Terrible Exercise #1: The Clamshell
The principle of specificity is fairly simple. If you want to run well, you should run. You can’t say, go swim a bunch of laps and expect a ton of carry over. This is the same reason that we don’t see the likes of Jim Thorpe anymore. Jim was an accomplished athlete, playing 13 years of professional football, Major League Baseball for seven years, and professional basketball for two. Tack on two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics for the pentathlon and decathlon and you have quite the multisport athlete.
The principle of specificity has been around for a long time and is still practiced today. At the simplest level, the theory equates to practice makes perfect. I’ll use the word perfect in a loose sense of the term. There’s nothing perfect about the way any of us move, some simply are closer to perfect than others. Through the principle of specificity our body adapts, forms movement habits (motor engrams), and makes the given movement easier and more efficient (even if the movement is incorrect). Specificity helps you develop motor programs through thousands of repetitions. The body uses repetition of a specific task (ie running) to refine the neuromuscular system, eventually forming a habit and allowing you to run on autopilot… literally.
So again, your body adapts to the stress you place on it.
Which begs the question, why, when it comes to our strength exercises is specificity thrown out the window? This is the tip of the functional exercise iceberg. We know about human movement than ever before, yet, both countless trainers and clinicians continue to prescribe crappy exercises.
If your training is specific, why isn’t your strength program? You wouldn’t train for your next marathon by playing more Ping-Pong, right? (Please say no)
Remember, our neuromuscular system responds to repetition and consistency. With tweaking of repetitions, resistance, and movement we can often refine the way we compete and move. Our exercise and training must match our chosen task, whether it’s running, biking, swimming or playing the piano. Due to the overwhelming capacity of crappy exercise, this article will be broken into a few parts.
Let’s take a look at some exercises that are performed all too often, but fail the principle of specificity or functional exercise.
#1 The Clam Shell / Hip Abduction
“I went to physical therapy already and I wasn’t getting better so I came to you.” I hear this quite often and I usually take a stab at few exercises they were performing. I’m usually right. The clamshell and hip abduction are nearly a direct hit every time. Maybe it’s the fact that this exercise is recommended in nearly EVERY hip strength article? Or maybe it’s because your clinician doesn’t understand specificity. Sure, the clamshell is great… in 1980.
Here’s a video that explains this more…
Now, I hate dealing in absolutes. I’ve actually given this exercise in rare circumstances. First, for patients that is post-op and need to get some basic muscle function. Second, weight bearing restrictions limit their ability to stand. Finally, I’ve used this exercise on athletes who simply cannot tolerate exercise against gravity.