High level sports have been an interest, passion, and pursuit of mine since a young age. Without much guidance, I grew up on the mantra that hard work and a good attitude will get you to where you want to go in sports. Now, this certainly has its place, don’t get me wrong, but if that hard work is pushing you in the wrong direction athletically, then you may never make it to where you want to go.
I never really understood this until my sporting career was virtually over. I believed that going to the gym and hammering out as many sets of big heavy lifts as possible with a bit of bodybuilding mixed in would make me hit home runs, increase my arm strength, and help me sprint faster. I also thought that doing long bouts of cardio in a sweat suit to lose some pounds would help condition me for baseball. This was the result of lack of knowledge myself, but also not having the minds around me to guide this portion of my athletic development. I worked hard because I had made the connection between sweat and increased athleticism, and I did want to take things to the next level, but that hard work was directing me more towards the path I am on now sporting wise, rather than towards an increase in performance on the ball field.
When I attended university, there was no strength and conditioning coach available for the athletes. It was on the coaches to develop and deliver training programs, and while this works on the field of play, if the coaching staff doesn’t have any sort of background knowledge in kinesiology or exercise science then they simply make the players do whatever they did in the weight room in their college days. Players were also left to do their own workouts, and for me, that meant lifting as much weight as possible. I put in the work but didn’t see the result I was looking for on the field, balls weren’t flying any farther, I certainly wasn’t getting any faster, and my arm strength likely improved only from the throwing program we did on the field.
Once I realized that a career in baseball was no longer a viable option, I took a deep plunge into learning about the human body and how to train it for performance. One of my first realizations was that you do not train for a sport that is compiled of 95% quick, explosive movements by training slow and heavy. A base of strength goes a long way, but the body needs to learn how to use that strength to move fast and explosively in order to have any transfer to the field of play. This is the case in almost any conventional sport such as baseball, hockey, volleyball, etc.
Sport specificity is a concept that gets thrown out there a lot and can have significant impact on training programs, but needs to be implemented in a systemic and meaningful way. This has to do with matching energy system requirements on the field to the conditioning routines in the gym. It is training the specific attributes of human performance that will carry over to increase performance in sport. It is not simply performing an activity in the gym that looks like something you might do while playing your sport.
There is a vast spectrum of exercises that range from running for an hour plus, to bench pressing a one to three rep max. Everything on this spectrum has its place in the development of athletes, but knowing when and how to use and combine exercises is where the art and science that can only be learned through research and experience make all the difference in whether or not the desired result is seen in action on the field of play.