What makes a program “sport-specific”?

Summertime & the living’s easy….unless you’re an athlete.

For most athletes, the summer is actually the busiest and most crucial time of all. Off-season strength & conditioning programs are where a lot of athletes have the time to focus on their bodies and make huge gains in strength- more so than any other point in the season.  With that in mind, it got me thinking about all the components that go into planning for performance enhancement & how to evaluate if a particular program is appropriate for an individual’s sport.

For most people just looking to lose weight, or incur some type of body composition change, this type of evaluation might not be necessary. It doesn’t matter WHEN certain phases occur throughout the year [speed, hypertrophy, strength, etc], and the exercise selection isn’t as narrowly focused. But for an athlete, planning every step of the way is crucial. It is essentially like comparing cooking to baking. With cooking, you can experiment more freely – you can add ingredients, deviate from a recipe, get downright crazy and still probably achieve greatness. Baking, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. There is a reason for everything in the recipe – deviate from the proportions and you’re going to have one dried up cake. But if you plan and you are exact with the measurements, everything will come out balanced and delicious.

Sometimes, however, athletes get so caught up in the little details of the program that they don’t stop to think  “why”. Why certain exercises are included in certain phases (or at all); Why intervals are run with a particular work:rest ratio; Why this program is better suited than that one, etc. It is very rare to come across anything that steps back to really discuss the “big picture”. So this evaluation is to help athletes analyze their sport a bit more, and for coaches to make sure they’re considering all the variables when programming.

There is still some crossover with personal training here, i.e. assessing an athlete for individual goals, physical limitations, previous injuries, training history, etc – because you never want to lose the individuality component.  But what makes a program ideal for a particular sport vs just a really great workout?

Categories of Evaluation

1. Requisite movements by position (the endurance of a point guard is > than a center in basketball, for example. or a midfielder vs an attack player in lacrosse)

2. Energy systems and related dynamics (primary contributors?)

3. Dominant/minimal speeds and related factors (sprinting? long, steady pace? varying intervals?)

4. Force/velocity factors (high speed movements? repeat submaximal efforts?)

5. Factors that determine success outcomes (is flexibility important?, endurance? conditioning?)

6. Factors that limit success (injuries, etc)

7. Morphological relevance (body comp – does the player need size? strength? speed?)

These are just the broad categories to consider when analyzing a particular athlete & their sport. To get more specific, we have the movement analysis that breaks down the sport into specific components to ensure that a program is balanced and focused, the physiological analysis that looks at all the metabolic components, and the limitation analysis that considers the barriers and differences in levels of success.

Movement Analysis

1. Movements used during the activity

2. Speed or rate of movement & frequency

3. Directional/plane variations/speed

4. Muscle-joint considerations and efficiency or resistance to economy

5. Muscle balance, stability, acceleration, deceleration and force couples

Physiological Analysis

1. Energy systems used

2. Duration of power output

3. Magnitude of force demands

4. Frequency of force/recovery

5. Additional physiological demands (i.e. total caloric output)

Limitations Analysis

1. Common injuries in the sport

2. Difference between “good” & “great” (for example, it has been shown that the velocity around the elbow joint is what separates the elite pitchers from the non-elite. other characteristics might include VO2max, or simple body composition factors like height & weight)

3. Recovery/fatigue

4. Flexibility, body fatness, strength/power weight ratio

With all that said, a pre-conditioning evaluation (or fitness assessment) would take into consideration the following:

1. Identify all deficiencies

2. Injury analysis – a past history of the athlete

3. Training history/tenure

4. Training status

5. Physiological assessments

6. Identification of neural efficiency/aptitude

7. Program level decision (beginner, intermed, advanced)

Secondary considerations:

1. Limitations first – flexibility, distortions

2. Minimal strength needs – at least enough

3. Force rate development – power/speed

4. Neural efficiency – skill specific overlap

5. Metabolic conditioning – conditioning vs weight training

As you can see, it is more than just becoming “bigger, faster, stronger”. There is a lot that goes into evaluating an athlete – both at the individual level & for sport application. Using this checklist will help ensure that the program you’re following (or creating) makes sense.


About sten06

Master's in Kinesiology: Strength & Conditioning BSed in Exercise physiology -NSCA CSCS -NASM CPT, PES -Varsity Lacrosse Coach Saving the world one workout at a time ;)

Posted on May 24, 2012, in Fitness, Lacrosse, Strength & Conditioning, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. vincentgrantallen

    Reblogged this on Move Well, Live Well and commented:
    There is a lot to consider when designing a sport-specific program. Strengthswag does a great job outlining the necessary points for such a program.

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