By Jason McCarthy
In the Article “Training for the Game”, Tim Wakeham discusses the transfer from training in the gym to actually performing in the game. Wakeham states that sports specific training has been shown to provide gains in the actual game and to ensure transfer from training to the game 16 steps must be followed. If training differs even slightly from the game in intensity, environment, etc. transfer will be diminished. These 16 steps are 1) force of contraction, 2) speed of contraction, 3) type of contraction, 4) joint angles trained at, 5) range of motion, 6) postural positions, 7) neuromuscular patterning (path of movements), 8) energy system used, 9) environmental predictability (open vs. closed), 10) context of situation, 11) type of equipment, 12) the amount of irrelevant elements surrounding the relevant elements(the more nonspecific noise the less transfer), 13) athletes recognition of shared similarities between training and competition settings, 14) cognitive processing of stimuli, 15) type of motor response classification, 16) purpose or goal of the task. This is the first time 16 steps have been added to the equation for sport specific training during my studies in Fitness and Health Promotions (FHP). The theory makes perfect sense due to all of the text books and teachers state that transfer from training to the field is very hard to do and that the environment needs to be exactly the same. Throughout this review we will look indepth at the article and see what Wakeman is actually stating and how it stands with what the research and my studies through FHP say.
First Wakeham begins his article with what the experts have to say about sport specific training and the transfer between training and the game. Richard Schmidt states that a common misconception is that reaction time, movement speed, flexibility, explosive strength, and gross body coordination can all be trained through various drills or other activities. I myself before FHP had thought the same and have been training this way all my life. Through FHP we have realized how many principles such as (specificity and overload) need to be followed for an effective training regimen as well as how not every training method will result in the same gains for everyone. Now I still struggle with these findings and the findings from every other researcher that has claimed the transfer between training and the sport is this hard, but the validity of the statement has been backed up from almost everyone in the field “maximum benefits of a training stimulus can only be obtained when it replicates the movements and energy systems involved in the sport”. I was always under the impression that if a hockey player wanted to increase speed we would go for runs or skip rope to increase foot work, but as we in fitness and health have learned and what motor learning expert George Sage states “Practicing non-specific coordination tasks will not produce transfer to specific sport skills. In regards to exercises that involve many rapid skillful movements, transfer is highly specific and occurs only when the practiced movements are identical.” What this really means is that the same hockey player in my example above would be better off skating at the arena to gain speed opposed to going to the gym and training the way stated above. This is because the arena has the noises, the atmosphere, and the athletes mind is able to relate the two in a better manner the gym has many distractions and noises not found in a hockey game. This does not mean that the trainer is not doing his job the athlete will still improve in strength and power, but the training modality and environment are different from the performance modality. The research in this article from the experts is basically saying that the nervous system adapts very specifically, and that no matter what the facility does if the atmosphere and all other 16 variables are not specifically the same as the game the training will not significantly transfer to improved performance of that athlete during game time.
Next, Wakeham goes on to talk about his personal experience with training for the game and begins with a statement from a book titled “Training for Sports and Fitness” authored by Rushall and Pyke “One of the most obvious signs of a lack of specificity in training is soreness experienced in muscles after unaccustomed exercise.” This opens up this paragraph nicely because what this statement is saying is that if you are experiencing soreness different to the game then you were not working the muscles or the neuro system proportionate to how you would need to use them in a sports atmosphere. Wakeman shares a story about when he was an assistant coach at a university and the coach purposed improving foot speed for lateral shuffles by prescribing quick feet dot drills, incline stair running, and jump rope drills. To evaluate the athletes the coach suggested running them through 10-30 second lateral shuffle test. After reading this statement and being a student of Scott MacDonald’s I realize one major error. This coach has proposed evaluating an athlete on foot speed without specifically giving them the drill to work on that they will be tested with. We have heard from the experts above when training everything must be right for a meaningful transfer, so assessing the athletes with lateral shuffles but not giving the lateral shuffles for the athlete to work with will not benefit the athlete. Wakeman backs this statement up by performing an unscientific study with two groups of athletes from the team. All the athletes were pretested and then trained for 6 weeks and then tested again after the training. The findings were that both groups improved however the specific group (group who was training with lateral shuffles) improved approximately 3 times more in the 10 second test and 4 times more in the 30 second test compared to the nonspecific group. These findings may have a lot of variables that are not accounted for but the moral is that the improvements seen by the specific group is most likely due to the similarities between the specific groups training and the way the coach assed them. One statement comes to mind from my own personal experience stated by Scott Macdonald “why would you train a healthy client who needs to improve his/her 2.4k run time on a bike over actually running it just doesn’t make sense”.
Next, Wakeman brings the research into play and begins by talking about the importance of training velocity. As I have stated above and according to isokinetic studies the greatest increase in strength occur at or near training velocity, which means exactly what we have been saying if the joint angles and speed of motion are not similar to the actual game the transfer will be diminished. Now as we have been taught slow and steady in the weight room will produce the greatest results, but what this info is saying is that this may work for strength gains but will not transfer to make the client faster or more powerful specifically in their sport. The other problem stated in this article is that training for the game can be placed on a continuum with open motor skills at one end and closed motor skills at the other end. This is kind of like what we learned in Physiology of Exercise that each sport uses different combinations of muscle groups and energy systems. For example someone who is competing in a 100m dash uses 100% of their anaerobic system and someone who is a competing in a marathon will be using 100% of their aerobic system, so for the 100 m dash client we would use sprints to help train their anaerobic system where with the marathon client we would use longer distance running to work his/her aerobic system. At one end of the continuum open skills require the athlete to react, decide, and adjust in a dynamic environment with a foundation of visual, auditory, and tactical-kinesthetic cues. Open motor skills are basically the athletes timing and performance in situations within the game that require him/her to react based on the situation at hand. Where closed motor skills at the other end of the continuum have an exact beginning and an end point, so an example of closed motor skills would be lifting weights. The difference between closed and open skills is the reason why a meaningful adaptation is questionable when it comes to transferring from weight lifting to sport specific skills which are mainly open athletic skills. Kramer and Newton state that “research shows that weight or strength training will increase explosive power in individuals who begin training with average strength, however it has little benefits for explosive strength performances in individuals with previous training or above average levels of strength”. To me this can be comparable to CSEP protocol which we have learned over the past two years and have been taught by Lyndsay Fitzgeorge where they state that a client who falls under the needs improvement zone for their assessment will have a greater increase then a client who falls under the good zone. Again transfer from the gym to the sport has many factors that influence the amount of motor quality enhancements seen in sports performance and the 16 steps mentioned above need to be followed for meaningful transfer. As stated if any of these steps differ from training even slightly transfer seems to drop significantly.
Finally, after explaining what sports specific is and how the transfer between the game and training can be misinterpreted Wakeham begins to discuss why, how and what exercises will actually benefit the athlete towards his/her sport. We begin in the weight room were Wakeham states that increasing strength through weight training is very important. As we should know and can be found in The Strength Training Anatomy Workout from Delavier and Gundill weight training is done by using 10-12 RM for 1-2 sets 2-3 times a week. We also know that a good tip is to go from compound muscle groups to isolated muscle groups of about 8-10 exercises within the program I generally go with full body exercises with emphasize on the muscle groups of the goal or used in sport. Even with all these tips and studies there are still no magical exercise or fads that will produce outrageous sports specific skills. There have been studies that have shown better transfer to the sport than others but as Wakeham shares and what Lyndsay Fitzgeorge and Scott MacDonald (both Teachers at Fanshawe College) have backed up these studies are highly questionable. Sadly, we are back to the same conclusion there are too many differences between weight room exercises and the sport in which trying to excel in. But wait! Athletic injuries and Principles of Fitness have taught us that participating in regular physical activity and strength training will allow us to decrease the risk of injury and improve such things as posture, stroke volume, illnesses, etc. Weight Training with a proper workout regimen may allow a small transfer for an athlete to a sport, but the benefit for overall health and injury prevention is greater and may be the most important thing to an athlete. You can’t play if you’re injured so avoiding an injury is what most athletes are looking for. Compound exercises are extremely beneficial here due to the fact that they are time efficient and build multiple muscle groups Wakham does state there are research that states compound exercises transfer better than isolated exercises, but as we said above there are always variables to the research. So the weight room will help with minimal transfer, better overall health, and injury prevention, but what can we do to get optimal transfer. Wakham states that at Michigan State they watch game tapes, and prescribe agility, conditioning, and plyometrics using identical movements, rest and work intervals as seen when the athlete is competing. So as we heard above and from Scott Macdonald what Michigan State is doing is mimicking the sport as much as they can in training and getting their athlete to visualize the sport to produce gains in motor performance for the sport. Remember no matter how great the training regimen is as we have learned in Principles of Fitness and Wakeham states the program needs to be individualized to fit every athlete’s needs. Now Michigan State is definitely providing transfer, but studies show that the movement an athlete has to do at game time can be memorized but what you are actually doing is taking one direction of movement away from the athlete at decision time. This can be very bad depending on the sport, for instance if you are a boxer and the trainer has the athlete mimicking slips to the right all the time during training come fight time that athlete is going to constantly slip to the right. You may think this is good because the athlete will probably be faster at the slip, but in a sport like boxing each move is deadly and it will only be a matter of time before the opponent catches onto the right slip and counters. In certain sports these drills have a great effect on athletes performing a movement pattern done in their sport with an explosive reflex rather than the athlete gaining a skill that needs to be thought about before execution. Training the mind is just as important as training the muscles according to Wakeham. The theory is that drills designed with the same cerebral demands will allow the athlete to react better under pressure and have a better ability to focus attention with in the game. This is similar but not the exact same to what we have learned in Physiology of Exercise where a beginner will develop neuro adaptations 8 weeks after starting a regular fitness program and the motions become almost memory. Ted Lambrinides states that ‘The athlete may have a big, powerful gun (body) but some cannot pull the trigger (read and react appropriately) under competitive conditions, so the size of the gun and speed of the bullet (explosive movement speed) are irrelevant”. Lambrinides also states that athletes cannot carry over strength, speed, and power due to competitive anxiety and hesitation, which backs up Scott MacDonald Physiology lecture in February 2013. The statement is that players who are fearful increase neural inhibitory input; basically the analogy used is picture accelerating a car with one foot on the gas and the other foot on the brake. Wakeham teaches us that each sport requires distinct attentional demands at specific times for proper reads (what is going to happen to react).Attentional focus has the ability to be either broad or narrow and internal or external. As we learned from most classes at Fanshawe internal can be things that happen inside such as our mind and external would be weather or things that happen outside of the body. Examples would be Narrow-External focus is found in golfers focusing on the ball before they swing. Analyzing game plans can be classified as Broad-Internal, quickly assessing situations can be classified as Broad-External, and Narrow-Internal is when the focus is on effort found a lot in the weight room. Factoring in everything we have discussed, a combination of physical and mental training using the exact movements, speeds that would be found at game time will ultimately allow the athlete to relax, focus, read plays, and react accordingly come game time.
In conclusion Wakeham shares a few sample programs and states what every other physiologist has taught us thus far athletes have the potential to improve their motor abilities up to their genetic potential. This is why some athletes are amazing at what they do and others are average. We learned in physiology of exercise our bodies are genetically made with different amounts and types of muscle fibres, This is why we all excel at different activities. This does not mean give up, your heart can take you a long way, but find what you excel at. Always remember the athlete may not ever be able to be a Wayne Gretzky or Usain Bolt. Because of how their body is made and that overtraining will cause a decline and not an incline. This article has taught me a few different pointers when it comes to sports specific training and thanks to Fitness and Health Promotion I was able to make sence of the research and use my own knowledge to determine what’s right. As of right now this article has shown ways of possibly increasing transfer from the gym to the sport, but is ultimately saying that no matter what you do if the genetics are not there a training regimen will excel an athlete passed their potential.
Bushman, B. (2011). Complete Guide to Fitness and Health. Chicago: American College of Sports Medicine
Delavier, F. & Gundil, M. (2011). The Strength Training Anatomy Workout. France: Human Kinetics
Fitzgeorge, L.. (2012 & 2013) Athletic Injuries Class Lecture, London, On: Fanshawe College
MacDonald, S. (2012 & 2013) Physiology of Exercise Class Lecture, London, On: Fanshawe College
Rushall, B.S., Pyke, F.S.(1991) Training for Sports and Fitness. Macmillan of Australia: Melbourne
Schmidt, R.A. (1991) Motor Learning and Performance: From Principles to Practice. Human Kinetics: Champaign, Illinois,
Wakeham, T. (2001). Training for the Game (online). Retrieved on March 20, 2013 from http:www.momentummedia.com/article/tc/tc1103/traingame.htm
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