There’s a big craze of internet gurus performing ‘sports-specific’ drills online. People believe that you should just mimic the actions you see in competition, on the gym floor. They tend to think – “if I just perform this skill in the gym (golf swing, boxing punch, footy kick…) and add resistance to it, then that must be good, right?” This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Here’s why ‘sports-specific’ movements in the gym are a bad idea…
Sports skills are motor skills that require years and years of patterning and perfecting. Every time you do a rep and perform a skill, you’re sending a message to your body to do it ‘this way’. Each rep is a new chunk of information that the body throws in the memory bank and says “Oh… so this is how you do it!”
If you perform the skill proficiently (with great technique), you get better at that skill.
Take the golf swing for example. It’s such a technical movement requiring the consequential recruitment of basically every muscle group from the feet all the way up through the legs, hips, midline, shoulders, arms and even the fingers. In the golf swing millimetres matter! A tiny change in your swing technique could mean making the fairway or finding yourself out of bounds.
Now if you follow the ‘sport-specific’ craze, you’d be tempted to go in the gym, set-up some sort of crazy contraption with bands and try to replicate the golf swing. Well guess what? That new swing isn’t even close to the one you’re performing on the course. Yeah, it might look similar… but the body is now learning to perform the skill in a much different way than it would with a regular club and ball.
By loading sports skills up with resistance, you’re teaching your body to move in a new way over and over again. You’re sending a new message to your brain each time – “Oh… so this is how you do it!”
But it’s NOT how you do it. ‘How you do it’ is how you do it in competition – without the extra load.
You’re negatively impacting the skill you’ve spent months or years honing.
We see this all too often – fighters throwing strikes with bands around their hands, throwing athletes using heavier balls, and hitting athletes using extra resistance for their swing. No matter how close you think you are to the real thing, it’s not the same. You’re learning to produce force and fire muscles at different times and in the wrong sequence.
If you think about your body like a performance vehicle. You can either increase the horsepower (size, output etc) or the efficiency of the engine.
We can increase the horsepower through structured strength training – the basic compound lifts, in all the movement planes, at various loads and intensities.
We increase our efficiency through skills training – honing your technique on the course, in the ring, on the oval…
Where do these ‘sports-specific’ drills fit into it? They don’t. (And I really hate that word ‘sports-specific’. The term ‘sports-specific’ should be left to label the skills training you do – not the exercises in the gym that look similar to your sport.)
Mimicking the skills you see during competition and simply adding load does not translate into a better performance. You’re not building more horsepower into the system and you’re definitely not increasing your efficiency.
Instead, build capacity through your entire system in the form of strength, mobility, aerobic function, co-ordination etc… and then use this system to hone in on your sports skills during training. Keep the training in the gym ‘general’ and don’t try to mimic what you see during competition.