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Over the last 10 years, a movement toward sport specific or functional training has emerged.  Coaches, practitioners, and exercisers have attempted to make their exercise more like the sport or activity that they are training for in an effort to more effectively prepare for said sport.  Although well intended, this movement completely defies the basic tenants and research around motor learning and control which states,

“Specificity means a movement in either utterly specific or it is NOT specific at all.”  This means, in order to improve a specific skill, we must practice or perform that exact skill.  If we perform an exercise that is similar to the skill, we actually create what is referred to as “negative transfer,” meaning, our skills in the sport or activity actually decline (and meanwhile, we do a poor job of making our muscles stronger). 

The take home message:

  • Strength train to improve the “raw material” (muscle strength and endurance, enhance flexibility, and enhance cardiovascular function).
  • Then, practice your exact sport or activity in the exact context that you will perform it in competition.  If you want to get better at shooting free throws, you need to shoot free throws with a regulation size basketball, on a ten-foot rim, from the foul line.  This applies to skiing, distance running, surfing, and hitting a baseball.


There is no such thing as “sports-specific training” (well maybe there is, and it’s called PRACTICE). 

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