Sport Specific Training: What does it mean and is it beneficial?

Aug 25, 2018

What is sport specific training?


Sport specific training is simply fitness and performance training designed specifically for athletic performance enhancement. And yes! If the training is done in the correct way it can be very beneficial, if not, it can be detrimental. Let me explain…


How to train in a sport specific way


The most sport specific training that an athlete could take part in is practicing the actual sport itself. Therefore, true sport specific training should be left to the sport coaches: batting coach, golf instructor, tackling coach, etc. However, strength and conditioning professionals can develop programs that are extremely valuable when it comes to training the correct energy systems, developing specific muscle groups distinct in each sport, and practicing the precise movements found in the athlete’s respective activity. Unfortunately, the lines are sometimes blurred when coming up with training strategies and misconceptions arise, that when put in an athlete’s training program, can actually make them regress instead of progress. An example of where training appears to be sport specific and helpful but is actually not beneficial could be a baseball player practicing their swing with a weighted bat. On the outside, this may seem to help the athlete swing faster or harder because of the excess weight but in reality, it just requires you to develop new motor skills to adjust to the increased weight of the bat. With some practice, you might grow accustomed to the extra weight and start connecting with the ball well, but when you take that weight away during game time you will be so adapted to it that your swing with a regular bat will be thrown off. Therefore, it is better to develop the muscles being used in the swing through strength training and simply practice swinging more rather than compromising your swing by training with a heavier device. That is an example of why it is so important to understand the correct and incorrect way of incorporating sport specific training into an athlete’s programming.


Choosing training based on energy systems


When a strength and conditioning professional considers what the drills, exercises, and order of programming should be in an athlete’s training session, they have to decide what energy system the athlete operates in most and focus on catering to that system. There are three energy systems that are found in the body: Phosphagen, Glycolysis (Anaerobic), and Oxidative (Aerobic).
  • Sports or activities that use mainly the phosphagen energy system are ones that require extremely quick, explosive, high power or maximal movements. These don’t last more than a few seconds (generally less than 10) and have long periods of time following to recover. Examples of this would be throwing a shot put, running the 100m dash, or swinging a golf club. The phosphagen system can be trained by doing intense movements like sprinting, plyometrics such as box jumps and squat jumps, or even heavy resistance training with low reps.
  • Sports or activities that use mainly the glycolysis or anaerobic energy system are the ones that require high-intensity bursts of 30 seconds to 2 minutes of work and need about double the time of work for recovery. Examples of this would be soccer, hockey, and badminton. The glycolytic system can be trained by doing interval training of 30-60 seconds of any high-intensity work with rest periods of 60-120 seconds. Moderate intensity resistance training with reps between 8 and 12 can also target this system.
  • Sports or activities that use mainly the oxidative or aerobic energy system are ones that require low-intensity work over a long period of time, typically anything greater than 2 minutes of continuous work. Examples of this would be running a marathon, completing a spin class, or swimming laps. You can train your oxidative system in several ways: completing active intervals of work for 3 to 5 minutes and rest for 3 to 5 minutes (1:1 ratio), low intensity, steady-state exercise for an extended period of time, or even circuit training.


Choosing training based on muscle groups and movements


Strength and conditioning professionals also have the knowledge to understand which muscle groups and movements will be most beneficial to practice to improve the athlete’s performance. For example, a volleyball player spends many hours a week practicing their hitting. A strength coach would understand that because of the sheer amount of time spent doing the anterior movement of the swing, the athlete should actually spend less time working those muscles in the weight room and more time on the posterior muscles of the back and shoulders to equal the anterior training out. This increase in posterior chain training is sport specific to volleyball because of the necessity to strengthen the antagonist muscles (muscles that oppose the action of another, in this case, they are opposing the hitting movement) in order to prevent injury from muscular imbalance. Another example of where strength training can be sport specific is by a golfer training their core with rotational exercises in order to get stronger and more powerful in the rotation of their swing.



In conclusion, yes, sport specific training can be beneficial if done by targeting the correct energy systems, proper muscle groups, and movements. However, there are right and wrong ways of doing this as mentioned above. It is wise for each athlete to check in with a strength and conditioning professional to make sure that the way in which they are training is helping them and not hindering them! And remember, you don’t need fancy exercises or high tech equipment to train in a sport-specific way. We should always go back to the basics!


Until next time, happy training!


Amy Barca B. Kin, CEP, CSCS, FMSC, EIMC2

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