We’ve looked at some of the common practices masquerading as sport specific training, now let’s examine some tried and true principles that actually create transfer of weight room gains into sport performance. As an athlete progresses in training age, from novice to advanced, or as he get closer to the competitive event/season, training should shift from general to specific.
General exercises are aimed at preparing the body by building basic parameters for sport performance, such as strength, power, and conditioning. The purpose of general exercises, used in General Preparatory Phases (GPP), is to build a foundation of fitness and movement, upon which specific qualities can be built.
Specific exercises, used during the Specific Preparatory Phase, in addition to Peaking and Competition Phases, are aimed at enhancing specific functions that should have the greatest transfer to the sporting event. These exercises follow a set of rules, which guide the athlete or coach into creating a program that has the highest potential for carry over. These guidelines are created by examining sport specific movements, and analyzing them against training principles, to choose exercises which closely mimic the demands of the sport movement. This mirroring of sport functions is not simply to look like the sport movement, as discussed earlier, but here the purpose is to create the same physiological demand on the athlete. The S.A.I.D. principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) states that the demand we place on the body will create adaptations specific to those stressors. Therefore if our demand is closely matched with the physiological demand of the sport movement we aim to improve, the adaptations likely to occur should be very similar to the sport movement as well.
Check off your sport specific exercises against this list of guidelines to see how closely they will transfer to the sport. Keep in mind that specificity of an exercise can change drastically between sports, positions, athletes, and depending on many variables in the exercise prescription. Cross checking your exercises to as many on this list as possible is a good way to track specificity. An exercise that only matches one guideline is probably more general, while an exercise that hits all sixis highly specific.
Joint Position & Movement Classification
The joint positions required in a sport, for an athlete to absorb, resist, transfer, or produce force should be directly correlated to the positions in exercise. Without similar joint positions, the muscles required to do the work will change, as well as the sequencing of those muscles firing to complete the task. For example, if a basketball player jumps mostly off one leg, in a quick reactive jump with minimal knee and hip bend, then his specific jumping program should not include a lot of double leg jumps with a huge counter movement and change in center of mass. The more closely related the joint angles in training are to the necessary joint angles in the sport, the greater likelihood of transferability of training.
“Joint position dictates muscle function.” ~Loren Landow
Similar to specific joint positions, the classification of sporting movements should sync with the classification of specific movements in training. If a volleyball player regularly moves laterally, using shuffle step or crossover step, and forward and backward using a drop step, from a square base position, movements in training should use the same patterns as you get closer to competition. Longer sprinting or less specific patterns would fall into a general preparatory phase.
Speed & Plane of Movement
Athletes are required to produce force in a variety of speeds, from slamming a forehand shot down the line, to accelerating into a cut on the soccer field, these actions require different speeds of force absorption and production. If the tennis player regularly produces forehand movements at a similar speed, then the transfer of his rotational power training relies on the majority of that training occurring at the same speed. If he trains rotational power always throwing a 20lb medicine ball, it will have minimal transfer to a movement where he accelerates a 10ozracquet with lightning speed.
The plane of motion where the movement occurs is extremely important for optimal transfer. An accelerating athlete is required to produce great amounts of force, but the direction of that force application is crucial to achieving world class sprinting speed. The difference between elite level sprinters and amateurs, is not how much force is being applied, but in what direction that force is being applied. Plane of sport movements, and direction of force application are critical factors in selecting exercises specific to each sport.
What type of strength qualities are necessary in the sport? In combat sports, though all categorized together, the various practices can have drastic differences in specificity. For example, a wrestler should have a lot of isometric strength, and strength endurance, necessary for long, intense muscular contractions exerted against an opponent. A kickboxer, by contrast, would need high levels of reactive strength and power endurance, to throw fast, explosive kicks and punches, with very little time spent engaged in grappling like battles. These similar athletes require very different strength qualities to excel in their sport, and a specific program should focus on enhancing the specific strength qualities for each sport.
The duration of activity is extremely important when developing conditioning programs for athletes. Without studying the duration of matches or games, as well as the duration of specific activities during the match, and measuring the intensity of those activities, a conditioning program is just a shot in the dark.
If an NFL offensive lineman, whose average play lasts around 6 seconds, and moves an average of less than 5 yards per play, spent his entire off season long distance running, he would show up to camp and gas out in no time. This player would be deemed “out of shape”, even if he had a high level of aerobic fitness. The problem is not that he did not put in the work in the off season, the problem is that he spent the entire off season developing the wrong energy system. Duration and intensity of different movements in the sport, shifts, plays, and full matches are crucial to piecing together an energy system development program that will improve sport specific conditioning.
When developing a training program to have specific carryover to sport, a coach must take into account the external stimuli that the player will see in the sporting event. This can be everything from the distractions of the lights, music, and crowd, to the movements of other players that will cue specific reactions. As we build towards competition, open drills that do not include predetermined patterns, but instead force the player to react to external stimuli and make decisions, while executing a sport specific movement pattern, should be used to create carry over from practice drills to on field tactics. An example of this could be a linebacker, using a linking read step while watching a coaches cues, to a shuffle, to crossover step, into downhill sprint could simulate reading and reacting to a run play.
The more similar this external stimuli is to the on field actions of the sport, the greater likelihood of transfer. If the coach can also introduce other distracting external stimuli, like the noise of the crowd, this will help desensitize the athlete to the specific environment, and allow him to adapt to the stressors that will affect him on game day. This is a common practice in many professional sports teams, bringing in wind machines and speakers blasting crowd noise during practice, to create the most specific environment possible, to allow practice to transfer to in game performance.
Every sport has typical pathologies that are seen often, due to the repetitive nature of many sporting movements, and asymmetrical demands placed on the body. Any sport specific training program should take into account these imbalances created by sporting movements, and common injuries associated with them. Exercises should be selected to help reduce the chances of these specific injuries occurring.
We’ve taken a look at the differences between the SST facade, being put on by ignorant and uneducated trainers looking to create buy in through enterTRAINment, and real SST being implemented by performance professionals, following the 6 step guidelines of dynamic correspondence. For every exercise you select in your program, or you are assigned to teaching an athlete, ask yourself, “what is the purpose of this exercise for this athlete?” If the intended goal is general physical preparation, is it too specific? If the goal is sport specific performance enhancement, does it match up with the majority of the six principles above, or is it too general for optimal transfer? When you follow these guidelines, you will prevent falling into the trap of fake SST, and you will be able to create programs for athletes that will really transfer from the weight room, into improved performance on the field of play.
Rabita G, Dorel S, Slawinski J et al. Sprint mechanics in world-class athletes: a new insight into the limits of human locomotion. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2015;25(5):583-94