The transference of strength can be a controversial subject for a few, and for others it’s a part of their philosophy. Specificity within training means that if you want to get better at running you should run more, which is absolutely true when you are preparing for a competition. This is where the American Weightlifters have that method down. But the American Weightlifters are diehard specificity followers and fail to take advantage of many other types, methods and means of strength training. This may be because, someone, somewhere hinted that training other than the high bar back squat and front squat wouldn’t transfer to Weightlifting.
This idea caught an enormous amount of momentum and those who heard this took off and ran with it. Let’s use the squat as an example, we all know that squatting is hip dominant so let's take a look at 3 common squat variances. The front squat exactly resembles standing up a clean which the knee is more flexed than the hip meaning the quadriceps are more engaged than in a low bar back squat.
Next the high bar back squat is just slightly more hip dominant than the front squat having more of the load to the posterior chain in the hamstrings and the glutes. Finally the low bar back squat is almost completely hip dominant meaning the knee angle barley breaks 90 degrees putting almost all stress on the posterior chain with increased use the glutes hams and low back.
All three of these are squats so how could the first two be considered to transfer to Weightlifting while the final low bar back squat not transfer? The low bar back squat allows you to overload the posterior chain stressing more of the glutes and hams and much less on the quads, resulting in a stronger hamstrings, glutes, and low back. Now think of the muscles used in ripping weight off the ground and getting into triple extension….Hamstrings, glutes, low back.
The free body diagram at the top of the article does a great job breaking down the movement arms of all three squats described above. Efficiency is measured in amount of torque being applied to the bar which is calculated by Torque=(mass)(gravity)(distance)(back angle). Even though the front squat replicates the standing up of the clean, the low bar squat is optimal for strength due to the fact you can load the most weight on the bar.
More weight=more force applied=increased neurological benefit and higher tensile strength within the muscle fibers.
As coaches, we have a tool box from which we pull from, if we have a small tool box we can’t develop our weightlifters as a whole. In order for our lifters to be well rounded and resilient Weightlifters, they have to be strong as a whole through the vastly different planes of motion, angles and loads to get the most out of training. The majority of the successful American Weightlifters have played sports at a high level and having that huge athletic foundation, they perform better than those without that base.
For example, Wes Kitts played collegiate football and Maddie Rogers was a competitive cheerleader with gymnastics background, and with that they created huge base a motor function and muscular capabilities to pull from. I can promise you a great athlete can be successful in weightlifting, great weightlifters would most likely not make great athletes (or else every heavy weight WL would be playing d line in the NFL). We can't deny the fact that a stronger and faster athlete can lead to more success no matter the discipline they chose.
Stagnation is the enemy when we are strength training and this is the result from a lack of variance of movements and modalities. The best way to prevent adaptation is through variation and using that huge toolbox.
We can't forget about our special single joint exercises that strengthen each joint system. Again this goes back to optimally training. We showed you that the low bar can create the best strength gains as a unit (from increased muscle units). The same theory applies to single joint training. Deadlifts train the lats. This isn’t arguable. But the DB row trains the lats optimally. See what we did there?
I've seen many programs that don't have any single joint exercises in them leading to imbalances and eventually injury. Myself along with most of the Weightlifters I know have some kind of knee pain, shoulder pain, lat and tricep tightness, and hip variability, more than likely resulting from too much specificity of the small derivatives of the clean, jerk and snatch, due to lack of variance and volume. A good morning is one of the best ways to load the posterior chain and is rarely seen in Weightlifting programs, it not only is another variant for hip extension but also core stability.
If we break down the snatch and clean and Jerk the most common breakdown is the upper mid back curling over or a break in the shoulder from the traps, spinal erectors and lats. We can do pause pulls from the top to the bottom of the pull and for as long as we’d like, but the optimal way to train a muscle group is from special specific exercises like bent rows, pull ups, good mornings and reverse hypers, shrugs, and elbow extension. The best way to train is optimally so why not train those muscles optimally? We should have those as staples in our programming.
Again, the best way to train is efficiently, and optimally, in order to get the maximal results from training. This is very important if you have decided to specialize and will be training for one goal over a long period of time. Our main principle that I train my weightlifters to believe in, is that strength in fact does transfer across different training techniques, it is not only efficient but therapeutic for the body and mind. Training differently through cycles helps you target any weaknesses and combats those imbalances.
All this put together can keep an athlete mentally focused for longer, build resilience and eradicate imbalances caused by specific training modalities.