Sport Specific Training: It’s Not What You Think It Is

I train a guy who is a recreational surfer and kite surfer. He wants his training to improve his sport.

What is one of the primary exercises I’ve prescribed him?

Farmer’s Walks.

Yep.

I could have put him on a bosu ball to simulate the unstable surface of a board on water and had him hold one end of a resistance band while I held the other and played kite by jumping around trying to pull him off balance.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

Yet that is what many think when they think “sport specific”. That the movements trained in the gym have to exactly mimic the movements of the sport. Then they want to load these movements with additional weight.

Before we go further, back to Farmer’s Walks. How in the hell do these transfer to kite surfing?

Answer: grip strength and full body stability. An obvious requirement when you think about it.

We also do things like Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats to work on single leg strength and stability, Trap Bar Deadlifts to strengthen the posterior chain, Unilateral Presses, Rows, and Straight Arm Pulldown variations. Strengthening and stabilising, and putting slightly more emphasis on areas related to performance in his sport while keeping his training in balance.

Sport specific training doesn’t mean doing movements that mimic the sport in as close a way as possible. Rather it means doing movements and exercises that will improve the ability to perform in the sport.

Then, to actually get better at the sport in question will require practicing and practicing and practicing said sport.

To give another example:

Another of my clients is a junior competitive alpine skier. I don’t balance him on a stability ball and have him swipe 2 dumbbells back and forth. (We’ve all seen these kinds of videos right?) I’m going to talk further on this later.

Instead we work on Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats for single-leg strength and stability, Trap Bar Deadlifts to strengthen the posterior chain, Unilateral Presses, Rows, and Straight Arm Pulldown variations. Do you see the similarities?

The demands on the body of these 2 very different sports is actually very similar. Both require strength and stability; both require robustness.

Again, improvement in the particular sport will come down to practicing that sport. This is the principle of specificity. To improve at something you have to practice it. You can’t improve your ability to surf by jumping on a bosu ball. Someone could practice that for years so they can jump on blindfolded and land on one foot while juggling fire, then get on a board and wipeout immediately. Proficiency in one doesn’t necessarily transfer to the other, even though the 2 things may look very similar.

The greatest gym example of this is Lat Pulldowns and Pull-ups. You will see guys who can lift the whole stack on the Lat Pulldown machine but can’t do a single Pull-up even though the movements look incredibly similar. The 2 don’t necessarily correlate.

My job is to build a stable and agile body that can better handle the rigours imposed on it and produce more power when necessary. I occasionally throw in things that may somewhat mimic the movement of the sport, but only if it will actually benefit the athletes performance in some way. This can also allow the athlete to connect the training to the sport in their mind. I don’t do it for the sake of looking cutting edge, and definitely not if it puts the athlete at unnecessary risk.

I’ve stated before and I’ll state again that I am open-minded when it comes to training. I try not to judge someone’s training based off short videos without knowing the background. But I hate seeing athletes being put through tasks where there is more risk than reward, or where there is little-to-no reward at all for what they are doing.

One that springs to mind is a video I seen of a top Formula 1 driver standing on a stability ball while turning a weight plate left and right like a steering wheel. He was even doing the gears (lol). I laughed at the absurdity of it but at the same time I cringed.

I fail to see how him balancing on a stability ball is going to benefit his sport. The risk faaaaaaaaar outweighed the reward. In fact I’d like to know what the reward was.

No doubt “bus drivers”, as the exercise of holding a plate out in front and turning it side to side is known, are a half-decent exercise for the shoulders, but if this driver had of fallen off the ball, his season, and maybe even his career, could have been finished.

There is always an element of risk in training, but it is the job of the coach to minimise it, not increase it for their own benefit.

In my mind the stability ball was there for no other reason other than to look fancy. In the minds of some it may have made the trainer look innovative, but it was actually idiotic.

Sport and sport training provide enough risk to an athletes body as it is, complementary strength and conditioning training should not further that risk but enhance the ability of the body to withstand it.

 

Andrew

Life Performance TrainingĀ 

You Should Be Strength Training

Just for extra emphasis:

You Should Be Strength Training

I’m a proponent of almost every kind of training, to some extent. I can see the benefit in most training styles and believe there is something to be learned from each (for the most part, not the blatantly idiotic stuff).

I try to remain open-minded and often like to experiment with alternative training styles. At various times throughout my training I have ran long-distance, sprinted, done HIIT, calisthenics, body-part splits, agility work, mobility work, played sports, trained specific skills, and probably other things that don’t spring to mind now, but there is one constant throughout my training since I first experienced it years ago: good old-fashioned strength training.

Strength. Moving weight. There is something so satisfying about it. It requires more than just training, it requires a mentality. A mentality that not everyone has, but that can be built.

Because free-weight strength training doesn’t just strengthen the body, it strengthens the mind. It gives you a grit and a confidence that you don’t get from running or solely training on machines.

Without getting overly dramatic, there is a very real overcoming of adversity in strength training. You will not squat down and back up with a heavy weight on your back without a level of mental strength. You must overcome fear and doubt in order to do it.

It will change you. It will change your body and it will change your mind. I don’t hesitate to say it will change your life.

How It Changed Me

After years of substance abuse I found myself in my mid-twenties skinny, malnourished, and weak as shit. Growing up I’d always been relatively fit and even tried maintaining some level of fitness during years of treating my body poorly (an understatement), but after getting sober I decided to join the gym and start training “properly”, which at the time meant bro training.

I can remember going to train with a friend who had been training for a few years and being thoroughly embarrassed by how weak I was in comparison. So much so that I actually quit the gym. Stupid of course, everybody starts somewhere, but it was how I felt at the time. Already being anxious and self-conscious, my ego couldn’t take that hit.

Unhappiness Is The Catalyst Of Change

I didn’t quit training though, instead I started working out at home, which at that time was my mums house (I’d moved back there for the 10th time since I first moved out at 19). I bought a pull-up bar and some push-up handles and started doing bodyweight work.

After a while I dug out some old weights and a fold-away bench my mum had got me for Christmas one year in my mid-teens, and started doing some bench press (working my way up to a majestic 50kg) and squats (hitting the even more spectacular 40kg because I had to clean and press it first) and started doing the “Big 5 55” workout because I read in a fitness magazine that that was what Jason Statham used to get in action star shape.

One day, while at the supermarket, I got a comment from someone I hadn’t seen in a while along the lines of “look at the guns on you”. – Now, since I’d long abandoned my life of crime I knew he was talking about my arms. That felt good and gave me the confidence to enrol again at the local gym.

I knew that strength motivated me. More than being big, more than being ripped, I wanted to be strong. I knew I’d never be the strongest guy about, being small, naturally light, and unwilling to use anabolics, but I wanted to feel like I could hold my own.

Still not knowing much about programming, or writing a training plan beyond the typical bro-split, I started to research a little on strength training programs and settled on Stronglifts 5×5, a simple, straight set, progressive overload system that came with its own (free) app.

This program worked fantastically for me and soon my bench was up to a ginormous 70kg for 5 sets of 5, and my squat and deadlift both cracked 100kg, though looking back now my squat form in particular was horrendous. These were also complemented with things like chins and dips, overhead presses and rows. To this day the greatest and most rapid strength progress I’ve ever made was at this time on the Stronglifts 5×5 program.

This is for a couple of reasons. Of course there was “newbie gains”; the fastest progress you will make in your training, provided you do it right, will be in the beginning, when you go from doing nothing to doing something. But also, this was a no-bullshit program centred around progressive overload and compound movements. For a beginner in particular, this is vital. That’s right, vital. No superlative, just fact. I’d argue that it is vital regardless of your training experience, these things should still be the foundation of your programming.

Have A Strong Foundation

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your training. Don’t be afraid to try new things. But make sure you have a foundation. The base of your program should be made up of squats, hinges, pushes, and pulls. There are exercises in each of these categories that will fit any individual. My client base currently ranges from a 12 year old male competitive alpine skier through to a 75 year old widow, with every kind of human in between, and each and every one of them train these movements loaded. Not always loaded from the beginning, but we work our way there.

Functional Training 

Strength is functional. These are fundamental human movements replicated very much in everyday life and in pretty much all sports. You should be training them. I don’t care who you are, you should be training them, and you should be training to get stronger in these movements.

Strength training will develop strength in more than just your body, it will develop strength in your mind.

There are some good resources and programs out there on this topic, the aforementioned Stronglifts 5×5, Jim Wendler’s 5, 3, 1, and many, many articles on sites like T-nation (I have no affiliation with any of these by the way).

If you have any questions at all regarding implementing strength training, or improving upon your current strength program, hit me up in the comments or via email or social media.

 

Andrew

Life Performance Training

How To Stay Fit And Healthy When You’re Too Busy To Workout

First off, and I say this with love and tenderness: you’re not too busy to workout, so cut the bullshit. Either you don’t want to, or you don’t know how. If you’re the 1st, each to their own, no judgement. If you’re the 2nd, maybe I can help.

There are many ways to stay fit and healthy with limited time. It’s a matter of priority, and trust me, your health should be a priority. You work so hard to have all these nice things; house, car, holidays, satin underwear. That’s good, but you can’t fully enjoy them if you’re not healthy.

The healthier you are, the better life will be.

You can’t perform when you’re giving yourself a million reasons not to. Excuses do nothing but keep you where you are, maybe even run you backwards. (No, that doesn’t count as exercise.)

“I can’t make it to the gym.” – workout at home.

“I have no equipment.” – use your bodyweight or stuff around the house.

“But, I have no time.” – get up half an hour earlier. Don’t plop down on the couch as soon as you get home, bust out some push-ups. Tabata literally takes 4 minutes. Manage your time better and you will have time.

Staying fit and healthy doesn’t have to mean 3 hours of training per day. Set aside 45mins 3 times a week, or 15-20mins 5 or 6 days a week and during that time work-the-fuck-out. No phones, no Inspector Gadget watches. No ass scratching. Do what you set that time aside to do.

I have a push-up/chin-up countdown circuit that I do at home sometimes. It takes me around 15mins and in the time I do 150 push-ups and 75 chin-ups, plus it skyrockets my heart-rate. More on that later when I’ll give you some actual, real life, time efficient workouts for all you busy mofos.

 

But before that…

I am not downplaying busyness, or tiredness, lack of time, or stress. All these things play a factor in many of our lives today.

Your health will come down to more than working out, it’ll be managing all these things better. Luckily, if you love this next point as much as I do then you’ll be very happy to hear what I’m going to tell you to do next…

 

Sleep

Yes, sleep is vital to your health and performance. It’s not a waste of time. No, you can’t “sleep when you’re dead”. You need to sleep now. Possibly right this instant, or at least very soon.

Napping is my favourite pastime, I do it whenever I can. My ultimate ambition is to have a nap-to-work ratio of 3:1 in favour of naps. I have big dreams. (Nap pun for the win.)

Another quite enjoyable factor of health and performance…

 

Eating

Eating has become a huge fucking issue for people nowadays. People are afraid to eat. Or they just eat shit. Or eat too much. Some people are all these in one day.

Thing is, nutrition does not have to be this overly complicated matter that scares the living shit out of you. Food should not be scary, it should be scared of you, it’s the one getting munched.

There is of course an emotional linkage with eating for many, but I’m not going to touch on that here. What I am going to say is: put some thought into what goes into your mouth.

Energy in vs energy out. That’s what you need to know. If you take in more energy than you burn then you will store that extra energy as fat. If you take in less energy than you burn then you will use your reserve stores of energy (fat) as fuel. Simple. (This must be consistent to see any noticeable change in the body.)

If you have a sedentary job, a slow metabolism, and no appreciable muscle mass, you won’t burn as many calories throughout the day as someone who is the opposite. So eat accordingly.

If you regularly have a donut on your coffee break realise that you have to account for those calories elsewhere in your day if you want to lose fat, either by being more restrictive at another meal or increasing your daily activity. (Let me make clear that I’m not hating on donuts, I love them, but they are a high calorie food that offer little in terms of satiety, that’s why I use them in this example. The same of course goes for all calories.)

Even still, with all my love for donuts, I do question the need for an adult to have one every day. Sweets should be treats, not a regular meal. That’s opinion by the way, if you don’t agree you can tell me to go fuck myself and shove that sugary goodness in your face.

 

Sleep, Eat, Train

If you can improve these 3 things to a higher level than you do currently you will get fitter and healthier.

So after covering sleeping and eating here are some simple workouts for busy people. Some done at the gym, some at home with minimal equipment, and some that simply require a body, preferably your own.

This first one is not written by me, but by Pavel Tsatsouline, here it goes:

Day 1

Deadlift

Bench Press

Day 2

Squat

Bench Press

I honestly believe this program could be done as is, just pick a set and rep range and go, but for sets/reps and assistance exercises, Dan John (who is the king of realism when it comes to training), elaborates here: https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/2-times-a-week-for-twice-the-gains

This next one is the one I alluded to earlier and is an upper body conditioning workout that can be done at home only requiring a pull-up bar. You can pick one up to hang in your doorway for next to nothing. Alternatively, go outside and use a tree branch or monkey bars, anything you can hoist your chin over:

Push-ups 10, 8, 6, 4, 2

Chin-ups 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Alternating between push-ups and chins. So begin with 10 push-ups and 5 chins and work your way down to 2 and 1. Do 5 rounds.

What about the lower body? I’ve got ya:

100 goblet squats

There you go. Pick up a weight and do 100 goblet squats in as few sets as possible.

This one requires no equipment whatsoever:

10 rear foot elevated split squats on one side

10 push-ups

10 rear foot elevated split squats on the other side

1 minute plank

Repeat 5 times

Single kettlebell:

Swings 20

Unilateral Press 10 each side

Goblet Squat 20

Unilateral Row 10 each side

x3

And another with a barbell for people who like to hit the gym but don’t have a lot of time to spend once they get there:

Day 1

Front Squat, ramp to a triple, drop the weight accordingly and do 4×8

Day 2

Bench Press, ramp to a triple, drop the weight accordingly and do 4×8

Day 3

Trap-bar Deadlift, ramp to a triple, drop the weight accordingly and do 4×8

Day 4

Chin-ups 3×8

TRX Inverted Row 3×8

Face-pull 3×20

These programmes are nothing fancy, there’s no periodization, no accumulation blocks, no bosu ball back-flips. What there is, is no-nonsense workouts for busy people. If you train hard at them you will see improvements in your fitness. Every training programme, no matter how basic or extravagant, is only as good as your execution of it. Approach any of these workouts with focus, precision, and intent and they will change your body. Half-ass them and they won’t. Consistency is key. Stick at it. And warm-up beforehand, just because I haven’t typed a warm-up doesn’t mean don’t do it, that should be a given.

 

Oh, and drink water,

 
Andrew

Life Performance Training