Making Your Training Specific!

The majority of young gym goers do so because they want to look better but there is also a huge amount of trainees that have other goals such as health and well-being, but a big proportion have some kind of performance in mind whether it be on the pitch, court or field. Traditional bodybuilding principles have dominated the approach to resistance training since...well forever! And why not! bodybuilding was the first true sports science....applying what happens anatomically and physiologically as a result of training stimulus and diet. Then attempting to manipulate these for maximum possible effect. In this sense bodybuilding was light years ahead of strength and conditioning principles in any other sport....In fact one would argue that the realm of strength and conditioning evolved from bodybuilding. Bodybuilders knew of the benefits of resistance training long before professional athletes lifted weights; Look at any football, rugby or basketball player from the 80’s and compare them to modern day sport athletes, their physiques have changed tremendously.


So big biceps are good for sport performance right?...well no not necessarily. Modern science tells us that the brain does not recognize individual muscle activity- It doesn't need to. Instead, the brain looks at movement patterns and creates coordination between all the muscles needed. This coordination is called a motor pattern or motor program.


Isolated muscle development does not play a major role in motor pattern development. Don’t confuse form with function. Weight training with muscle isolation is popular in bodybuilding because bodybuilding is about form. Muscle size and symmetry are the goals. But most sports and athletic endeavors are about movement. Speed, quickness, agility, power, control, coordination, and stamina are the keys to success. The goal of training is not to change how the body looks, but to improve how the body moves. therefore sports training should focus on movement patterns rather than individual muscles. Muscles will develop naturally as different movement patterns are worked, so most athletes look as if they have done some bodybuilding. But the focus is on function:- great form is just a by-product.


So what is your ideal physique?..Not many people want to look like a competing bodybuilder, for both sexes the commonly desired physique is the ‘lean, athletic look’. Even if you primary goal is aesthetics why are you training like a bodybuilder if you don’t want to be one? Is training in a traditional bodybuilding approach the fastest way to the physique you want? Are you splitting your program into individual muscle groups? Take a look at Rich Froning winner of the crossfit games 2011...does his physique look like it has suffered from not performing a bodybuilding routine?!

You can get a lean muscular physique through a variety of means...not just by splitting the muscle groups up and training them in turn for 8-12 reps. How you train should be a reflection of your goals, if you play a particular sport your weight training should support all your fitness the majority of cases this does not mean doing preacher curls or quad extensions. Equally it does not mean doing tricep kickbacks while balancing on a gym ball!

My main criticisms of the a lot of people I see lifting weights is that they kid themselves that the best path to the body they want follow the latest program published in the latest mega-muscle type magazine which more often than not isn’t suitable for them. Only a few lucky individuals have the superior genetics to become the next muscle-monsters. Often the programs in these mags are for the genetically gifted and even more often the ‘hormonally / chemically enhanced’ which isn’t appropriate for 99% of the general population.


Training should be hard. Next time you are on the way to the gym have pause to analyse your state of mind; If you have a good training ethos then the feelings should be nervousness anticipation and excitement…but mainly nervousness! If on the other hand you do not feel these things, to some extent at least, then I would venture that you are not getting close to your goals. If when you train you are not focused and are able to chat and be sociable then again, I reckon you are not getting close to your goals.


I also observe people doing the same workout constantly. We find a couple of exercises we like, lads – bench and curls, girls – cross trainer and crunches! We then stick to these exercises, same weight, same tempo, same rest period, same sets, same reps, same angle, same grip…you get the picture. We must change the stimulus at reasonable intervals, maybe every 3-8 weeks or so this is periodisation but that is a different subject for a different rant! The point is that anyone who completely shuts out a certain approach to training is probably going to miss out on some quality ideas and inspiration. Just because you never plan to put on a pair of bodybuilding posing briefs and get on stage doesn’t mean you can’t learn a ton from their training methodology. Similarly you should not shy away from non bodybuilding approaches.


A lot of trainees seem to be worried that any departure from the traditional muscle building routines will result in less than optimum gains or loss of hard earned muscle. In my opinion this is a way of justifying to themselves not to put in maximum effort, they stick to what they think is a hypertrophy, bodybuilding program. This kids them into avoiding hard work because ‘cardio eats muscle’ and if they don't rest for an age between sets they will go catabolic, they don't do squats cause ‘they are bad for you’ and don't get me started on the high intensity cardio will burn more muscle and steady state cardio will burn more fat debate!


In the end, a lot of it just comes down to how hard you’re willing to work regardless of the way you train. I’ll say it again; the main deciding factor whether a particular training program succeeds or fails is whether the trainee works hard enough.Training programs work if you have the intensity and dedication to match. Also the focus should be to train movements not muscles push, row, press, pull, squat, deadlift, ...not front raises... why are you performing tricep push downs, flys, concentration curls or quad extensions if you have not been training all of these movements?! For the majority of people I wouldn’t include any arm work and very few, if any single joint movements, that means no bicep curls! In my opinion peoples perception of what a building building routine is (3 sets of 10 of exercise A then move on to exercise B) has robbed them of significant gains and keeps them plateaued at the same level month in month out.

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