Ever since the first Olympic games were held in 776 BC, athletes have been at the center of society. With their unfathomable feats of strength, speed, and power, their physical ability to perform on the big stage has put audiences in awe. With competition being at the heart of the human spirit, the desire to physically perform at the highest level possible has been the focus of both athletes, and their coaches alike. This burning desire to be the best has bred an entire industry of fitness coaches who have dedicated their professional lives to training athletes for their specific sport.
Is Johnny the next Jordan?
Have a seat in the bleachers of any youth sports game, and you will be shocked to find out that you are watching a game filled with future professional athletes and superstars. Every kid on the field is going to be the next Derek Jeter or Michael Jordan, and their parents are willing to pay whatever it takes to make sure of it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I was that kid. My parents did whatever they could possibly do to make sure that I had the best coaches, and the best experience that they could afford to give me…. And I am extremely thankful for that.
Sport Specific Marketing
Unfortunately, this very desire to do whatever it takes for their kids leaves parents vulnerable to be taken advantage of. They trust that a coach or trainer is doing the best thing for their kid, because he/she uses buzzwords such as “sports specific” and “speed and agility” training. These phrases are more times than not catchy marketing terms that can lead to wasting valuable time, and money. When in reality, the athlete will not improve at all at their sport. Simply put, there are very few “sports specific” exercises that can be done in an actual gym that will impact the level of skill performed by the athlete on the field.
The concept that performing an exercise in the gym to enhance the skill of an athlete in their respective sports goes against the proven SAID principle, or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Essentially what the SAID principle states is that your body will adapt to the specific exercise that you are performing, and does not have carryover to increasing other skills. For example, getting stronger at the bench press will not equate to an increased performance on the football field, it will simply make you stronger at the bench press. Are there many benefits for getting stronger for a football player? Yes, but that does not mean that getting stronger will directly make someone a better football player.
In order for an exercise to be considered “sports specific” it needs to directly reflect the demands of the sport within 10% of a few specific variances. Tempo, intensity, reactory response, and time under tension should directly correlate with that of the sport. Using football for example again, and this time let’s take a professional defensive lineman. The average football play lasts about 5 seconds in the NFL. When the play starts the defensive lineman must explode from a static position, crash into another person that is about 350 pounds, and drive into him at various angles, speed, position, and height. It is nearly impossible to duplicate this in the gym. Yes, you can put 350 pounds on a sled, and drive into it. However, it will not ever directly correlate exactly with what is happening on the field. The only possible way for something to be “sports specific” training, is for the athlete to perform the sport itself.
You Down with GPP?
So if you can’t improve an athlete’s skill in the weight room, what is the point of having an athlete workout? The answer lies in what’s called General Physical Preparation, or GPP. GPP is having an athlete train to improve their general strength, conditioning, speed, power, endurance, flexibility, and mobility. The focus should be first and foremost, to train the athlete as a human being. Their human movement patterns, weaknesses, strengths, etc. should be the sole focus of most athlete training programs. Before a trainer should even consider getting more specific for an athlete’s sport, they need to address the entire system. If an athlete is inefficient in a physical area of performance, that needs to be addressed first.
Skill Trumps Strength
You might now be thinking that it is a waste of time to have an athlete workout, when they could just be spending that time working on their sport instead of in the gym. Honestly, this may be true for some athletes who already possess the necessary physical skills to be great at their sport, and just need to work on the sport specific skills themselves to improve. However, for most athletes it would be very advantageous to get stronger, more powerful, faster, and improved mobility/stability. Even though performing a heavy bench press may not make someone a better football player on the field. The process to get stronger, faster, and more athletic will give the athlete an opportunity to perform at a higher level on the field, as long as their skills also improve.