Anti-sport specificity

November 30, 2008

My big project in my business class this semester was to create a business and make a business plan and do a couple presentations on it (elevator speech + presentation to investors). Anyways my group decided on creating a fitness company that specialized in training athletes. A few times during our conversations both amongst ourselves and with our professor, the subject of training and sport specificity came up. The general idea out there is that there are certain special exercises that you only do with athletes of a given sport because it mimics the sporting activity somehow. (When I used to train to play baseball, I thought the same thing, and that these exercises were somehow “magical” because they were specific to actions encountered in baseball).

Knowing what I know now, I was wrong!

Here’s the thing, anything an athlete does in the gym falls under general physical preparedness (GPP). Any strength training is purely GPP (unless they’re a powerlfiter or Olympic weightlifter)…obviously in field or court sports, sprinting can be specific.

Bench pressing = GPP

Bench pressing = GPP

The other thing is the idea that there are special exercises for athletes in certain sports. This comes from the idea that performing an exercise that closely mimics a specific sporting movement with weight will make you more powerful in the actual sporting movement in competition. Something I learned early in my time at SST a couple summers back was that adding load to a sport specific pattern (eg. throwing a med ball like a baseball) causes an altered motor pattern. That means that with the added weight, the nervous system doesn’t fire the muscles the same as in the actual sporting movement. Strike One.

Also here’s where we have a slippery slope: can sport specificity lead to imbalances??

At first glance the idea of using sport specific exercises seems like a good idea because the athlete will be spending more time practicing the movement desired in competition (with load no less). However between games and practices (especially at higher levels and in year-round team programs), the athlete is getting an ample amount of repetition of sporting movements, so the giving them exercises that mimic these sport movements ends up feeding this imbalance. In the spring I remember listening to Karen Wood, the University of Oklahoma volleyball strength coach, and she talked about how after the season is finished and off-season training resumes, they do not quarter squat; they deep squat. She said that in volleyball so much of the sport is performed in a quarter squat position, that she had players perform full squats in the off-season to restore balance. I thought this was bang on! A sport specific approach would have dictated that these girls just do quarter squats since thats what they encounter in competition, but this would just increase any quad dominance. So much for reducing injury risk…

Strike two.

The third strike is pretty straightforward. If an exercise worked to teach a baseball player how to produce force well, why would I withhold that exercise from a hockey player?? Muscles don’t know that they’re being trained for basketball or hockey or sumo wrestling. All they know is that a message is being sent to them telling them they need to contract an adequate amount of fibers to be able to do whatever is being asked of them. A common scenario that gets thrown around is you have to train the knee muscles for a soccer player. So for a baseball player or gymnast, it wouldn’t be important to do these exercises; they’re knees don’t have to be strong?? Strike three. Batter’s out.

The idea of sport specificity just doesn’t take everything into account. There’s more to improved athletic performance than performing sporting movements with weight in the hopes of creating improved strength in those movements.



2 Responses to “Anti-sport specificity”

  1. […] Random Thoughts Dec 5/08 5 12 2008 1. Earlier this week I wrote about the dangers of sport specific exercise. Here’s something that is also a common assumption of sport specific training: Should […]

  2. […] or “identical enough” (I’ve written about this before >> Anti-sport specificity […]

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