Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.
 
At a recent powerlifting clinic, the presenter told the attendees that a certain exercise was “not specific to powerlifting.” What was the implication of that statement? Does it mean the exercise should be avoided?
 
Many experts consider specificity to be the overarching training principle that both defines and confines the remaining principles. I believe this, too. It’s important to understand what exercises have the most positive transfer to your chosen sport or goal (as I discussed in this article). At the same time, a lack of obvious specificity is not a reason to avoid an exercise altogether.
 
In fact, many “non-specific” drills can be enormously beneficial, as long as they are properly selected, appropriately timed in the training cycle, and performed at the optimal dose. Let’s take a look at these three criteria.
 

The Finer Points of Specificity

Selection: The degree of specificity, by itself, is not a useful indicator of whether or not a particular exercise will enhance performance. A better way to assess the value of any exercise is to ask whether or not that exercise helps you to address a specific training need, such as relative muscle weakness, speed-strength, postural alignment, injury-proofing, or core strength-endurance, just to name a few.
 
In other words, the exercises you select should be specific to your physical needs or weak areas, not necessarily the ultimate competitive goal. To use the sport of weightlifting as an example, exercises like hip thrusts, kettlebell swings, and pull ups can be good choices to improve the body's mechanical function, even though they aren’t specific to the snatch or clean and jerk.
 
Timing: This is probably the most important consideration when it comes to placement of “non-specific” exercises. As a rule, the closer you get to competition day, the more specific to your ultimate competitive objective your training should be. That’s not to say that a distance runner shouldn’t be doing non-specific work like lifting weights when he’s three weeks away from a race, but it does mean he should be doing much less of it than he might do when he’s sixteen weeks away from competition.
 
Dose: Exercise dosage is closely tied to timing, and refers to the volume of a given exercise within a workout or training phase. During the off-season, highly specific drills are reduced to maintenance volumes while less specific, foundational attributes and skills are being developed. Conversely, non-specific drills are done less frequently in season. For instance, a cyclist in the offseason may include a large dose of single-leg strength exercises. But by the spring race season, those will have largely given way to on-bike training.
 
cable pec flies
An exercise can be considered specific to you based on your needs, even if it doesn't seem specific to your sport.
 

Applying the Principles of Specificity

The selection of any exercise depends on how it contributes to the goals of your current training cycle. If it targets an area of weakness that’s constraining your overall performance, it can be considered specific in the sense that it’s addressing a hole in your game.
 
Let's say you are a shoulder/tricep dominant powerlifter with relatively weak pectoral muscles. By any definition, cable crossovers aren’t terribly specific to the bench press event in powerlifting. But if we apply the principles we discussed above, their specificity for you emerges:
 
  • Selection: Crossovers contribute to greater pectoral size and strength, which positively contribute to bench press performance.
  • Timing: This exercise would be particularly appropriate during a hypertrophy phase, which is never close to a competition.
  • Dose: The volume can be relatively high compared to specific bench press work during this phase.
 
Bottom Line: Specificity requires context. Just because something isn’t specific to your competition day goal doesn’t mean it has no utility for you.

This Week’s Training:

Volume: 97,129lb (Last Week: 68,887lb)
 
I’m back to high reps this week, for what I anticipate to be a five-week cycle. I’ve deliberately chosen a handful of less familiar (or totally unfamiliar) exercises for increased novelty:
 
  • Safety Squats: This movement allows me to attain the best combination of depth and upright posture of any type of squat (except perhaps goblet squats, which are difficult to load).
  • Leg Press: I’m maintaining my lordotic arch and spreading my knees on the descent for maximum range of motion.
  • Trap Bar: If you watch the video below, you’ll see I’m managing much more leg drive than I typically do on barbell pulls.
  • Hammer Machines: These feel uncomfortable and awkward, but also difficult, so I’m prepared to give them a fair shot for five weeks.
  • Machine Bench Press: Even 50lb for sets of 8 was very difficult for me. If you’ve got one of these in your gym, take it for a spin. I think you’ll be surprised.
  • Leg Press Calf Raise: Not liking the feel of these, to be honest, but we’ll see if I warm up to them.
 
Overall I felt very strong this week, and well-recovered at the end of the week. Thanks for stopping by, and if you’ve got thoughts about this week’s article, please chime in below.
Monday, February 29, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 202.2lb
Volume: 27,235lb
 
Goblet Squat
  • Set 1: 30lb × 10
  • Set 2: 60lb × 10
  • Set 3: 60lb × 10
 
Safety Squat
  • Set 1: 65lb × 10
  • Set 2: 115lb × 6
  • Set 3: 160lb × 10
  • Set 4: 160lb × 10
  • Set 5: 160lb × 10
  • Set 6: 160lb × 10 (Video Below)
 

 

Leg Press

  • Set 1: 90lb × 10
  • Set 2: 180lb × 8
  • Set 3: 270lb × 6
  • Set 4: 335lb × 10
  • Set 5: 335lb × 10
 
Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Set 1: 135lb × 10
  • Set 2: 225lb × 5
  • Set 3: 270lb × 5
  • Set 4: 270lb × 5
 
Seated Calf Raise
  • Set 1: 90lb × 8
  • Set 2: 90lb × 8
  • Set 3: 90lb × 8
 
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 200lb
Volume: 23,305lb
 
Bench Press
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 180lb × 10
  • Set 5: 180lb × 10
  • Set 6: 180lb × 10
  • Set 7: 180lb × 10
 
Chin Up
  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: +10lb × 7
  • Set 3: +10lb × 7
 
Hammer Iso-Lateral Incline press
  • Set 1: 90lb × 10
  • Set 2: 145lb × 7
  • Set 3: 145lb × 7
  • Set 4: 145lb × 7
 
Hammer Iso-Lateral Shoulder Press
  • Set 1: 50lb × 10
  • Set 2: 90lb × 10
  • Set 3: 90lb × 10
  • Set 4: 90lb × 10
 
Dual Cable Low Cable Curl
  • Set 1: 100lb × 10
  • Set 2: 100lb × 10
  • Set 3: 100lb × 10
 
Thursday, March 3, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 201.2lb
Volume: 33,989lb
 
Goblet Squat
  • Set 1: 30lb × 10
  • Set 2: 30lb × 10
  • Set 3: 30lb × 10
 
Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Set 1: 135lb × 10
  • Set 2: 185lb × 8
  • Set 3: 225lb × 6
  • Set 4: 275lb × 4
  • Set 5: 315lb × 8
  • Set 6: 315lb × 10 (Video Below)
  • Set 7: 315lb × 8
  • Set 8: 315lb × 8
 

 

Hack Squat
  • Set 1: 90lb × 8
  • Set 2: 140lb × 8
  • Set 3: 190lb × 8
  • Set 4: 190lb × 8
  • Set 5: 190lb × 8
 
45° Back Extension
  • Set 1: +130lb × 8
  • Set 2: +130lb × 8
 
Leg Press Calf Raise
  • Set 1: 180lb × 10
  • Set 2: 180lb × 10
  • Set 3: 180lb × 10
 
Friday, March 4, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 200.2lb
Volume: 12,600lb
 
Seated Row
  • Set 1: 140lb × 8
  • Set 2: 165lb × 8
  • Set 3: 165lb × 8
 
Bench Press (Dumbbell)
  • Set 1: 100lb × 10
  • Set 2: 140lb × 8
  • Set 3: 170lb × 8
  • Set 4: 170lb × 8
 
Chest Press Machine 
  • Set 1: 50lb × 8
  • Set 2: 50lb × 8
 
Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
  • Set 1: 60lb × 8
  • Set 2: 70lb × 8
  • Set 3: 70lb × 8
 
Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)
  • Set 1: 60lb × 8
  • Set 2: 70lb × 8
  • Set 3: 70lb × 8
 
More Foundational Training Principles:
 
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
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