elitefts™ Sunday Edition

At the end of yet another bloody campaign, Julius Caesar’s army, the 10th Legion—one of the greatest armies the world has ever seen, was growing tired of war and conquest. They had been fighting constantly for ten years straight and, not surprisingly, just wanted their pay, the piece of land they were promised, and to retire. They wanted to go home and start a normal life.

Outside of Rome is a place called Mars field. On this field, Caesar's 10th legion would assemble after battles and regroup to await further orders. The legion was a group full of pride—the flagship of the most powerful army on earth. They were battle-hardened, battle-proven, successful, and the envy of soldiers everywhere. Yet, with all of their success and with all of their victories and recognition, nothing made this group feel more pride than when Caesar addressed them as “Soldiers of Rome.” This was the name they had earned, the phrase that caused the known world to tremble when they heard it. That simple phrase meant that they were a part of something much greater than themselves.

At this point, as the troops were assembled on Mars field, grumbling and saying that they wanted out, that they wanted to stop all this warfare and marching and simply move on. Caesar, a man who knew the power of the spoken word and the psychology of men, decided not to plead his men to continue. He would not beg them to stay. Instead, he decided to change just one word when he addressed his troops. One word. One simple word. He got up on the podium and simply started his speech with “Citizens of Rome.” Not soldiers of Rome, but citizens of Rome. When his men heard this, they were embarrassed at the thought of being normal citizens. They wanted to be revered, not looked upon as lonely peasants. So they revolted and begged Caesar to let them stay on, and they wound up fighting many years after that fateful day. All because of one word.

One word used or misused can spark a movement or a controversy. For strength coaches, the misuse of the term "sport-specific" has sent the industry spinning on its head. This term is misinterpreted, misused, abused, exploited, and misunderstood. The one part of the phrase I have the biggest problem with is "specific." According to Webster (the dictionary, not Emmanuel Lewis), specific is,

Now, let’s say we replace one of the words from that definition and call it "sport-precise." If I had a quarterback throw a medicine ball into a trampoline, would that be sport-precise QB training? No. A lineman bench pressing—is that sport-precise linemen training? No. So why call it sport-specific training when it is not?! This is what really burns the strength coaches—the fact that there are some coaches out there using the phrase "sport-specific," and consequently misleading clients, parents, and anyone else who has no idea what it really means. Just because you say it is sport-specific does not mean it is! Our sport coaches hear about it and ask why we aren’t training our athletes in a sport-specific manor. Why aren’t we doing that? Because we can't.

Let me break some cold hard facts to many of you. The only sport-specific training we can do in the weight room is for strongman (some events), powerlifting, bodybuilding, and Olympic lifting. That’s it. Those sports require bars and plates, and we can do the specific exercises in the weight room that are needed in order to perform in the sport—the precise exercises required. That is sport-specific. If you want football sport-specific, have football practice. If you want tennis sport-specific, hit the courts. And on and on and on.

The venerable Dr. Yessis has one of the best definitions I have ever heard for sport-specific training. He feels that to use the term "sport-specific," the exercise must fulfill one or more of the following criteria: the exercise must duplicate the exact movement witnessed in a certain segment of the sports skill, and the exercise must involve the exact same type of muscular contraction as used in the skill execution. The word that stands out the most is the word exact! Not sort of, not just like...but exact.

What we do as strength coaches is athlete-specific. We specialize in sports performance training. Our programs are designed to develop our athletes in all aspects needed to aid in the performance of any athletically-related movement or skill. We improve the speed, strength, flexibility, injury prevention, movement, muscular imbalances, coordination, and power of the athletes we coach. Our sports performance programs should be done in a physiologically sound, safe, purposeful, and productive way.

A physiologically sound program is one that includes in its design the fundamental principles of training the correct energy system, using the correct rest ratio, and maximizing recovery with proper nutrition and sleeping guidelines. A safe program is designed first and foremost with the execution of properly performed repetitions. Our emphasis is how the repetition is performed and then how much weight is lifted. Every effort should be made to minimize biomechanical loading (bouncing, recoiling) on muscles, joints, and connective tissue and to maximize muscular tension. Each repetition should be lifted in a controlled and deliberate fashion.

In turn, a purposeful program is one with a training protocol that has a systematic plan of increasing resistance/repetitions that will produce results. Once exercise technique is performed to our satisfaction, the weights begin to increase and the athlete must perform all the reps prescribed in that workout without assistance. Loads, work capacity, lean body mass, and the number of movement patterns increase.

A productive program is one that is designed with the athlete’s best interest in mind. The programs are designed to include the latest research, personal trials, team experiences, and common sense. Our goal is to help the athletes achieve their optimal strength potential in both the weight room and on the playing field. Combining various styles provides maximal stimulation to the athlete.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now. I know a few paragraphs may not change your mind and convince you of what I feel is the true definition of sport-specific. And I do not want to send people to Siberia for misusing the word. I would just simply love for us all to get on the same page. To change that one word...or at least use it more wisely.