Gym in the time of coronavirus: What is training transfer?

An average player or a coach understands strength and conditioning refers to strength increment, but that’s a huge misconception.

Published : Mar 18, 2020 19:50 IST

An experienced batsman usually learns the golf swing quickly because of some similarities both in movement qualities and mental processing.
An experienced batsman usually learns the golf swing quickly because of some similarities both in movement qualities and mental processing.

An experienced batsman usually learns the golf swing quickly because of some similarities both in movement qualities and mental processing.


Transfer of training is an important and crucial component of fitness that encompasses strength-and-conditioning experts, physiotherapists, coaches and also sports scientists, who research the subject over a period of time.

Practical application of training transfer to skills and on to the field is being researched on a lot of varied fronts. Ultimately, training transfer determines how useful or useless each given exercise is for the targeted athletic performance.

Training transfer characterises the process by which improving performance in certain exercises or tasks can affect the performance in alternative exercises or motor tasks. The practical background of training transfer is influenced by three principles — positive, neutral and negative adaptation to the training responses.

Training transfer in sport is clearly differentiated with regard to the enhancement of motor skills and the development of motor abilities.

Transfer types

Positive transfer means that practice on one activity results in improvements on another activity.

  • First, that positive transfer effects a functional increase in the similarities of the components of motor skills and the context in which they are executed at various stages.
  • Second, the amount of positive transfer is related to the similarity of the cognitive-processing activity involved in the two situations. For example, an experienced batsman usually learns the golf swing quickly because of some similarities both in movement qualities and mental processing.

Negative transfer means that practice on one activity interferes with the performance of another activity. Negative effects occur when two skills are performed in a similar environmental context, but the movement characteristics are different.


For example, the difference between the forehand in tennis and table tennis — both are played with a fast-moving ball, but the form and execution are totally different in both. Body position, speed of the racquet, form and contact point are all different.

Fortunately, negative transfer appears to be rare and temporary in motor skill learning.

Zero transfer occurs when previous experience has no influence on the performance of a new skill or change of an existing skill.

For example, previous racing experience should not influence learning to swim or play soccer.


Coaching tips for applying the transfer principle

1. Categorise connections between previously learnt skills and new skills being learnt through progression and specificity.

2. Maximise the similarity between training activities and competitive conditions. Simulate various elements of competition (for example, arousal level, game intensity, strategy, crowd interference, spectator noise) occasionally during training sessions, particularly during the pre-season and in-season.

3. Focus on base fundamental skills preparedness before advancing to more specific complex skills. Well-learnt lead-up skills can positively influence an athlete’s performance in more demanding conditions at the next level of play.

4. Develop more general capabilities, such as critical gross motor skills, that apply to a variety of sport tasks. For example, in volleyball or basketball, the vertical jump is a key element of service, dunking, rebounding and blocking of shots.

5. Teaching the athletes how training activities can improve sport performance. For example, call attention to the transfer of body weight, the hip lead, arm movement, torso position and follow-through in a baseball pitch and throwing a cricket ball.

6. Initial power gains from the gym will soon drop if you don’t adapt your training programmes. So, make exercises more specific to give your players the most transferable gains before the season starts.

Specific criteria

Here are the criteria that Soviet sports professor Yuri Verkhoshansky determined and made exercise specific:

  • Do the major muscles used match the on-field activity?
  • Is the range of movement the same?
  • Is the type of muscle contraction the same?
  • Is the time available to apply force (the contact time) similar?
  • Is the direction and the amount of force applied similar?
  • Is the speed of movement similar?

An average player or a coach understands strength and conditioning refers to strength increment. But that’s a huge misconception.

Instead, they need to focus on transfer. It’s all about how well a training exercise protocol improves your performance in a particular sport skill or sporting action. This exercise is then said to have a positive transfer.

A major problem surrounding transfer is that it’s always changing over a period of time. In the first two-three years of your training career, everything has transfer. Freshers or teenagers can do anything in the gym, from bench presses to lifts that seem to have an effect on the field initially. Even with a substandard fitness regime, the effects are apparent.

But progress and transfer are short-lived for many reasons. One of the key reasons would be adaptation and plateauing with the same type of lifts, load, exercises, tempo and angles of the lift, et cetera. The effect finally becomes zero transfer. Sooner or later, the same programme that once benefited would be the death knell for power output and transfer. This has been proven over the years with many sports professionals.



You need to switch to exercises that still have a high degree of transfer to on-field activities. Choose specific exercises, and the longer you train, the more specific they need to be to keep improving your match-day performance on the field.

Example charts regarding transfer

Now you can see why exercises like the plyometric bound are pillars in many experienced athletes programmes — they have a high degree of positive transfer to on-field activities.

Through this choice of exercises, players are able to keep the progression going throughout their career, and not hit the wall like others doing the same regime day in and out. Just by increasing their one-rep max strength in the big lifts may not hold the key to positive transfer on to the field.

Final takeaway

The key to transferring what you do in the gym is by choosing the appropriate exercise specific to sport performance. Need analysis and programme manipulation are important factors for each sport rather than generalised lifts and copied workouts.

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