• Alex Parry

Principles of Training Part 1: Specificity

Ever wondered how the best coaches in the world design their athletes' training programmes? They follow the 7 fundamental principles of training. All physical training, whether for strength, endurance, weightlifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, crossfit, sports - whatever - MUST follow the same 7 principles to be maximally effective. In this series of articles, we'll be covering each of these principles; what they are, how they work, and how you can implement them into your own training. First up - Specificity.

What is Specificity? Specificity is how closely the training relates to the intended goal or outcome. Let's say that you're a competitive 100m sprinter. The most specific thing you can do to improve your time is to perform a 100m sprint. It is specific because you're practising the EXACT same thing you want to improve. Something moderately specific might be performing 3 sets of 150m sprints. The training is still pretty damn similar to the thing you want to improve, but it's not quite identical. And then something much less specific (but still useful) might be performing 3 sets of 5 back squat. It will improve your strength, which correlates with improved speed, but it is not very similar to the thing you want to improve.

Why You Need Specificity Training that violates the principle of specificity won't be very effective. You'll end up putting in lots of work but not necessarily improving the thing you want to improve.

Remember that your body adapts in incredibly specific ways. Every different type of movement and activity uses different muscles, different muscle fibres, and different coordination patterns.

If you think about our sprinting example - if the sprinter only ever trained by squatting he would have incredibly strong legs, but he would probably be a pretty bad sprinter because he wouldn't have developed the specific coordination and skills required to sprint effectively.


The Drawback of Specificity At this point you're probably thinking that ultra-specific training is the way to go. If you want to get better at something just practice that EXACT thing as often as possible, right? And you're not necessarily wrong - up to a point. By practising the exact thing as often as possible you will absolutely improve at that thing. There's almost zero chance that you won't. However, there's a process called adaptive resistance that will eventually become a problem. As you know, over time your body adapts to stimulus. If it's a new stimulus your body will be forced to adapt a lot, but over time, your body gets less and less 'stimulated' by that same dose of stimulus, and so it pretty much stops adapting.

To use a simple example, consider someone performing maximal lifts twice per day in the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat (a Bulgarian weightlifting approach). For the first few months, their progress will be phenomenal. They'll become incredibly good at performing heavy lifts. Month 1: Lifts go up by 10kg each Month 2: Lifts go up by 5kg each Month 3: Lifts go up by 2kg each But what happens when... Month 4: Lifts stay the same. Their body is no longer adapting to that stimulus. And they're already training to maximum twice per day every single day. So it's pretty much impossible to train more. They've hit a brick wall. How to Use Specificity in Your Own Training If you've read all the way through the article so far then you know that the principle of specificity is essential to your training success, but that too much specific training leads to adaptive resistance and stale training. The solution is to use SOME specific training alongside some non-specific or less specific training. You do enough goal-specific training to develop the specific qualities needed to perform. But you also do enough other training to bring up athletic qualities that indirectly improve the performance over a longer-term. And this is where intelligent periodisation comes in. You can choose whether you include both types of training within the same block, or whether you plan distinct phases of training that vary in their level of specificity.

For more detail on this process, see my next articles on the other principles of training... Part 2 (coming soon...) Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Hope you enjoyed this article. And as always, if you're looking for intelligently designed training programmes from a coach you can trust, you can book a quick call with me right here. 'Til next time Alex

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