Sport Specific Programming vs. Non-Sport Specific Programming


Over the years while training with many different types of athletes, I have seen many different types of programming. While each has a specific purpose, not all were implemented correctly or timely. To be effective and get the most from your training regime, one must understand the reasoning for doing specific movements at specific times. The movements come in the form of sports specific programming and non-sports specific programming. While different, each has its place in an athletes training schedule.

Non-Sports Specific Programming

This type of programming can be used in both the athlete’s discipline (i.e. running) and in strength or gym based fitness. The purpose of this type of programming is to build a well-rounded base and overall athlete. By doing this you maintain durability for a long season of training, mobility, and balance in your symmetry. For example, if I am training a runner with non-specific programming then to train their aerobic base I may work in non impact exercises such as rowing, swimming, biking, etc.

With strength training, I may put them in a heavy strength focus utilizing olympic barbell movements to build strength and durability for the stresses and pounding that their body will take over the coming months.

Sports Specific Programming

Sports specific programming comes in the form of specific (not random) movements geared towards the athlete’s discipline and/or event. For example, this could mean just running in general or it could be very specific, like meeting the demands for a specific race. As with non-specific training, this can be implemented in both the athlete’s disciple and gym based fitness plans. So with this plan, if I am programming for an ultra marathon in the mountains, then I will program plenty of uphill and downhill specific workouts as well as power hiking on steep inclines. If the course were flat and fast then there would be more tempo and speed workouts.

When programing strength for this event, I would focus heavily on legs, lungs, and core supplementing upper body for symmetry and mobility drills for range of motion/durability.

The Timing of Programming

While understanding what to program is important, the timing cannot be neglected and is the other part of the equation. I don’t want to hammer the athlete in the gym and have them sacrifice quality in their runs, burn out, or even worse, get injured. The goal is to have balance with a shift in quantity at the right times to bring them to peak performance when it is needed.

To do this I like to start planning in macro cycles and move into micro cycles as the athlete progresses through the training plan. For example, if we plan for the year then we will go through off-season, pre season, in season, and post season macro cycles.

Off Season:

In this cycles we will put a heavy focus on lifting and a minimal focus on practicing the athlete’s sport. Through semi sports specific programing our objective is to build a solid base that we can build upon in the coming months.

Pre Season:

Here we will shift to more of an equal balance with lifting and practicing the athlete’s discipline. At this point we have a solid base so we can move full time into sports specific programming to start improving performance.

In Season:

Now that we have built a solid base, we can shift the bulk of our focus into practicing the athlete’s sport. We will only use gym-based fitness to maintain what we have built over the previous months. As the athlete gets closer to their event/events we will taper as needed to allow for peak performance.

Post Season:

As the season draws to a close most athletes are drained both physically and mentally. While they deserve some much-needed down time, it is important to not loose the bulk of the fitness they have worked so hard for. The reason for this is that when starting the next years macro cycle they can rebuild at a much higher level, making them a better athlete year after year. This is also known as periodization training. To achieve this I like to program non-sports specific training. This does several things:

  • It allows the athlete to recover mentally.

  • It keeps the athletes base fitness while allow them to recover physically.

For example, I may have a runner preform some form of cardio for a set amount of time rather than distance. I will let the athlete pick because I want it to be enjoyable. The only stipulation is that it cannot be running.

With strength training we will dial the volume way back and again it must be enjoyable.

These cycles can be programmed in shorter time frames as well with slight variations. For example, if an athlete wants to be ready for an event in several months instead of a year.

By utilizing timing and programming properly, one can reach their peak level of fitness in a systematic way.

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