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Why “Sport Specific” Training (Usually) Sucks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Kurtis Bednarcyk, CFSC

It’s an increasingly common buzz-phrase in the strength and conditioning world – “sport specific.” After several years of effectively preparing athletes for success their chosen sports – improvement in game performance, work capacity, and mental strength along with reduction in injury, we still find athletes, parents, and coaches questioning the process: “is the training sport specific???”

In a word, no. At least not in the way you’re probably thinking. My definition for the phrase would be: corresponding or analogous to the demands of one’s sport or activity; you know – jumpers jump, sprinters sprint, linebackers tackle.

Assuming an individual is already participating in the sport in which they desire to improve (if this assumption is incorrect, stop reading now and go get signed up. This is truly, unquestionably “step one.”), then guess what?! Unless the coach is a total halfwit, my right-handed throwing and batting baseball player is already powerfully rotating to the left thousands of times per year, and my hockey winger pushes off laterally perhaps a couple million. That is to say, the sports themselves are, well, “sport specific!”

The true role of Strength & Conditioning (the proper noun used with regard to athletics) is to identify gaps or deficits in movement, and correct or improve them to allow athletes to move as efficiently and uninhibitedly as possible when participating in their sports. Only then can we begin perfecting sport skills in training. Athletics are essentially just advanced progressions and combinations of fundamental human movements – push, pull, hinge, squat, carry, and rotate; I suppose landing or absorbing belong here too. A vast majority of athletes come to us with a relative ability to comply with the demands of their sport (because they practice!) but tend to lack the stability or mobility to coordinate other movements. This is often the real limitation of in-game ability. Continuing to build the sport specific movements without proper development of those that are lacking would only exacerbate deficits, not correct them.

Let’s simplify. If you’ve ever watched an NASCAR race you might have noticed that the pit crews often change only the right side tires. Because the oval-track races contain all left-hand turns, the tires on the right consistently travel further and are subject to a lot more stress over the course of a race. Unfortunately when dealing with human beings, we can’t just change the tires and let them drive away, but the answer is certainly not more left hand turns! Our job is to find the appropriate action to balance them out.

The true needs of an athlete are not always obvious to the outside observer, but our professional focus is always to reduce the movement deficits that he or she has been forced to work around – it is not “sport specific” but rather, “athlete specific.” The outcome is more natural, efficient movement that translates to the results that we have consistently rendered from the athletes that train with us. 


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