Why You Shouldn’t Train Sport-Specifically All the Time


by Jordan Smothermon


Sport-specific cycles are intense programs designed around the physical demands of the sport (or event, job, etc.) and driven by goals to be achieved by the completion of the cycle.

These cycles closely mimic the energy and muscular efforts sports place on athletes. An athlete will perform many of the same movements they’ll perform in competition or execution of their job. They’ll become stronger and more proficient in doing the exact things they’ll need to be able to do in order to excel in their field of endeavor.

Bottom line: they are the best training to prepare an athlete for a sport.

And yet, most of our sport-specific cycles only last six to eight weeks.

So if they are the best way to prep an athlete, why don’t we train sport specifically year round?

First, understand the grand design of a simple, periodized training program: general fitness training, what we typically refer to as “base” fitness, prepares the athlete for sport-specific training. Sport-specific training prepares athletes to practice for their sport. Practice prepares an athlete for competition.

If the purpose of a sport-specific cycle is to improve an athlete’s practice on the field when they return to their season. This improved practice – more deliberate, more repetitions, more quality – leads directly to improved performance since practice builds permanent, in-depth schema around a particular aspect of the sport.

If the only training you ever do is sport-specific, your body going to accommodate to those demands and stop progressing. You’ll hit a plateau. Plateaus can have a cascading effect. First, your performance stagnates. This stagnation breeds a lack of training motivation – indifference. This indifference can lead to inconsistency or a complete stop to training. No training leads to performance declines.

Also, sport-specific training year round can lead to overuse injuries. Overuse injuries find their genesis from one of two causes: 1) a strength imbalance or 2) a flexibility imbalance. While specifically training muscles for a sport can have a great impact, if done for too long a period, you’ll develop imbalances between muscle groups. Runner’s knee is the simplest example of an overuse injury directly related to an overabundance of sport-specific training.

Sport-specific cycles can also lead to boredom, especially for tactical and industrial athletes who must shoulder the burden of constant fitness. The major programming principle of sport-specific training is progressive overload, which is a fancy academia term that, to the athlete, simply means “same thing, only harder.” Which is to say that you will quite literally be doing the same training, week over week, for the duration of the cycle, but it will be harder each time you do it, e.g. heavier weight, longer intervals, more rounds.

Can you imagine doing that year round? Even if you added in new elements, the continuous, more or less same movements, with the same muscles eventually will lead to boredom.

Lastly, sport-specific cycles are intense. Or at least they should be. In fact, they should be so intense that they aren’t sustainable. They force an athlete’s body to overreach – to go to a level of intensity beyond what their current level of fitness can maintain. And humans, no matter how well-intentioned, simply aren’t built to maintain that level of intensity training year round. Invariably, doing so would lead to overtraining.

You must lose fitness to gain it. You must switch how you train in order to continually build fitness and maintain balance. You must change training objectives to progress fitness in one direction while maintaining it in another.

This is where base fitness comes in, and why it is the basis of the bulk of training year round. Base fitness builds overall strength, work capacity, endurance, stamina, and durability needed for a long season in the mountains or a long deployment so that when it’s time to train sport-specifically, you don’t have to worry about those things. You can put your attention where it needs to be.



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