By Julie Gooderick (MSc, Bsc Hons, ASCC)
The concept of specificity to the athletes’ sport must always be considered by the strength and conditioning coach in order to maximise the transfer of physical training to sport. In experienced, adult athletes, training must be similar enough physiologically to the desired aspect of sports performance in order to make any improvements on a sports performance.
Traditionally, specificity has been thought of as indicating that movements done as part of an athletes’ physical programme must mimic the movements done in their chosen sport. These movements could be overloaded with weight or adapted to be made harder.
However, there are many flaws with this traditionalist approach. When a sporting movement is loaded in order to provide a physical training stimulus, the biomechanics of the movement change. For example, if a tennis player performs forehands with a 5kg racket instead of their usual 300g one, the movement will obviously become different. The sequential patterning of the lower body to upper body will be altered to account for the increased weight, and shoulder, elbow and wrist mechanics are all altered.
This rarely results in a good outcome, as the altered loading at different points of the kinetic chain creates an injury risk, upsets the technical coach who has likely spent years trying to develop the optimal forehand and also makes the exercise about as un-specific to tennis as you can get.
So how do we bring specificity into our programmes? The concept of ‘dynamic correspondence’ was suggested by Siff and Verkoshansky. They proposed that physical training should correspond with the athlete’s chosen sport in at least one of the factors below:
- Amplitude/direction of movement
- Accentuated region of force production
- Dynamics of effort (Explosive, stability-based etc.)
- Rate and time of maximum force production
- Regime of muscular work (type of muscular contraction, duration)
In order to incorporate aspects of dynamic correspondence into athletes’ programmes, coaches need to fully understand the demands of their sport. If coaches are not familiar with a particular sport themselves, a needs analysis should be done in order to fully understand the metabolic, biomechanical, physiological and psychological demands.
Once this is understood, coaches will be able to select exercises which have some form of crossover into a sporting context, be it exercises using the same sequence of force production or exercises utilising the same contraction speed.
To understand this practically, consider the use of Olympic lifting with sprinters. The clean or snatch look nothing like the 100m sprint. However, they still having high dynamic correspondence to sprinting due to the demands placed on the neuromuscular system. The contraction speed matches the demands on the sport, as do the biomechanics of the triple extension action used in both the clean and linear sprinting. Understanding this correspondence ensures coaching cues are accurate and focus on the important aspects to your athlete.
There are times when you may still choose to overload a sporting movement. For example, in rugby, resisted sprinting is commonly used. However, the demands of the sport require players to be able to sprint against some level of resistance (eg, being pulled back by another player), and the use of traditional resisted sprints in this context is beneficial.
The key point however, is that coaches must be able to understand the demands of the sport and the movement patterns, and base their specific training around these factors. Whenever a sporting movement, such as a sprint is overloaded, the effects of the load on the biomechanics of the movement should still be considered.
Coaches should be aware of where the particular skill is in terms of its development, for example, if an athlete was to load a recently learnt skill, the skill is most likely to break down or be altered to such an extent that the movement becomes redundant and the risk of injury is increased. In situations such as rugby, where coaches may still want to load sprints, considering the amount of resistance is also important.
Technique is likely to be maintained for longer at lighter loads, so considering how much work you want done in your session should influence the loading you choose to apply.
In summary, it is important for coaches to understand the demands of the particular sport they are working in. Once the physiological and biomechanical demands of the sport are understood, coaches can develop a programme with high dynamic correspondence to the athletes’ chosen sport, by manipulating exercise variables such as speed, movement patterns or contraction types to match the athletes’ sport.
Be mindful of the fact exercises will be unlikely to LOOK like the sporting movement, it is the manipulation of other variables that make exercises highly specific to sports.
- Siff, M. and Verkoshansky, Y. (2006). Supertraining (6th Ed). Verkoshansky, USA.