Trainers, coaches and conditioning specialists alike know the importance of sport-specific training. Sport-specific training is the philosophy of employing exercises and movement patterns that have large translation to an athlete’s specific sport and specific position.
However, being too myopic in sport-specific training can omit important areas of strength and sport performance. I like to refer to this as “strength leakage.” Few sports require you to pick up a heavy load and carry it for a pre-determined distance, for example, so why do Farmer’s Walks? That logic might make sense through the lens of being ultra “sport-specific,” but when you take a step back to consider the overall benefits, Farmer’s Walks are a great move for just about any athlete.
The following four exercises are a bit unconventional, and for that reason, you probably won’t find them in most athletes’ sport-specific programs. However, they develop full-body strength that has a large transfer to other applications, making them highly functional for not just athletes, but humans in general.
Let’s plug those strength leaks and get you seriously strong!
1. Turkish Get-Ups
This bad boy addresses virtually all imbalances a person could possibly have. The Turkish Get-Up is a unilateral exercise. However, due to the various planes of motion that you go through, it is a kinetic chain masterpiece. Every sport has some element of axial loading, unilateral stabilization and rotational strength—and so does the Turkish Get-Up.
Key points for success: keep your eyes on the kettlebell/dumbbell at all times. This will ensure that your spine stays upright and that your arm is always directed at the ceiling, thus preventing the weight from drifting.
2. Snatch-Grip Deadlifts
Let’s keep this strength party rollin’! Why the Snatch-Grip Deadlift, or SGDL? Deadlifts are one of the single best exercises to build strength. So why add a snatch grip?
Before we dive into that answer, let’s talk about finding your appropriate snatch grip width. This can be done by standing upright with your left arm at your side like a soldier and your right arm extended out parallel to the floor with a clenched fist. Measure the distance from your left shoulder to the end of your right hand’s clinched fist. That is about the distance you should use for your snatch grip.
Many power athletes already perform the Snatch and the Deadlift. However, to increase snatching ability, it is imperative to overcome the first pull phase of the snatch. By progressively overloading the first pull, your Power Snatch will improve. Furthermore, using a snatch grip will enhance the targeting of your upper traps, lats, glutes and hamstrings more than a conventional Deadlift. This is due to changing the position from conventional to snatch style.
A wider grip forces you to flare your lats more and increases the depth at which you start the Deadlift. By starting at a deeper depth, your glutes and hamstrings are activated even more. This can translate to better vertical jumping and more explosiveness “from the blocks.” It also more heavily recruits the upper back, an area where many modern humans are weak.
Remember to flare your lats, keep your core engaged and retract your shoulder blades backwards while gripping the bar. You won’t be able to deadlift as much with a snatch grip as you would a more traditional grip (such as a mixed grip), but that’s not the point. Start light and work your way up as you lock in your form.
3. Farmer’s Walks
Want to get strong? Cool. Pick up heavy stuff. Want to get stronger? Cool. Pick up heavier stuff then move with it. The Farmer’s Walk requires not only strength, but movement strength. Walking while carrying a heavy load requires complete core stabilization with each step, improves axial loading and incorporates a hawk-like grip. Farmer’s Walks can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, strongman implements—really anything heavy you can carry and walk with.
Almost every sport requires keeping good posture against external forces. Almost every sport requires the ability to move in three planes of motion with resistance. Almost every sport requires complete core stabilization. The list goes on and on.
Do this exercise either for distance (in total feet covered, steps taken, etc) or for duration (total seconds spent walking).
Shorter distances (like 10-15 yards) will allow you to use the heaviest weights, while longer distance (50-75 yards) will require lighter weights. Both serve a purpose and you should consistently vary the distance and weight of your Farmer’s Walks.
The key is keeping a straight, powerful posture as you hold the weights and to avoid letting them “fold” you forward or sideways. For safety reasons, always lower the weights to the ground as opposed to just dropping them at the end of a set—one bad bounce and a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell could crunch your foot.
4. Zercher Squats
The Zercher Squat is similar to a regular old Barbell Back Squat. The difference is that instead of having the bar across the top of your back, it’s sitting in the crooks of your elbows.
Yeah, it’s not for the weakhearted. The Zercher Squat really engages the posterior chain muscles including the spinal erectors, glutes, mid- and -upper traps. Holding the bar in front of the body also keeps your anterior chain in a static contraction, similar to two wrestlers who are tied up with each other. Zerchers are an excellent exercise choice for combat athletes or any athlete who wants to win with contact in their sport.
The Zercher Squat is also great for building squat mobility. Due to the load being in front of the body, it forces the squatter to sit back on their heels more. This can be of great use in helping someone squat deeper and access a greater range of motion. This mobility improvement translates to virtually all sports.
A key point for success: when engaging the bar, keep your chest up! As you cradle the bar in your elbows, DO NOT let the bar drift down toward the floor. This will cause you to round your thoracic spine, which can lead to back injury or rotator cuff injury. As you descend downward, push your butt back and sit into your heels. This will enable you to get a deeper squat, which improves hip mobility.
When choosing to employ these exercises, it’s most important to familiarize yourself with them. Don’t start heavy until you feel you can safely perform them. Since many of these exercises don’t allow you to move maximal weight, it’s best to perform them later in the workout after you’ve completed your big lifts that do require maximal muscle recruitment.
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