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Sports Specific Training vs Functional Training

In an oversaturated world of training for sports performance, the lines between sports specific and functional training become blurred. Some people think functional training is the only training for athletes, and some think the only way to go is sports specific all the time. Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a best option? And what’s the difference?

Functional Training

Functional training is simply training your body in a way that mimics and affects your real-world movements. All movements are functional to an extent because any exercise can help, however, some exercises are just going to translate more to the real world than others. For instance, a back squat is far more functional than a leg press, due to the loading of the core and total body engagement. Functional training does not have to specific to your lifestyle, but it does need to help the body in strength and coordinating while squatting, lunging, hinging, pushing, and pulling.

Sports Specific Training

Sports specific training is specific to a sport someone plays. Nearly all movements in sports specific training are functional, but the demands of the exercise need to match with the demands of the sport. Some sports have more focus on high force and low velocity, so the training needs to match. Most sports require high velocity and medium force, so we match that with training. Some sports use stored energy within tendons to “rebound” and produce power, while other sports produce power within the muscle belly itself. Sports specific training goes a bit deeper still because we must train specific to the sports as well as the position being played.

When should each type of training be used?

Functional training and sports specific training both have their time and place in athletics and combining the two can make powerful athletes. Functional training is great during the offseason when we are far away from competitions. This is normally a time where we focus on strength and muscle gains, which functional training can certainly be useful in doing. As we begin to creep closer to the preseason, we should see some sport specific training being added in. Preseason is where we should really see most of the sports specific training as it is now time to fine tune all our progress from the offseason so we can begin to peak at the correct time. Our in-season training should also be sports specific training as we may find more weaknesses during competitions that we can improve on.

Both functional and sports specific training are useful in athletics, but understanding the differences, as well as knowing what time to implement each one can be an invaluable tool in creating the best athletes.

Chris Still

BS Exercise Science


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