Although there are movements and methods that apply to athletes of all sports, it is important to match certain aspects of a training program with a specific sport to elicit change that directly transfers to improvements on game day.
Without going into all of the exercise science that goes into an effective sport-specific training program, there is one concept that is often misunderstood and needs explaining: metabolic or energy system training. This refers to the energy systems used in the body (internally) to produce body movements for each sport. It is important to mimic the energy systems of each sport in training to ensure the time spent training transfers properly.
As coaches, we often hear this: “I need to get into shape for baseball so I did winter track to build endurance.” There are several problems with this strategy. For starters, it is a waste of precious time that the athlete could have been training specifically for baseball in the gym, working on baseball skill work at a dedicated baseball facility, or doing other important things in their lives. Why would a baseball player train like a cross country athlete? There’s no doubt that running winter track will build endurance, but it doesn’t directly transfer to improved performance on the baseball diamond because baseball players don’t run for long duration.
Baseball is a game of intermittent, infrequent, and unpredictable bouts of all out exertion- a pitch, a throw, a swing, a sprint to a base, a dive back to a base, etc. Running endless circles around a track is time that could have been used to train the metabolic (energy) systems used in baseball. For example, a series of sprints, arc sprints, medicine ball slams, medicine ball swings, and agility drills would have been more appropriate because they address the types of energy expenditure commonly experienced in the game of baseball. This way, athletes will improve their capacity to perform the movement tasks of baseball with more power, consistency, and baseball-specific endurance.
Furthermore, long distance running can have a catabolic (muscle wasting) effect on an athlete, especially if a wholesome nutrition program is lacking. The athlete should be training for power and explosiveness, which is often created by developing strong, twitchy muscles. Long distance running could hinder this aspect if it goes unchecked as the long distance running may eat away at muscle tissue.
Matching metabolic (energy) systems during training with those used on the field is the epitome of sport-specific transfer training. In concert with accompanying sport-specific movements and other considerations, a holistic and effective training program can be drawn up, allowing the athlete to make the best use of their time and energy.