It may come as no surprise that athletes who specialize in a specific sport, from high school football players, to professional swimmers, to amateur marathon runners and dancers…all exercise differently from those of us who just exercise for fitness, general strength, or to gain or lose weight. So here’s the lowdown on your student athlete and sport-specific training, straight from the heart of The Fitness Clinic, where we’ve been helping facilitate personal success for more continuous years than any other gym in Fort Lauderdale …
This article aims to be a helpful primer on what sport-specific training is, including some discussion on the potential dangers of approaching it incorrectly, and why it’s always best for athletes to have guidance and advice from a knowledgeable personal trainer skilled in their sport. At The Fitness Clinic, we’ve specialized in personalized fitness plans for all our clients for over 30 years, including your student athlete! So, on to Your Student Athlete and Sport-Specific Training – – –
So what IS sport-specific training? As you can probably guess, it’s simply a method of training in which athletes and their trainers and coaches develop training regimens designed to help the athletes become competitive at a specific sport, such as hockey or soccer.
This is all simple enough, right? Strength, mobility, agility, flexibility…so many considerations! So, for sport-specific training, you just find exercises that hit the same muscles and have the same movements you use in your sport, and then do them a lot more, right?
Well … not exactly …
Training is a complex math of muscular balance, integrity, mobility, and flexibility, and it can be easy to focus so much on improving at a specific sport that coaches can compromise the long-term (or even short-term) well-being of their athletes.
A common example might be high school coaches. They only have four years to build kids from scrawny, inexperienced fourteen year olds into high powered MVPs of their sport. The issue is that due to the limited time span these coaches get to work with their athletes; it can be easy, if not even tempting, to unbalance their training regimen to make big short-term gains. These short term gains, however, can come with a steep cost in the long-term for the athlete.
How so? The issue is often the false belief that training for a specific sport should always mimic the actions performed in the sport. This is often the single biggest mistake coaches make, and the idea behind it is the cause of numerous other issues in training, even though it’s a myth. While it’s true that training regimens should have some carry-over (“carry-over,” by the way, is how much an exercise translates into an athlete performing an action better in their sport), the reality is that athletes go through those motions enough in practice and on the field, and their actions in the weight room are in fact supposed to counter-act, not reinforce, the thousands of times athletes repeat those motions. The role of sport-specific training then, should not so much be to make them better at the sport, but to keep their bodies healthy and in balance under the duress of that sport. The Fitness Clinic certified trainers who contributed valuable insight for this article are skilled, attentive and concerned with the unique individual needs of each client, and create an ultimate fitness plan that revolves around and adjusts to that client’s specific goals, needs and progress.
As a general rule, 30-50% of an athlete’s training in the weight room should have carry-over into their sport, and the rest should focus on exercises that counterbalance that sport’s movements, to ensure bodily integrity.
Many coaches, though, are either unaware of this fact, or ignore it, and continue to focus far too much on mimicking the movements of the sport in the weight room. Here are just a couple of the issues that arise in training because of this:
- Push/Pull Imbalance: Working a muscle without giving equal resistance to its antagonist (or, muscle that does the opposite motion). This creates an imbalance in which one muscle is too tight, and overpowering another muscle. Imbalances like these can, over time, ruin posture and pull joints out of place. A simple example of a push/pull imbalance is doing lots of bicep curls (pulling muscle) without doing any work for the triceps (pushing muscle).
- Lack of Auxiliary Mobility/Flexibility Exercises: This is another very common case, similar to the previous point, wherein the coach overemphasizes primary movements. Even if a coach does include antagonist movements (pushing and pulling, in other words), they may then neglect mobility training, which is vital for joint health! An example of this training mistake might be a football coach that makes his linemen do lots of bench press. Without copious mobility training, including a multitude of lifts and stretches, the shoulder will quickly round forward, and literally immobilize (former high school football players often cannot even lift their arms above their heads). As in the last point, this leads to poor posture and horrible pain that may even require surgery down the line.
All that said, carry-over still has an important place in sport-specific training. It just needs checks and balances to keep the athlete healthy, both on the field and in the future. Here are some examples of exercises with carryover into a sport, and exercises that counteract the countless repetitions of movements that athletes do in practice. See if you can spot any patterns!
Carry-over: Sprint training and multi-directional shoulder and chest exercises such as pull-downs and bench press.
Counter-act: Reverse wood chops, non-dominant side wood chops, other exercises that target the half of your body not used in batting/pitching.
Carry-over: Typically jump squats, agility drills, and aerobics.
Counter-act: As muscle usage varies wildly from style to style of dance, this would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis by one of our experts.
Carry-over: Tire flips, dead lifts, and other posterior chain work, bench press.
Counter-act: Shoulder mobility work, deep stretches.
Carry-over: Agility drills, squats and half-squats.
Counter-act: Dead lifts and other glute-heavy work to counteract the constant kicking motions, as well as appropriate upper body work, including pull-ups.
Carryover: Box jumps, jump squats, agility drills.
Counteract: Auxiliary glute/hamstring work.
Carry-over: Box jumps, various frontal upper-body power work, especially targeting the front deltoids.
Counter-act: Extensive shoulder mobility work and strength training for the back.
Carry-over: Agility drills and both aerobic as well as anaerobic cardio.
Counter-act: Extensive back and shoulder strength and mobility work (as a matter of fact, this goes for all sports in which one holds a stick of some sort).
Carry-over: Upper and lower body power work, such as medicine ball slams and speed squats/dead lifts.
Counter-act: More back and shoulder mobility drills, since holding and swinging the hockey stick repetitively can injure both.
So what’s the best way to ensure that an athlete is training properly, not just for their sport, but also for a healthy, resilient and functional body for the long haul? The best way is to consult one of The Fitness Clinic personal trainers! These certified Sports & Fitness professionals can guide you through these vital years with careful balance, helping optimize top performance as well as helping to plan for the long haul. Which of the sports above is yours or your child athletes? Let us know, and we’ll match you with the best trainer, depending on all the factors that make your student athlete the unique and special individual they are. Sometimes, it takes the attentive eye of a committed and engaged personal trainer to help a specific athlete avoid injury and stay healthy for the long-term, while maintaining a training regimen designed to make them a beast!!
In summary, don’t forget: Train with specificity, but also train smart.
For more information on Your Student Athlete and Sport-Specific Training, our personal trainer recommendations, or a complimentary assessment appointment, please Call me at The Fitness Clinic: Joe Devlin, at 954-663-3136, and let’s get your student athlete competing at their optimal levels while helping keep them safe and healthy for a lifetime.