Sports Specific Training: Why Every Athlete Is Different

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Every athletic sport requires different abilities from its players. That is why sports specific training is crucial to any athletic program. On the field, a soccer player performs differently than a long jumper. Athletes need to perform training drills that mimic or complement what will happen during a competition.

Understanding sports specific training
Training becomes sports specific when:

  • The training exercise duplicates the movement in a segmented sports skill
  • The exercise involves similar muscle contractions seen in a sports skill
  • The exercise allows the same range of motion as a segmented sports skill

If you look at two athletes training for different sports, you can find many identical goals. An athlete who is the forward for a soccer team and an athlete who is the center for a basketball team both want to:

  • Move faster
  • Grow stronger and develop more power
  • Add muscle mass without losing speed
  • Increase agility

Methods of developing speed and agility are essentially universal. However, each coach would train his athlete differently to condition him for his size and shape.

Not all exercises work for all athletes. That is why a one-size-fits-all training program doesn’t cut for athletes. Basketball players, or even defensive linemen, who are tall and have long femurs in comparison to their torso aren’t able to perform squatting exercises correctly. Forcing athletes whose shapes don’t fit the training will cause them back and knee issues in the future.

Likewise, athletes who perform several overhead movements, such as volleyball players and swimmers, should not perform overhead barbell movements due to decreased range of mobility.  It’s best to look at the athlete and see what fits his or her profile when designing a training program.

That being said, all sports specific training programs should focus on:

  • Speed
  • Lateral agility
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Power
  • Core stability
  • Step quickness

Just as every sport requires different demands from its athletes, athletes should demand different training methods from their sports programs.  Athletes should also follow periodization programs based on their training schedules. In the off-season, coaches should focus on making the greatest gains in strength and power. As the season arrives, the focus should switch to event related skills including speed and agility.  Off-season allows athletes to unload from a heavy training and competition schedule, while maintaining muscle mass and standard athletic skills.

Functionality is also an important factor when training for sports. Athletes need to focus on the movements required during competition and relate training to real life.  For example, golfers should practice exercises that increase hip joint range of motion and core strength. Sprinters should train fast twitch fibers to run faster and improve step quickness.


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