Sport Specific Training & Why We Don’t Do It

We get asked about this A LOT so, if this is something you’re interested in (or not) read on for some really great info! 

Generally speaking, the goal of training is to develop your body so it can handle the stressors of life and the activities or sports you participate/compete with intent to increase strength and performance. More specifically, objectives in the weight room are to (1) strengthen and balance the muscles, ligaments, and tendons so they can adequately handle the stressors of acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction against varying external forces (i.e., ground, snow, water, air, bike pedals, mountain sides, etc.) without breaking down or tearing, and (2) build stamina and endurance to ensure our body can endure repeated stressors for a duration of time. 

Sounds great, right? Absolutely. 

But how is it executed? For starters, it starts with a high-quality strength and conditioning program. Unfortunately, there is some controversy in what exercises are included in that, so we’ll give it to you straight with science!

There’s a notion that this should be accomplished through sport-specific training where weighttraining session(s) will incorporate movements that look like your sport, thinking that those movements will improve your overall sport performance when participating in the actual sport. For example, baseball coaches only wanting to incorporate movements that look like baseball in the weight room or skiers and cyclists only performing strength movements that look and feellike skiing and cycling (i.e., squatting with ski boots/cycling shoes). Same with conditioning for those sports (i.e., running, skier erg/jumps, or participating in cycling classes, etc.) So, basically what this translates to is when you go to cycle, ski, or play baseball, etc. all you have done are exercises that are fundamentally the same. In only doing exercises that look like the sport, we have over developed specific muscles and underdeveloped other muscles, leading to an increase in injury, especially overuse injury, and a decrease in performance with horsepower output and an athlete’s ability to apply maximal force in their sport or activity (5,6,9).

Fun Fact: The glutes, hamstrings and hip adductors are the primary supporters of the knees and ankles, and produce the most force in acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction. Unfortunately, these muscles are generally not primary muscles worked in sport and are therefore neglected and underdeveloped. This imbalance will eventually lead to performance plateau and decline—if an injury doesn’t occur first! (5,6)

An increased likelihood of injury and decreased performance potential is obviously the opposite of what we’d like to achieve in our sport. To avoid these pitfalls, all strength and conditioning activities, performed outside sport execution, need to be reverse engineered sessions of your sport—the opposite of many practices seen with sport-specific training. This is executed by looking at which muscle groups are being activated with participation in any sport or activity,and then have a primary focus on developing and strengthening the other muscles that are not being activated. For example, most sports and activities require heavy quad and hip flexor lower body movements, and heavy flexion and internal rotation of the shoulder joint for upper body movements (1,3). So, the goal in the weight room should be to target the opposite muscles with posterior chain hips, hamstrings, upper back, and external rotation of the shoulder joint. This will balance the body so when participating in sports or activities, these muscles will work together, increasing your horsepower in acceleration, and improving your breaks for decelerations and your body’s handling ability to change direction (1,2,5,6,14). 

In summary, the best way to sport-specific train is practicing your sport. The best way to improve your sport performance (i.e., increase power output and decrease your likelihood of injury) is to incorporate properly periodized and progressive overload-based strength and conditioning (5,6,9,12,14). It’s incredibly important to view this as two separate segments in our training. Combining them into one ultimately decreases your overall success in sport (1,2,6,14,). Fortunately for us all, this is exactly how we program and train at SLC Strength & Conditioning. As long as you’re showing up to train, rest assured, you’re in great hands—regardless of what sport or activity you participate in (or not)! 

If this topic has your interest peaked, there’s so much more to learn and we strongly recommend checking out the book Super Training (Section 2), which goes into much more depth about sport-specific training and how to balance improving sport execution and sport performance. 


1-Hébert-Losier, K., Zinner, C., Platt, S., Stöggl, T., & Holmberg, H. C. (2017). Factors that influence the performance of elite sprint cross-country skiers. Sports Medicine47(2), 319-342.

2-Haugen, T. A., Breitschädel, F., Wiig, H., & Seiler, S. (2020). Countermovement jump height in national-team athletes of various sports: a framework for practitioners and scientists. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance16(2), 184-189.

3-Losnegard, T., Schäfer, D., & Hallén, J. (2014). Exercise economy in skiing and running. Frontiers in physiology5, 5.

4-Castañeda-Babarro, A., Etayo-Urtasun, P., & León-Guereño, P. (2022). Effects of Strength Training on Cross-Country Skiing Performance: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health19(11), 6522

5-Keiner, M., Sander, A., Wirth, K., & Schmidtbleicher, D. (2014). Long-term strength training effects on change-of-direction sprint performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research28(1), 223-231.

6-Lloyd, R. S., Cronin, J. B., Faigenbaum, A. D., Haff, G. G., Howard, R., Kraemer, W. J., … & Oliver, J. L. (2016). National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on long-term athletic development. Journal of strength and conditioning research30(6), 1491-1509.

7-de Hoyo, M., Gonzalo-Skok, O., Sañudo, B., Carrascal, C., Plaza-Armas, J. R., Camacho-Candil, F., & Otero-Esquina, C. (2016). Comparative effects of in-season full-back squat, resisted sprint training, and plyometric training on explosive performance in U-19 elite soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research30(2), 368-377.

8-Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Moscau, Russia: Verkhoshansky SSTM. 95-105.

9-Delecluse, C. (1997). Influence of strength training on sprint running performance. Sports medicine24(3), 147-156.

10-Esfarjani, F., & Laursen, P. B. (2007). Manipulating high-intensity interval training: effects on V˙ O2max, the lactate threshold and 3000 m running performance in moderately trained males. Journal of science and medicine in sport10(1), 27-35.

11-Gist, N. H., Fedewa, M. V., Dishman, R. K., & Cureton, K. J. (2014). Sprint interval training effects on aerobic capacity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports medicine44(2), 269-279.

12-Girold, S., Maurin, D., Dugue, B., Chatard, J. C., & Millet, G. (2007). Effects of dry-land vs. resisted-and assisted-sprint exercises on swimming sprint performances. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research21(2), 599-605.

13-McBride, J. M., Triplett-McBride, T. R. A. V. I. S., Davie, A., & Newton, R. U. (1999). A comparison of strength and power characteristics between power lifters, Olympic lifters, and sprinters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research13(1), 58-66.

14-Cronin, J. B., & Hansen, K. T. (2005). Strength and power predictors of sports speed. J Strength Cond Res19(2), 349-357.

15-Esfarjani, F., & Laursen, P. B. (2007). Manipulating high-intensity interval training: effects on V˙ O2max, the lactate threshold and 3000 m running performance in moderately trained males. Journal of science and medicine in sport10(1), 27-35.

16- Kim, J., Lee, N., Trilk, J., Kim, E. J., Kim, S. Y., Lee, M., & Cho, H. C. (2011). Effects of sprint interval training on elite Judoists. International journal of sports medicine32(12), 929-934.