Sports Science Trend: Are You Skilled at Sport-Specific Program Design?

Sports Science Trend: Are You Skilled at Sport-Specific Program Design?

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Sports Science Trend: Are You Skilled at Sport-Specific Program Design?


6 Steps to Increasing Your Clients’ Sporting Performance 



Imagine how many of your clients have a sporting goal such as running the City to Surf or making their state football or netball team. Your general weight loss, fitness or hypertrophy programs are not going to be tailored enough to meet your clients’ needs to help them peak and perform at their best.

Many personal trainers are becoming smarter by recognising that sport-specific program design is achieving faster and higher performance results for their clients. The American College of Sports Medicine has even listed sport-specific program design as one of the top 20 worldwide fitness trends for 2014.[1] So if you’re a personal trainer or coach who isn’t sure of how to write a sport-specific specialised program, read on. You’ll be in a position to help your client reach their sporting goals – no matter what they are – and that’s a valuable position to be in.

Six Steps to Writing Successful Sport-Specific Programs 

Step 1: Analyse the duration of the athlete's movements

It is best to use a stopwatch for this activity. Watch around 15 minutes of the sporting game or event that your client is participating in. If the sport is a team event, select the team player that represents your client if your client has not yet started the season. Use the stopwatch to time the player’s movement, including the movement time and the resting time if the activity is intermittent. After 15 minutes you should have a good idea of the movement and resting intervals. This will become the basis of your fitness training program for your client. 

Step 2: Analyse the directional movements of the athlete

Watch and note the athlete’s directional movement in the sport your client is participating in. For example, if your client plays basketball you’ll probably write vertical jumping, side steps, running backward, squats and lunges moving in full round-the-world directions. These notes will make the basis of your fitness as well as your strength and conditioning program.

You want to gather sport-specific information and then use it as the basis of your client’s program design rather than approach it with a “this-is-my-standard-strength-and-conditioning-program-and-I’ll-modify-it-slightly-to-suit-the-client’s-sporting-goals” attitude. Yes, it may take a little bit of time to feel comfortable with this change in mindset but think about yourself as a ‘sports science trainer’ helping athletes (recreational and elite) rather than a ‘personal trainer’ creating standard programs with progression which could, on the off chance, aid your client in their sporting endeavours.

Your sport-specific program design may also include agility, power and plyometric training depending on the directional movements of the athlete.

Step 3: How long does the entire game go for?

The main reason for asking how long your client participates in their sport is because this will have a huge impact on their nutritional and fluid needs. An adult body usually has around 60-90 minutes of glycogen stores in their muscles.[2] If the sporting event lasts longer than one hour you’ll need to have a nutritional approach to help your client replace those glycogen stores.

Step 4: What are the major muscles being used?

You can complete this step while you’re completing Step 1 and 2. If you’ve been watching the 2014 Commonwealth Games you will have observed that the hurdlers crouch down and burst out of the blocks, gliding smoothly (hopefully) over each hurdle with ease. This obviously requires a strong core, quadriceps, calves and so on. Here you can apply your background in personal training to develop the strength and conditioning program for the major muscles being worked in your client’s sport.

Step 5: What are the major injuries for the sport? 

Your client will usually have a good idea of what past injuries and common injuries players or athletes sustain in the sport they participate in. If not, research this. It will be an important way to reduce the risk of injury to your client which could potentially have them miss their major sporting day or event. For example, if your client would like to run the City to Surf for the first time, you’ll need to design your program to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee (especially the iliotibial band), calves, Achilles tendons, etc. You will also no doubt speak to your client about their footwear and possibly their clothing, as after 12-14km chafing under the arms or inner thighs can be a common and uncomfortable occurrence. From this information-gathering process you can tailor their strength and conditioning program to reduce the likelihood of injuries occurring.

In addition, when runners move toward their competition phase of their training periodisation plan they may experience a lowered immune system and be at risk of overtraining. Educating the client on this and being observant to overtraining symptoms can play a part in guiding the athlete to peak sporting performance.

(See page 92 for a guideline on recognising and overcoming overtraining.)

Step 6: When does the athlete need to be at peak performance and how long does their season last for?

Training periodisation is important for sportspeople. Unlike clients who want weight loss and might train three to four times a week consistently every week with slight progression and variation, athletes will have distinct training periodisation phases to ensure they peak at their event. The City to Surf and the hockey grand final only occur once a year so it is about ensuring the client’s training is taken through the training periodisation phase to reduce their risk of injury, burn-out and over-training so they achieve peak fitness when it matters most.


Your Guiding Template for Sport-Specific Program Design 

Duration of athlete’s movements

Directions of athlete’s movement

Duration of game/event

Major muscles

Major injuries

Peaking period









© 2014 Sports Science Education Institute

With the skills and application in sport-specific program your clients will:

·         Reach peak conditioning at the right time;

·         Reduce their risk of injury;

·         Achieve higher performance results as the programs are more tailored; and

·         View you as a top professional with sports science technical skills.

Thus, the next time one of your clients has a sporting goal, remember Don Meyer, one of the top American basketball coaches, quoted Complacency is the forerunner of mediocrity”.(3)So  instead of writing your usual programs, take that extra step and design a sport-specific program. You might just begin gaining a reputation as the trainer with the sports science training techniques that create high performance results.

Kelly Sumich

Kelly Sumich is a qualified sports scientist and the founder and director of the Sports Science Education Institute. Her CEC courses focus on sports science training techniques and sport-specific program design.



[1] Thompson, W. (2013). Now Trending: Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2014. American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal. 17(6), p10-20.

[2] Department of Sports Nutrition and Australian Institute of Sport. (n.d.) Current Concepts in Sports Nutrition. Downloaded 23rd February 2014 from

[3] Meyer, D (n.d.) Mental Approach: A, B, Cs of Coaching Attitudes. Downloaded 23rd February 2014 from



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