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Sport Specific Training: Truth Or Myth?

Posted by Kostas Kroustaloudis on

Sport Specific Training: Truth Or Myth?

Should basketball players squat? Should overhead athletes do overhead lifts? Should football players push press and power clean to increase their strength and explosiveness?

It all depends on where you stand on the whole sport-specific training debate. Some people think it does not truly exist, others think it’s the only way to effectively train an athlete and some think that it’s a very misunderstood concept. Here, at Gronk Fitness, we always like to challenge ourselves and really question every new trend that comes out. But the concept of sport-specific training is not new at all and our position is that it is an extremely misunderstood concept.

In fact, it seems that many parents and coaches don’t seem to grasp the basics of weight training and sports training and push young athletes to train in ridiculous ways in order to improve in their sport. There are examples of baseball players throwing weighted balls, sprinters sprinting on the treadmill and golfers training with resistance bands attached to their shoulder, hip, wrist and club head!

There are two schools of thoughts regarding Sport-specific Training (SST):

  1. Certain exercises in the gym can build functional strength and conditioning in a way that translates and carries over to the actual sport.
  2. The only time you are engaging in sport-specific training is when you are actually practicing/playing your sport.

Most of the time the truth lies somewhere in the middle and this time that’s exactly the case.

If you want to improve your skill-set in a particular sport you MUST practice that skill.  However, if you want to develop physical attributes and athleticism related to success in your sport and improve your ability to demonstrate your acquired skills, you must partake in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program.

What Is Sport-specific Training Really?

First of all, it’s great marketing! Simply put, coaches and personal trainers have attempted to market sport-specific training to attract parents and athletes who believe specializing in one sport at an early age is beneficial for long term development. Furthermore, they attempt to sell training programs and advanced or complicated pieces of equipment that are “specific” to the athlete’s sport.

But the only true sport-specific training that exists is actually practicing the skills in your sport. Throwing a baseball, shooting a basketball, catching a football, shooting a hockey or lacrosse puck. These are the essence of sport-specificity. They include time, movement and speed specific actions that are performed in sport. A strength and conditioning program should not mimic these but optimize the characteristics (strength, power, mobility, timing…) needed to perform these tasks.

Therefore, TRUE sport-specific training doesn’t need to include any special equipment, and rarely will. In fact, you can train for explosive strength in the gym by adding a particular sport-specific action, such as jumping, sprinting, or change of direction, directly after lifting to help improve sport-specific performance (such as power cleans followed by hurdle jumps or sprints). Even without incorporating this “complex technique”, training basic strength and power qualities on their own has been shown to improve specific sport actions, such as jumping ability. Focus on lifts that are multi-joint, multi-planar, double-leg and single-leg supported, because those are the types of athletic actions you will encounter during the game. Sounds a bit too complicated? Let’s have Dan Gronkowski explain the jist of it!

I like to develop a strong core and form and then do workouts related to my sport.  The gains come from developing the mindset to push yourself, not from some of the gimmick equipment out there.” Dan Gronkowski

In fact, let’s take it a step further and watch Rob Gronkowski training his brothers using nothing but basic equipment and fundamental exercises while forging an ironclad mindset using his unique drive and passion.

What Sport-Specific Training Is Not

It’s not an absolute replacement for sports practice. Period! With that said, there are many shortcomings of only practicing and playing your sport.

For example, practicing a lay-up is important in basketball, but improving one’s vertical jump can make performing a lay-up easier. This is quite obvious, but what about the following question…Will repeatedly performing lay-ups improves one’s vertical jump? The answer is tricky and it’s a vague “maybe”. What we know for sure is that a specific strength and plyometric program on power production will definitely lead to an increased vertical jump. So if you want to increase your vertical jump, it must be done in the gym.

Another thing sport-specific training is not, is practicing with a weighted instrument used in sport. Aside from throwing a weighted baseball, using a weighted instrument to build strength and improve power in sport has MINIMAL efficacy. Most likely, you won’t be hurting yourself by doing it, but you probably are not helping that much either.

Wrapping Up…Sport-Specific Training – Truth Or Myth?

Let’s drive it home! Sport-specific training is definitely not a myth. A basketball player will not weight train using the same protocols as a football player and neither of those two will train like a bodybuilder or an Olympic lifter.

Strength is the true source of sport-specific performance and it’s the common denominator in every single sport. The squat or the deadlift may not, at first glance, seem like the perfect exercises for a football player but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Building your strength foundation is the key to mastering your sport. It’s up to you to take the strength gains you got in the weight room and carry them over to your sport when you get out on the field to practice or play.

Having said that, is there such a thing as the “best” workout?

Maybe there isn’t if we’re talking about building bigger muscles or improving body composition. But when it comes to training athletes with the goal of increasing their speed, strength and power, the opposite is true. There really is a best a best way to do it.

The problem is that what works for most athletes isn’t a good choice for every athlete. That’s when you have to make specific adjustments for individual players or types of players. Sometimes this means adding targeted exercises to address imbalances and help prevent injuries.

It may surprise you but more often, training specificity is defined by what you SHOULDN’T do with those special cases – avoiding exercises and movement patterns that create problems, or that make existing problems worse.

Always remember to do your research before you invest your time and money. An open mind is great but don’t be fooled because there are so many unproven methods and scams being heavily marketed, especially to younger athletes. Feel free to ask us for advice if you need help designing the right weight training program for your sport. Prepare yourself to GET GRONK’D!


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