Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sport Specific / functional training

There has been some debate here in the past on "functional training" - e.g. Luke's Carlson's interview here.

Rob from Mountain Athlete has some good comments today:

I have started your 2 weeks of strength training for skiing... pretty cool!!

I would have maybe one recommendation/question. I got an ACL reconstruction about 18 months ago and the quad on which I had surgery is still a little smaller than the other one (on the inside side of the leg). Now, I can do everything I was doing before without even thinking about it, but sometime it feels like something is still not moving right (a lot of "poping" and tendonitis feeling). One exercise that I discover recently is the "pistol" (single legged squat). It is a great exercise for me because it trains each leg separately, it is surprisingly hard and it works a LOT on the balance and the stability of the knee. Furthermore, I found that it improved the way my injured leg is now absorbing the impact after jumping...

Anyway, I think it could be a great exercise to include in your ski workout program... Do you have any thought on this exercise?

Also, if you have any thought on getting the muscle mass of my injured leg back, please let me know?


- A.

I think the pistol exercise is mostly a circus trick .... what I mean by that is it's not strength dependent. Once you "figure it out" balance wise, or through bunches of practice, the athlete can do it. But I question its transferrabilty. In other words, does doing pistols make you good at doing anything other then pistols?

I don't argue that it takes bunches of balance and stability, and I'll have athletes with injuries do single leg squats.... but only if they can't do double leg.

Also, I question the single limb theory in general -- that somehow training single limbs individually increases overall strength.

Finally, I don't believe in training "balance" in the gym using pistols, BOSU balls, foam pads, etc. I feel this is an inefficient use of gym time. First, again, I question the transferability of gym balance skills to the real world.

Skiing balance, in this case, is very sports specific - it's really a technical skill that is most efficiently "practiced" by skiing.

The gym is best used, in my opinion, for strength and conditioning. I want to send my athletes to the slopes strong, with the understanding that their technical skiing skills will be rusty. But if they are strong, they won't need to use those vital first few weeks of ski season just getting in ski shape - they can get right to working on their technical skills. The earlier they can work on their technical skills and wash away the rust, the faster they can begin to improve those skills.... and thus become better skiiers.

Just like the gym is an inefficient place to "practice" technical skills, the ski slope is an inefficent place to "train" strength and conditioning. The best use of the slope is to practice technique.

Add mass to your legs? Lift heavy. Drink 2-3 protein shakes/day.

- Rob


Bryce said...

I think Rob is on point here, but I will say this for the pistol.

I think that it is a good diagnostic tool for assessing problems with hip and ankle mobility. If you are a pretty strong guy who falls over when he tries to do a pistol, I don't think it's that you lack balance. I think the problem is likely that you you have mobility issues in your ankle and your hamstring.

Training the pistol may not give you universally applicable balance, strength, or proprioception. Using the pistol as a diagnostic tool to identify mobility issues, and then as a rehab movement to correct those issues, would in my opinion be a good use of one's time.

I think the same goes for KB overhead squats, snatch grip deadlifts, turkish getups, and a few other exercises. They quickly identify certain mobility issues, and can also be used to correct them. I know that Rob Shaul uses variants of the TGU for this purpose, so I'd imagine he'd agree with me here.

L. Wu said...

Also, skiing is a rare sport that occurs often on two legs--in most other sports, you move mostly on a single leg, jumping and landing and running.

Even if Pistols are merely a demonstration of strength, they are also a useful diagnostic, as the previous poster points out. In a coaching situation, if you put an athlete on an Airex pad and have them do a one-legged squat, you can quickly figure out what is/isn't firing and if they have a mobility / flexibility / soft tissue / etc. issue.

While it is tempting to believe we can isolate muscles and train just those, let's be honest, 99% of the gyms in the world don't have the hardware or training brainiacs to correctly do that... functional training makes it easier for coaches to screen and assess, guiding athletes when they go astray.

Also, don't forget symmetry:

Unilateral training plus the FMS would make it easier to spot these asymmetries earlier rather than later.

L. Wu said...

PS been reading your blog for a while, keep on writing and stirring up a controversial storm =)

I just started blogging at! Check it.

L. Wu said...

Coach Boyle might argue (as has) that "When we stand on one leg, as in a one leg squat, we engage three muscles that we don't use in a two leg squat. I know some will say we use the adductors because the knees move apart in the descent, but this isn't the same. The key to the lateral sub-system is that we engage these additional muscles in their normal role of stabilizers, not as movers."

...which builds on what Gray Cook would say when he talks about training certain muscles as stabilizers not just prime movers.

"My other problem: double leg strength doesn't correlate to single leg strength. I can't tell you how many athletes I've seen that can squat in excess of 500 pounds yet can't do a single leg squat. The reality is that they lack 'functional strength.'"

Based on these arguments, it's not really about balance and stability, but about prime movers vs stabilizers, injury prevention, screening / assessment & managing asymmetry.

Mike T Nelson said...

If the pistol positively transfers to sport is debateable. Try it and see for yourself!

I agree, that we are not trying to become circus freaks and trained seals, so for 95% of athletes, stay the heck off the BOSU, Swiss ball, etc. Balance training is EXTREMELY specific; so doing squats on a BOSU makes you really good at (drum roll)... squats on a BOSU! If the ground moves under you when you are skiing, you have much bigger issues.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

olddude said...

Time to be careful. Anytime we think we are absolutely right we will be wrong. Show me somebody who can do a whole bunch of circus tricks really well and they will also be able to ski well quite quickly. Most of us just need to stick with basics.

L. Wu said...

@olddude, words of wisdom, yes, but what is more basic, a loaded unilateral squat or a loaded bilateral squat?

At least in a sports situation, or in a life situation (running), we are landing with greater-than-bodyweight on a single leg all the time, whereas bilateral squat landings seems more uncommon.

Not that the balance will transfer, and I can't say for sure re: strength, although arguments about prime movers vs stabilizers and muscles vs muscles and ligaments and tendons make some sense to me. That said I haven't looked into the science of unilateral versus bilateral squats re: injury prevention, we just have anecdotes from well-known sports coaches (Mike Boyle) and movement experts (Gray Cook et al.).

Another set of aguments for unilateral leg training:

1) Symmetry / screening
2) Rehab
3) Recruiting stabilizers
4) Reduce spinal load

Some academic research,
"These results indicate that UL and BL are equally effective for early phase improvement of unilateral and bilateral leg strength and power in untrained men and women."

So UL doesn't seem worse for early phase improvement of strength & power for untrained individuals, plus UL seems more self-limiting than BL, in that you can probably BL squat far heavier than you can UL squat/DL, and doing it UL forces you to at least progress through that stage before you hit BL.

I don't know about y'all, but bilateral barbell squats seem more like a circus trick to me than a unilateral bodyweight or kbell squat to me, but then again not everyone probably feels that way =)

Chris said...

The point is - I think - that you need to build strength and then learn to apply it. To build strength you need to find the most effective exercises to overload the muscles. Which is best - a 2 footed weighted squat or a pistol? For most people I'd propose that it is the 2 foot squat.

Then you need to do skill training - balance work, skill movements.

The research all indicates that there is very little transfer - movement skills are very specific.

L. Wu said...

Unilateral squat training pro:

(Reduced lower back load)

Bilateral squat training pro:

Good to know both sides of the argument =)