Written by: Kevin Cann
This trend of hyper-specificity is a bit concerning because it is moving the sport backwards in our general knowledge of how strength is developed. I do feel a lack of education is a major problem. In places like Russia, their coaches are also sports scientists. Here it is just someone with an Instagram account that wants to do it. They tend to be good at Instagram, or maybe they are a personal trainer with a marketing degree, so they get followers because what they say is at least logical. This just creates a lot of noise on the internet and good information gets lost in it.
Because this logic matches with ignorance, the simplicity of the process runs wild. Specificity in powerlifting is not just performing the big 3 lifts the way you would in competition while varying volumes and intensities. Specificity is a sensory-motor experience. The body doesn’t see the movement like you do when you watch your videos. It is a subconscious experience where the body experiences forces placed upon it. The muscles, brain, and spinal cord communicate in a two-way conversation and adapt appropriately.
The stronger that a muscle is, the greater the signal strength between that muscle and the brain and spinal cord. If a muscle becomes injured, or is weaker, there is a more diluted signal, and the brain cannot trust that muscle under certain conditions. In this case the brain will alter movement in a way that it finds best. This makes accessory work specific.
This also means that where you are weak in a lift, will remain the weak area under more highly coordinated movements. Repeating the same movement over and over will only engrain that weakness in deeper. Alterations in body size can help as it alters the force posture curve. As people gain weight and build muscle angles of the lifts are changing. Once the body settles on a shape, progress can become very difficult to obtain using a hyper-specific program unless the person has the leverages that make them better at the sport than most as these leverages can often bypass weaker areas. For example, locking out deadlift at your knees requires less lower back than if you lock them out by your hips.
In the latter, forces are much greater through the system. The lifts themselves are not measures of strength, but measures of how much you can squat, bench, and deadlift. If my femur is 20 inches, the difference between locking it out at my knees and hips is extreme. Let us say it ads 12 inches to the range of motion. Not many people are doing 12-inch deficits, but you can imagine what that feels like now.
Forces are felt from the start of the squat and bench press. This is where the communication between muscles and nervous system begins. Using bands and chains that overload the top sends a message to the nervous system that it needs a strong concentric contraction to overcome those forces.
Bands create more speed on the way down. The body is used to dealing with gravitational forces, but when the speeds are increased, this too will send a strong message to the nervous system that it needs a strong contraction to overcome those speeds. In a way, bands are increasing the gravitational forces that we need to overcome in the squat and bench press. This is specific to the sport and another means of progressive overload. Gravity isn’t just weight but pulls objects towards the center of the earth at 9.8m/s.
The body will adapt the environment in which it is placed. It wants to dominate the environment, but it also wants to conserve energy. This is important for a couple of reasons. For one, you need to vary the movement up for the brain to give a lot of energy to it. If it learns that it needs to do this movement in a bunch of ways, higher levels of coordination are developed. If you see massive drops when you change bars, stances, or use bands, the level of coordination within your lifts is very low.
The body also uses the elastic properties of the connective tissue to conserve energy. The eccentric contraction of muscle is utilized to absorb force and then release the elastic energy in the opposite direction. Since it is the external forces being absorbed and then released 9Newton’s laws) we are not using any energy for it. It also will put the muscle in a more optimal position to contract with greater force. The better our abilities to absorb force and release it in the opposite direction, the less energy it takes to complete a lift which is big on meet day, and the easier we make it on muscles that we continuously make stronger.
Again, bands are extremely important for developing this skill. Kinetic energy is increased by greater levels with an increase of speed over weight. Bands having the overspeed eccentrics forces us to absorb more eternal force that can then be released in the opposite direction. This requires the nervus system to adapt to an environment where gravity is faster. This will build thicker tendons and a greater capacity to use the elastic properties of muscles. Remember that the body wants to conc=serve energy and this is how it does it in an environment where gravity is faster than 9.8m/s.
Box squats brig in a different component with forces. There is a collision between the box and the hamstrings and glutes. This collision creates tissue deformation which the nervous system senses and develops a response of a greater contraction. The greater the deformation, the greater the contraction. The lifter must also overcome the downward forces upon that collision which will be greater than without it.
Think of a car accident with someone not wearing a seatbelt. The car comes to an abrupt stop, but the person keeps going. When the collision occurs on the box, the bar keeps moving down. This requires our backs and abs to maintain posture under greater forces. Bands again add more to this due to the increase in speeds. Think of an accident at 20mph vs 40mph vs 60mph.
Varying up the angles of the lifts will constantly change the force posture curve. Peak forces occur at the angle where we have the least leverage. Changing this can allow one area to recover while another is stressed allowing us to train the max effort method every week. It also tells the brain that it can’t get comfortable and needs to spend the energy on developing higher levels of coordination because it needs to be strong squatting in many different ways. Variation also gets the attention network firing where learning happens. Efficiency is created by repetition which then becomes habit. This occurs at lower levels.
Conjugate gets viewed as being outdated and not scientifically backed by this group of ignorant coaches and lifters. The scientific literature was incredibly strong in the 1970s and has only grown stronger as neuroscience has begun looking more into skill acquisition. This requires a strong intellectual base to understand the concepts, and the vast majority is lacking that knowledge.
A 6-week study of beginners performing comp lifts to failure and comparing it to ones that are further from failure has nothing to do with conjugate. That is looking at two methods of programming hyper-specificity for beginners. Bands need to be setup appropriately and the tension needs to be adequate to have the desired effects. We are altering forces. This is no different than having the right weight on the bar. If the bands become loose at the bottom, speed is 9.8m/s. No shit it doesn’t work when compared to straight weight because it is being compared to less straight weight at that point because speeds are the same.
The coach is setting up a force playground for the lifter. This requires a lot more than some RPEs and comp lifts and some comments on a video.