by: Anthony Campo
There is a misconception of the term “sport specific” in many gyms around the country today. Much debate exists out there on what exercises and training methods should be used to train athletes of varying sports. I am going to make this short and sweet. Unless your sport is lifting, there is nothing you can do in the gym that will improve the skills of your sport. You acquire and fine tune skills through practice and training of that actual sport. If you are an athlete or a trainer, and you are using gym movements to try and somehow mimic the motor skills of a sport, you are completely missing the point of strength and conditioning training. I will be very clear, you will not become better at baseball by doing cable wood chops, you will not get better at basketball by throwing a medicine ball up in the air, and you will not become a better boxer by throwing punches with dumbbells. The law of specificity states that training movements that are similar to, but not the same as the skill you are trying to improve, could actually decrease your proficiency of the skill. Many of these exercises have completely different force dispersion. If you are using these movements to specifically get better at your sport, you are completely missing the point of training. My job as a personal trainer is to decrease the chance of injury/re-injury, improve the recovery process, and increase the physical potential for an individual. In terms of increasing physical potential, the purpose is to pick movements and exercises that train to increase the maximum potential of force the body is able to output over a given time. What the athlete does with that potential is up to them and their coaches for that sport. So when you hear mumbo jumbo out there like “athletes shouldn’t train with a belt because they don’t use a belt in their sport,” they are, again, completely missing the point of strength training. Let’s go back to the baseball player, and cable wood chops. If I am training this athlete, I am not going to try and coach their swing, I will leave that up to the hitting coach. Many trainers would choose cable wood chops thinking this is a “sport specific” movement, and ignore compound lifts like squats. In many instances, even if these crappy trainers have the athletes squatting, they wouldn’t have them engage in maximal effort/dynamic effort training. Cable wood chops are similar enough to swinging a baseball bat that the difference in force disbursement can actually help develop poor motor skills for hitting. Instead, this athlete should focus on choosing exercises that have the potential to actually increase the force output capabilities of the body. A perfect choice for this athlete would be squats. Squats are an exercise that allow for proper intensities to be used to improve total strength, motor unit recruitment, and Central Nervous System efficiency. Now going backwards for a moment, if I believe that the explosive capabilities of the core is a weakness, cable wood chops might be one of the many exercises in my toolbox to choose from, and try and bring up the weakness. The purpose is to increase the amount of force the body can produce, and then when the athlete practices their sport, the force will translate over into the skills they are developing. Wood chops, however, on their own do not have the potential to maximize your force potential. You need a major compound lift that can be loaded in order to accomplish this. Using a belt will increase proprioception in relation to breathing, and increase intra-abdominal pressure which will allow you to unlock your maximum force potential. If you do not want to use a belt for the fact that you don’t wear one in your sport, then you are missing the point of strength training in a gym. So if you are looking to increase your skills at a sport, THEN PRACTICE YOUR SPORT. If you are looking to maximize force potential, then get in the gym and train some compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and pressing. If you want to be the best possible athlete, then do both!