Last night we had a totally age-appropriate birthday party for my wife, Jen. We went to one of those giant trampoline places, which if you have never gone are a total blast not to mention a great way to get your heart rate up for 30-60 minutes. You can just jump around on the trampolines, leap into the foam pit without breaking your neck (crawling out from which is exhausting), or try your hand at dunking a basketball on 3 different height hoops.
It was this last challenge that had everyone’s attention by the end of our time. Everyone could dunk on the two shorter ones, but I was the only one who had gotten the dunk on the highest hoop.
Jen, her friend Kim, and jumping Julie Read all had the bounce height, but try as they might they couldn’t connect it with a dunk.
One of the principles that guides my training philosophy is that of specificity. Put simply, you should train as close to the thing you want to be able to do as possible. For something like powerlifting that’s simple, you train the barbell back squat, bench press, etc. For a rugby player it’s not as simple but you’ll still sprint, push, lift, carry, etc. because there’s enough transfer to carry over to the sport.
The issue becomes, when you can’t apply specifity, what do you do? Let’s say you can’t back squat but you also can’t front squat (due to pain, or whatever). That’s when you break the movement down into components, and train the component parts. You may not be able to squat, but you may well be able to train hip extension, knee extension, anterior core stabilization, and so on. All important parts of squatting as a specific activity.
So when I saw failure after failure (at least a dozen) of the specific movement, I knew exactly what the intervention was. I told Jen to drop the ball, and go just focus on touching and grabbing the rim. In other words, a component. So she did that once.
The very next try with the ball? Nothin but net.
Sometimes we get so focused on practicing and practicing an activity, thinking that we’ll get it on the very next try, that we forget to break it down. It wasn’t even really a pregression because she was still jumping to full height, we just took a piece of it out.
Training components is a valuable way to work around issues, increase volume without compromising recovery, and speed up learning.
If you like, maybe next week I’ll talk about the next step down the training continuum for when you can’t do the specific.