Specific vs General Strength
Now another question that is often asked is, “Do specific weighted activities in the
weight room that mimic the sporting activity carry over into increased performance better than general strengthening movements?” In other words, if our goal is to run faster, would it be better to perform a sprint running with a heavy loaded sled rather than increase leg strength through squatting? Or, if our goal is to hit a baseball harder why not just train with very heavy bats all the time instead of increasing general upper body strength? Well the answer to this question is fairly complicated. There is a place for general loaded movements, such as weighted jump squats. However, one needs to be careful about trying to get too specific and use too much loading in technical movements because when we add additional loading to a sports movement we can negatively affect the movement pattern.
Load a movement too close to a technique-crucial sports movement pattern and you risk changing the technique of the athlete. You do not want to do this, as usually the loaded technique is significantly different than that of the unloaded technique.
For example, say you try to train for increased sprinting speed by running with a heavy weighted sled all the time. If the weight is too heavy it will cause negative changes in your sprinting technique. Not a good thing. Since you obviously don’t sprint in competition with a weight attached to your body then the technique required for doing so wouldn’t do you much good if you’re a sprinter! The same thing occurs when baseball players use high volumes of very heavy bats in their training. The technical differences can throw off technique once the player returns to a regular bat. When used short term the heavier bat can enhance batting proficiency by creating a contrast effect. Yet use it all the time and it will detract from technique. Not to mention, swinging a heavy bat, running with heavy weights, throwing a weighted punch, or other specific loaded activity won’t have near the effect of increasing the maximal strength of your muscles like basic barbell exercises will.
The goal in general strengthening movements is to increase the strength of the muscles involved in the movement and their order of muscular recruitment, not necessarily
duplicate the exact task. In other words, when you squat to develop maximum strength there is no need to perform it in the exact same manner and stance that you perform a vertical jump. To increase general strength, basic movement patterns should be chosen that stimulate the same muscles as the desired sporting activity. These exercises do not have to mimic the movement. This ensures there is no risk of ruining technique through heavy loading, yet you still get the adaptive stress. The squat is a perfect example of this.
An example of a good exercise that can be loaded is a jump squat. When performing general strengthening exercises such as the squat, the technique is not so much like the vertical jump that the body compromises technical abilities. However, these also need to be utilized along with un-weighted jumps, which you’ll definitely be doing plenty of.
When looking at jump squats vs squats, if the athlete could improve faster by increasing his general muscular strength, there is no contest, - regular squats and other strength development methods will offer substantial advantages. If the athlete already has plenty of general muscular strength then jump squats would be useful, but they aren’t as effective as a complete program that addresses development through multiple angles.
WHY THE NEED FOR FULL RANGE MOVEMENTS??
Along these same lines many people will ask, “Since during a vertical jump one only descends into a ¼ squat position, then why should they do loaded squats with a full range of motion going past parallel?” Again, realize the purpose of strength training is to improve the general strength of the muscles involved. The fact is that a full deep squat is better at strengthening all the muscles involved in the vertical jump, despite the fact that one is capable of using much more weight in a ¼ squat. A full squat fully activates the muscles of the quadriceps and also strongly engages the hamstrings, glutes, and even calves. Not only does this build strength, but it also keeps the lower body in developmental balance and helps prevent knee injuries and muscle strains. A ¼ squat doesn’t strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain nearly as well and also puts a lot of stress on the tendons of the knee. However, there is a time when the ¼ squat can be effective. That is after a base of strength has been developed. The ¼ squat can then be used for short periods for further enhance strength development. If I could throw out one piece of advice to every young athlete in the world it would be, “Do squats and do them full and deep (while maintaining good form of course)!”