Specificity vs. similarity.part1

by Lyle McDonald

Well, as always, I am still deterred from getting back to sports nutrition.
Don't worry, it will happen before the milennium I hope.
In any case, I want to give my perspective on something that's come up
of late on misc.fitness. That is …The Principle of Specificity. At the
risk of kicking up the whole explosive movement, plyometric arguement
again, I really would like to make a couple of points about specificity
as I think it's being mis-used somewhat. So, what
I want to talk a little about is Specificity vs. Similarity.

Very strictly speaking, the principle of specificity (with regards to exercise
and training) states that "Adaptations to a certain type of training is
specific to that type of training" Basically, to improve your running,
run, to improve your cycling cycle, to get stronger lift weights, to
jump higher practice jumping, etc…

Well, in general this is pretty much true. For example, when you test
VO2 max (a measure of aerobic level which is generally tested by
having the victim go to exhaustion while measuring the amount of
air breathed). If you take someone who generally bicycles and test
them on a bike, they may rate, say a VO2 of 60 ml/kg/min. If you
test that same person running on a treadmill, they may only register
a VO2 of 50 or something. This has to do with the specific demands
of each sport. Cycling is a quadricep dominant movement whereas
running tends to be hamstring/hip extensor dominant. Training with
one modality will train only those muscles needed so that cyclist tend
to have underdeveloped hamstrings and runners have weak quads. So, it
makes sense that a runner won't necessarily make a good cyclist and
vice versa.
Well, what about Specificity as it pertains to athletics and athletic
conditioning (since that has been the big source of debate). The
movement most questioned is the power clean, an olympic type movement
which relies on a lot of momentum to get the weight to the shoulders,
which has become a staple of much athletic training for strength and
power sports like football and basketball. The pro-clean group claims
that the powerclean is specific to just about every sport conceivable
from football to golf. The anti-clean group says that powercleaning
will only make you better at powercleaning and that it should be
avoide for safety issues.
Another contoversy (which I've been centered in) is the use of plyometrics
(jump type training) in conditioning. The pro-plyometric group (myself
believe that plyometrics may improve neural pathways and improve
power output by decreasing the defecit between maximal and functional
strength (again, please don't start the argument again, I'm talking about
something else this time). The anti-plyometric squad cites a lack of
reliable data backing the efficacy of plyometrics and the potentially
high injury rate due to high impact forces (around 5-6 times bodyweight)
from jumping off of a box.
The pro-explosive group argue that in order to move fast, you must
train fast based on a study done many years ago published in a physical
therapy journal. The anti group argue that the studie's statistics were
flawed and that there is no physiological way that lifting fast
makes you move faster or more explosive. Again, past this, I don't want
to get into the other aspects of this argument. I want to talk
more about specificity in general.

A frequent thing said by the anti-explosive movement is that the
principle is of specificity, not similarity. Thus, explosive movements,
which are perhaps similar to activities in athletic competitions aren't
close enough to produce measurable results. Weight training, they often
claim, is primarily for injury prevention rather than the improvement of
performance (note, not everyone in the anti-explosive camp takes the
specificity argument to this extreme). While this statement has some validity,
(which I'll talk about in a little bit.) I don't think that it's absolutely
true statement. I think that empirically, we know better and that
conditioning with weights can improve performance. Maybe it hasn't
been scientifically proven that conditioning improves athletics (i.e. a
good football player is not necessarily a strong football player and a strong
player is not necessarily a good player). One of the problems
is that it's hard to quantify the results of a particular conditioning
program making studies difficult to perform. Yes, in theory, conditioning
should be able to make an athlete bigger, stronger, and faster which
shold help them on the playing field. Whether this carries over to
an improved win/loss ratio or whatever is tough to say. Many coaches
use their season record as the litmus test of a programs eficacy. However,
this is a bit flawed if you apply it to a team sport where there are
just too many other factors involved, especially in team sports. With
certain sports (shotput or sprinting for example), it's a bit more clear
cut. If your athlete throws farther or runs faster because he's stronger,
I think it's safe to say that your conditioning program is doing more for
performance than just preventing injuries.

To be continued.

Lyle McDonald

source: misc.fitness newsgroup, posted Oct. 6, 1994

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