As personal trainers and sports coaches – and those on the end of their advice – we’ll know all about training specificity. Want to get fit to run, then run , well that’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? But in the not too distant past X-training would often be advocated a major training ingredient for serious runners. It was thought that some swimming or rowing, for example, could help running capacity.

Well, in small bouts, it won’t do any harm and will act as a useful regenerative training method, for mind and muscles, but it won’t specifically improve your running. Muscles are particularly stingy with their adaptation. They process the energy best for what they regularly train for. Although logic says that a good cyclist with an excellent VO2 max, will make an equally enduring runner, the reality is that they normally won’t.

Their muscles will be used to producing energy sat in the saddle and their legs will protest when asked to do the same when running. What about weight training and in particular Olympic lifting and sports training? As personal trainers and coaches working with athletes (in the widest sense of the term), we know that the greatest training returns will inevitably be derived from exercises that closely mimic the movement patterns and energy systems used in the sport we are coaching.

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So, why do sprinters, boxers, martial artists, in fact nearly every athlete perform the Olympic lifts – the ‘snatch’ and the ‘clean and jerk’? A sprinter does not anywhere in his race, press a weight over their head, nor create momentum from a squat, feet shoulder-with apart stance. Although Usain Bolt does hold his arms over his head quite a but when winning, in a sort of ‘snatch’ position.

But this – for those that follow in his wake, is far from the movement pattern needed to power down the track. Sprinter’s limbs move forwards and backwards. They don’t go up and down in a relatively slow, vertical plane. Tudor Bompa, is one of the world’s most renowned sports conditioning experts, he has been relatively scathing of the merits of Olympic lifting for sports training (that’s apart from for Olympic lifting!).

Here’s what he said in regard to UK strength and conditioning coaches and their attitude to the Olympic lifts: On my last trip to the UK in 2006, I realised that strength coaches are too captivated by Olympic weight lifting. Why? Don’t they know that a strength exercise should be selected in regard to targeting the muscles in the relevant way they are used in the sports activity itself? If this is understood then simply select the moves that target the specific muscles and train them.

Forget about Olympic lifts! Now that’s a forthright opinion and coming from such a source of expertise, we’d listen. Yet, there are thousands of coaches instructing ten of thousands of athletes that Olympic lifting is crucial for their sports performance.They may argue that the triple extension involved in the Olympic lifts is of relevance to, for example, a sprint athlete or field sports player. And it is the case that triple extension occurs through the calf, thigh and hip muscles when running.

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However, there are two big differences 1) the running action requires an independent limb action, whereas the Olympic Lifts don’t and 2) even running at a moderate speed will produce a far greater speed of movement than the fastest Olympic lift. Bompa just advocates the squat, calf raise and a hamstring exercise as the focus for a sprinter, for example.

He keeps it simple, yet specific. Keeping it simple and specific (KISS), is usually used to advise personal trainers and coaches on how best to get their knowledge over, but it can equally be applied to training for specific goals. Don’t use spurious exercises (standing on a fit ball and doing arm curls for golf – anyone?), rather train what the muscles do in competition or for that challenge you are training for. Be specific and you’ll get optimised performance training returns.

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