The Specifics of "Sport-Specific"

What is Sport-Specific Training?

It’s no secret that an athlete needs to train differently than someone just looking to get a little healthier, or gain a little muscle. And no one is surprised when I say that a soccer player needs to train differently than a football player. This all boils down to the fact that every sport has specific demands: both on movement (kicking a ball, swinging a bat, blocking and tackling, etc.) and on the metabolic energy pathways used for that movement (explosive with lots of rest, varied sprinting and jogging, etc.). These specific movement and metabolic demands put muscles and joints at risk for overuse injuries, which a good training program strives to counter through exercises aimed at injury prevention. Soccer players don’t need to worry about overuse of the anterior shoulder like baseball pitchers do—so a specific training program for a soccer player looks pretty different than one designed to decrease injuries for a baseball pitcher. “Sport-specific” training is how all these factors fit together to ensure the best transfer of performance in the weight room to performance on the field. If your strength and conditioning program doesn’t help performance or reduce injuries, then you’re just spinning your wheels in the weightroom. Unfortunately, there is a ton of misinformation about what an athlete needs floating around out there—but here at Volt, we believe the answer is more simple than you think.

What ISN'T Sport-Specific Training?

"Sport-Specific" has become a pretty ubiquitous, and sadly ambiguous, term in today’s age, and one common misunderstanding is that it means simply adding resistance to a specific skill set. While it might be enticing to think that a golfer can use a piece of rotational exercise equipment to add resistance and give him or her a stronger swing, it just doesn’t work that way. In reality, adding resistance to specific skill patterns can be detrimental to the development of their ACTUAL swing. The same goes for throwing, swinging a bat, and kicking. Adding heavier resistance to these movements changes the biomechanical demand, and increases the likelihood of overuse. If you want to train in a method 100%-specific to your sport, you need to just go out and play the sport. Let skill development take place on the field or on the court, and use the weight room as a place to develop foundational movements, structural integrity, and explosive power. Increasing these performance measures gives the athlete more to utilize during skill work, and can keep him or her healthier throughout the competitive season.  Building a strength and conditioning program around a sport is meant to improve performance of specific skills—and reduce the risk of injury from the repetitive practice of those skills.

Train to Meet the Demands of The Sport

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The first step in improving your game is to identify what movement patterns are used within your sport. Training these movement principles and improving their quality is how to make your time in the weight room worthwhile. Using soccer as an example, athletes need not only to pass and shoot accurately, but also to win challenges, shield the ball, and tackle effectively. Soccer players also need the ability to sprint, and change direction and pace quickly for the full 90 minutes of play. This means strength training should focus on the development of bilateral (two-leg) and unilateral (one-leg) leg strength, speed and power, and developing aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. These demands are met through correctly programmed strength and power movements. Properly progressed training of compound multi-joint structural movements like squats and deadlifts lay the framework for more explosive and challenging movements, like single-leg box jumps and Olympic weightlifting variations. Simply put, if you want to be training effectively for your sport, you need quality programming and quality progression. Below are the performance factors in the Volt Soccer Program that make it unique from other sport-specific programs.

Sport-Specific Injury Prevention

Many sports have skill patterns that endlessly repeat themselves or continuously stress the athlete asymmetrically. Think of how many times a baseball player throws a ball. The body becomes "unbalanced" from all of this specific movement, which can lead to a higher risk of injury. For this baseball player’s program, we wouldn't want to add resistance to an already overloaded movement pattern, since that could only further any imbalances and increase injury risk. Instead, we program a high volume of movement patterns opposite to those typically under continual stress. The aim is to bring the anatomical structures back to a state of symmetry, and regain the neutral positions the body was meant to be in. Above is an example of what we at Volt use specifically for the baseball athlete. Every training day in our program offers injury prevention movements and methods to assist in keeping athletes healthy and mobile. Like with baseball, every sport program comes with its own injury prevention methods that take into account the movement patterns overused throughout the season.

Never Forget the Foundations

Sport-specific training is less about adding something new to the game, and more about simplifying what makes that sport unique. It's important to remember that all athletes benefit from getting stronger and MOVING BETTER. Training compound, multi-joint movement stress the body to produce force in efficient patterns rather than isolating them, thus removing the proprioceptive control associated with a barbell. Foundational movements like squatting, deadlifting, and pressing lay the framework for how the body moves and produces force. Likewise, consistent practice of explosive bodyweight and progressive Olympic variations add to any program to help build efficient recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers and a well-functioning neuromuscular system. Practicing these patterns correctly will keep every athlete in a healthier state, and allow them the baseline strength and function to take their training further.

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Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog, and is the lead sport performance specialist at Volt Athletics. Jace manages Volt program design, content development, and educational resources for schools, clubs, and organizations. Jace is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®), and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University in Exercise Science. Follow Jace on Twitter @VoltCoachJace.