Specificity – curse and key
We have all heard about the 10 000 hours principle (or myth, but that is a topic for a different post), that you will get really good at something by doing 10 000 hours of it. But does this mean that you only should do one thing, or can you be too specific?
One of the most fundamental facts when it comes to get better at something is the SAID-principle. SAID is short for the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands, i.e. your body will be better at doing the things that you do often. This principle is quite easy to understand, everyone knows that to become really good at something you have to practice – a lot. This has implications when it comes to complex sports like snowboarding where the off snow-training doesn’t resemble snowboarding at all. So is it even beneficial to enter the gym if you want to get better at a complex sport? And should you try to make your gym training more “snowboard like”? I will try to answer these questions and give you my views on sport specific training and tell you why I think some coaches has gotten this wrong.
Do we need to go to the gym?
Some sports require less variation in training and you can focus on sport specific training. That is if you get enough variation within the sport to train all the qualities required of the sport, in a safe way.
In some sports you can easily monitor the compiled workload over time and adjust the training intensity so that you maximize performance and minimize injuries. These are closed sports, for example weight lifting or power lifting, where you always know the conditions beforehand and you easily can adjust the load on the bar, even between sets.
Some sports doesn’t put a lot of strain on structures in the body and can be done in higher volumes without increasing the risk of injury, for example swimming, cross country skiing or cycling.
The gym is a great place to go to if you want to get stronger with minimal risk of injuries. Contrary to popular beliefs lifting heavy isn’t linked to injury proneness if it’s done right, with good technique and proper programming you can get great results without risking your career. So if the sport you’re doing demands you to be stronger (for example to stick a landing) it’s safer and more beneficial to go to the gym and get stronger legs than it is to try to stick that landing until you’re strong enough.
The gym is also a great place to go to work on stuff that you don’t get to do in your sport specific training. For example if you’re a golfer you always swing in the same direction and therefore you get different training on both sides of your body, if you swing left you get twisted a bit to the left. To compensate for the golfing it can be beneficial to even out the strength in your body to be even on both sides, since too much discrepancy could lead to pain and injuries.
So, do snowboarders need to go to the gym? -Yes and no.
If you can vary your training and workload on snow and progressively work your way up to bigger jumps and more intensity in your training both regular and goofy, in a structured way to minimize risk of injury. Sure, then you probably can do without the gym and any off snow training. But who rides like that?
So yes, you probably could do with some strength training before you hit the big jumps.
And here a lot of people point to skaters doing just skateboarding and being fine with it. And I have to claim that skateboarding is not snowboarding and that it isn’t as important for skaters to go to the gym as it is for snowboarders and here’s why: Skateboarding has a built in progression that snowboarding doesn’t because skateboarding is harder. In skateboarding you can’t go from ollieing a curb to ollieing eleven steps of stairs, hell, you probably can’t go from ollieing a curb to ollieing two steps of stairs without a lot of practice. So for each step you learn to ollie you have to do a lot of repetitions on the level you’re at, thus getting a lot of sport specific strength without overloading. And this is the key. In snowboarding, all you have to do to go from a small jump to a big jump is to get more speed, more or less. This means that you, in a matter of minutes, can expose your body to forces much higher than it ever has experienced and never gotten the time to get strong enough to handle. So yes, go to the gym snowboarder person.
What to do and what not to do, in the gym.
Getting back to the SAID-principle. If you want to get a little bit deeper into the implications of the SAID-principle it states that qualities aren’t always fluid in the way that getting better at one thing automatically makes you better at another. For example there is a correlation between leg strength and vertical jump height but just working on your squat max or leg press max doesn’t necessarily give you a better vertical jump. That’s because you haven’t been training on implementing your newly gained leg strength in the movement and speed that is a vertical jump. To get vertical jump gains you need to specifically work on the vertical jump movement and do so close to the speed that you will use when you tet your vertical jump.
With this in mind it’s easy to think that your strength training should aim to mimic the sport you’re training for as much as possible. And here is where I think some coaches takes specificity to unnecessary excess and makes strength training too complicated to get good gains.
In my mind we should, through knowing the sports demands, work on getting strong in movements necessary in the sport. We should also train our muscles in the contraction time most important to the sport. For example: Is it more important that your muscles have good endurance for repeated sprints or is it more important to be able to exert or withstand a maximal force in a minimal timeframe?
This doesn’t mean that we should get our snowboards in to the gym and start doing some circusy exercises that means you can’t put on any load due to instability. A lot of coaches uses balance balls and unstable materials to work on stability, first and foremost foot and knee stability. And they have their athletes standing on those until they are tired and learn to hold their balance. The problem is that when they really need that “stability” in their sport isn’t when you try to hold your balance on an unstable ground but in a change of direction or in a fall or in a battle with an opponent. And there you don’t have the time to find your balance and the forces are multitudes higher than those you will get on the balance ball. So maybe a better use of time would have been jumps, changes in direction, and squats with focus on speed to really strengthen the muscles instead of balancing like a circus elephant.
Don’t get me wrong, balance balls and their likes do have their place in sports, but then in rehab and not in sport preparatory strength training.
Specificity tips and tricks
The first thing to do is to analyze your sport. What forces do you face? Do you have to have endurance, stamina or maximal strength? What movements are key to the sport?
The second thing to do is to find your strengths and weaknesses within the sport. Do you have to be stronger, more agile, faster or have better stamina?
Once you have done this you can start to choose exercises to strengthen those specific qualities you want to work on.Off snow it’s a matter of good periodization and priority. Favor the training that trains the qualities you want to be better at and put the rest of your training on maintenance. If you want to get stronger legs, put an emphasis on a squat program and do less cardio. Remember the SAID principle, your body adapts to the demands it is presented with. You have to focus your effort where it matters.
When you have the opportunity to snowboard I of course think that you should snowboard as much as physically possible. This is the most sport specific training you could do and you have to train the qualities you want to better so…Furthermore if you try to stuff a lot of strength and endurance training in to the season when you snowboard the most, you probably will end upp either injured or exhausted due to overloading and lack of time for recovery. The training you do during the season should be aimed at either variety, recovery or light technique work.
Remember that you train to snowboard, not the other way around!