Transference of Exercises — When the Unexpected Helps the Unintended

Did you ever start training an exercise or using a new training program, and after a few weeks tried something completely different and experienced success?  Most likely the exercise or program transferred to this other aspect of your life.  If you are a bit fuzzy about what I’m getting at, let me give you a real life example.  A  few years ago a woman was doing a general strength and fitness program with me over the winter months.  When the weather got better, she went back to one of her favorite spring/summertime activities–hiking.  2012-08-18-Lions-Binkert-Hike-9867-MKHWhen she came in the next Monday after her first weekend hike of the season, she was raving about how fit she felt and how she left her husband in the dust as they went up steep hills.  She experienced little to no breathlessness and zero soreness the following days.  Obviously her general training program of Deadlifts, Turkish Get-Ups, Goblet Squats, Ring Rows, and other basic exercises, transferred nicely to being successful during a tough hike in the woods.  She was pleasantly surprised about this outcome.  This is the hallmark of a properly designed training program.

Heavy-Deadlift-LockoutRecently, a peer of mine in the lifting world, Dane Miller, wrote a piece about how front squatting and pull-ups allowed him to set an all time personal record in the deadlift of 600 pounds without training the movement at all.  You can see this idea of transference among all sports and disciplines.  My track coach in college was adamant about our 400m runners sometimes racing in the 200m.  Same goes for the 800m runners racing in the 400m.  He knew that the foot speed needed for the shorter distance would help improve the time in the longer race.  Shot putters and discus throwers have always known that performing the snatch and clean & jerk in the weight room will help them throw their chosen implement farther because of the power it helps to develop.


Many times, like the example of the effortless hike through the woods, transference of h=300training will come as a surprise.  It was a surprise to a former rotational shot putter of mine when he realized, that all of a sudden, he had a lightning quick turn around pivot move to the hoop on the basketball court.  Another reason kids should be playing multiple sports as they grow up is because there is, what should be, obvious transference from one sport to others.  It’s also a reason why programs like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are popular and successful in schools.  The subjects are so interrelated that it makes sense to combine them together instead of breaking them apart.  

The older and more experienced you become as a coach or teacher in your chosen field, you will notice transference between two drills more clearly.  From experience, I now know you can increase a power clean by deadlifting 10 set of 2 reps, with moderate weight and doubled up mini jump stretch bands attached to the bar, once a week for 6 weeks.  When my Strength and Conditioning class finished their 6 week block of banded deadlifts, and we switched back to cleans, they were all able to do 10 sets of 2 with their old max!  

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Even though it gets easier to notice transference as you grow as a coach, you still can be surprised at what relates.  In our last article on the front squat we spoke about variations of the front squat for people that have trouble with the front squat.  One of the variations was to use lifting straps on the bar that give the lifter more “breathing room” in regard to elbow and wrist flexion.  This allows you to still train the movement and work around poor flexibility.  Personally, I have never had to use this variation until recently.  I’ve been dealing with shoulder pain that makes the rack position impossible.  So instead of ignoring front squats, I started to use straps.  After a few weeks of practice, more attention to what was starting to happen allowed a transference effect to be noticed.  I noticed that I had to shrug harder into the bar when using the straps which lifted the bar off my collar bones.  It allowed the bar to sit a bit deeper on my neck and allowed me to stay more upright than ever before on the front squat.  One day after front squatting with straps, I decided to try some cleans and what happened with my body surprised me.  When I received the bar I also shrugged my shoulders high and it landed securely deep into my shoulders and neck.  I had never felt the receiving position feel like that before.

Lightbulb!
If you have ever taught someone to clean, they most likely have had the bar crash onto their collar bones or low on the shoulders.  Front squatting with straps helps to groove the proper receiving position by forcing the shoulders to elevate and be active into the bar.  This variation of the front squat, that I once thought was garbage, will become one of my go to drills to reinforce proper receiving position.  Like some of the best inventions ever created, it happened by accident and was totally unexpected.  Keep those eyes open coaches! Like front squatting with straps, sometimes you have to give things a chance.  You never know where an answer to an unasked question is going to surface.

Interested in learning more about the front squat? Check out Certified Barbell Coach Seminar here.

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