T Nation

Strength and Conditiong - How Sport Specific?

This is the general board thread I’m going to start for a topic currently running in the D.P.

There is definitely a line to draw when thinking about sport specific training. Actually I think the phrase is overused. I’ve seen personal trainers having their clients do crunches while holding a tennis racquet to make it a “sports specific” exercise. Evidently that player must have poor balance and has to make a lot of hits while lying down.

In sports performance training the goal is to make the athlete more efficient. Most of the time its poor technique that is keeping them from reaching full potential. Too many extra movements that actually slow them down. Add in some newfound strength from the weight room and now you have an athlete who performs better on the field.

Even as an athletes gets older and is more experienced as they climb the ranks, they still need to focus on the same things. Balance, Speed, Agility, Power, Flexibility and Strength. If any of those qualities are missing then the athlete will be limited from reaching their full potential.

Now does that mean that whole workout sessions are developed to balance, or agility? The best approach is to provide just enough of each to improve the athlete’s ability. The approach cannot be one where you do absolutely everything, every workout and hope that something works.

There are workouts that are defiantly sport specific. The demands on the body of a baseball player are different than those of a basketball player etc. An athlete needs to be trained to meet the demands of the sport they play, in that sense it is sports specific.

From the dog pound again:
"In regards to setting up a strength and conditioning program for athletes their a few key areas of focus which determine how to train. Obviously, a golfer should train differently than a point guard.

When I mention sport specific, I think these are some of the key areas:

  1. metabolic demands - this is obvious
  2. strength needed - a basketball player does not need the same amount of strength as a lineman in football
  3. speed needed - again a basketball player needs more than a football lineman
  4. agility - how many planes of movement does the sport require you to train in? A sprinter does not need nearly as much agility work as a basketball player.
  5. flexibility - what positions does the player have to be in during play"

My thoughts:

Each athlete needs a seperate approach, but they all need to train those qualities.

Each of the qualities listed works directly with the others. Poor flexibility limits power production, speed with poor balance leads to faulty mechanics. Lets face it running is basically repeatedly losing and regaining your balance in a very short period of time.

Flexibility and agility are related. If hip flexibility is poor, agility will suffer.

A basketball player and a football lineman may need to train speed in different methods, but both can benefit from being as fast as possible. A lineman who can explode out of his stance quickly is going to be a better blocker or pass rusher than one who is slow to accelerate. Speed should not be necessarily measured in terms of distance sprints 40 yds, but in the ability to get to one place as quickly as possible. There are different types of speed to train for. Speed endurance, straight ahead speed, and lateral speed and agility.

Both athletes need significant amounts of strength. The stronger player will get more rebounds, blocked shots, and maintain better position on the basketball court. The football player may actually benefit from improved agility and speed to use the strength he already has to his advantage.

Skill training is #1

I’ll get more into this later. I think the strength to weight ratio of an athlete is very important. For speed and agility.

For any athlete Stength needs to be built around the core, abs and lower back.

Next comming power and explosiveness from glutes and hams.

Lifting wise core movments, maybe some accesory work for hypertrophy, or for a weak link.

Speed Kills.

Perdiodization, and evaluating athletes is also very important.

What are your priorities in each phase?

When I’m working with athletes I tend to try and keep there conditioning as sport specific as possible for a few reasons.

The first and biggest is that an athlete (like anyone) has a limited capacity for recovery and improvement in a given time period. Since this is the case why would you want to dedicate any of that recovery ability to physical training that’s not going to carry over to the sport itself. I feel it just becomes a question of choosing the right exercises.

If, for example you’re training an offensive linesman why would you have them doing flat bench press when a narrow grip incline comes much closer to simulating the on-field pushing motion? It’s not that the bench press is wrong it’s just that the narrower grip incline will have a great deal more immediate carry-over. The difference may not seem like a big one but there definetly is a difference and if they’re in the gym working anyway you might as well help them get the most out of it.

Now, the time in the season is also goign to have a large effect on the specificity of exercises. If we start right at the end of a season, the last game has been played and the athletes have taken a week or two off to recover. I feel that this is the time to move away from specific exercises.

Partly I do this because it allows the athletes training variation and partly because there will be time to make the gains more sport specific later in the pre-season. In large part I do this because moving away from movements very closely associated with the sport is a good way to avoid an overuse injury. Give those specific joint angle movements a rest. Fix up muscle imbalances that may have resulted from a hard season.

In the general pre-season everything gets more specific since you’re getting them ready for their actual sport. That’s where it’s important to make certain you’re choosing exercises that simulate the sport motions as much as possible.

In the specific pre-season their gym work gets cut back and specific training gets more predominant. They’re on the field working hard and you just can’t work them as hard in the gym as you were.

During the actual season there’s no point in trying to make any gains in the gym, really it’s just maintenance work, except that you may do some training to help prevent muscle imbalances etc.

I personally feel that if there are two choices of exercise and one is more specific that the other you might as well do the one that’ll have the greatest carryover.


I think in a lot of ways, we are on the same page. You make some good points and I agree that being deficient in one area will hold back another.

Obviously, all athletes need to develop all areas of the wheel of conditioning, but just in different proportions.