Hey y’all. Sports are a wonderful world. It combines the fun of playing with the benefits of exercising. Unfortunately, it also contains a very high potential for injury. Why? Well, when people are exercising in the gym, they pay attention (usually!) to what they’re doing. It’s also not a very competitive environment compared to a sport. They will lift weights in a controlled manner. They will push hard but still way under their full capacity.
When playing sports, people will typically go above and beyond their capacity to win. Regardless of what mentality they choose to follow, everyone in a sport will go a little bit past their regular comfortable limit in order to if not win, at least be a challenge to the adversary. It’s the nature of human beings. The nature of the movements is also not the same. In sports, the participant will very often do movements that are less common, that will require them to go outside of the “safe” and “controlled” zone present in the gym.
Take hockey for example. You can do squats and lunges and all sorts of exercises to improve your capacity and fitness, but nothing in the gym prepares you to be body checked by a 230 lbs man travelling at 20 mph, sideways, against the boards. That being said, the better physically prepared you are in general, the better you’ll bounce back from that body check and be able to continue playing without injury. Come in the game unprepared, and you end up like a true weekend warrior, dealing with chronic issues that could have been fixed had you spent a little bit of time in the gym preparing yourself.
What is sport-specific training?
Sport-specific training, also called cross-training (see where CrossFit’s name comes from?), is any exercise program designed to improve sport performance. Imagine your sport being a straight line. Cross-training would be a bunch of lines crossing the sports one and aiming at improving specific aspects of it.
For CrossFit, the main line is life and fitness, so it makes sense that the program has very general approaches to it. But for a sport, cross-training will be working the specifics of the movements of the sport.
How do you come up with a proper program?
That’s an interesting process and one that will require the trainer to know what they’re doing. Now that being said, this doesn’t mean that they need to have performed in the sport at a high level to be any good at preparing athletes for it. The best athletes very seldom make the best trainers. But a good trainer with a proper background that can think a little can prepare athletes without problem. Here’s what needs to be done, in order.
Analysis of the sport in general
In order to understand the demands of the sport, the trainer will have to have an understanding of the basic principles of the sport. Is it a contact sport? Is it a sport where rotational forces are strong? Is it a linear sport? Etc.
Analysis of the movements performed in the sport
That’s when it starts to become interesting. The training expert will then have to pick every movement or sequence of movements apart. This serves the double purpose of increasing the understanding of the movements themselves and hinting at how the movements need to be complemented with in order to prevent compensation injuries. See, when you practice an activity more than just a few times, your body adapts. In order to avoid injuries due to this adaptation, the trainer needs to program according to what the chains of movements are and complement for that.
Assessment of the athlete’s current state
In order to avoid wasting time and effort, the trainer will then assess the athlete’s current state. That can be done in many ways and with many tools, the Functional Movement Screen by Gray Cook being the most popular. That being said, most trainers have their own variation of that type of assessment which corresponds usually to their own style and method of training.
That’s when the art form joins the science as building a proper and elegant program is very tricky. Take a runner for example. The motion is pretty straightforward. They run. Do they need exercises to make them better at running? Not quite. Most of them need exercises to make them be able to better sustain their running training, not to make them better runners per se. So the exercises will be stabilizing the hips, working on range of motion on joints, core work to maintain posture and allow proper breathing patterns, shoulder exercises to maintain posture as well. Those exercises don’t make them better runners. It makes them better at keeping it together when they actually train their running. That is a nuance that is sometimes complicated but that needs to be understood in order to have any kind of result. Obviously the end result is the same, but the train of thought is different.
Another thing to take into account when building a proper program is whether or not the athlete has any past or current injuries. Injuries tend to recur, and that needs to be carefully explored with the athlete in order to avoid putting too much strain on muscles that may be on the brink of an injury.
Last point, but not the least, is that the program needs to be interesting to the athlete. That might sound unnecessary, as most people will think that if you’re ready to undergo a training program to improve your performance, you should not care about the entertainment factor of the said program. The thing is that even for the most dedicated athlete, a boring program will have the dual effect of not being attractive to even start every day and also to have the athlete not give 100% during the said program. And we want them fully engaged in the program, as that’s the only way to perform better.
Benefits of Cross-training
Obviously the main benefit is an improved performance. Now, programmed properly, a sport-specific program is made to help the athlete give 100% effort with little to no downside when practicing their sport. A sport is a strenuous activity, and will easily break you if you’re not careful. So with a proper program, the added stability, strength, torque, etc., will make them better at everything else they do in their sport.
Aside from better performance, which can be a vague and difficult to assess result, there are plenty of other positive effect of cross-training. Next on the list is reduced injury rate. Athletes who have a proper cross-training program not only have better performance is just a few weeks of training, but also have reduced injury rates. Research is segregated by sport so bringing data on all sports is difficult, but in every sport, injury rated plummet as cross-training is enforced.
What about CrossFit to prepare for a sport?
CrossFit is great. It’s a very thorough way of getting in shape, and overall fitness is greatly improved by it. Is it a good way to cross-train? Yes, it absolutely is if you’re not going to go through a sport-specific program made for you. Is it the best way to prepare for a sport? Of course not. But it’s pretty inexpensive compared to personal training programs, you get to have a lot of fun and give 100% effort every single time. So if CrossFit’s your thing, go for it! Find a good box and a good coach, and have fun. But if you want to get more serious in your sport’s preparation, then I suggest going to a trainer and having a chat.
So if you play a sport, cool! Make sure you’re well prepared. It helps to do a general preparedness program such as CrossFit or any functional training regimen. And if you want to push it further, then go to an experienced trainer and listen carefully
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