Specialization of Means

In the beginning stages of athletic development the training allows for improvement of the entire foundation. As the athlete becomes advanced the foundation sharply narrows and must become concentrated. This is why specialization must occur as athletes advance but not prior to a high level of development. Specialization too soon eliminates creating a large motor pool of athletic skills and consequently shrinks that foundation. A weak or small foundation gives little to build upon. Large motor pools allow athletes to pull from many avenues of motor skills to complete a task where a specialized athlete with little motor skill availability will falter in a complex movements that challenge the system. Early specialized athletes are often great when young and get passed up easily as they mature. Using specialized means too early leaves an athlete with nowhere to progress and results cease to improve while others around them are now on the upswing.

The higher the level of the athlete, the less generalized means that can be used and more specific training must become. Results early on can come from a variety of exercises, movements, etc. but as progress slows, training must become more specific to the dynamics of the sport movement. That often limits the amount of exercises that can be used as well. Skill specific activities like pitching, and swinging require high amounts of explosive muscular contractions. The harder an athlete throws, the less generalized means can be used to raise results. The same goes for a sprinter, high jumper, thrower, etc. What once worked, without fail, will soon become completely ineffective. Taking a very novice athlete and having them perform walking lunges for a quarter mile will raise their squat max, deadlift max, and most likely improve their sporting results as well. Take the same athlete a decade later when they are at the top 1% of the sport and they will soon be out of a job.

With increasing results come decreasing number of means and a much more difficult path to greater performance. With less means available to utilize, higher intensity must be a priority. When athletes are at all out maximums greater fatigue results. These all out sessions must result in restoration of the athlete’s CNS. Sometimes, restoration make take 2 days in other cases more. Charlie Francis often spoke of Ben Johnson requiring 2+ weeks to fully recover from World Record type efforts in training. The higher the level of the athlete in a speed, power sport, the more nervous system involvement.

In the Eastern Bloc, depth drops/jumps were considered one of the most powerful pieces to the training puzzle. They are incredibly nervous system intensive and were resigned only for high level athletes often as a final block to put speed-strength over the top. I often see depth jumps being used callously with kids all the time. If these were one of the most powerful movements relegated for use by Olympic level athletes, why on earth would we exhaust an early teenager’s ability to use these in the future? Exhausting powerful means early in an athlete’s development leaves us with little to progress the training intensity.

General training produces results to a point. At that point where stagnation begins to occur, more specialized means must be implemented and the focus must narrow. Understand that the training process takes years, and even decades. The process is something that truly can’t be rushed. Parents think, “Ok, my 12 year old has stopped progressing and now we need to really specialize him.” Don’t rush results. In the end results will actually suffer when advanced too quickly. The ceiling of development will be lowered. We must exhaust the lowest intensity resources first before moving on to more powerful means.