The Greek physician Galen (AD 129 ? 210) is generally accepted to be the originator of formalized exercise, he even pointed the way forward by stating,
"?movements which do not alter respiration are not called exercise".
Whilst he was chief physician to the Gladiators, Galen devised training drills to replicate movements from the arena, as seen in the 1960 film Spartacus. Galen's gladiator drills are now referred to as 'sports specific' training or sometimes the misleading term 'functional' training, that is, exercises consisting of movements that are specific to a particular sport. With practice we may get better at performing these exercises but to date there is no proof that this makes any difference to sporting performance or normal everyday function of the muscles specifically targeted.
'State-dependent learning' is a phenomenon in which the retrieval of newly acquired information is possible only if the subject is in the same environment and physical state as during the learning phase. That is, a skill learnt in one situation does not necessarily translate to another, for example, results gained from exercises designed to strengthen the 'core' muscles may not change their performance under competitive or even everyday circumstances that differ from those of the specific exercise. Therefore, if training routines are to be beneficial they must replicate the playing conditions as closely as possible.
In professional sport a large percentage of training is taken up by exercise in the belief it will develop strength, co-ordination and agility, but if these exercises are considered necessary for a given sport, why doesn't the athlete develop these skills by actually participating in their sport? If an athlete lacks the strength or agility considered essential for their game then either the perceived requirements are wrong (and this happens time and time again) and the exercises are a waste of time or the athlete is not performing their sport in a manner considered to be right. If the latter is the case then how can an athlete whose movement may be at fault be expected to be suddenly capable of performing the prescribed exercises correctly? If they do learn to perform the exercises 'correctly' can these new skills be transferred back to the sporting arena?
Sports scientist Dr Michael Yessis writes:
What Makes an Exercise Specific? For an exercise to be specific it must fulfill one or more of the following criteria:
1. The exercise must duplicate the exact movement witnessed in a certain segment of the sports skill.
2. The exercise must involve the same type of muscular contraction as used in the skill execution.
3. The special exercise must have the same range of motion as in the skill action.
So perhaps the best sport specific exercise program, by definition, is ... playing your sport?
Roy Palmer is a Teacher of The Alexander Technique and author of The Performance Paradox: Train Smarter to enhance performance and reduce injury. More information can be found at artofperformance.co.uk He works with sports people of all abilities to recognise and overcome performance-limiting habits.