Column: Sports-Specific Training vs Training Function

Sports-Specific Training vs Training Function

Sports performance is the result of coordinated movement. Pedaling a bicycle, casting a fly rod, swinging a tennis racquet or golf club, and hiking up a mountain all require multiple muscles working together in a specific sequence to create action.

If any link in this chain of musculoskeletal function is not ideal you may experience early fatigue, pain, inefficient technique, loss of power and injury.

The repetitive nature of sport can create muscle compensations and imbalances. Consequently, many athletes have movement dysfunctions that develop over time from playing their sport for years.

For example, a cyclist’s hip flexors become so short and tight from long hours in the saddle that the pelvis tips too far forward, creating an exaggerated arch in the lower back. The upper back and shoulders round overly forward to keep the spine balanced against gravity. Pain and dysfunction in the upper and lower back develop to the point of not being able to bend forward to reach the handle bars or turn the neck without severe pain. The gluteal muscles, which oppose the hip flexor muscles, and the overly stressed hip flexors themselves stop working. It’s true, it happened to me.

The foundation of sports performance is proper musculoskeletal function. Visualize a pyramid with musculoskeletal function on the bottom and optimal sports performance on the top. Building on a strong functional base – resistance training, cardiovascular conditioning and sports specific skill development are layered to reach the peak of sports performance. Sports-specific training follows functional training.

All athletes, regardless of their sport need to be in an aligned posture able to correctly recruit muscles for desired movement. The design and function of the body does not change whether you are a gymnast, swimmer or rock climber.

Traditionally, athletes tend to skimp on the musculoskeletal function exercises – flexibility, mobility and stability, muscle activation – omitting this fundamental work can ingrain improper movement patterns, increase injury risk and compromise posture. It is much more fun to just go out and play a round of golf than do stretches to open up the chest muscles or do small, isolating exercises to improve the posture of the shoulder and upper back. However, working on function and joint position will greatly improve your ability to rotate your hips and torso through the golf swing creating increased speed on ball contact and longer drives.

As a coach I start my athletes with musculoskeletal function exercises in their training program. As is often said, it is the condition and position of the body that is brought into sports that dictates performance.

Learn how to improve musculoskeletal function, call 505.412.3132 or visit

Jessica Kisiel is an Advanced Exercise Therapist certified by Egoscue University®. She also holds certifications from The American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, American Council on Exercise, National Posture Institute and Wellcoaches. Stay connected and receive free posture exercises for your favorite sport by signing up for her newsletter,

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