THIS WEEK, DONEGAL GAA’S Strength & Conditioning Coach Declan Gallagher steps in for Dermot Simpson to discuss ‘Specificity’.
A popular training approach, known as ‘Specificity’, is performing ‘general’ training in the pre-season and early in-season before moving towards ‘specific’ training as important matches or events come nearer.
General training or General Physical Preparedness (GPP) is focused on increasing your work capacity, strengthening areas that were neglected during the previous season and preparing you for more specific training later in the season.
General training, depending on your sport, typically includes aerobic conditioning, high-rep weight training for increasing muscle size (hypertrophy), gradually moving towards heavier weights for strength/power along with prehab and rehab exercises to strengthen areas before injury or correct areas that are injured.
Dermot Simpson has dealt with the issue here.
Sport specific training or Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) is focused on meeting the exact demands of your sport in terms of movement, energy system (conditioning) and skill.
Training is a pendulum with methodologies going from one extreme to the next. Fifteen years ago the emphasis was on long duration running ranging from 20-90 minutes in length with a possible game at the end. Recent trends in sports training has led to small-sided games (SSGs) being the main conditioning component.
With most things in life, the answer is usually somewhere in the middle.
Some athletes or teams generalise for too long, which will not prepare them for the demands of their sport. In GAA, a game situation may call for player to defend man-to-man for 45 seconds – which can be very physically and mentally draining – whilst the opposition keep ball, get a turn over and transition to attack, sprint up the pitch to counter attack but suddenly get turned over and transition back to defence to defend again.
This is a large amount of specific work in a short space of time, which running 10k for example, will not prepare you for.
Athletes and teams who specialise too early will typically have a lower aerobic base which inhibits their ability to recover within a match thus reducing performance outputs, and inhibit their ability to recover in-between matches reducing their preparedness to perform. They are also more likely to incur overuse injuries and experience mental burnout.
It essentially comes down to the athlete’s ability to recover- during games, between games and between seasons. Athletes these days are not getting sufficient generalised training and receiving too much specialised training leading to breaking down physically and mentally. I see this particularly in youth athletes, they lack movement, strength and general skills and are injuries waiting to happen.
Children used to make up games and play for hours at a time getting an extensive exposure to movement. Now we have schools that will not let children run in the yard. It is no wonder injures are increased so much with this societal degeneration of youth development coupled with early sport specialisation.
I often have to regress these players to the fundamental exercises that you typically see for six to nine-year-olds because it will benefit them in the short and long term. This is a system bred error from governing bodies and ego/educational error in terms of the coaches/athletes themselves. Rant over!
From the 2014 and 2015 NFL drafts, 85 per cent of the athletes chosen were multi-sport issues. These players are the elite of the elite, yet were not brought up playing American football solely. This is a brilliant example of general physical preparation (GPP) from playing different sports and how it can lead to athletic success further down the line.
There are multiple benefits for this approach including athletes practicing a wide array of different movements, developing greater awareness of their body in space, tactical appreciation in other sports etc.
So that leads us to the question:
“Would simply playing my sport prepare me for competition?”
Short answer is no. Playing your sport is the most specific activity you can do and a great option for athletes perceptually and tactically. It overtaxes parts of your body physically and underprepares other areas such as strength, mobility and power.
For example a soccer or Gaelic player may have great stability on their non-kicking leg due to it stabilising them thousands of times through kicking but have significantly less stability on their kicking leg, this can lead to a potential lower body injury when doing activities such as sudden changes of direction.
Sport is asymmetrical and through time these asymmetries can cause problems. A well designed strength and conditioning program tailored to that person and their sport/lifestyle can manage these asymmetries and increase your performance levels.
A recent article from Mark O Sullivan on “Embracing the Adaptive Capacity of our young learners” quoted David Epstein, the author of the Sports Gene:
“In our pursuit of better players we are making better 10-year-olds but not better senior players. The developmental pathway that makes the best 10-year-old isn’t the same one that makes the best 20 year-old”
Concurrent training consists of training multiple qualities (Strength, power, technical, tactical etc.) during the same time of season and even within the same session. You do not get the same peak as you would from training each quality alone but you also do not get the downside of losing qualities when focusing on just one.
This is a great approach for sports needing multiple peak performances throughout a long period of time. Donegal Senior Strength and Conditioning coach Paul Fisher (Twitter @PaulFisher17 and Facebook Paul Fisher) will touch on “specificity” regarding warm up protocols depending on session type in a later article.
So, to finish …
Long term athlete development and in-season training should begin with general training methods and gradually move towards specific training nearer the time of desired peak performance.
Generalised training for too long and specialising too early can both inhibit performance.
For sports needing multiple peak times (GAA, Rugby, Soccer), concurrent training is a great option.
Declan Gallagher (pictured above with clubmate Paddy McGrath after the 2014 Ulster SFC final) is a strength and conditioning coach currently going into his third year with the Donegal senior team having also operated as a performance analyst and GPS analyst.
He has worked for Ulster Rugby and Irish Rugby as a coach and has over a decade’s experience in athletic preparation.
Declan has an Honours Degree in Sport Development and Coaching along with a Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology.