Sports Specific Training

Sports specific training - what is it? What does it mean? Is your gym offering it? To start with it's a term that has caught on in the fitness industry as a result of parents asking gym's if they could train their kid(s) in a particular sporting field to prepare them and improve them in their sporting field. As a result you see athletes being trained using balance balls, resistance bands hooked up to them as they try and perform their sporting activity and numerous other feats that the gym says will prepare them for their sport. So what does this mean? Well to start with I classify it as a "fad" designed by gyms to attract athletes/parents with athleticly talent children, and should be avoided. Why?

Well to start with you cannot duplicate sport skills and game-like scenarios effectively in a gym. Simply put, the athlete is in a gym, not on a field. If your gym is offering sport specific training you need to ask them how and what they are doing to achieve this. Their answer should be along these lines - "we're giving the athlete what they aren't getting on the field."

This means their focus is on hinging, squatting, pushing and pulling. Movements that make the athlete stronger and build a strong foundation that will allow them to express their skill on the field. In other words it is best not to be mimicking what they already do and know - rather train them using explosive exercises that will improve speed and total body power output.

Sports conditioning coaches already know this and will cringe when the see or hear of a gym offering sport specific training. “Sport-specific training” has continued to boom over the past 10-15 years. Unfortunately, the classification of sport-specific training has been oversimplified in that people are using the term for anything and everything to catch the eye of athletes and parents - drive membership up as I stated earlier.

But the biggest indicator to me as to what can help an athlete be successful is their ability to develop strength and master the basics (hinging, squatting etc as mentioned earlier). So from the perspective of the intelligent trainer, coach and therapists what do they think?

To start with - Fundamental movement patterns need to be pristine and demonstrated consistently so athletes can have good body control to improve athleticism. Athleticism comes from being able to utilize their foundational strength, in addition to an athlete’s refined skill, and have it expressed in their sport.

Strength training in different planes, working on coordination, and improving stability during single leg tasks are most transferrable to sport without actually playing the sport. Programming needs to be specific to the athlete, not necessarily the sport the athlete is playing, to yield a transferrable outcome. 

Overall, I think context needs to be given when discussing what sport-specific training is. If it doesn’t involve improving strength and building capacity in athletes to handle the stresses of sport, then maybe the term needs to be redefined in a manner that people would better understand. The term "circus training" jumps to mind.

As a trainer with a running background (plus various other sports) I train athletes to get stronger using the basic movement type exercises. My running has benefited from this as I feel more balanced and stronger (especially endurance wise). At the end of the day, movement is movement. The main tenets of movement come down to basic human movement patterns: squat, hip hinge, single leg, upper body push, upper body pull, upper body press, carry, run, jump, etc. If you're still thinking "sport specific" training look at it this way - the sexier the exercise, the lower the chances are that it translates to sport function or performance. Stick to basics and watch as your child athlete develops and grows into a high performing athlete. Happy training.

Martin McKone