What Is Sport Specific Training?

BOSU Tennis

Sport specific training is certainly a popular phrase in the training world as many people are looking for it and many gyms/facilities offer it.  It is no doubt important.  I believe athletes young and old should engage in some sort of training to stay strong and healthy.  The issue is that the term “sport specific” training isn’t really specific itself.  I have found that this broad term can mean different things to different people.  Here are a few thoughts about what it may or may not be.

First off, I love sports and may even claim to know quite a bit about them since I watch them often.  However, I am in no way a sport coach.  In other words, if an athlete comes to train with me I can’t really tell him/her what to do on the field.  For example, I’m not going to try and work on his throwing mechanics or exactly where his hands and feet need to be when engaging with another individual.  That’s for his coaches to determine and teach.  Not only that, but there are many specialists and dare I say gurus, out there whose job is just that, coaching specific sport technique.  My job as the movement, strength, and conditioning coach is just that.  I’m not going to try and teach anyone how to play their position.

Building on that, whether you are a young athlete practicing regularly or a high level athlete that is arguably an expert in your sport, do you need to be practicing these same skills in the gym?  I would argue no.  For the high level athlete, what’s the point in essentially practicing the things that you’re already the best at while in the gym? Should surfers spend even more time wobbling around on balance boards in the gym or spend more time working on weaknesses?  Does a tennis player need to put a racquet in their hand while at the gym?  I’ve worked with some endurance athletes over the years and what I found was that they surely didn’t need me to improve their endurance but I was able to identify other areas that were lacking and would ultimately help them reach their goals.  Namely movement and strength.

Indo Swing

What does this leave us with you may ask if we are stripping away what would appear to be the sport specific aspect of the training? What really is sport specific then?  Well, sports are about producing force, against the ground or an opponent, speed, power, etc.  Even in a long distance race the idea is still to be the fastest.  To express these qualities one must be strong and fast.  And of course it helps to move well.  Time in the gym is best served learning to produce and absorb force.  I think the best way to do this is to just get strong. Real strength doesn’t happen over night.  It takes time and practice, meaning that dabbling here and there won’t do the trick to meet any kind of real standard for strength.  Athletes should work on their weaknesses, which sadly for most is that they are in fact weak. There are without question times when athletes need to practice sprinting and changing direction, etc, like they do in sport.  This can be done in the gym as part of a strength and conditioning program.  Just realize that as a casual observer you may not be able to actually determine which sport the athletes play as it may look very similar across many sports.  Sport specific training is not trying to take “the field” into the gym.  It is only part of the puzzle to making a better athlete which in part is getting stronger.

– Mike Baltren