CHANGE THE WEIGHT, CHANGE THE SKILL

Hadeed, J. (June 1, 2001). Sport specific training: The neuromuscular connection. Articles on the Elite Athlete Training Systems' web site. [http://www.eliteathletetraining.com/Articles/Article_4.aspx].

In the world of strength and conditioning there has been a constant attempt to mimic the movements or skills in a sport within the confines of the weight room. The theory behind this is to try to improve a specific sport's skill by adding resistance to the skill in an attempt to illicit a faster, stronger, and/or more efficient movement. For example, the sport of football commonly uses this ideology by implementing high speed movements in the weight room that they believe are similar to the specific movements used in football. For instance, the power clean is used to in an attempt to mimic the specific skill of a lineman exploding out of his stance. These two movements may be similar in appearance, but as far as the "neuromuscular connection", they are vastly different. The "neuromuscular connection" is how the brain and the muscular system communicate. Once a specific skill (exercise) is initiated, the brain begins a specific pattern or "connection" to the involved muscle(s). Then the brain and the muscles store this specific information in the memory drum (commonly referred to as muscle memory). This whole phenomenon is called the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.).

Now let's examine the theory of mimicking specific sport's skills with additional weight in an attempt to enhance performance. For example, let's look at a basketball player trying to improve his/her shooting ability. Let's assume we put him/her at the free throw line with a regulation basketball and have them attempt 10 free throws. Now let's give them a weighted basketball (commonly used in an attempt to improve shooting power) and have them attempt 10 free throws again. What will happen? Chances are, when they shoot with the weighted basketball the ball will fall short of the basket at first, but the shooter eventually adjust to the "new" weight and make their remaining shots. However, if we go back to the regulation ball what will happen? Chances are the first shot will go over the backboard! How is that for improved performance of a sport's skill? What this basketball player just experienced was two completely different (separate) skills. In the world of motor learning/development this is termed a "far transfer of skill." Even though the skill appeared the same, the stimuli were completely different, thus resulting in two different outcomes. So how does one get better at free throws? Practice the specific skill of shooting free throws on a regulation basket with a regulation ball.

It is important to understand that most sport's skills are finely tuned, motor coordinated movements that take several years to master. It is possible to improve on those movements by increasing the strength of the surrounding muscles, which is done with a sensible strength training routine. We cannot improve these skills by adding additional weighted implements without risking the efficiency and specificity of the original skill. Our goal as strength and conditioning coaches is to increase the full body strength of each athlete and enhance the conditioning level specific to the sport being played. We have to separate ourselves from the skill aspect of the sport and just focus only on the strength training and aerobic/anaerobic conditioning. If we can effectively draw that line in the sand, between the field of play and the weight room, there should be no problem between the head coach and conditioning coach.

Therefore, I do not believe in sport specific training in the weight room in regards to improving sports skills. However, I have coined the phrase "metabolic specific training" which defines the type of training that is done to improve an athlete's performance capacity specific to that their sport. Sport specific training is a term that is loosely thrown around and often means both specific sport skill enhancement and specific sport metabolic enhancement. It is my goal to separate the two for a clear division, understanding, and definition of terms.

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