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by Jason Lakrtiz, PT, DPT, FAFS

Posted in Blog.

April 27th, 2020

Specificity of Movement

How do you look at movement? Athletes are always trying to find the most efficient ways to move to increase power, strength, become more injury resilient or rehab an injury faster.  As a physical therapist, it is my profession to look at and analyze movement. 


As I analyze movement I look at it in three ways.

  1. How are the joints moving in the 3 planes of motion (3D),
  2. What are the specific requirements of the task being performed (Specificity),
  3. How are the muscles loaded leading to the explosion of the task (load/explode)?


What does specificity mean in relation to movement and how does it help create rehab and strengthening programs that are specific to your goal? 


Specificity in relation to movement means choosing activities that create the same chain reactions throughout your body that your goal activity requires.  Simply the exercises you choose to do should look and feel like the activity you are trying to perform. Let’s take a look at running and golfing to see how you would analyze these 2 different sports.  


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  • Running is on one leg, hips and spine are going in the opposite direction, hands are separated 
  • Golfing is on 2 legs, hips and spine are mostly going in the same direction, hands are connected 


How would knowing this about running and golfing drive what exercises you would choose to help improve the efficiency of movement and thus reduce injury risk, rehab an existing injury, or improve strength and performance? 


We know strengthening your glutes is important for each of these sports, but by using the way we defined each movement above we can choose more effective exercises for each sport.  


  • Running- Single leg squat with same side rotational reach using dumbbells as weight. 


This exercise covers the requirements we defined before for the sport of running.  The exercise is on one leg, the pelvis and spine are rotating opposite each other and by using dumbbells the hands are not connected and moving in opposite directions. 


  • Golfing- double leg squat with legs shoulder-width apart, holding onto medicine ball rotating both arms to the same side at shoulder height. 


This exercise covers the requirement we defined before for the sport of golf.  The exercise is on 2 feet, the spine and the hips are both rotating the same direction, and the hands are together. 


I like to think of exercises on a continuum for how they relate to the movement you are trying to improve.  One end of the continuum is the exercise resembles the goal movement closely and the other end of the continuum is the exercise does not resemble the movement very closely.   


So if your goal is to run better the first example is on the high end of the continuum and the second example is a bit farther away on that continuum.  The important thing to note is that both exercises are good for both activities as glute strength is important for both, however one is better for running and one is better for golf.  As a physical therapist, my goal is to have you perform an exercise like the single-leg squat for running, but if it is too painful or you are unable to balance I have to move down the continuum to find an exercise you can do and slowly work you back to the single-leg squat and running. 


As a PT I often hear from patients, I Googled this injury and am trying these exercises.  I always cringe when I hear this and then somebody that wants to run is doing a lot of clamshells. If you look at the requirements for running, as we defined above, clamshells are very far down the continuum. The exercise is not on one leg, the hips and spine are not moving in relation to each other, and the hands are not moving at all.  This may be good at the very beginning of rehab or if unable to stand, but at some point you must do some exercise that looks and feels like the activity you want to do. Next time you want to improve performance, start to rehab or prehab an injury, or strengthen your body ask yourself is the exercise you choose specific to your goal activity?

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