Exercise for Health and Strength vs. Exercise for Sports and Fitness with Dr. James Fisher
Arlene [00:00:01] The InForm Fitness podcast with Adam Zickerman and co-host Mike Rogers is a presentation of InForm Fitness studios, a small family of personal training facilities specializing in safe efficient high intensity strength training. On our bi monthly podcast Adam and Mike discuss the latest findings in the areas of exercise nutrition and recovery with leading experts and scientists. We aim to debunk the popular misconceptions and the urban myths that are so prevalent in the fields of health and fitness. And to replace those sacred cows with scientific based up to the minute information on a variety of subjects. We’ll cover exercise protocols and techniques nutrition sleep recovery the role of genetics in the response to exercise and much more.
Arlene [00:00:59] On this episode exercise for health and strength versus exercise for sports and fitness. We welcome back Dr. James Fisher, researcher and senior lecturer in sports conditioning and fitness at South Hampton Solent university in the United Kingdom.
James [00:01:16] But fundamentally a movement is either the same or it’s different. There’s no big gray area here saying it takes its skiing movements and then say well we’ll replicate that on wherever else we’ve got. What you do is you say if you wanna be better at skiing go skiing or if you want to be better at surfing go surfing if you want to be stronger. That will make you stronger but at the end of the day if you want to be the best skier you can be you should be strong and as healthy as you can be and you should practice skiing as much as you can.
Adam [00:01:48] All right. We’ll be back. By popular request we have Dr. James Fisher with us again. And to refresh your memory Dr. Fisher is a researcher and senior lecturer in sports conditioning and fitness at South Hampton Solent university in the United Kingdom. He also has his PHD from Nottingham Trent University. James welcome back to the show.
James [00:02:06] It’s great to be back Adam, thank you for having me.
Adam [00:02:08] We’ve had some great feedback on the last episode we did when we compared compound movements to simple movements. And today I want to talk to you about something a little differently and that is what you have found out about the difference between exercising for health and strength versus exercise for sports performance. And is there a difference in how you train for health and strength versus training if you were to become or want to become or are, an athlete whether you’re I guess a weekend warrior or beyond that.
James [00:02:46] Yeah absolutely. This is a really interesting topic and I think that you know this is a very deep topic so we’ll see how far down the rabbit hole we can go with this. Well first and foremost I think resistance training plays a key role for health and I think health is key for sports performance. So I think that’s worth saying first and foremost. No athlete is going to perform optimally if they’re unwell or if they’re injured and if a resistance training or properly formed strength training can improve health then it can certainly help stabilize performance if not enhance performance. I think then the next thing is that we’ve got to look at performance as being on a spectrum so we talk about athletic performance in sports performance but actually performance for some people is walking up and down a flight of stairs or you know being able to hold that balance if they slip on ice or things like that. So performance is still a measure or a marker or exists on this this spectrum in my opinion. I think that you know we know the benefits so we shouldn’t know the benefits of how this was training. I’ve published it in multiple papers there is just a ton of research to support it you know with regards to kind of body composition, reduction in risk of diabetes types of cancer. So on and so forth. The key difference there is that when we’re training for sports performance or for a specific exercise there is a huge skill component along the way as well. So it’s not to suggest that resistance training won’t enhance performance but if you take a basketball player.
James [00:04:23] Well if I took 20 basketball players and 10 of them I put on the basketball court and had them play basketball for 10 weeks and the other 10 I had come in the gym and lift weights for 10 weeks. Well at the end of 10 weeks I’d bet my money on the team to play basketball that every day of the week because they are more skilled in or they’re more practiced in the skills that they need. But if you wanted to say who are the healthiest. Well then I think you know you’re looking at a big difference. I think that’s a bit of a different marker on the group that’s been practicing resistance training are probably less prone to injury which might be a key factor and their overall health might well be better than the group playing basketball.
Adam [00:05:08] Now I’ve always said this, when I have athletes coming into workout and they tell me well I want to arm a tennis player or I’m a Weekend Warrior I play soccer on the weekends or I guess over there we’d call that football but they say to me well are we going to be doing specific exercises for my particular sport. And I’ve always generally said Not really. We’re going to do the compound movements we’re going to mix and maybe some simple movements but basically we’re going to do a full body safe workout with what you said earlier struck a chord which was healthier right. So like you know if you’re an athlete you want your exercise program to preserve your joints not destroy your recovery not diminish your recovery ability too much because you’re practicing all the time. You want your workout just to be very specific and do it strengthening muscles. Nothing necessarily specific to a particular sport.
James [00:06:02] Yeah I know I agree with that completely. And I think that there are two approaches to this. So the first is that I think that’s incredibly honest of you. If not if a client said to you I’m a tennis player is my workout going to be specific to tennis. I would say yeah absolutely we’re going to train the muscles of the hip. We got to train the muscles of the low body the quarter since the hamstrings and the gastro anemia so salacious. We’re going to in doing so we’re going to make sure the ankle and the knees are stable and strong and we’re going to give you great flexibility through the hips and the trunk and all those things is gonna be really important for you as a tennis player. I don’t think you need to say yeah we’re going to stand you want to. Will if you’re a tennis player great we have to stand you on a bounce board and have you do it backwards lunges with a T-Rex and a medicine ball and in fact the body of research from a from a motor schema perspective which is this which is really the skill element of movement the body of research shows that people in strength and conditioning or strength training shouldn’t try to mimic the movements that are being performed by the athlete in the sport they play. The tennis racket is a certain weight they move in a certain way to hit certain shots and unless you’re a tennis coach coaching those movements you should leave that to the tennis coach or the tennis player. What you should be doing is making sure the athlete is physically prepared. That might be cardiovascular conditioning that might be muscular strength it might be power it might be flexibility and range of motion might be joints stability things at that which are all things are covered with sensible resistance training program.
Adam [00:07:30] Right. So OK. Mike you want…
Mike [00:07:33] What I’ve been learning a lot over many years but especially over the last few years is I is trying to figure out addressing the same questions when clients come in about you know golf and tennis are the ones we hear the most and skiing also that’s another story. But the. But they want to recreate some of these movements and what I do and what I’m learning is that when you learn this properly do a golf swing like that with the proper way in an efficient way that is powerful and consistent. And if it’s done coached properly which we’re not qualified to teach people that do that is what you want to aspire for is actually I think getting the most output by doing the littlest movement in a way you know or this or that less as little work as possible in order to get the most output of whatever you try to do like power or whatever.
James [00:08:22] Efficiency.
Mike [00:08:22] It’s all that honestly everything is about efficiency and Adam & we’re even talking about that this morning. So yeah.
Adam [00:08:29] Well to me it’s efficiency and recovery. I think if you’re truly working with an athlete who’s playing golf three or four times a week or something more demanding possibly like tennis three or four times a week. I mean you know I’m saying to myself well this person is spending an hour and any heat on a tennis court three times a week. When are they recovering from all this. Which is an important part of becoming a good athlete going forward and progressing as a good athlete. So here we are now we’re training them to death in the gym two to three times a week. And I’m just saying myself that that’s just asking for trouble and injury because the recovery is just not there.
James [00:09:07] Yeah I completely agree. And I think that this is where the abbreviated minimal dose approach to resistance trading is just so suitable for athletes. I mean you know we often pitch it towards the layperson or push it towards a student who doesn’t have time or a busy executive. But actually this is perhaps even more important for athletes who are already incurring a huge amount of exercise and a huge dose of exercise and really need to add sufficient stimulus to make sure the muscles are strong when the joints are stable and so forth. But actually don’t need any more and don’t want any more the bodies can’t handle any more than that. Now a prime example if I may is in a different lifetime I was a basketball player.
Adam [00:09:50] How tall are you?
James [00:09:50] I’m five eleven. So I know but I bet I grew when I was about 40.
Adam [00:09:58] You look taller in these pictures of you from the chest up. You look very tall.
James [00:10:06] So but I had a growth spurt when I was very young so I when I was about 14 I was about 5 11 and I was convinced I was going to make you know 6 8 and I was going to go into the NBA and everything else. And then when I was 16 17 everybody else is five 11 five ten five eleven as well or taller and I realized that this is never going to happen. But the point is if that was if it was all we did basketball was jump when you do basketball training, you jump you do tip drills you do layup drills you do whatever drills it might be you jump you jump. Jump. Somebody said well you know and then you go in the gym. What did your coach have you do your strength and conditioning coach what do you do play metrics you do more jumping.
James [00:10:46] So I’m 40 years old now and I’m both my knees a heck of a state because really I spent about 20 years bouncing up and down on hard surfaces and actually the way I would approach strength and conditioning with a basketball player and the way I do approach strength the connection with the basketball players I stopped jumping because they already do enough jumping and they do it in the right way. They jump for a ball they jump to block a shot they jump to take a shot whereas if somebody has to do that in a gym that jumping with maybe a weight on that back or the jumping off something or jumping onto something which are things that they are never going to do in a basketball game. So they’re practicing a skill that they’re never going to use that has a higher risk of injury and they’re really adding to the degree of muscle damage that doing joints to their joints. Yeah. To the joints that they’re already potentially overusing by the high volume of training and matches and so on and so forth. So sports is absolutely about efficiency. The golf swing should be perfectly efficient no wasted energy. You know I see I speak to marathon runners and cyclists who dabble in triathlon and they say they need to get their swim training back up. These guys are incredibly fit but when they get to pool their stamina is terrible because swimming is about efficiency.
Adam [00:12:02] Yeah I remember when I did my first triathlon because I swam in college I thought I didn’t have to train for the swimming part and I almost drowned. Because I just thought I’d be able to carry through with my you know. But I haven’t trained for years. You know after college.
Mike [00:12:16] I don’t think it stops at swimming, I think with everything and like it looking at me at the Super Bowls and Tom Brady is over 40 and he’s not just hanging on he’s destroying in the NFL right now he’s the best and still the best. And I’m not a fan but you acknowledge that he’s the best. But the thing is when I am a fan of is and I’ve been reading some other materials and about a lot of athletes especially the ones that are lasting late thirties going into their 40s they’re there at their training less they’re doing considerably less to keep up with and even surpass the ones who are younger and faster.
Adam [00:12:53] Yeah that’s interesting cause I was going to ask you James if you know about what’s going on there in the professional world of sports. Are they catching on to this idea that that efficiency and joint protection and recovery is really more important than just trying to mimic movements in the gym? Are they catching on to that yet.
James [00:13:13] I think that the very elite athletes who pay for their own coaches who don’t necessarily train or work with a team with a team trainer are catching on to this and they know their bodies well enough and they know that it’s about doing the right things not more things. So for example there have been a few premiere Premier League football as Premier League soccer players who have been able to do that. It played into their 40s. The name Ryan Giggs is something that springs to mind and of course in the in the NBA Kobe Bryant was a guy who worked with his own trainer and in fact I believe he worked with Tim Grover he was Michael Jordan’s trainer. And of course Michael Jordan himself did the same and they’re aware that there are components of training that they need to do but they are also what the body can’t stand up to the same intensity, at the same volume, that they need to reduce the volume and they need to manage their training a lot better. So but as a general rule the answer is that question is no most trained most athletes are not aware of that and they are you know following probably in my opinion very high too high a volume of exercise.
Adam [00:14:22] Forgetting about the professional athlete more relevant to especially for our listeners is a weekend warrior and our clients I walk in and say you know I want to be a better golfer. And I like to do this. They don’t have aspirations of becoming a professional but they want to be you know they want to do their sports for as long as they can and I and they have fun. So you know I keep hearing stuff about cross fit you know is that something I should be doing to become a better athlete or the boot camps or these functional training programs. And you know I always sound like a stick in the mud when I say you don’t need to do that. You know sometimes I think they look at me like I’m old fashioned like I’m not progressive or I’m not you know open minded to these ideas.
James [00:15:04] You know I spoke to a guy a trainer at the University of Cincinnati Mike Rayfeld and he felt and he says that kind of every year in his head like football coach comes in the room says what you going to add to the program this year. And he looks at them and then he goes away. And then he comes back and says Yeah. Now we’re going to do medicine ball rotations or we’re going to get power back slams it’s sort of like this. Mike do you buy into this you said no it’s window dressing. It’s just window dressing. It’s because the coach wants to look in the room see that we’re doing something new, something different. I see that we have progressed but actually we still get everything that we need from the original program that we’ve been doing for the last 10 15 years. And this is exactly you know the exercise industry follows fads and fashions if you’d followed them all then you’d have a warped ball every piece of electrical equipment that you could from a treadmill to a verse or climber and so forth. Then you’d have sold it all and start doing Olympic lifting then you either sold it all and taken up yoga then you ditched yoga would have opened a Zumba studio. Then you’d have gone back to Olympic lifting and then gone back to yoga. You know the industry is a commercial marketing machine. But that doesn’t mean it’s productive. It doesn’t mean that the half of what’s being done is productive. You mentioned CrossFit the just to get that out of the way first and foremost CrossFit itself is a sport. I don’t have an agenda with CrossFit a lot of people think I do and I don’t have an agenda with CrossFit because I perceive it to be a sport. It’s competitive it’s got a competitive element which means it’s got a high risk of injury and it’s got a skill element to it in itself albeit probably quite a low skill element because there’s not much emphasis on technique in CrossFit. You know it’s a sport does it. So if you wanted to cross fit then do it. But it’s the same as going and playing you know five a side soccer of an evening or going and playing table tennis. It’s a sport. It’s competitive. That’s it.
Adam [00:16:51] At least with those sports you can see. Keep score you can’t keep score.
Mike [00:16:53] I read that ESPN games where they are racing to gain as many checkups with you. Yeah.
James [00:17:03] Let’s be fair. You know they’re tremendous athletes but they are only good at doing that particular event or that particular sport. You know in the CrossFit games in the U.K. here they play in cycle cross one year. So they had like a 20 mile cyclical route to do which meant that unless you were a cyclist you were absolutely screwed. So I think two of the girls were cyclists and they just took the competition apart because they weren’t great at doing keeping pullups or anything else but they were cyclists. So they beat the girls by you know by hours of the cycling element. So you know again it’s really skill specific. Now as far as functional movements will again balance is a specific skill so the balance in your body when you take a golf swing is specific to your body when you take a golf swing. It’s not replicated by studying on a Swiss ball by studying on a boat. So by standing on any kind of wobble board or balance platform.
Adam [00:18:01] Is there any benefit to doing push ups on a wobble board. Like take a boat you boy turn it upside down is there any benefit to doing push ups on that thing.
James [00:18:08] So if I if I spoke to a physiotherapist they would probably say that if you were rehabilitating a rotator cuff at the later stages then adding a degree of instability might be beneficial. And I wouldn’t challenge a physical therapist because that’s not my remit. I could see why they would say that because the shoulder needs to cope with unstable movements at times but you know I think you’re dealing again with the final end of that kind of spectrum. Can you just strengthen the rotator cuff muscles can you strengthen muscle the shoulder and that will do like 98 percent of the job. Yeah absolutely. You know when we look at sports performers it’s about skill. It’s about proper reception purpose such as the awareness of our body in space. Well it’s contextual. So is the awareness of body in space or when we’re performing a sport. If you changed me his basketball shoes and things feel different they take a bit of time to adapt if you change from your tennis racket it might be a different weight or a different size or different grip size. It takes time to adapt and that’s the adaptation of that skill. So we don’t do that. An interesting analogy in all of this is you’ve seen the matadors and the bulls in Spain the bullfighting so. So the matador waves out the Cape or whatever might be in the bull runs at him and the bull misses by like an inch or a couple of inches right. And it happens every time and the crowd cheer and everything like that. The night before the bull goes into the arena they shave an inch or an inch and a half off the bull’s horns before they go in. So the bull thinks that the danger end of the horn is here but actually it’s moved about two inches and lo they miss the matador by like an inch and a half.
Adam [00:19:52] How do you know that I knew they had the damn thing distractedly death before they come out.
James [00:19:57] Well they do as well. Yeah so. So you change in the specificity you know. Imagine if you were about to go and play golf and I took an inch of your golf club. Yeah I mean it changes everything right.
Mike [00:20:13] Now. Don’t even like I got a basic strength level versus skill level there are it’s amazing how in golf and I think we’ve mentioned this in our previous podcast as well is you could see there are 14 15 year old girls and boys who can hit the ball 300 plus yards because they have the skill and actually and how to position their hips and swing the club very efficiently and they know how to create club head speed versus you know Dwayne The Rock Johnson. I don’t know if he can play golf or not but I mean let’s just say he can’t. He’s got a lot more muscle than like a 15 year old girl. She might be able to hit it on you know maybe like 100 yards farther because she has a technique in order to do so.
James [00:20:57] Yeah I completely agree completely. Great. I was going to say the only the emphasis here for me is the benefits of strength training for these people. One of the key things you know Mike. You said you were a cyclist and I’m a cyclist. I know more and more competitive cyclist. Try and keep it with my wife but one of the key things that always stands out to me is the prevalence of injuries in cycling. Now I know that there’s an emphasis on keeping the weight down. I know this emphasis on all of that has an impact on nutritional habits and so on and so forth. And I don’t think for a second that all of those things are necessarily healthy. But I know that for most cyclists when they fall off a bike they break a bone. And I would bet if you took the bone marrow density of a cyclist that probably similar to about an 80 or 90 year old woman because they don’t do strength training and they certainly don’t do any strength training in the upper body. So what do they do. They fall off they hit their shoulder they brace themselves with their hand and they break their collarbone. So you know resistance training once a week once a fortnight you know a couple times a week whatever it might be with a reasonably high load a minimal dose would in my opinion do a lot for a cyclist to improve their resilience and their ability to disperse energy and prevent broken bones and so forth. So I think that I think that that’s probably analogies across all the sports that it was obvious to me because like I said I’m a cyclist.
Mike [00:22:23] Skiing especially to it there’s tons of falls in that you know.
Adam [00:22:26] You know skiing anecdotally I can tell you I can give you an anecdote regarding skiing. I mean we hear this all the time. Skiing is a seasonal sport for most parts of the world particularly New York and you know we have clients working out with us all summer and fall and then they finally hit the slopes. If they go to high altitude for the after working out with us for the first time for a year and then they go skiing for the first time after these kind of workouts which are brief intense workouts they oh so many times they report… Hey I expected to be done by like 11:00 in the afternoon 1 1 11:00 in the morning or 1:00 in the afternoon tops. But I was I was I was good until 3:00 p.m.. I’ve never felt that before I really felt I had my strength again. You know they were mimicking skiing movements or we weren’t doing. We weren’t trying to you know work the quads any differently. We did leg press in whatever exercises to work our legs and hips and they were just strong and you know and they picked up where they left off the year before. So being that there was no specificity training you know I mean I’m doing this 20 years and I still haven’t really been able to see a purpose for specificity training trying to do mimic mimicking movements in the gym to improve sports performance.
James [00:23:44] I mean me a summary the motor schema you know we start out talking about the motor schema research and if you go back through it it’s interesting because all of this falls in the psychology and the reason it does is because it’s because it’s neural. So it’s really neurophysiology but fundamentally a movement is either the same or it’s different. There’s no there’s a big gray area here. So you don’t take this skiing movement and then say well we’ll replicate that on whatever else we’ve got what you do is you say if you want to be better at skiing go skiing or if you want to be better at surfing go surfing if you want to be stronger then we’ll make you stronger. But at the end of the day if you want to be the best skier you can be you should be strong and as healthy as you can be and you should practice skiing as much as you can. You shouldn’t go in the gym and try to find a middle ground that say well I’m going to bring my strength training this round bring my skiing this way until I can just do this exercise on a on a boat. So you should ski and you should do strength training. This it’s pretty simple.
Adam [00:24:45] In conclusion very good. Thank you so much. I think we’ll leave it on that note. I mean that pretty much as says it all.
James [00:24:52] Brilliant Thanks very much for your time gents.
Mike [00:24:52] Thanks James.
Adam [00:24:54] Dr. Fisher once again thank you again.
Arlene [00:24:56] This has been the InForm Fitness podcast with Adam Zickerman. For over 20 years InForm Fitness has been providing clients of all ages with customized personal training designed to build strength fast visit InFormFitness.com for testimonials blogs and videos on the three pillars exercise nutrition and recovery.