How to transfer sport specific training effect into competitive performance

You can only train so many days per week.

And there is only so much energy you have to use training.

So it’s important that everything you do in the weights room or on the field has optimal transfer to your sport. 

There’s nothing wrong with throwing extra exercises into the mix. Whether it’s for fun, a change or a mega arm pump.

But if your core lifts aren’t making you a better athlete, you are wasting precious time. And energy.

In this article we look at sport specific training. Defining ‘dynamic correspondence’ and discussing how the ‘transfer effect’ takes place in sport.

Key points:

  • ‘Dynamic correspondence’ refers to the ‘transferability’ of specific training exercises to competition performance. First coined by strength coach professor Yuri Verkhoshansky.
  • The dynamic correspondence effect can be predicted by five criteria.
  • There are some limitations in the application of dynamic correspondence. Including risk of early specialization. Or trying to replicate the exact movements of a sport in training, rather than the force-vectors and velocity profile.

Let's start at the beginning... 

What is dynamic correspondence?

Have you ever wondered why top-level sports coaches focus on velocity-based training and reactive agility drills? Or include variable resistance in the weights room?

Well, there is good reason. Because the transfer of what happens in training to what happens during competition is all about providing optimal stimulus.  

Dynamic correspondence (DC) refers to the transfer effect of training to competition.

At face value it’s a pretty simple concept. After all, you wouldn’t expect high-volume arm curls to improve sprint performance. Or thousands of lengths in the pool to help you win medals in weightlifting.

Dynamic correspondence suggests that training exercises can enhance specific elements of performance based on how well they replicate the mechanical, neural and metabolic demands of the skill in question

But deeper down there’s a lot more to dynamic correspondence.

Multiple factors go into achieving maximal transfer – and, as such, the best possible sporting performance. Including everything from force-vector and movement velocity, to physiology and psychology.

In addition, the DC effect can be increased by mirroring the amplitude and direction of effort involved in a specific movement.

Also, the particular dynamics - for example, the muscle contraction mode; the rate and time of force production - literally how fast an athlete can develop force; and overall muscular work patterns.

The history of dynamic correspondence

The term “dynamic correspondence” was introduced by Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky.1  

A legendary strength and conditioning coach who pioneered plyometric training and was responsible for much of the early research on Periodization.   

The term is first mentioned in his book Supertraining – a groundbreaking but difficult to read resource. As a result, it is used by most coaches as a reference manual rather than bedtime reading.

Yuri discussed how the training stimulus can be made more, or less specific to cater for the demands of the sport.

And that transferability was about developing a training program that directly affects sporting performance. 

The Supertraining text stated that DC meant the strength executed during a movement in training could only be referred to in the context of a given task.

Dynamic correspondence in action

Verkhoshansky and colleague Mel Siff suggested that the DC of an exercise could be predicted based on five criteria:

  1. Amplitude and direction of movement.
  2. Accentuated region of force production.
  3. Dynamic effort.
  4. Rate/time of maximal force production.
  5. Regime of muscular work.

One of the best examples of DC in sport is velocity-specific transfer.

Research1 has shown that lifting weights with set bar speeds will transfer to specific strength qualities, based on the model of force-velocity.

Training at higher velocities will improve starting strength and speed-strength to a greater degree than maximal strength.

Conversely, lifting heavier loads - which are typically moved at slower speeds – will transfer better to absolute strength gains and has less transfer to high velocity movements.

In other words, it’s the speed of movement during training that influences dynamic correspondence to performance. If you lift fast, you get fast. If you lift slowly, you don’t

Another example of dynamic correspondence might be force-vector training.

Some studies have shown that horizontally loaded exercises (such as hip thrusts) will improve sprint performance better than vertical training exercises (such as back squats).

Possible limitations and issues 

Dynamic correspondence isn’t a bulletproof concept.

There are some limitations that are open to criticism, as well as potential issues that could arise from lack of understanding.

Firstly, DC can be implemented way too early in an athletes’ training plan. Or career for that matter.

Specific movements delivered at optimal velocities and force-vectors do have great transfer. But it is also possible to build a solid base of functional strength and capacity with basic strength and endurance training.

A solid fitness foundation is key

Before specialized training is introduced, sufficient levels of foundational “general preparation” are required. 

Not only that, DC is achieved when a training drill has optimal transfer to the sport. But that doesn’t mean the athlete has to copy the exact movement to achieve such transfer.

If we rewind a few years, you’ll remember that coaches were pushing endurance athletes to do single leg work in order to mirror unilateral aspects of running gait.

Some were asking baseball athletes to swing heavy bats to overload the swing. And others were ditching benches and opting for BOSU balance training balls to work the core.

Dis-functional fitness habits

The problem with this ‘functional fitness’ approach is that transfer isn’t always as great as you’d expect. Especially when the drill has a negative impact on the biomechanics of the actual movement.

Studies have shown that bilateral squats can be equally as effective at improving single leg lower body performance as they can double leg.

Dynamic correspondence can be difficult to measure, because of the many variables in sport performance

Let’s say that you implement a specific exercise into a program because you feel it has a large potential DC effect. And by doing so, you shave a few seconds off your mile pace.

The immediate conclusion might be that new exercise was the reason behind the improved performance.

However, there is nothing to say that you wouldn’t have achieved the same improvement due to overall supercompensation in preparation for the competition.

Or that your great performance couldn’t also have been influenced by a change of diet, better sleep, favorable conditions - or a combination of all these things.

So attributing your improvement down to the inclusion of one specific exercise in your training regimen is a difficult - and potentially misleading - thing to do.

In summary...

For the most efficient possible training, coaches and athletes should select exercise that transfers directly to sporting performance.

Understanding the elements that underpin biomechanics, force requirements and movement can help you develop effective strength and conditioning programs. Ensuring maximum dynamic correspondence.

And while ‘sport’ performance is hard to measure, due to the variables involved. There is a wealth of research – endorsed by the habits of many of the world’s top coaches – that improving ‘athletic’ performance can improve ‘sport’ performance.