T Nation

Too Sports Specific?

The other day in the gym I saw a female swimmer, under the instruction a trainer, performing a simulated backstroke and butterfly on a bench holding dumbbells. This got me thinking, when does being too sports specific become ineffective? I believe in training with sport specificity in mind, but I also think that there is a point where it’s not effective. What do you guys think?

Well, “sports specificity”, IMO, means if you need to improve your abilities as a swimmer, you would swim. Or to improve your boxing, you would box, etc.

I wouldn't perform simulated boxing with weights, when training with weights, I would train with correct form/technique in weight training. And I would train in a way that would enhance my boxing, or improve upon my conditioning for boxing.

For swimming, I would assume you would need strong back, delts and arm muscles. And for added kick, legs. It was rather irresponsible for this trainer to simply have this person "simulate" swimming in the gym with weights. IMO.

There IS such a thing as being too specific. And in fact, this can hurt performance! If you use cross-training exercises (for athletes, strength training considered cross-training) that closely resemble your sport movement BUT has slight differences this can lead to loss of technical efficiency in the actual sporting movement.

Why? Simple, when you practice a strength exercise trying to mimick your sport movement you will invariably develop bad habits and decrease the automatisation of your learned movement. For example, in swimming the force application curve is not linear and the resistance is not constant; the consistance of the water make the resistance vary depending on the speed of movement and surface of contact. If you perform your swimming movement in the gym you learn to appy force against a constant resistance and thus develop a bad habit.

Yes training should be specific: you should train the muscles involved in your sport, train the type of contraction (isometric, concentric, eccentric) involved in your sport and try to develop the capacity to accelerate. But strength training is still a general form of training. You cannot improve sport technique with strength movements. However you can become stronger, faster and more powerful … which can then be transfered to your sport actions once you practice them!

I think I can speak for Ian King when I say: “Ridiculous!” But good for a laugh.

I always love to see people trying to simulate punching with cables, thinking that they are going to add power to their punch. They do not seem to understand that power comes more a result of the acceleration, and that it comes more from the hips and torso, than the arm, and shoulder.

Another good one I often see is people holding dumbells and simulating the arm swing that’s involved in running. It’s always 115 pound cross-country runners doing it, too. Ha!

I saw this dude that cut the handle off of a baseball bat and drilled an anchor into the end of it. He hooks that on the cable and does rotations w/ it. I thought that was kind of cool… he was doing them really slow… it looked like a different way to do woodchoppers.

i myself cant critique this though because water sports are extremely different from land sports, making the entire issue of training for water on land an entirely complex one. Thus this is very different than punchin on cables. science and practice attempts to examine some of these issues.

Sport specific exercises should be saved as the time of competition approaches. Meaning the closer you are to your season, the more sport specific you should be. Also, there is nothing better then being in your own battlefield. If your a swimmer, then get in the water. The more you subject yourself to competition-like situations, the more you will succeed in those situations.

I have to agree with Christopher, weight training is a general conditioning set of exercises. That trainer was probably hindering the swimmer. I don’t know if this might help, but, get in the water, do the strokes and find a way to add some weight while in the water…would the increased drag, overall resistance improve performance? It is a complex issue: turn rate of arms to kicks, number of strokes per lap, etc…

Many good points mentioned so far, but I would like to add that when the movement is slowed down over 20% it can hurt the actual movement. This is documented in much East German literature. And Zev, the movement that you described can have a nice “turnover”, if you will to, the end off the race “kick”–it is pretty funny looking though.

Just wanted to add to this interesting thread. I was a swimmer in High School and my Girlfriend is a D1 College swimmer. As far as adding resistence to swimmers stroke, there are many tools. One is a “parachute” that drags behind the swimmer. Others are stretch cords that attach to the side of the pool, partner tether cords, etc. Another interesting tool is a snorkel with restricted flow. This requires the lungs to work harder and your body builds up CO2 and lactic acid much quicker. It is really hard!!
In regards to that trainer, they really had no idea what they were doing. If you think of the mechanics involved in a swimming stroke, there is no way to duplicate it working against gravity. The hydrodynamics would have to be copied perfectly for that to work, which is impossible. I feel general physical conditioning through weight training/cross training should be a goal in sports, with the majority of training done in the actual sport. Jeff