Specificity in Training – How much carry-over does weight lifting have in real life? Will your time under the iron help you on the field, on the mat, or in the ring?

posted in: Strength Training | 3

I have read numerous studies that have concluded that specific weight lifting activities have very little, if any, carry-over to athletic activities. It sounds crazy, I know. Believe me, I was pretty skeptical when I started reading these research abstracts myself. How could getting stronger hinder an athletes performance? Isn’t it the biggest, strongest, fastest athletes that are always the best? These questions were racing through my mind, and I had to ask myself, “how much does my training help me perform?”

I read research testing bench pressing strength and it’s applicability to football linebackers. I read research testing 10RM squats and its impact on high jumpers. I read a LOT of research, and what I found shocked me. In every research study that I dug up, there was very little, if any, carry-over to sports performance from weight training. Let me say that again. Lifting weights did NOT have an impact on sports performance.

That fact hit me like a lead brick. I had been lifting weights since I was 11 years old – and there was no way I wanted to think that all my work wouldn’t transfer to a better athletic performance in any activity.

Once the dust of confusion settled, and I decided to take an objective look at everything I knew at the time, something suddenly began to make sense. It all became clearer when I was told “everything is an act of conditioning.” The second half of that is that “all conditioning is specific to the activity performed” for conditioning.

Said another way, everything we do will condition us SPECIFICALLY for a given activity. Now this begins to make more sense. If you want to get better at pullups, do pullups. If you want to squat more, keep adding more weight to the bar and training with it. If you want to be a better boxer, practice your jabs, hooks, and footwork. But don’t perform the best deadlift program in the world and expect it to help you wrestle any better. To get better at anything, to have your training carry over to your life, you need to PRACTICE specifically for those activities.

Now, I still believe that such a thing as “general conditioning exists.” However, in order for it to transfer over to a better performance, in life or sport, it must be specific to that activity. Sure, I can get in generally better shape for dancing by dancing more, or doing cardio training that will help my VO2 MAX improve.

However, you cannot run, swim, or bike all the time and expect it to help you row on a crew team. Even if you’re well conditioned for a triathlon, put yourself into a different activity like rowing or powerlifting, and your conditioning will be zero for that activity.

And it’s also impossible to train for anything and everything. We just can’t do it all. Some fitness systems were created to train for everything, for the unknown. What you get every time is a group of people that are very well conditioned for a certain activity, or activities, and very poorly conditioned for anything outside of the context of that fitness system.

So, we must choose the principle of specificity instead of just doing general training. That’s the take-home message. I hope to explore this topic more in the future as my own understanding continues to evolve. Of course, I would be welcome to a discussion, please leave your comments below.

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional and Clubbell Athlete

3 Responses

  1. How would you condition yourself for self-defense?

  2. Little late for posting a reply, but what the heck.

    Interesting article and in part correct. The incorrect part was the two tests you used as examples. The bench press, in spite of it’s popularity in our gym culture, has little application in the world outside the gym. A better test would have been with the Clean and Press, which develops strength and explosive power. Power being something linebackers need. The other is the use of 10RM in squats. 10RM puts one in the range of hypertrophy (bodybuilding), not strength building. 5RM would have been a better for strength for performance test.

    Again the article was good, as have been all of them, it’s with the test parameters I have a disagreement.

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