elitefts™ Sunday Edition

As is well known, all exercises aren't equal in relation to their benefits. For example, for the greatest transfer of strength for improved skill execution and game performance, you should do specialized strength exercises. However, this doesn't negate the use of general strength exercises, as they, too, play an important role in helping to improve skill execution and game performance at all levels, except for elite and very high level athletes. Most important for including and perfecting general strength exercises is that they are needed before you can do specialized strength exercises. The only exception to this is when the specialized strength exercises are used for making specific, relatively small changes in skill execution (technique).

Without first doing general strength exercises to lay the base for specialized strength exercises, you will be more prone to injury. The reason for this is your body won't be ready for the greater intensity and the specific movement patterns involved in specialized strength exercises. In essence, you wouldn't be able to execute the specialized strength exercises with good technique without an adequate general strength base.

General strength exercises can help improve skill execution and game performance on the field in youth, especially when the exercises are done with correct and effective technique. However, this isn't true with bona fide adult athletes, especially at the elite and very high level. At the elite level, general strength exercises serve as a warm up and preparation for high intensity specialized strength exercises.


The key to improvement on the field with youngsters is to execute the general strength exercises with good form. In addition, the exercises must involve some or most of the same muscles as involved in the execution of the skills in game play. This is especially true with some of the key basic general exercises such as the squat. When done correctly, the squat has multiple benefits. But when the squat is done incorrectly, it leads to injury and poor performance. Note that the squat can also be a specialized strength exercise, depending on how it is executed in relation to the skill that is to be improved. For example, a narrow stance is best suited for runners while a wide stance is best suited for powerlifters and football linemen. An in between stance is needed for weightlifters and other athletes. Sometimes the athlete should use more than one stance if his sport calls for multiple actions. The use of only one stance is usually reserved for immediately before competition.

When the squat is a specialized strength exercise, it must be executed in a manner that imitates or duplicates the same neuromuscular pathway and range of motion in which strength is developed. In other words, strength must be developed as it is displayed in execution of the sport skill. If it doesn't do this, it isn't a specialized exercise!

General strength exercises are also needed to fully develop all the muscles and joints of the body. This is one of the greatest values of doing general strength exercises. Full development of the muscles and joints requires the use of many different exercises and usually takes place in the general physical preparation period. This phase or period is also known as the conditioning, getting fit, or getting in shape period of training. All too often, training to strengthen individual muscles, joints, or body areas is the end result rather than the base for more specialized strength training. Keep in mind that general strength exercises or general body strengthening don't transfer to improve performance on the field. For transfer to occur, specialized strength exercises must be used.

It is typically assumed that by becoming stronger or more explosive, these qualities will automatically transfer to performance on the field. However, this can't be substantiated. There has never been a study done nor has practical experience shown that an athlete executes his skills more effectively or performs better on the field after undertaking a general conditioning program. Most coaches just assume that this is what happens, but in reality it doesn't!

In most cases, when the athlete is deemed fit, in shape, or well conditioned, he is ready to begin specialized training that will have a direct and immediate effect on his performance. However, in practice, most coaches in most sports and at all levels of play believe that when an athlete is well conditioned he is ready for competition. He can, of course, play when at this level of fitness, but he won't be playing at his ideal or best. This is the crux of the problem. As a result and all too often, athletes never achieve their full potential because the training stops when the level of fitness is obtained and then maintained once they are in shape during the season.


In cases when you do find an athlete playing better, it usually means that the athlete executed general exercises that came close to duplicating or imitating what the athlete does in skill execution or in play on the field. In such cases, there most likely was some transfer. However, this is quite rare. General strength exercises play a very important role in the training of an athlete, especially at the lower and intermediate levels.

At elite levels, almost all the work should be highly specialized. This is the only way that the athlete will be able to improve his performance every year and not merely maintain his performance. I repeat—this is the only way that the athlete will be able to improve his performance every year and not merely maintain, or in some cases, perform worse in relation to skill execution and game play. This is especially true of collegiate and professional athletes, as seen in football, baseball, track and field, and other sports.

Most often, we see maintenance when the players remain at the same level in regard to their skill abilities and overall game play. Most of you are probably saying that I've lost my mind and don’t know what I'm talking about. To you, I recommend checking the statistics. Record the statistics of incoming freshmen at the collegiate level. Note their 40 or 100 times, vertical height, agility speed and quickness, overall play on the field, and other factors. Then check the statistics when they're seniors. You will find, as we have found from looking at many athletes from different universities, that very few actually improve their performance. A good number actually do worse while most stay at the same level.

We haven't done studies of professional athletes, but from seeing how they play on the field and how long they last on a particular team, I believe the results would be the same. For example, I've never heard of a football running back or receiver becoming faster or quicker after he signs a contract. Usually, most athletes are able to maintain the same level of play and then begin to decrease in their ability to perform well. To counteract this, they would have to do specialized strength training. This would be a radical change from what we see taking place on most teams.