Sport Specific Training
What does "sport specific training" actually mean? It's a great question and one that strength coaches and trainers get asked a lot from parents and athletes looking to improve their athletic abilities.
According to Peerless Athletics, sport specific training is designing and executing a strength and conditioning program based on the known metabolic/physiological demands, movements and common injuries and/or stresses of a particular sport.
When an athlete fills out our online questionnaire and tells us they play a particular sport, it tells our program writers:
1.) What energy system(s) need to be trained.
2.) What movements and muscles need to be trained to improve the skills associated in the sport.
3.) What exercises need to be staples in the program and what exercises should be avoided.
The concept seems simple, however, a common mistake for coaches and athletes is take the idea of "sport specific training" as a means to try and mimic the demands of the sport. The idea is if we prepare the athlete and give them exactly the type of training they will need in competition, they will be better prepared. However, this training mentality usually backfires, doing more harm that good with most athletes. Here are a few examples:
1.) What energy system do you need to develop in order to train for the metabolic demand of your sport?
Ex.) Lets take an in-season wrestler who wants a training program that will help him dominate on the mat throughout the long grueling season. That's an easy one right?
You may be thinking, wrestling is a tough sport that requires TONS of conditioning and stamina with short spurts of lightning fast power. So, a solid dose of high intensity training, as well as high rep strength exercises will keep the athlete fit, strong and powerful throughout the season.
the wrestler will be getting PLENTY of conditioning and endurance training at practice. There is no need after practicing 5 days a week to focus on muscular endurance or conditioning (have you ever experienced a high school wrestling practice? It's insanely tough!). Not to mention that higher volumes of training can leave the athlete sore and fatigued for the next practice or competition. Instead, Peerless Athletics would focus on strength and power for this athlete with moderate to heavy loads of high intensity and a low training volume (total # of reps). This will allow the athlete to maintain and even build strength over the course of the season without fatiguing him or having him sore for practice.
2.) What types of movements and muscles are important to developing skills associated in your sport?
Ex.) Again, it seems like the answer is obvious –simply train the muscles and movements that are most common in the given sport! If it were only that simple.
For instance, take a basketball player who wants to improve their speed/agility and also increase their vertical jump. Obviously this athlete should spend time doing different speed drills i.e., cut drills, sprint intervals, etc. Also, they should spend time doing a variety of plyometrics to help improve their jump height. Easy right?
Well, the problem is this: Doesn’t that athlete get enough of that type training all season long? Especially in today's world, where the basketball season actually lasts 9 months (travel, AAU) instead of 3. The training pendulum has swung so far in the direction of ballistic movements that a program focusing on those aspects is not helping that athlete. In actuality, it might lead to hurting them through overuse. Instead, sport specific training, in this scenario, means focusing on helping that athlete swing the pendulum back away from the ballistic demands of the sport. For example:
- Soft tissue work on the foot/ankle/calf/quads/glutes
- Strength training
3.) What exercises will be chosen and which will be avoided?
#3 goes hand-in-hand with #2. There are certain sports where the prevalence of injury is so high that if it is not addressed in a strength program, the athlete is at high-risk to suffer an overuse injury. Prime examples are overhead athletes such as baseball players, swimmers, and tennis athletes. The anterior shoulder and chest is so over developed from the constant overhead swinging or throwing motion that programming certain exercises like a shoulder press would be putting that athlete at a greater risk for injury. Instead, pulling movements should be emphasized in these athletes.
Will you ever see athletes of different sports doing some of the same exercises? Absolutely you will. This is because all athletes, no matter what sport, need a general dose of strength and power to become better at their sport. Basic movement patterns are required for many different sports and have numerous applications in each sport. For example, a lateral lunge is a great lower body exercise for throwing athletes to develop strength and power in the same plane as their sport.
Similarly, that same exercise is a great tool for team sport athletes like football and soccer players to develop the strength and coordination to cut explosively. Same exercise, different application.
In summary, make sure your sport specific training program, or the coach who is training you, is taking into account the holistic view of what sport specific training really requires.