Bob Mathias

A lot of people’s fitness lives revolve around specializing in one sort of exercise modality. Some people just like to run, some swim or others just lift weights.

It’s not hard to imagine how this might come about. I think most people naturally have a tendency to stick to something they’re good at, or enjoy.

As well, physical limitations or biomechanical advantages may cause a person to gravitate to one particular type of activity, usually. I’m taller than average (6’5″) but I am terrible at basketball.

Think about it, when you perform some sort of complex action and it is successful, your brain fires off all kinds of happiness hormones to reward you for your accomplishment. Wanting to feel this way on a regular basis, we fall into the routine where we stick to the types of exercises or sports that we’re good at.

Can letting ourselves succumb too deeply to this type of behavior be detrimental to our health or fitness? I think it can.

If you are an athlete in a particular sport, it’s essentially your job to be as good as you can at that sport. If your paycheck is on the line, then all else that doesn’t contribute to making you better at your particular role must go. Partly, this can be justified for the risk of injury unrelated to the training of that sport. It’s just not a good strategy for success.

So, after training at your sport for a long time you become the best that there is. Are you now the greatest of athletes, and supremely fit?

Well, there are not doubt world class triathletes who can’t do a single pull-up. On the other side of the coin, there are record-breaking weight lifters who would get winded just running for a few minutes. In their respective sports, their accomplishments are legendary. But are they really fit? Will they survive in a crisis situation? Will they injure themselves attempting something outside of their body’s molded performance track?

Ok, so I’m not a world-class athlete and I doubt that many of my readers are either. But still, we all have to make decisions about how we train for fitness.

I’ve always thought that the decathlon was the most impressive of the Olympic events. In more recent times, other more flashy sports or events get most of the acclaim. Everybody likes to see people pushing the limits of human performance, but I still think that being a well-rounded athlete is the more laudable of accomplishments.

With the rise of Crossfit and the popularity of obstacle events like the Spartan Race, it’s obvious that more people are starting to come around to this type of thinking.

This all ultimately takes us to the question – what is it you are training for?

I believe the answer should be “so that you can be a more capable human being”. Mundane, sure – but it may be the case one day where your capabilities are all that keep you from injury or untimely death. Limiting your training to one type of skillset or movements will eventually limit your options when it might actually matter.

I’m not talking about training to become a ninja here. If increasing your capabilities entails being able to walk a mile further than you use to, then that is a success. But one shouldn’t stop there, and certainly you shouldn’t limit your activity to just walking.

Do I think you should stop enjoying your favorite fitness activity? Heck no. If you like to run, as I also do, then run! But maybe you can do some complementary weight training on rest days, or mix in some body weight exercises spontaneously while out on the trail.

The point is, don’t let yourself become too one-dimensional. There are so many things that the human body is capable of doing, celebrate this gift by trying them out!

What kinds of ways do you train multi-dimensionally?

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12 Responses to What Are the Risks of Being a Specialist?

  1. Thor Falk says:

    Not much too had here, other than my support. Certainly personally I have been feeling much better since I started those things that I wasnt good at…

    And your point about professionals is key – the rules that apply to them do not apply to us, they have to do some sacrifices for their performance

  2. Jason says:

    I have exclusively done weight lifting in the past. More recently it switched to just running. In order to train for a marathon i only had time to run, unfortunately any other time at a gym had to fall to the way side. Now that i completed my 1st marathon, i noticed i have gotten very weak in the upper body. So im sucking it up and squeezing crossfit into the mix. Unfortunately is has been very tough to juggle both workouts and life….i have noticed my running routine is slipping. But it will all be worth it in the end.

    • David Csonka says:

      Some of the longer Crossfit WODs will really take it out of you. You could try focusing on shorter duration higher intensity work. That will cut back on the time needed, but won’t necessarily reduce the gains you’ll get. Thinking high weight / low rep stuff.

      Let your running be your metcon training, rather than 30 minutes of wallballs and burpees.

  3. Nina says:

    I’m guilty of this to some extent… I’m good at running, and so that is what I do the most. Plus, I enjoy it more than most sports. However, I’m also in the military, so I have to have some type of upper-body strength, so I also try to throw in some calisthenics/pullups/light lifting. I’m also a bit smaller than your average soldier (5’1″ around 113), so I have to be sure to do SOME type of strength training to be able to carry around extra weight that’s designed for someone bigger. I’ve also found that when I focus solely on running and forget about everything else, I tend to get injured, so I try to swim sometimes as well as hit the bike.

    • David Csonka says:

      Nina, what kind of injuries do you get when on running streaks?

      • Nina says:

        Well, my first one was ITBS…. What’s weird about that is that I had been running for awhile before I started struggling with that. Then I got plantar fasciitis, and then that went away for awhile until I was training for a marathon… then I got posterior tibial tendinitis. I’ve taken up pose/chi running methods (more pose I guess), and that seems to have helped things a lot, though I’ve been struggling a little with calf tightness lately.

  4. Chris says:

    My job’s are LMT, trainer and Research & Development for a backcountry ski/snowboard company. I climb mountains and snowboard back down from Nov.> June.

    My lifelong (40yrs.) passion and former occupation is Martial Arts.

    My other loves are Olympic weightlifting, kettlebells, odd object lifting, hunting (hiking) and mountain biking.

    As a therapist and trainer I believe the strength training is by far the most important.

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