Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York
In conversations with professional peers, as well as when presenting and attending at various conferences, often times a number of rehabilitation and weight room exercises are presented to be “sports specific” for the patient and/or athlete. This sports specific statement gives rise to the question, “are the exercises performed in the rehabilitation and weight room settings truly sports specific?” Prior to addressing that question it is important that the reader recognize the difference between an individual’s levels of “athleticism” vs. their “skill”.
Hall of Fame Strength and Conditioning Coach Al Vermeil established a hierarchy of athletic development for the progression of the enhancement of the physical qualities necessary to result in optimal athletic performance. In the rehabilitation setting the additional level of mobility/movement has been established in the pyramid to assist in the progressive development of these physical qualities resulting in the desired patient outcome.
As one may observe there are various physical qualities in the pyramid that are to be developed for optimal rehabilitation outcomes and athletic performance to occur. The enhancement of each physical quality is dependent upon the optimal development of its predecessor with the physical quality of strength being the foundation of both the rehabilitation and training process. Therefore, as it is the physical qualities that are enhanced during the rehabilitation and/or training process it is these qualities that result in the individuals enhanced “athleticism”.
Athleticism is a necessary for an ideal “skill” performance to occur, thus one must differentiate between the two as follows:
• Athleticism is the quality of having the strength (as well as other physical qualities) and energy that makes a great athlete.
• Skill is the ability to do something well; expertise.
For example due to the enhancement of a basketball player’s physical qualities an increase in their vertical jump abilities will likely occur (athleticism). However, what did the increase in vertical jumping ability do to enhance the basketball athlete’s jump shooting accuracy (skill)? The answer is nothing. The basketball player’s jump shooting accuracy will improve by practicing the “skill” of jump shooting. The athlete’s athleticism is demonstrated by their vertical jump abilities and their skill levels are exhibited by their jump shooting accuracy.
During the rehabilitation of a throwing athlete who has undergone a surgical intervention due to shoulder pathology, at the appropriate time of the initiation of a rehabilitation throwing program, the implemented throwing program progression may be similar to the following:
• Short toss
• Long toss
• Pitching from flat ground
• Pitching from the mound
This rehabilitation throwing progression gives rise to the enhancement of the patient’s arm strength as well as arm velocity at each progressive stage of the throwing program design. What does the throwing program do to enhance pitching accuracy i.e. ball to strike ratio? The answer is nothing. The rehabilitation throwing program enhances the pitcher’s athleticism by increasing the physical qualities of arm strength and velocity. It is the practice of the skill of pitching will enhance the pitcher’s positive ball to strike ratio.
The exercises performed in the rehabilitation and weight room settings enhance the physical qualities necessary to improve the athlete’s athleticism. Through the repetitive participation in sport practice and competition the athlete’s skills are enhanced. Rehabilitation and weight room exercises are not sport specific, as the skills of the sport is sports specific. This is why baseball is called baseball, football is called football, soccer is called soccer, etc. Rehabilitation and strength and conditioning professionals enhance the physical qualities necessary to improve athleticism. The individual’s participation in sport practice and athletic competition is what is “sports specific” and hone the skills necessary for the field of play. There is certainly a relationship between athleticism and skill to result in optimal athletic performance. Let’s not confuse these two entities and note that the enhancement of the physical qualities necessary to improve athleticism is what occurs in both the rehabilitation and weight room settings, not sports specificity.