General Movement Training & the Single-Sport Athlete

The increased emphasis on year-round sport-specific training for athletic success has developed many unique training methods in the world of strength and conditioning. Paired with how easy it is to compare an athlete to those around the world, the prevalence of the single-sport athlete is starting to greatly outnumber the multi-sport athlete. On the trend of sport-specificity, why work on running mechanics, track or uni-planar work with athletes other than what they do in their sport? I believe there are two main explanations for this.

Develop Better All-Around Athleticism. Developing general athleticism in the Youth athlete is especially important because the majority of these ‘young phenoms’ will not end up making a living off their chosen sport. Relating back to Frost et al (2015), which I referenced in my previous post, ( educating athletes through movement will decrease the risk for injury and increase movement quality. With a higher quality of a greater variety of movements, there is less need to worry about preventable injuries during times of ‘free play’ (i.e. unconstrained, unstructured free time), not just during in-sport participation.

Development of the Athletes ‘Movement Library.’ There is a concept known as ‘Chunking’ (group together in order to more easily process) in motor learning that is brought up in fair detail in the books ‘The Performance Cortex’ by Zach Schonbrun and David Epstein’s ‘Range.’ 

Schonbrun relates this concept to the ability to memorize a series of numbers. For example, if you are asked to memorize the numbers 4-2-1-7-0-5. Instead of memorizing it all as one sequence, you will subconsciously separate it into 2 sets of 3 numbers (similar to phone numbers). Once this sequence is retained, the greatest amount of brain activity occurs during the initial variable of each sequence (i.e. ‘4’ & ‘7’), which elicits the remaining memory pattern. Schonbrun relates this to movement pattern development by identifying that the greatest amount of brain activation occurs during the initial portion of a familiar motor pattern (i.e. dribbling the ball before a free throw). This allows the remainder of the movement pattern to be driven subconsciously. 

Epstein utilized the example of chess grandmasters and their ability to memorize layouts of a chess board with a short viewing period. If there was a logical sequence to the pieces on the board, the grandmasters could recreate the image almost without fail. As soon as there was no logical method to where the pieces were placed, their ability to recreate the board decreased dramatically. Relating this to motor performance, if athletes are familiar with a wider range of movements, they will more efficiently recreate them in a reactive/unpredictable setting, such as during a sporting event.

In summary, there are two main reasons, in my opinion, for incorporating a wide-array of movements not purely specific to the athletes sport. The first, is to develop the athlete’s awareness of their own body and use it safely during the many hours of play outside of their chosen sporting event. The second, is to develop their ‘movement library’ which will allow them to more efficiently and effectively predict the right movement during their sporting environment. This will encourage success at more than just their chosen sport but daily life and allow for efficient skill transfer throughout their lifetime.




  1. Epstein, D. (Eds.). (2019). Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House.


  1. Frost, D.M., Beach, T.A.C., Callaghan, J.P., & McGill, S.M. (2015). Exercise-Based Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention for Fire Fighters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(9), 2441-2459. 


  1. Schonbrun, Z. (Eds.). (2018). The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience is Redifining Athletic Genius. New York: Dutton, Penguin Random House.