This is an excerpt from High-Performance Training for Sports-2nd Edition by David Joyce & Dan Lewindon.
By Duncan N. French, PhD
Vice President, Performance, UFC Performance Institute
Transfer is viewed by many as the panacea of sport training. Coaches around the world tirelessly pursue interventions they believe will elevate sport-specific skills and competitive performances. Ultimately, the challenge lies in the fact that there is a lag time between the implementation of any training regime and the time at which adaptations become apparent. Indeed, with the exception of specific training phenomena used to potentiate neuromuscular excitability (e.g., priming, postactivation potentiation [PAP] ), there is rarely a circumstance when we perform a strength-training session and see immediate improvements in our ability to generate force or we attempt to learn a complex new skill and perform it effortlessly the first time. Instead, these adaptations take time to be realised, which makes it difficult to understand if or how effective a training intervention is going to be.
Training transfer represents the extent to which a task or training intervention affects the response(s) to a different task or situation. Essentially, transfer of training refers to how useful or useless a given training method is for a targeted motor task (3). Conceptually, training transfer can be expressed as a function of the following equation:
training transfer = gain in skill performance /
gain in trained exercise (1).
Due to the paradox of never fully knowing if a training intervention is effective at the time of its implementation, strategising to ensure training transfer has become the fixation of athletes, coaches and trainers alike.
Central to the paradigm of training transfer is the concept of specificity, which simply states that adaptations are specific to the nature of a training stimulus (6). If the principles of specificity were implemented literally, all training methods would simply mimic sport actions. The challenge with this approach is that chronic overload with a single training stimulus can lead to overtraining and, ultimately, a detrimental effect on performance (7). Therefore, in modern-day approaches to sport training, both event-specific exercises considered to have a high degree of transfer and auxiliary drills intended to enhance motor fitness (but with biomechanical and neurocoordinative patterns substantially different from competitive performance) are often performed together (3). For example, spiking a volleyball using a three-step approach to the net, jumping off two feet, and then throwing the arm overhead to hit the ball with great force at a downward angle on the opponent’s side of the court can be repeated numerous times in an effort to replicate a game-specific movement sequence. Elsewhere, however, auxiliary exercises may include lower-body resistance training (e.g., squats, deadlifts) to improve the potential of generating large ground-reaction forces, as well as mobility and end-range strengthening of the shoulder girdle to ensure that an athlete has the ability to throw her arm at high velocities while maintaining joint and postural integrity and minimising the risk of overuse injury.
There is a strong rationale for general, nonspecific training methods on which more specific training can then be undertaken (i.e., general physical preparation [GPP] provides a foundation for specific physical preparation [SPP] ) (8). It is apparent that when sport-specific training is conducted following increased general physical capabilities, sport performances are enhanced (3,8). For many target tasks it is not feasible to design training that meets every aspect of specificity; in most cases training might only be partly specific to one or two aspects of a target-task movement (9). The paradox then becomes the fact that general training lacks specificity, whereas skill training has a high degree of translation to competition.
Specialised exercises have been shown to have high levels of transferability, which directly influence sport performance (10), largely because of five specific criteria that define them:
- Amplitude and direction of movement
- Accentuated region of force production
- Dynamics of the effort
- Rate and time of maximal force production
- Regime of muscular work
The term dynamic correspondence (DC) has evolved from specialised exercises to describe training methods that display high levels of transferability (9,10). Exercises with DC are very similar to, or indeed duplicate, motor patterns seen in the execution of competitive skills; most importantly, they directly improve competition standards. By adhering to these five criteria, coaches can theoretically adopt drills and exercises at given times within a training programme and know that transfer will likely be maximised. Bondarchuk’s (11) system of exercise classification is based on the principles of DC. Within this system, general preparatory exercises (GPEs) disregard the principles of DC; specific preparatory exercises (SPEs) are chosen for their local specificity (i.e., level of muscular recruitment), but the movements may not resemble any part of the target task; specific developmental exercises (SDEs) mechanically overload one or two aspects of the target task and have high levels of local and global specificity (i.e., intramuscular and intermuscular coordination, respectively); and competitive exercises (CEs) replicate the target task itself, or a very minor variation, and possess the highest level of dynamic correspondence (see table 17.1).