Sport Specific Training: It’s Not What You Think It Is

I train a guy who is a recreational surfer and kite surfer. He wants his training to improve his sport.

What is one of the primary exercises I’ve prescribed him?

Farmer’s Walks.


I could have put him on a bosu ball to simulate the unstable surface of a board on water and had him hold one end of a resistance band while I held the other and played kite by jumping around trying to pull him off balance.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

Yet that is what many think when they think “sport specific”. That the movements trained in the gym have to exactly mimic the movements of the sport. Then they want to load these movements with additional weight.

Before we go further, back to Farmer’s Walks. How in the hell do these transfer to kite surfing?

Answer: grip strength and full body stability. An obvious requirement when you think about it.

We also do things like Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats to work on single leg strength and stability, Trap Bar Deadlifts to strengthen the posterior chain, Unilateral Presses, Rows, and Straight Arm Pulldown variations. Strengthening and stabilising, and putting slightly more emphasis on areas related to performance in his sport while keeping his training in balance.

Sport specific training doesn’t mean doing movements that mimic the sport in as close a way as possible. Rather it means doing movements and exercises that will improve the ability to perform in the sport.

Then, to actually get better at the sport in question will require practicing and practicing and practicing said sport.

To give another example:

Another of my clients is a junior competitive alpine skier. I don’t balance him on a stability ball and have him swipe 2 dumbbells back and forth. (We’ve all seen these kinds of videos right?) I’m going to talk further on this later.

Instead we work on Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats for single-leg strength and stability, Trap Bar Deadlifts to strengthen the posterior chain, Unilateral Presses, Rows, and Straight Arm Pulldown variations. Do you see the similarities?

The demands on the body of these 2 very different sports is actually very similar. Both require strength and stability; both require robustness.

Again, improvement in the particular sport will come down to practicing that sport. This is the principle of specificity. To improve at something you have to practice it. You can’t improve your ability to surf by jumping on a bosu ball. Someone could practice that for years so they can jump on blindfolded and land on one foot while juggling fire, then get on a board and wipeout immediately. Proficiency in one doesn’t necessarily transfer to the other, even though the 2 things may look very similar.

The greatest gym example of this is Lat Pulldowns and Pull-ups. You will see guys who can lift the whole stack on the Lat Pulldown machine but can’t do a single Pull-up even though the movements look incredibly similar. The 2 don’t necessarily correlate.

My job is to build a stable and agile body that can better handle the rigours imposed on it and produce more power when necessary. I occasionally throw in things that may somewhat mimic the movement of the sport, but only if it will actually benefit the athletes performance in some way. This can also allow the athlete to connect the training to the sport in their mind. I don’t do it for the sake of looking cutting edge, and definitely not if it puts the athlete at unnecessary risk.

I’ve stated before and I’ll state again that I am open-minded when it comes to training. I try not to judge someone’s training based off short videos without knowing the background. But I hate seeing athletes being put through tasks where there is more risk than reward, or where there is little-to-no reward at all for what they are doing.

One that springs to mind is a video I seen of a top Formula 1 driver standing on a stability ball while turning a weight plate left and right like a steering wheel. He was even doing the gears (lol). I laughed at the absurdity of it but at the same time I cringed.

I fail to see how him balancing on a stability ball is going to benefit his sport. The risk faaaaaaaaar outweighed the reward. In fact I’d like to know what the reward was.

No doubt “bus drivers”, as the exercise of holding a plate out in front and turning it side to side is known, are a half-decent exercise for the shoulders, but if this driver had of fallen off the ball, his season, and maybe even his career, could have been finished.

There is always an element of risk in training, but it is the job of the coach to minimise it, not increase it for their own benefit.

In my mind the stability ball was there for no other reason other than to look fancy. In the minds of some it may have made the trainer look innovative, but it was actually idiotic.

Sport and sport training provide enough risk to an athletes body as it is, complementary strength and conditioning training should not further that risk but enhance the ability of the body to withstand it.



Life Performance Training 

2 thoughts on “Sport Specific Training: It’s Not What You Think It Is

  1. Andrew!

    This is dead on perfect. Love it. The only thing I’d add is that I consider Sport Specific adaptations due to the endurance or stamina for a specific sport. That does need to adjust due to it being a Volleyball player, hockey player, football player, Mom wanting to kick butt in life, etc.

    Love your work and inspiration!


    Liked by 1 person

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