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THE SPECIALIST VERSUS THE GENERALIST

January 24, 2014

I love my job.  I love our gym.  I love what we do in there day in, day out.  It is exciting to watch everyone work hard and put it all out there – to risk failure again and again.  The satisfaction and joy is palpable when one witnesses that incredible moment when one lands a monster PR, or aces a complex body weight movement.  I want to scream aloud and run up to give a congratulatory hug or high five at that very moment of physical ascendancy.

Equally palpable, when failure occurs, is the frustration, the self-loathing, and the utter disgust in one’s abilities; I can feel it in some of you.  I’m asking you to stop.  Don’t do it any longer.

 

We all share a few similar traits.   We seek constant self-improvement, we want to feel accomplished, and we enjoy being strong.  As a result we head into the gym on a regular basis and put ourselves through a battery of physical and mental trials and tribulations in an effort to effect positive change.

 

Some of the more alluring means of effecting positive change, specifically in one’s ability to produce power, are the Olympic lifts:  the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk.  The Snatch is the world’s fastest and most technically challenging athletic movement; the Clean & Jerk is the most powerful movement.  Let that sink in for a while.  “The Snatch is the world’s fastest and most technically challenging athletic movement; the Clean & Jerk is the most powerful movement.”

That is not conjecture.  It is not my biased opinion.  That is fact.  With a Snatch, from start to finish, we are talking about 400+ pounds being hoisted overhead in less than 1 second.  With the Clean & Jerk we are talking about a human being thrusting overhead nearly 600 pounds.  And here we are, spending about 20 minutes every 7-9 days, practicing the same lifts.  A whopping 20 minutes every 7-9 days.  Based on the programming, we spend maybe another 10-15 minutes 1 or 2 times per week executing the lifts as part of a WOD.  The men and women that are throwing big weights around are spending hours, 4-6 days per week, on those two lifts alone.  We spend 20-50 minutes out of every 168-192 hours.

 

Do you see the disconnect here?

 

I’m not suggesting that anyone spend a single moment longer that one currently is on the Snatch, or the Clean & Jerk, or what ever the movement is that is proving to be frustrating.  I’m certainly not implying that one practice, at one given time, for hours on end.  That is, unless, one wants to specialize; after all, we are generalists.

 

Take the example of the osprey and the bald eagle.  Both raptors are fish eaters.  The osprey has developed eyes that, while flying, allow them to see fish swimming under water.  Their feet have developed in such a way as to make them perfect for plucking live fish from out of ponds and lakes, but not so great for grabbing small game, and their beaks are perfect for ripping into the soft flesh of a live fish.  They are specialists.  In fact they are so specialized that they are incapable of catching live game and can no longer recognize dead fish or carrion as food.   The bald eagles’ feet are well adapted to catching fish yet they are still able to scoop up land animals.  Their eyesight, while stellar, is still able to effectively detect live game as well as carcasses from miles up in the air, and their beaks are adept at tearing into all types of flesh.  Dead or alive, fish or small mammal, its all fair game for the bald eagle.  But that bald eagle is never going to be as good as the osprey at plucking live fish out of a body of water.  Bald eagles are generalists.

 

We are generalists.  Every one of us wants to be the best we can be at what ever is the task at hand.  And the task list seems to get longer and longer.  WB, PU, AS, KBS, KBSn, KBC, DU, FS, BS, DL, SP, PP, PJ, PS, PC, BJ – and that is not even getting into the various gymnastics movements with which we train or the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.

 

My goal as your coach is make you HARD TO KILL.  My goal is not to turn you into a gymnast, an Olympic lifter, or a specialist of any kind.  I want you to be highly competent in the majority of the common physical tasks with which you will be faced in your lifetime.  As a generalist, the endgame is not how much weight is being moved in anyone lift, or how perfectly one is able to execute a given modality.  The endgame is how effectively the strength, speed, power, accuracy, balance, flexibility, endurance, stamina, coordination, and agility that is the focus of our programing improves the quality of one’s life by reducing instances of injury and allowing one to more fully participate in life.  The endgame is becoming HARD TO KILL.  Generalists may not be the best at plucking a fish out of a pond, they sure as hell will never go without food.

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