When getting ready for any athletic season, (cycling, running, football, baseball, etc) there should be a method to the madness of developing your practice/training schedule. What every athlete/coach should understand is the principle of specificity and what it means. To put it in the simplest terms, if you want to get better at one thing, then you train that discipline. While it seems like common sense, athletes often get lost in this simple idea and look to do too much.
Train Specifically for Your discipline
Again, if you want to get better at something, then you must train for it. To put this into an example, if a cyclist wants to get faster at riding a bike, then they should be riding their bike. This athlete may get into trouble like many do by thinking they will get faster by being in the weight room or out on the XC ski track. While each of these do have benefits in different ways, the absolute best way to get faster on the bike for this athlete is to ride the bike.
Now, once you get into the sport itself, then any cyclist will tell you that its just as important to be specific to their event as it is their sport. A great example of this would be a sprinter who puts out 100% energy for 15 seconds vs a time trialist who puts out 100% effort for 60 minutes. Sure there can be some benefit every now and then for a time trialist to do sprints or vice versa, but the overall structure of their training should follow what their goals are within the sport.
Periodization of Specifics
Part of the principle of specificity is that you should start basic and get more specific as the season ramps up. This is a great topic to discuss because it shows that a base level of fitness is key to overall success, and that the entire year doesn’t need to be specialized in any athletes discipline. For athletes, this is normally where the cross-training style of workouts come in. So for a summer baseball player they may play football in the fall, or for a competitive runner they may mix in swimming/cycling to maintain fitness but not be overly specific during their low points of the year.
This portion of the year (base fitness) is important for the overall process because it will build the athletes generalized fitness but also not put too much wear and tear physically or mentally on the athletes specific muscles/focus for season events. The main purpose of this base fitness phase is only to get to the pre-season with enough fitness that they can peak in-season when they go into their specific training.
As you progress into the season, this is where the specifics needs to ramp up and you need to train your body for the actions required. If you are a 4km pursuit cyclist on the track, then you need to be putting in some hard efforts that simulate 4km intensity. If you are training for an Ironman, then you need to put in some long volume to build muscular endurance. The best thing you can do is break down what the race/event will demand and start to structure your training in the same way.
Once the season is over, you will enter your off-season. This is the time when the body should be given rest and your need to recover. While you are recovering from your specifics though, you can still maintain some base fitness and this is often where athletes will get back in the weight room. This time away from specifics can be great for the mind and body and allow you to slowly get back into your base training mode.
Weight Lifting and Its Purpose
Its important to understand what weight lifting is on a basic level. Weight Lifting is a form of anaerobic training used to increase muscle mass/power/endurance. Often times I hear endurance athletes speaking on how they are going to get into the weight room and improve their cycling/running performances the next year. While they may in fact improve their performances, it may not be for the reasons they actually think. What weight lifting will do for an endurance athlete is balance their muscles which helps in injury prevention. To put this in other words, the only way your squat/leg press gains are going to help your cycling/running is if you’re an anaerobic athlete in these disciplines (100-400 meter sprinter, track sprinter). Even then, this would be the most basic form of your season and you would go into your specific training later on before your event. Weight lifting is naturally an anaerobic exercise and endurance events are all aerobic in nature.
This being said, endurance athletes need to understand that they can get in the weight room in the off-season to re-balance muscles and help with injury prevention, but our goal isn’t to build your squat or bench press to olympic levels… its simply to help re-balance your muscles so we can train hard again without an injury due to muscular imbalance.
There are many people out there that are simply seeking general health and fitness. They want to look good and feel good about themselves which is a great thing for many. This blog doesn’t talk about these individuals because general wellness and high level athletics using specificity of training is completely different. As an athlete seeking high level athletic performance, the best thing you can understand is the principle of specificity. While it seems so simple on the surface, often times athletes/coaches disregard it and end up missing improvements from year to year. The best way you can get better at your discipline is by training it specifically. Remember to go from general to specific as the year progresses and you’ll start to have better performances than you’ve ever had in the past.
To hear more on the topic, tune in Wednesday as Jeremy Brown of Mind Right Multisport and I discuss the blog each week. Links can be found on the Mind Right or Dalzell Coaching Facebook page.
For questions or comments reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org