In the fitness industry, there’s no shortage of avenues to travel down. Whether you fall in the category of a powerlifter, Olympic lifter, or collegiate athlete, every adaptation you make comes with a cost. A powerlifter who’s peaking for a meet will likely resemble a penguin the way they walk. Explosive athletes like Olympic lifters and athletes are simply more prone to injury due to the nature of their sports. A while back, I sat down with Chi Bang to have a conversation about athletes of all kinds, the adaptations they make to get better at their respective sports, and why it’s a good idea for most people to keep their movement portfolio as diverse as possible.
The Fault in Specialization Training
Chi: Specialization is good in the respect that you are going to get good at a singular movement pattern and you can get stronger faster, but just in that one pattern. But as we know, the human body moves in so many different patterns. We’re supposed to be able to do a whole bunch of stuff like hang, climb, jump, crawl, and all these different directions.
If you only move in one direction, you’re creating imbalances and weaknesses in other movement patterns that your body should do. If you don’t train in a more diverse approach, you’ll end up with a body that is more susceptible to injury when faced with this sort of stuff. So if you don’t train moving laterally, and then you’re faced with this challenge when you’re out playing a sport and suddenly tear an ACL, you realize that you may be doing yourself a disservice by specializing in one thing.
I don’t think specialization is a bad thing, but I think over-specialization can be limiting; especially early on in the developmental stage of youth. I think anybody, before they go to college, if they have started to specialize too early, it can be a massive disservice to anybody in any sport.
If you think back on the greatest athletes of all time, most of them played multiple sports in their past. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders both played multiple professional sports.
By exposing yourself to the demands of these other sports, small, incremental changes are made both physically and neurologically. And if you look at it from a level playing field across all of these professional athletes who are similarly gifted; their exposure to different sports is probably what separates mediocre pro athletes from the greats.
When Tiger Woods showed up at the top of golf, nobody else was really strength training for the sport. Same thing with the Williams sisters. And back to Kobe, his background in soccer developed his footwork so well in his youth, which can carry over into basketball.
Me: Let’s look at football too, for example. How much of an athlete do you need to be for each position? For example, a linebacker just has to be able to hold his ground for roughly 5-10 seconds at a time against another huge man.
Of course, they are athletic, but in comparison to a receiver who has to sprint downfield, be able to cut, jump, and twist, they barely have to do anything.
Last year, I listened to Pat Davidson talk about how at a conference, they were discussing the rate of adductor strains and tears among pro athletes. People treated it as somewhat of a “black box”, in that nobody knew what was causing this issue. His thoughts were that more frontal plane, eccentrically loaded adductor work would help a lot of these guys, due to the demands of the sport.
Chi: Look at Cressey’s too. They mostly work with baseball players and shoulders. If you look at their articles, they’re finding a lot of value in a lot of antagonist work. And it’s not just about the shoulder itself, but the rest of the body as well.
Me: Right, and when it comes to baseball players now, coaches are finding a lot of value in addressing the hip just as much of the shoulder.
If a hip doesn’t have the ability to get full internal and external rotation in a pitch, it can lead to shoulders also not being able to follow through as well. If that happens while you’re rotating at high speeds, bad things are probably going to happen.
Chi: And if you look at the pitchers who last the longest, guys like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettit. Both of those guys had huge legs. Plus they had that long stride, so they had great hip mobility and flexibility as well.
Me: Looking at athletes too, it’s just the norm to see them in a more extended position on a daily basis because of their athletic demands. If you can just train them in the opposite direction, toward more of a flexion bias in a lot of exercises in an off-season, they will probably both feel better and see fewer injuries in the long-run.
Chi: So, in conclusion. Was your body made to move in one specific way? No, the answer is no.
That’s why you need to really diversify the way that you move. We’re meant to run, hang, climb, crawl, and other stuff. If you can’t move in a certain plane, especially under load, you’re probably going to hurt yourself.