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The Illusion Of Specificity…

The Illusion Of Specificity…

With all the sports performance tests such as the NFL combine along with an array of other specific performance tests for other sports on the training front I decided to dive into a little bit of a different topic today. Oh and in case you don’t know who that is pictured above it is the great Harry Houdini.

Of course, this is assuming that whatever user decided to post this pic didn’t for some strange reason decide to remove it from the internet causing Houdini to disappear from this post. ;-)Anyways, today I want to dive into the topic of specificity as it relates to your training and how at times this concept can cause a bit of an illusion when talking about the art of strength and conditioning.

Specificity: The principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce the desired training effect. 

Illusion: A deceptive appearance or impression. 

I know what you are thinking. So what in the hell does specificity have to do with an illusion or vice versa? Well, believe it or not when talking about sports specific tests such as the NFL combine it’s more relevant than you might think. Before we get into that let’s first take a look at specificity.

Once again you are already familiar with the definition of this from the top of the page. If not then take a second to refresh your short term memory. Ok, good. Now what in the wild wild world of sports does this mean?

You see when looking at getting yourself better at a specific activity you must practice that activity. So if you are looking to get better at swimming then you need to put on those swim trunks and get busy swimming. If you want to get better at running then you need to go out and run. The point is that specificity is about going out and practicing that specific task.

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Now seemingly stating the obvious how does a strength program relate? Well within the spectrum of a related strength and conditioning program the principle cause is to work from going from a more general training approach to a more highly specific training stimulus that is specific to your sport or activity. This is also part of what would be considered a periodization process.

For instance, if you are a runner then to get better at running you must go out and run, however I think that we can all agree that running alone is a very limited way to approach your training. Strength building that is more closely related to benefiting the act of running can also be included to make for a stronger runner. Now I think we can all agree that a stronger runner is a better runner; right? So are you still following me?

Ok, so now that we have the specificity part out of the way what does the illusion part have to do with this? You see like Houdini I already knew that was what you were thinking! No worries, I’m not going to start going crazy YouTubing Card tricks…even though I do know a few. 😉

For this example let’s get back to the NFL draft so I can explain this more clearly in the words of Bobby Boucher. What does all of this have to do with the evil foosball that I mentioned earlier???

So the NFL combine is an annual event to where upcoming NFL talent get to showcase their skills in front of teams in hopes that they will raise their draft stock. Why is this important? It is significant because the higher the player is drafted means that player will be signed for more money!

The combine itself is made up of a battery of tests including specific football skills such as throwing, catching, and running. It is also made up of the strength and performance tests which look at a player’s vertical jump, agility, 40 yard sprint, and 225 lb. bench press repetition test.

There are also problem solving tests, medical checkups, and even psychological tests given to all  of these players. I know the whole thing is exhausting to think about, but then again these organizations are shelling out some mega bucks for these guys so from their side I can totally understand the importance of these players being investments.

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Now going back to the strength and performance tests that I mentioned involving the 40 yard dash, agility test, vertical jump, and 225 lb. bench press repetition test I am going to explain to you what I meant about the illusion part of all of this. Because of the huge fan base of the NFL the combine itself has become an annual spectacle. As a strength coach I have gotten many guys ready for both the local and professional combines.

I have implemented training with athletes for weeks to prepare them to take the combine test. AH HA, and therein lies the illusion part of all of this; sort of. Once again remember the definition of specificity. Now look at the specific tests involved in the strength and performance part of the combine that I mentioned. As a strength coach I am specifically preparing them to take the test which in this case is the combine.

Now how is that an illusion you ask? Well, like Houdini a great magician is well practiced and will only show you what he or she wants you to see. You see many of these players have significantly raised their draft stock simply because they went out to the combine and showed out with their skills!

I mean the difference in a 4.6 and a 4.4 second 40 yard dash time can be the difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars. The point being that some of these guys have been able to use the combine as a way to inflate their abilities as a player and that is the kind of illusion I’m talking about.

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Now don’t get me wrong if you are at the combine chances are you’re a hell of a football player, but so is everyone else. Because of this the smart organizations are going to look at a combination of things such as how a guy performs at the combine as well as his game tape. However it is interesting to see how this particular event has gotten so big with all the emphasis that is put on it.

I know you are probably surprised to hear a strength coach somewhat downplaying the combine. Well don’t misunderstand me my young strength Jedi. I love the fact that guys are strong, agile, and explosive especially because these are needs that are specific to the game of football.

Any strength coach would feel the same way. I’m just saying that some may ONLY be a bit more stronger in the 225 lb. rep test, agile, and explosive simply because they are better at taking the specific test at hand and not because they are just better athletes. After all, just like anything in life we are talking about a game of inches here. 😉

The point is that specificity is important for your performance athletically, but let’s not overlook the power of how specificity can create an illusion concerning our perceptions on certain athletes and their performance. Now how’s that for some insight?

If you are interested in learning more about strength and performance and are looking for some other means to enhance your own level of fitness then make sure you get yourself a copy of my Brandon Richey’s Unconventional Conventional Method Of Strength ebook! 

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I hope you enjoyed today’s post! If you’ve noticed some illusions within the world of fitness and strength that you have thought about then make sure post up in the comment section below. Keep training smart! 

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I'm a Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and author. I have had over 17 years experience in MMA fitness, strength and conditoning, and athletic performance for most every sport. As an author and specialist I've written close to a million words on fitness and strength. I'm also a Muay Thai practictioner and enjoy helping others to reach their peak potential through fitness and performance.

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