Exercise Specificity

In the past, exercise specificity was often based on a functional anatomical analysis

(chapter 3) of the movement of interest. Exercises were selected that supposedly trained the muscles hypothesized to contribute to the movement. We saw in chapters 3 and 4 that biomechanics research has demonstrated that this approach to identifying muscle actions often results in incorrect assumptions. This makes biomechani-cal research on exercise critical to the strength and conditioning field. The strength and conditioning professional can also subjectively compare the principles of biomechanics in the exercise and the movement of interest to examine the potential specificity of training.

Suppose you are a strength and conditioning coach working with the track and field coach at your university to develop a training program for javelin throwers. You search SportDiscus for biomechanical research on the javelin throw and the conditioning literature related to overarm throwing patterns. What biomechanical princi ples are most relevant to helping you qualitatively analyze the javelin throw? The technique of a javelin throwing drill is illustrated in Figure 11.3. These principles would then be useful for examining potential exercises that would provide specificity for javelin throwers. Let's see how the principles of biomechanics can help you decide which exercise to emphasize more in the conditioning program: the bench press or pullovers. We will be limiting our discussion to technique specificity.

The principles most relevant to the javelin throw are Optimal Projection, Inertia, Range of Motion, Force-Motion, Force-Time, Segmental Interaction, and Coordination Continuum. Athletes throw the javelin by generating linear momentum (using Inertia) with an approach that is transferred up the body in a sequential overarm throwing pattern. These principles can be used in the qualitative analysis of the throwing performances of the athletes by coaches, while the strength and conditioning professional is interested in training to improve performance and prevent injury. The fast approach (Range of Motion) and foul line rules make the event very hard on the support limb, which must stop and transfer the forward momentum to the trunk (Morriss, Bartlett, & Navarro, 2001). This Segmental Interaction using energy from the whole body focuses large forces (Force-Motion) in the upper extremity. The size and weight of the javelin also contribute to the high stresses on the shoulder and elbow joints. While some elastic cord exercises could be designed to train the athlete to push in the direction of the throw (Optimal Projection), this section will focus

Figure 11.3. Typical technique for the javelin throw drill.

on the specificity of two exercises: the bench press and pullovers. Space does not permit a discussion of other specificity issues, like eccentric training for the plant foot or training for trunk stability.

For specificity of training, the exercises prescribed should match these principles and focus on muscles that contribute (Force-Motion) to the joint motions (Range of Motion), and those which might help stabilize the body to prevent injury. While much of the energy to throw a javelin is transferred up the trunk and upper arm, a major contributor to shoulder horizontal adduction in overarm patterns is likely to be the pectoralis major of the throwing arm. The question then becomes: which exercises most closely match Range of Motion and Coordination in the javelin throw? Matching the speed of movement and determining appropriate resistances are also specificity issues that biomechanics would help inform.

Biomechanical research on the javelin can then help select the exercise and customize it to match pectoralis major function during the event. EMG and kinetic studies can be used to document the temporal location and size of muscular demands. Kinematic research help identify the shoulder range and speed of shoulder motion in the javelin throw. A good strength and conditioning coach would review this research on the javelin throw with the track coach (Bartlett & Best, 1988; Bartlett et al., 1996).

If the bench press and pullover exercise techniques remain in their traditional (supine) body position and joint ranges of motion, the bench press may provide the most activity-specific training for the javelin throw. The bench press typically has the shoulder in 90° of abduction, matching its position in the javelin throw. The bench press could be performed (assuming adequate spotting and safety equipment) with a fast speed to mimic the SSC of the javelin throw. This would also mimic the muscle actions and rate of force development (Force-Time). Even greater sport specificity may be achieved by using plyometric bench presses with medicine balls. The ply-ometric power system (Wilson et al., 1993) is a specialized piece of equipment that would also allow for dynamic bench press throws.

Pullovers often have greater shoulder abduction that is unlike the range of motion in the event. Pullovers also have a range of motion that requires greater scapular upward rotation and shoulder extension, which tends to compress the supraspinatus below the acromion process of the scapula. Athletes in repetitive overarm sports often suffer from this impingement syndrome, so pullovers may be a less safe training exercise than the bench press.

The other training goal that is also related to movement specificity is prevention of injury. What muscles appear to play more isometric roles in stabilizing the lower extremity, the shoulder, and elbow? What research aside from javelin studies could be used to prescribe exercises that stabilize vulnerable joints? What muscles are likely to have eccentric actions to "put on the brakes" after release? What exercises or movements are best for training to reduce the risk of injury? Why might training the latissimus dorsi potentially contribute to the performance and injury prevention goals of training for the javelin throw?

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