my house), they had this torso training machine where you sit down and rotate against a load to your left or right. Batting and pitching have significant rotational strength/power components so I thought this was something I HAD to do (caps intended). Knowing what I know now, it was probably one of the dumbest things I did. Those torso rotary training machines train rotation at the lumbar spine (lower back), what happens in batting and pitching though is largely a combination of thoracic spine (upper/mid back) rotation and hip internal/external rotation. So here I was training rotation in my lower back because I thought “rotation is rotation, so this thing will work” when really I wasn’t training rotation as it happened in the sport I played. Now, I haven’t even mentioned the injury risk associated with lumbar rotation, and I won’t re-hash that in this post. Bottom line: don’t use it!
  • Sit-ups/Crunches: Yup, some more misguided core training!! I used to perform sets of 200 crunches at the ends of my workouts. Now this wasn’t for improving my swing or pitching velocity, strictly aestethics: what high school kid doesn’t want six-pack abs and the propositions from girls that went with said 6-pack?! What I didn’t know then was that a) core training can make your stomach look good (if you are lean  enough there) AND improve athletic performance and that b) that doesn’t involve endless crunches or sit-ups. What I should have been doing is a lot more core stability exercises: planks, side planks, etc. Look at gymnasts…they have 6-packs and 8 packs, and what does their sport require?? A lot of core stability!!! They weren’t born with some insane core stability though, they had to develop it through training, which involved exercises that are far more practical than sit-ups and crunches!

    Some insane core stability!!

    Some insane core stability!!

That’s my list of mistakes…which looking back, pretty much covers the entire training program I did at that time. Part of the reason I pursued that first personal training cert from the YMCA and a career in fitness, and have interned and worked at SST during my summers, has been because I didn’t accomplish my goal of getting an athletic scholarship to play baseball in the States, so I learned from my mistakes so that I could help others accomplish their dreams and not make the same mistakes I made.

These mistakes that I listed are pretty much the norm in commercial gyms here in North America; I see it all the time in every commercial gym I’ve walked into. Just realize that because these things are seen as the “popular” or “culturally accepted” way to train, doesn’t mean they are the right way to train.

No back pain, with glutes like that!

No back pain, with glutes like that!

1. I’m pretty sure its been around a couple weeks since I posted last, so to make a post here’s collection of my currently random thoughts…

2. Lately there’s been several search engine searches related to back pain, and since this is a problem I’ve been dealing with on-and-off for the past 14 months or so I’m going to chime in with some insight I have gained both from my own education on the topic as well as the training I’ve been performing to deal with it.

The first thing I want to touch on is that the solution doesn’t involve those hot/cold therapy packs you can pick up in pharmacies or grocery stores. These are simply bandaid solutions that treat the symptoms as opposed to the underlying problem (the cause of your back pain). These therapies reduce or alleviate the symptoms so that you can resume your regularly activities again, but nothing has really changed in your body to prevent re-injury.

Very often the cause of back pain (or any other non-contact injury) is a result of something going wrong somewhere else in the body and pain is presented at a weak or the weakest link. So, commonly in back pain it is a hip issue – specifically an inability to move your hips (to the front, rear, left or right) as freely as they should. As a result of this lack of hip movement, the lower back is the point of compensation and so it moves more than it should (either in forward flexion, extension or rotation…or a combination of these). The lower back is what becomes upset and ends up hurting. (kepp in mind this is a very simplistic view for brevity’s sake).

In this case, the solution should be fix the hips and the lower back will no longer be placed in at-risk situations.

How do we fix the hips? Should you add more deadlifts? Maybe some more lunges? Is stretchign going to cure the problem? “I know, I haven’t been doing my hip mobility drills, maybe those will be what fixes the problem!”

Doing just one of these doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. I know this has been a mistake I’ve made up until a few months ago. At first, I thought “well I’ll just do more single leg work and drop some of my deadlifting and squatting”…so I tried that and shortly after I was healthy enough to deadlift/squat again, I reaggravated my lower back. The thing I have learned is that it really is a multi-faceted approach that works: stretch the muscles that need are short, foam roll knotted up tissue (big ones for me are my adductors [groin muscles]), improve movement patterning first during warm-ups then including these as strength exercises with added load, and strengthen stabilizing muscles that needed to be strengthened. This part could be a whole article by itself.

So bottom line: if your lower back hurts, don’t just think its a “lower back” problem…look at the rest of your body and how it moves. A qualified professional will be able to find the areas of need in an assessment. Also, trainers aren’t doctors or physical therapists so anything more than a minor pain seek out help from those qualified. If your on your way to recovery from a non-serious epidsode of lowerback pain, remember there’s numerous parts to the puzzle to get you healthy; don’t just focus on one aspect.

3) In the midst of my schoolwork and “term paper season”, I’m making it through strength coach Eric Cressey ebook on unstable surface training (think stability balls, etc). Eric, being only a few years older than me and already extremely successful is one of the coaches that I look to for quality training information. I’m about half way through the book, and already have a few pages of application worthy tidbits. When I’m finished the book, I’ll be sure to post a review.

4) The Toronto Raptors are 3-1 to start the 08-09 NBA season…so far the most successful pro team in Toronto for this year.

5) The Brock women’s soccer team advanced to the Nationals last week, and are playing this Saturday in the semis!!