Sport Specific Training In The World Of Strength and Conditioning: What is it and is it a Gimmick?
This is an article I have wanted to write for a long time, and it is about time that this topic is addressed. A misunderstanding of “sport specific,” training and the relationship between sport and strength and conditioning is one of the biggest issues in this field today. So, here I am. Finally I have reached my breaking point regarding foolish and “cool,” videos of athletes performing activities in the weight room that should be reserved for their respective fields of play (court, ice, field etc.). How do we address this issue? It is quite simple. We must first understand what sport specific training is, give some clear examples of why trying to simulate sport in the weight room can be ineffective as well as detrimental and tackle the principle of dynamic correspondence (sounds confusing but bear with me) and how it can help program effectively for athletes.
What is Sport Specific Training?
The biggest problem with the misconception regarding sport specific training is that often, athletes and trainers do not know what it actually means. Let us say it once, and say it loudly. SPORT SPECIFIC ACTIVITY IS ACTIVITY THAT IS ACTUALLY PERFORMED BY THE ATHLETE WHILE PLAYING THEIR SPORT ON THEIR RESPECTIVE FIELD (or ice, shout out to my hockey guys). Running around and practicing your soccer skills with a weighted vest, attaching a band to your hockey stick or baseball bat, and a myriad of other ridiculous activities in the weight room do not count as sport specific and they for sure do not help you. If anything, they provide a detriment to your motor skills and muscle memory regarding these particular movements. However, I will give some more insight on that in a bit.
How Bringing Sport Activities Into Your Strength and Conditioning Can Hurt You
I briefly alluded to this above, but there are several key reasons why bringing your sport activities into the weight room can hurt your performance when you are actually playing your sport. I like to use one golden rule when it comes to this. I reserve all activities related to a glove, stick, ball (excluding medicine balls of course) or bat to the sporting coach. This is a great way to ensure your athlete is being “taught,” a skill by someone who has no earthly idea of anything relating to that skill. If you are a person who enjoys lists and they make things easy to understand then here is a list of reasons why bringing sport into the weight room can be a detriment:
- Movements can be performed incorrectly without supervision from an educated coach. (For example: I do not coach hockey and thus cannot teach someone to shoot a puck).
- Applying unusual resistance to an activity that requires intense skill can disrupt motor patterns (our nervous systems way of developing a skill) and cause a regression in ability with that skill.
- Direct resistance to a shot, throw, sprint with a ball or swing can limit the required ranges of motion often necessary for such activities.
Want a final summary on what is listed above? Doing these listed things will HURT your performance when you actually do return to your sport.
The Principle of Dynamic Correspondence
Now at this point you may be reading this and saying to yourself, “well thanks Gerry, but if everything you just said is the WRONG way of doing things, how do we do it the correct way?” Luckily, both of us have Russian super scientist and OG of strength and performance training Yuri Verkhoshansky to help us out. I am an avid follower of Yuri and his findings from half a century ago (that still hold up) regarding everything from strength training, jump training and beyond. Yuri developed an easy list of checkpoints to use that can help align your training with your sport. Basically, the more checkpoints you can satisfy, the better and more effective your training is in terms of improving your ability with your sport. The principles are as follows (I will add some examples):
- Amplitude and direction of movement
o Which planes of motion are involved in your sport? Frontal (lateral), transverse (rotational), sagittal (crossing the midline of your body)? A baseball and hockey player should most definitely train their rotational power with medicine ball throw variations that develop ability to clear the hips, spine etc. A basketball player would definitely want to work on their vertical power producing ability since jumping is supreme to their sport! These are just a few examples!
- Region of Force Production
o I alluded to this briefly above, but while a basketball player surely needs to improve their vertical force production, horizontal and linear force is more important to a hockey player. Both athletes need both, but one more than the other. Vertical power is a great base of lower-half explosiveness and speed, but as a hockey player becomes more advanced they may need to focus strictly on their force production straight ahead (linear/horizontal force production). Think about it? When would a hockey player exclusively put force into the vertical plane (jump)? It would either be a mixture of horizontal and vertical or horizontal.
- Dynamic (Speed) of The Effort
o Essentially, is your training adequately matching the speed of your sport activities? For example, are you an athlete exclusively performing heavy lifts and not moving your squats and deadlifts for speed? You can imagine this may not prove to be as effective as you desire your training to be.
- Rate and Time of Maximum Force Production
o In your sport, how long are your bouts of maximum force production? A swing or throw in baseball may last one second, while a football lineman can engage in a block for up to five to seven seconds. Adjust your training accordingly. It would make sense for that same football player to push a heavy sled for thirty seconds. They never display their max force for that long!
- Muscles Contracted
o Which muscles are important to your success? A skater depends on their quadriceps tremendously, so a hockey player may benefit more from front squats versus back squats. That same back squat could tremendously benefit a baseball player, as it would help strengthen/mobilize their upper back, wrists and shoulders. All of which are important to rotational athletes.
Now that you have an understanding of sports specificity at the core, know how it can hurt you and have a blueprint for maximizing the carryover of your training you can ensure that you are training the correct way. Remember, sport specificity itself is reserved for your practice and game activity. Otherwise, you can be diminishing your skills you spend so much time developing. Instead, try matching the intensity, duration and areas of movement you are expected to perform and aim at increasing your strength, power and speed in those areas. You will be a far better athlete!
For more on the principle of dynamic correspondence and Yuri Verkhoshansky visit: www.verkhoshansky.com
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.