Should Athletes Train Individual Muscles or Only Sports Movements?
As a trainer, I have to know how to train people from all walks of life. I’ve seen bodybuilders, strength athletes, middle aged men, obese housewives, trained athletes, newbies, weekend warriors, and about 100 other types of people and athletes. No one routine can be designed for everyone.
Even in niches like baseball athletes, strongmen, and Olympic lifters, there is no one-size-fits-all training routine. You can’t take a baseball pitcher and train the pitching motion for 5 hours a day, 7 days a week. It just won’t work. So how do you train athletes that only need a small variety of movements to be successful at their sport?
A long standing myth about training for sports, is that you should only train the common movements for your sport, so that you can get better at those movements. If you know nothing about physiology, kinesiology, or basic physics, then logically that makes sense.
However if you think about how the body really works, you will realize that the body will always find a way to perform any intended movement. Have you ever bench pressed and altered your shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, or foot position in order to eek out that last rep?
Training a specific movement or motion is great to develop a neural pattern for that movement, but does it train your body to perform that movement under extreme exhaustion or stress? In an extreme case your body may attempt to utilize muscles from other parts of your body that are not normally used to perform that movement. If those muscles are not also trained, they will fail and the athlete could be injured or worse.
This is the body’s natural instinct to adapt for survival. There is no natural instinct to throw a football 80 yards or run a sub 5 minute mile. Survival and reproduction is what we are programmed to do, so that is what we must train for. Survival states that if a movement can’t be performed under extreme stress, that the body will attempt to find a way to perform that movement. Therefore we must train all of our muscles to be strong, fast, and powerful in every movement, angle, and pattern possible.
Find and Train Your Weakest Link
Weak point training is a vital component of any trained athlete’s workout routine. You must identify the weakest link in all of your major lifts, especially those that transfer to specific sports moves, and fix the weakness. Once a weakness is fixed, find the next weakness. Trust me when I tell you that there is always a weakest link – some muscle will always give out before the others.
To find the weakest link, look for the most active muscle during the slowest point in your range of motion, or the most active muscle at your common point of failure. For example if you can’t push a bench press off your chest without help, but you can easily lock it out, then your chest is the weak point. If you can press the bar off your chest but you can’t lock it out without help, then your triceps are the weak point.
Similarly, strengthening your back and core can help you overcome a plateau in your overhead press. See how everything fits together now?
Any muscle or joint that is frequently injured or sore, is probably NOT the weakest link. For example you might injur your pec because your triceps are the weakest link. Fix that triceps imbalance and chances are your pec will not be as susceptible to the same injury.
We must train the primary muscles in any action that is important to athletic performance. This means we should be using compound exercises as the basis for our training, and single joint movements to train our weak points. Keep in mind that weak points can not always be overcome by increased or altered training. Sometimes you might need to recruit a doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist, strength coach, or physical therapist to help you determine the best way to fix your weak point.
This rules goes for bodybuilders too. You can’t just train the compound movements. Sometimes you need single-joint exercises to bring up the weakest points in your physique.
Once you improve the function of all of the most important muscles to your sport, you will surely improve performance.