When ‘Sport-Specific’ Training Isn’t Specific to Sport

Often times when we step foot in the gym it’s with the intent at getting better at something.  Maybe we want to accelerate our fat loss goals (a big one at this time of year). Or maybe we want to improve our joint function and move a little bit better. And then sometimes the goal is to perform better. Specifically with respect to sports.

And this is my passion. Don’t get me wrong it’s very satisfying to hear of someone who’s had shoulder pain for years tell you how they now sleep through the night because digging their elbow into the mattress to turn over doesn’t wake them up anymore. (hello AV!)

Or someone else who tells you how their hip pain has improved enough they can finally make a trip to their home country where there was not an unbandance of modern plumbing and thus had to be able to maintain a static deep squat. (BG will vouch for me on this one!)

And then there has been countless stories of  the many who have lost pounds and inches off their bodies.  How their confidence and energy are at all time highs and life hasn’t been better for them. 

These are all the things that make getting up when it’s still cold and dark out that much easier.

But when it comes to training for performance there’s no comparison. That’s when it gets fun for me.

And here’s the interesting thing.

Sports performance and sports training are completely different.


How can that be?

Wasn’t sports training supposed to be as ‘sports-specific’ as possible? (I put that term in quotes because it can so many different things to do different people)

Actually no.

Sports training is quite distinct from sports performance. And here’s how.

1. Sports performance is on the balls of the feet whereas sports training is on the heels.  Ever watched a player get burned in a game? They refer to that player as being ‘flat footed’. They weren’t in the athletic position of being on the balls of their feet.

Sports training however, especially the ground based movements, involves driving through the heels to complete a movement.  Imagine pulling a bar off the floor for a deadlift. How would this work for you on the balls of the feet? Not very well would it?


2. In sports performance dorsiflexion is vital. In sports training control of dorsiflexion is. Think of a top multi-directional athlete? In order to accelerate and change directions on a dime they need at least 20 degrees of dorsilexion if not more. Contrast this in the weight room where many are quad dominant and will preferentially load their quads as evidenced by the shin driving forward.

3. In sports performance complete exhaustion may occur. In sports training complete exhaustion should not. When you’re playing in a game situation you want to give your all. Leave it all on the field. In training we want to stimulate but not annihilate. In training it’s always better to do 10% too little and come back marginally stronger or fitter than 1% too much and over reach or over train.

4. In sports performance the conditions are chaotic. In sports training the conditions are controlled. I’m sure every athlete out there has played in a game with terrible weather. And every game with an opponent involves reading and reacting to unpredictable situations. In sports training we aim to minimize the potential for injury and control some of the elements that may potentially increase the chance of injury.

There are many more example we could look at from differences in breathing, to control of acute variables, to isolation or compound movements.

The point is that sports training is vastly different from sports performance.

And if you did try and make your sports training match your sports performance you would be:

* sacrificing potential gains on the weight room floor

* develop over use patterns

* increase the potential for injury.

So if sports training if your goal take a look at your program and ask yourself if it is designed to lead to improved performance on the field of play.

Not sure?

Post a comment regarding your program and I’ll advise you.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  okanaganperformance.com ‘always moving forward’



8 Responses to When ‘Sport-Specific’ Training Isn’t Specific to Sport

  1. Sandra says:

    Alrighty, if I’ve got to leave a comment to get to read the rest well then I’ll do it…lol! Short, intense and simple sounds right up my alley so keep the good news coming :o)

    • Chris says:

      Sandra: I’m with you. I prefer short, intense workouts any day of the week.

      okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

  2. Anny says:

    Hey Chris, In know you keep track of all our gains in the gym and on the field. I am so aware of the gains I have made in my time with you. Especially upper body strength!! If I was to lay out my goals for training -For example…be able to do 15 split squats, full range with 20lbs – 20 full range push ups as well, lose mid section inches – how would that look in a training session that was sports training?

    • Chris says:

      Hi Anny: Great question. To increase your strength through a full range of motion we want to make sure you can maintain ideal form throughout the range. If you compromise your form then we need to lighten the load and work through the range you can control. As you increase your strength at that range we extend the range then gradually increase the load. In terms of losing inches off the mid-section this is function of reducing sugar intake (I know it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot). Write down the amount of sugar in every packaged item you eat. Every day eliminate the worst culprit. When you go shopping you can seek out better alternatives. Fruits and veggies don’t apply.

      Best of luck.

      okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

  3. Aaron says:

    Hi Chris,

    First off, I have to say that I’m only on your mailing list because I sent you an email a few years ago after seeing you on a CHBC segment. I love reading your stuff, however, so I’ve happily stayed on the list!

    Anyway, I’m wondering if you could give me a bit of advice. I’m a 24-year-old (former soccer player for UBCO) who has trained quite a bit and has made some very good gains but hasn’t broken through to the level I want to be (probably due to a lack of focus, a lack of carrying out programs to their conclusion, etc.). Right now I sit at about 170 lbs (5’10) and probably somewhere around 12% body fat. My goal by the end of the year is to get up to a consistent 175-180 lbs and have less than 10% body fat. I want to do this while improving my 40 time and vertical leap as much as possible (though I still play soccer, I’m now more interested in improving the anaerobic side of my athleticism). So my question to you is: what would be the most efficient/effective way to reach these goals? I have some pretty good lower body/plyometrics/upper body/core etc. programs, but I don’t really know how I should stack them together in a way that best allows me to reach my goals. If you could offer any help in this regard I would greatly appreciate it!


    • Chris says:

      Hi Aaron: Thanks for your email! Glad that you enjoy the emails and I hope the content has been useful for you.

      Here’s the quick answer to your question.

      1. Increase lbm – To add lean body mass you need to increase your caloric intake. However the quality of the energy is critical. If someone simply eats more but this is done by trips through drive thrus the weight won’t be lean but fat.

      2. Decrease bf – To lower your bodyfat you need to: do exercises that burn calories, do exercises that increase your metabolic rate, ensure that your sleep is optimal and manipulate your macronutrients (i.e. carbs/fats/protein).

      3. Decrease 40 time – Usually the way we go about getting an athlete quicker is by: increasing stride rate, increasing stride length, increasing stability and increasing force production.

      4. Increase vert – Vertical jumping is an example of lower body power. To become more powerful we need to develop more force in less time. Don’t overlook the necessity of a quality strength base to become more powerful.

      Let me know if you’d be interested in an assessment where I’d be able to provide details and solutions for you.

      All the best.

      okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

  4. charlie says:

    Hi Chris,

    Great post. One other thing that I would also mention is in terms of knee flexion. In most sports (especially team sports) an athlete will rarely see their knees in flexion towards 90 degrees(parallel) but in a training setting it is important to perform lifts which take us through a greater range of flexion, examples being squats, lunges etc. By training in a greater degree of flexion it will develop a greater range that the athlete can safely and effectively develop force through the knees and hips which are the driving force behind most sports movements.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Charlie: I agree that training needs to work through a complete range of motion. When you consider most injuries happen towards the end of range of motion and on eccentric contractions, we should put more emphasis on developing athleticism, strength and power in these areas likewise.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

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