How to Kill Plateaus: Specialization Part II

We scratched the surface on specialization last time, breaking down the difference between developmental and specialized phases of training. It’s an important concept to get down if you want to actually have a handle on your training but, unfortunately, is misunderstood by many competitive hopefuls. 

Specialization means high development in one skill. You can’t specialize in everything so there’s an implication of priority; i.e. you specialize in one thing at the expense of others.

Example time. 

The World’s Strongest Man contest started in the 1970s as a television exhibition on ABC. The appeal of it was to take  a group of the strongest men in the world from a variety of different backgrounds: bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, track and field, football, wrestling and so on) and expose them to a variety of tests to see who actually was the strongest. It’s an interesting premise that hinged on the athletes not knowing what was coming next. This was ‘every-day strength’. 

As recently as 2012, the heaviest atlas stone at World’s Strongest Man was 405. That’s in contrast to the world record stone (630lbs) set by Tom Stoltman in 2020.

However, the sport of strong man has since evolved to something far from what the original creators intended. Today, strongman athletes are not coming out cold in trying to wing it with unfamiliar events using whatever physical qualities they happened to develop by doing something else entirely. To be competitive in today’s field you have to be practiced and peaked with the same deliberate precision of any powerlifter or weightlifter (lest you give up the margins to another competitor who was). That means you have to be specialized.

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How to Kill Plateaus: Specialization Part I

Variety is a huge component of any strength program. You can’t progress long-term unless you are continuously trying to make changes for how much work you’re doing, what type of work you’re doing and how hard you’re doing it. The earliest advice anybody gives when they’re brand new to the gym is that at some point they’re going to have to switch it up. For those who have long-term performance-based goals it’s imperative that you understand what that actually means.

We know the diminished returns eventually sets in, meaning the same type of training stops yielding results. So we have to make changes to avoid that. But we also know that training, if broken into different chunks, can potentiate or improve the training effect from one block into the next. So we can make changes to build off what we did in the block before.

That’s a powerful 1-2 punch in training; giving yourself a break from the same old thing so that your body might start adapting again to a new stimulus while also arranging that stimulus in a way that points to a dedicated contest performance. No matter how different the programs appear (concurrent periodization like Westside, linear periodization like the Juggernaut method,  forever program LPS like 531 or starting strength), virtually all competitive strength programs work by exploiting this in one way or another. 

You just have to know what to look for to see it.

 If you have a primary goal that you’re training for, whether it’s running a marathon, acing a math test or training for a powerlifting meet, the total successful performance can be broken into smaller constituent parts. This is true for everything. 

This is a broad conceptualization of what a full meet prep looks like, with broad skills being trained first and specialized ones coming closer to the test date.

Success in test-taking, for instance,may benefit from focusing on smaller bit, like reading comprehension, attention span, understanding of the subject or your ability to utilize mnemonic tools. Think of these smaller qualities as the base of a successful performance plan.

Continue reading “How to Kill Plateaus: Specialization Part I”