Train for the game or just train?
Traditional strength and conditioning programs in the gym involve sagittal plane dominant exercises such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press, cleans, bench etc. This does not utilise the other two planes of motion that we need for most sports or activities. So should we train functionally to improve our sports performance?
Just because an exercise in one plane dominant does not mean that it is a ‘bad exercises ’, what it does mean is that there is some ‘gaposis’ (Gary Gray ‘ism’) between our training and our sports performance. One argument is that sports training will fill the gap between the gym and our match performance, however, we know that strength is angle specific e.g. there is usually a significant difference between how much you can back squat compared to front squat considering that there is only a couple of inches difference in bar position. Therefore, the closer our training is to the biomechanical motions of our sport the greater the carryover should be.
This does not mean that we should just replicate the action with weight or resistance such as mimicking the golf swing with a resistance band. We need to look at the particular joint motions that occur and train the ‘mostability’ (mobile stability) of those actions.
If we look at the right hip in the transformational zone of the backswing in golf , we see the motions of flexion, internal rotation and adduction occurring. We need to create these motions with our training to fill the proprioceptive gap between squatting and the golf swing. We can do this in a number of ways utilising lunges and squat matrices with trunk rotations or lateral flexions depending which movement we want to focus on. This makes sense from a proprioceptive stand point, when we think of the huge number of neuromuscular connections and bridges the gap between back/front squats and the backswing in golf. This is one example of how we can train using a functional thought process to improve different elements of a skill like swinging the golf club.
SO where is the evidence? There is no study that shows a certain way of training is the best. This will be specific to the individuals needs and that of the sport.
The S.A.I.D (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) is a cornerstone of athletic training. It means that the body will adapt to the specific stress that is applied. So if you want to improve an action or movement, you need to do that movement with purpose and intent.
If we look at a commonly used power exercise such as the power clean in the context of improving power in the golf swing, is it relevant?
It is a sagittal plane dominant exercise, golf is 3 dimensional with an emphasis on the transverse plane.
The exercise emphasizes vertical loading, most sports (including golf) involve a horizontal vector in the action.
This does not mean that power cleans are a bad exercise, but if we are looking to improve a movement or skill we need to look at the biomechanics and the planes of motion of the action and train in the transformational zones (the areas where we change direction).
In conclusion, there is a vast amount of literature demonstrating the benefits of weight training for sports performance, however this may be best combined with sports specific exercises and biomechanically relevant movements to best carry over gym work to field of play/course.
Gary Gray & Dr Dave Tiberio. Gray Institute and Nike Golf Performance Program
Mark Leyland MCSP FAFS GPS
Momentum-Physio.co.uk, Weybridge, Surrey