How Important is Sport-Specific Training Really?
The idea of sport-specific training has become a huge topic among athletes, trainers and physical therapists. This has become such a big topic that many people have created whole exercise programs that only use exercises that simulate the movements that are done on the field, created course on them for trainers and therapists, and created businesses around those exercise programs.
The real question is “Is this type of training worth it?”, or at the very least “Is it correct?”
To answer these questions, we must first discuss what it means to do “Sport-Specific Training”.
True sport-specific training is done on the field, court, or course with a coach and is commonly called PRACTICE. Practice is training to be better at your sport and is done with your hitting coach, pitching instructor, golf teaching pro, or head coach; and is meant to improve a specific skill that your sport requires.
The Sport-Specific Training that most people refer to is done in the off-season and especially during pre-season of a sport. So, the real question is does pre-season sport-specific exercises make a difference during the season versus a traditional exercise program?
To answer that question, we have to break exercise programs down even further. We need to break it down into cardiovascular conditioning and strength training.
Cardiovascular-wise, the answer is simple….YES, sport specific training does REALLY help. If you play a field or court sport, your conditioning can and should include an aspect of that sport. For example, a soccer player dribbling a ball during sprints would be a very effective use of sport specific training. Basketball players may run while dribbling too. Hockey players skate with sticks while controlling a puck, lacrosse players run with their sticks, and volleyball players run and simulate a stop to jump and spike during their training.
For most ball sports, cardiovascular conditioning should include longer endurance runs that can (and should) include aspects of their sport, as well as multi-directional explosive training that uses aspects of their sport. Cornerbacks should turn to run with their head peeking back at where the cornerback should be, outfielders run forward, back and side to side with their head turned toward the plate, tennis players train explosively side to side, and volleyball players have to move, bend and jump explosively.
By training in this way, athletes prepare their bodies to react in a manner that is consistent with their normal movements. There is a huge neuromuscular (how the nerves control the muscles and create coordination) component to sports. The more often an athlete trains by simulating activities done in the sport, the more efficient their bodies become in that sport—thus minimizing injury risk and improving performance.
So, intuitively, it only makes sense that strength training will follow the same structure as cardiovascular training, in which simulating the sport activity will add strength in that motion. Such as if you are training to throw a ball, why not take an exercise band and perform a throwing motion against that band? I agree, this exercise is very specific to improve throwing strength…it is a LOT of muscles that get used, but is not very efficient at improving strength.