Sport Specific Training – A Disservice to the Athlete?

by Nick Serio

Purpose:  The purpose of this article is to discuss the differences between sport specific training and strength and conditioning training with the intention of becoming an overall better athlete and well functioning human being!

Main Points:

-“What is the true definition of “Sport Specific” exercises and movement patterns?”

-“When and how often would we at Athletes Warehouse implement them into an athletes training protocol?”

-“How is it possible to train a baseball athlete with the same methodology as a football athlete?”

Take Home Message:  A “Sport Specific” exercise is a movement pattern that is utilized by a strength and conditioning specialist to replicate and/or mimic movements that an athlete might look to create in-competition.  Usually, these movements are accompanied by either a form of force resistance (i.e. bungee, weighted vest, dumbbells, etc.) or some greater necessity for power production (i.e. a plyometric box). While sport specific movement patterns are grossly important to the final phases (i.e. peaking stages) of a program, we believe that it is in the best interest of any athletes training program that the initial phases work toward training the body and mind of an athlete to redefine movement patterns so that they are as biomechanically efficient as possible.

Therefore, starting with or even programming sport specific movement patterns prior to achieving a respectable level of biomechanical efficiency is a disservice to the athlete and their future potential.

As strength and conditioning professionals we feel our athletes and future athletes must understand that our main focus is to FIRST minimize their risk of injury and SECOND begin to maximize their performance potential. This is why training of all athletes regardless of sport traditionally begins from the same platform and eventually develops into specificity.


Clark, M.A., & Lucett, S.C. (2011). “NASM essentials of corrective exercise training.” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Baltimore, MD.

Zatsiorsky, V.M. (1998). “The kinematics of human motion.” Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL.

 “Sport Specific Training” – a disservice to the ATHLETE?

With the Athletes Warehouse facility finally opening we have had the incredible pleasure of meeting many new athletes and parents from our absolutely awesome new community over the past few weeks.  This has been the greatest opportunity for my staff and I to truly show the passion, knowledge, and the relentlessly obsessive approach we take to making sure our athletes understand that their needs, goals, and drive for success is literally encompassing our every thought (& unfortunately for our significant others that generally means at home as well; as I am writing this at my kitchen counter). With every athlete we have the pleasure of meeting or working with, we attempt to ensure them that we will stop at nothing to provide them with the program and platform needed to minimize their risk and maximal potential. ** Do we want to keep this?**

However, if their needs, goals, and drive for success are truly our paramount focal point, then we must interject the dangers of HONESTY (cue the dark ominous music).  All joking aside the reason my staff and I laugh at situations such as these is because we are about to defy normal tactics, practices, and marketing strategies for a training facility. You see, parents and athletes like to know that their money, hard work, and dedication is going to directly pay off onto the field or court, hence the phrase ‘sport specific.’ Much like in the marketing world where “sex” sells, in our world “speed training” and it’s new cousin, “sport specific training,” are a facilities manager’s golden goose. For the last ten years coaches, trainers, former athletes, and yes, even strength and conditioning professionals, have been making a good dime off clients by selling them the dream of going out and training on a field for hours on end with hurdles, speed ladders, bungees, and any other common apparatus they could dream up. These marketing tactics have lead athletes and their parents to believe there needs to be a higher concentration placed on training ‘sport specifically’ rather than allowing the professional to assure the athlete is biomechanically efficient before trying to complete such movements.

While many of these drills will certainly help improve the athletes form, neuromuscular congruency (central nervous system firing potential), and lead to minor improvements to power, speed, and agility; we can’t possibly expect our athletes to achieve the apex of their potential until we have taken the time to make sure they are proficient and capable of completing these incredibly difficult movement patterns.  (Oh and completing them with horrific form is not what I mean by capable!)

 **Check out our article on “How to Improve Speed & Agility”**

Ok, ok, I know you know speed is truly made through redefining form and technique, developing force, and improving power output….So what do we start with or even how should my athlete train then if not initially or entirely related to sport specific movements?

Now enter, “Biomechanical Analysis” otherwise known as the SQUAT & OVERHEAD SQUAT ANALYSIS to those professionals who don’t find the need to use a multiple thousand dollar machines to evaluate your 15-year-old.  (“Biomechanical Analysis” this is like “speed” and “sports specific’s” new baby cousin…it’s getting all the hype!)

Biomechanical Analysis has been around…oooh…about as long as humans have!  We have constantly been re-evaluating ways to make movement patterns more efficient, whether that relates to actual musculoskeletal movements (i.e. running) or improving how we complete tasks or use equipment (i.e. the sneaker).  With the explosion of the fitness and strength and conditioning industry over the past few years, trying to analyze the way in which we move as human beings and how this proper movement can apply to an athlete’s athletic career has become the main focus of many professionals.

Biomechanics at its core is essentially physics (i.e. forces, levers, power production, etc.).  Physics?…Yuck!…Sounds complicated?  Well, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be!  Essentially, as the client, the strength and conditioning professional needs to get you to understand what your body is supposed to be doing. Then, you can begin to fully grasp how your body is actually moving.

As professionals, we honestly feel it is our job to provide as much education to our athletes as possible. At Athletes Warehouse, our hope is that our athletes will be more educated and prepared than any of their peers, and in most cases some of their future coaches. This extra time spent communicating with our athletes ensures that they can understand when their movement patterns have become inefficient thus causing their risk of injury to rise and their performance potential to decrease.  In Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s book, The Kinematics of Human Motion, he explains that, “Fit humans move easily in an immediate environment, catch and manipulate objects, avoid obstacles, and adjust their motion to the changes in the extra-personal space” (1).  Essentially, Zatsiorsky is stating that if their movements are biomechanically proficient they should have little resistance or difficulty completing normal human function or even athletic movements.  Having the capability to recognize this during practice, training, and most importantly competition is what will separate a great athlete from a novice.

OK! Great, thanks for all the info…But you still haven’t told me how my baseball athlete and football athlete are trained the same way? (said with the best impression of a concerned and/or bored at this point, parent voice)

So, how do I train these two very different athletes ‘the same’?  Well, I don’t!  I actually don’t train any athlete the exact same because every human is different and so are their movement patterns.  However, how I evaluate, program, and progress this athlete will fall under a more general overarching theory or complex.  Explained simply and some what addressed earlier, each athlete should be taken through a series of biomechanical movement patterns exposing their potential inefficiencies (i.e. the air squat, the over head squat, the hanging body control exam, power potential movements, etc.) Each joint in the human body has a very specific set of movement patterns it is designed to produce and resist. Whenever these specific movement patterns deviate from what is considered ‘normal’ it can be presumed that a compensation or muscle imbalance exists in the human movement system (2).   Once inefficiencies are found the athlete should be taken through more specific movement patterns that will require finer motor control thus exposing further information about the causes of any movement dysfunction (under or overactive musculature, damaged musculature, previous injury sites, etc.)

Once the athlete is fully evaluated, the professional has a greater understanding of, not only their current performance capabilities but also their potential RISK(S) of injury. Now the points of focus for training this athlete becomes: (1) To reduce these risks and (2) Begin to focus on maximizing his or her performance.  It is here that the programs of these two athletes will most closely resemble each other because the paramount focus will be on correcting movement patterns, mobility issues, and developing kinematic strength (the body working as a unit rather than each gross muscular segment working independently or rather, inefficiently).  However, as stated earlier, even though the phase may be the same, the likelihood is that the movement issues we are addressing and how we will be addressing them will be very different.

Therefore, I hope it is with this article that our reading population understands that I am by no means saying sport specific movement patterns are not important during an athletes progression. However, it is understood that there is a progressive pattern that needs to be followed. Sport specific movement patterns, because of their complexity in nature, require most athlete’s coaches to preserve these movements for the later progressive phases (i.e. just prior to competition).  Furthermore, sport specific movement patterns are truly what define the given sport and to assume that we would not use them in their entirety would be foolish and from our side, as strength and conditioning professionals would be a definite disservice to the athlete.  As Strength and Conditioning Specialist our main goal when assessing, training, and preparing athletes for competition, fitness, and/or life, is to minimize their risk of injury and then attempt to maximize their performance potential.  As professionals, if we lose sight of this and begin to focus solely on performance capabilities and the potential ways to improve them we are opening our athletes up to not only a greater risk of injury but in fact a potential decrease in overall performance.


Clark, M.A., & Lucett, S.C. (2011). “NASM essentials of corrective exercise training.” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Baltimore, MD.

Zatsiorsky, V.M. (1998). “The kinematics of human motion.” Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL.

Athletes Warehouse: Redefining the Athlete

220 Tompkins Avenue, Pleasantville, NY 10570


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