Sport Specific Training: What's the difference?

 
by Andrew Duck, BAppSci, CSCS
Editor's Note:
Our Sport Specific Editor will join the healthfitness.com.au team with the highly respected, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) credential. Completing Human Movement at RMIT University, his work with the YMCA, Aquarena in a wide range of sports, not to mention his own personal sport career, makes his input extremely valuable. He is here to explain and explore sport specific training in all it's forms.
You training for a sport?
Then stick around, because the Sport Specific Training section has just begun!

Motivation. We all have it. We all need it to achieve our goals. Our goals differ and so too our motivations. Although training for a health/fitness benefit requires hard work, like that of an athlete, the motivation behind the training is completely different.

When training to be stronger, fitter or just healthier, the outcome is generally a body image benefit. This should be the last thing to enter an athlete's mind. Sure, athletes do tend to have good bodies but this is an extra benefit, not the only one. The motivation behind sport specific training is an increase in sporting performance, not to be stronger or fitter or healthier but to gain an advantage on the sporting field.

The way an athlete trains is not outrageously different to that of the local gym junkie. With respect to the weight room, the exercises may look the same, and even be the same. The use of exercises for the athlete needs to be relative to their sport. All exercises should be sport specific. If not, why is the athlete undertaking such an exercise? During the off season, an athlete may do similar exercises to that of a body builder so as to increase their muscle mass. During the pre-season, and the season itself, an athlete is not a body builder and therefore should not train like one.

Which exercises are not appropriate for athletes? This depends on the sport in which the athlete participates. Generally since most sports do not involve bilateral movements, (meaning both limbs on each side of the body moving in the same planes at the same time) barbell exercises are not sport specific. These would then include barbell bench press and its' variations, military press, behind the neck shoulder press, barbell bicep curls, lying tricep extension, and the like. These exercises are helpful in off-season training and rehabilitation work in some cases, but they are not sport specific.

Better exercises would involve dumbbells or alternating exercises. A single arm dumbbell bench press is far more specific than a standard barbell bench press. In any throwing movement such as athletics field events, tennis serve, volleyball spike, or racquet sports, martial arts, only one arm is moving at once. Since this is the case, why train the body to have both arms moving together?

When we learn an activity, the brain remembers the movement pattern and next time we try to do the same movement, the brain remembers and executes the exact sequence of events. If we train the body in a specific way, when it comes to sport, the body will try to replicate the action we have taught it. If our work in the weight room is contradictory to that of the sport, we are likely to have technique problems and possibly even injure ourselves. Train your body in your specific movement patterns and you will achieve more in your sport.

The core is also a major area. By the core, I am talking about the torso - abdominals, lower back, chest upper back and shoulders. These are the body parts in which all power is generated with the abdominals and lower back being most important. Most of the general public suffers from a back problem and since in sport we put more tension through the spine, we must look after that area.

Traditional crunches on the floor and back extensions are not enough to keep the core strong. With these two exercises we are training the rectus abdominous (the six pack) and erector spinae (lower back). What about all the other muscles in this area? The way most people do crunches, they are not working rectus abdominous correctly and are recruiting the hip flexors instead. Transverse abdominous is very important in stability and posture.

The obliques, both internal and external, rotate the upper body along with the lower back, which is a movement found in almost every sport. Back extension is a combination of not only the erector spinae but of the gluteals, hamstrings and the fine intrinsic muscles of the spine. All of these muscles are extremely functional especially for sport and therefore need to be focused on. This is where exercise balls, Dura-Discs, medicine balls, Convert-a-Balls and such come into play. These pieces of equipment allow for a greater recruitment of muscle and motor units. And for those who want to put on muscle, if you recruit more muscle and motor unit, you will put on more muscle mass.

The skill in training athletes comes down to analysing the sport for its movement patterns and then choosing the exercise specific to the sport. This requires knowledge gained through not only courses and degrees, but through experience. Trial and error is unfortunately part of the process - some things will only work with certain athletes.

Over the coming months, I will be choosing sports and giving you sample programs for the beginner, intermediate and advanced athlete. If you have sports you would like examined or have a comment, please e-mail me at andrew@healthfitness.com.au .


The motivation behind sport specific training is an increase in sporting performance, not to be stronger or fitter or healthier but to gain an advantage on the sporting field.

Generally since most sports do not involve bilateral movements, (meaning both limbs on each side of the body moving in the same planes at the same time) barbell exercises are not sport specific.

The skill in training athletes comes down to analysing the sport for its movement patterns and then choosing the exercise specific to the sport. This requires knowledge gained through not only courses and degrees, but through experience
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