The terms functional fitness and sport-specific training get tossed around a lot these days, but what do they mean?
Sport-specific training is training designed for a particular sport. So it usually means that you are practicing specific movements in that sport, like cornering in cycling or practicing a specific route for rock climbing. Functional training for a particular sport in the gym helps build an overall strength and conditioning base, and prepare your body for the physical demands of your sport. All those squats you perform will help you build the strength in your legs to power up that mountain with less fatigue; those push-ups will help decrease the chance of a collar bone fracture from a downhill crash; and those single leg deadlifts will build your glute strength so your lower back doesn’t always kick in to keep you stabilized.
Every sport has its specific demands, and exercises closely related to your sport are functional exercises, e.g., step-ups for building leg strength and endurance to hike up a mountain. A true functional exercise will directly relate to movements in that sport or build your body’s base in order to handle the demands of that sport, especially in the case of preventing injuries.
While in-gym training works on your body’s general base, nothing can really replicate the physical demands of a sport like participating in it. Regardless of how many squats, presses, and box jumps you do in a gym, it’s not enough to improve your performance in that sport. Simply put, to get good at your sport you have to do your sport, and to help your body with the demands and building durability, in-gym training needs to be applied.
So build your body’s systems for strength, power, endurance, and mobility in the gym AND work on specific skills on your bike, snowboard/skis, and trails. Remember, you should train with a purpose.
Steven Moniz | Founder and Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach