Life-Specific Training

Sports-specific training; the concept that athletic performance can be heightened by an exercise, or a series of exercises designed to replicate a sports related function, motion, or skill at the kinetic level. Example: swinging a dumbbell to increase the capacity of swinging a golf club, sliding side to side on a Teflon surface to improve pushing off with an ice skate, or throwing a medicine ball to enhance the velocity of throwing a football. A majority of exercise physiologists and athletic trainers suggest that engaging in “sports-specific” training is the best, and often, the only way to improve in an athletic function, or skill relating to athletic performance.

These are educated and experienced people who make their living studying and prescribing exercises, exercise schemes, and exercise methods which should enhance athletic performance and athletic skill. Most often these protocols will work to some degree – especially if the trainee is committed, and competes at a high level within his sport. But these sport-specific exercises are not the sole path to improvement, especially for athletes competing at a lesser level; recreational and amateur athletes.

I’ve never been sold on the concept of sports-specific exercises except for athletes competing at the highest level – and even then, minimally. That is, if one wishes to improve his golf swing, he should practice that swing with diligence and before and educated eye. If one wishes to play better racquetball, then it is practice and critique from the right coach that is what’s needed most. Be it pitching, surfing, golf, martial arts, etc., I will argue that no sports-specific exercise can significantly improve an athletic skill or athletic performance in a specific movement.

Performance exercise for any athlete should be minimally about improving a particular motion or skill, as no exercise (in or out of the gym) will sufficiently replicate an athletic skill. Some of the more common sport-specific exercises I see people engaged in can actually be counter productive to improving a particular motion or skill, as it can produce a false muscle memory which is sought during the actual skill – and an opportunity is missed or minimized. Swinging a weight is not the same as swinging a golf club. Reaching with a medicine ball or dumbbell is not the same as reaching with a racquetball racquet. False habits can be created with the wrong exercise.

Rather, I believe that training and conditioning for athletes, in particular recreational athletes and amateur athletes, should take place primarily for these reasons;

  • building strength
  • improving flexibility
  • enhancing coordination
  • maximizing endurance
  • most of all, to dispose the athlete to staying injury free during the course of his athletic performance

 So why have I summarized my belief on sport-specific exercise for you, the fitness enthusiast, amateur, or recreational athlete? Because if you’re having trouble performing a kinetic task in your recreation or in everyday life, exercise will help – but no sport-specific exercises will help you more than practicing the movement itself.

Most of the exercises I suggest to make people more flexible, stronger, etc, take place in the gym – not always though. I have a client; female, and nearly 80 years old. She visits me twice per week. She is in reasonable shape, great health, and is way ahead of the game for her 80 years. Though she sees me in order to improve her golf swing, she often complains about having difficulty getting in and out of her car. So guess what? That’s become part of her workout; getting in and out of her car – 10 times, followed by a brief rest, and ten more times, and so-on. Since I have been coaching her to do this (safely), she has felt increasingly confident and stronger getting in and out of her car. Her golf swing remains the same—because she rarely practices swinging her club.

Athletic trainers will suggest that sports-specific training is the best way to improve in a given athletic function, or skill relating to athletic performance. But the best way to improve in a given athletic function is to maintain your fitness, and practice the function—the movement itself, rather than trying to replicate the movement with exercise.

I’m just a little guy who works in his gym but has a passion for athletics, fitness, and their relationship with kinetics. Exercise is a lot of things for a lot of people. One thing I believe that exercise is not, is an easy substitution for practicing any difficult or challenging movement such as getting in and out of your car, swinging a golf club, or throwing the perfect backdoor slider.

One response

  1. Eye-opener as always. I have to say, I wholeheartedly side with you. I love your example with the 80 year old woman and her having trouble getting in and out her car. And how her golf swing hasn’t improve because evidently she isn’t practicing it. I mean, seem pretty logical to me. But to the average joe, I’m not sure where they think through when it comes to exercise. As always, I enjoy reading your thoughts and work.

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