Can I get over-specialized in my sports performance training?

Dr. Mike Clark of NASM noted in a seminar on performance training that there is no movement that can be created that will mimic that exact motor recruitment pattern that the sport skill does. If there are any modifications beyond the exact skill a different recruitment pattern will be developed. The example he utilized was the baseball player utilizing weighted bats, although the move is essentially the same the increased load will elicit a different recruitment response. For this reason over-specialized training techniques can potentially decrease performance.
A properly integrated program will take an athlete through functional preparation moves, foundational body moves (lunges, squats, balance, push, pull, etc.), enhancement tweaks to the foundations (adding different tools, load), and finally skilling activities. An ideal situation is that there is a three tier coaching approach: Soft tissue specialist for functional preparation, trainer for foundations and enhancement, and sport coach for skilling and technique development. 
Skilling & technique components are usually developed with a progressive yearly model to peak the athlete just prior to their season. Other components of training should develop an enhancement of the foundations of human movement , and not be specified exactly to their given sport. In fact, moves might be the opposite of the given sport to reverse the wear and tear the sport has created within the body.
The purpose of sports performance training is to create a better athlete, so that the skilling coaches have a better tool to mold to the specifics of the sport.
Yes!  You'll hear or read many theories of training, but most experts agree balance, cross-training, and core stabilization and strengthening can all be important parts of a healthy training plan WITHOUT compromising important specialty, or sport-specific, training methods. You will not meet a professional athlete nowadays who doesn't incorporate several training methods and components as part of a whole training program.

Personally, I believe that you can get over-specialized in your sports performance training. Sport specific training is great but you should never stray too far from the basics. Foundational exercises such as the squat, deadlift, clean and press, pull up, etc should be your bread and butter. These exercises have improved sport performance for many years. It is only after you have this foundation laid that you should integrate sport specific exercises that will help fine-tune your performance.

Unfortunately, too many people (including trainers) are guilty of sacrificing the basics for trying to come up with the ‘latest and greatest’ exercises. I think this statement made by Gray Cook from Dragon Door sums it up best, "Balancing on an unstable surface is a great way to train balance reactions, and squatting with weight is a great way to get strong, but combining the activities only reduces the benefit of each in an artificial attempt to be functional." Don't complicate exercises in an attempt to make them functional. Every exercise is functional in its own right. Dedicate your efforts to a single exercise at once and you will reap more benefits from each.

Paul Winsper
Sports Medicine
Yes. Often in the rush to perfect a certain athletic skill or bolster a sport-specific trait, we can miss some fundamental training concepts. In sports performance training, you might forget to create a foundation of balanced athleticism, injury resiliency, and general fitness. As a result, we can perform less than expected or suffer other setbacks. You can avoid over-specialization in one of two ways:
  1. Ensure the beginning of an off-season program is multi-faceted and focuses more on developing general fitness and health. Zone-in on healing acute or nagging injuries, building different forms of strength, tapping into all types of cardio conditioning, and spending more time on flexibility; spend the first 4-8 weeks of an off-season in a well-rounded program. When you do this, you will get better gains when you specialize later, avoid burn out, and significantly reduce injuries; and
  2. Always add some different set, repetition, or exercise variations throughout your program. Many training plans are periodized, which means they progress the intensity of the workout as our bodies adapt to the effort. More often than not, a specialized program does not train you to improve your general health and fitness, so add at least one or two exercises a day that vary from the typical set, repetition, and exercise combinations that are used in your specialized program.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.