Welcome to Part 3 of our Off-Season Training guide:  The Principle of Specificity of Training

The principle of specificity is deceptively simple and it drives all the gains that one makes from a strength training program. Specificity states that the body makes gains from exercise according to how the body exercises. This  principle is important because applying it correctly will allow one to have a focused, efficient, effective program that will lead to the desired gains. Failing to apply it will result in wasted energy and time, and it will result in frustration as gains do not materialize.

When developing a conditioning program, you should consider the following:

  • the movements to be trained
  • the muscles and joints to be trained
  • the energy system(s) to be trained
  • the speed of movement

Strength and conditioning programs can be designed to enhance movements that are performed in athletics. This is important because this may improve an athlete’s performance. It may do this by strengthening the movement; it may also accomplish this by allowing the athlete to practice the movement with resistance. It is also important because it can maximize an athlete’s training time and be used to help prevent injuries in the athletic event. A number of  questions should be considered to help with this:

Is the activity performed standing?
What joints perform the activity?
Do the joints work together or sequentially? If sequentially, what is the sequence of movement?
What motions are performed by each joint?

Things like workload, rest, and intensity are driven by the energy system(s) that you want to train. Energy system training is critical to improving athletic performance. Often performance is limited by your energy stores and your ability to replenish them, both of which are trainable. You can design conditioning programs to enhance the energy system(s) that are used in an athletic event. To do this, consider the following:

How long does the event last?
Is the event performed continuously? Or does the athlete get to rest?
If the event is not continuous, how much time does the athlete actually spend moving before he or she gets to rest?

Energy system training is an important consideration because it helps to dictate how much weight to use, how many repetitions to perform, and the amount of recovery time. If you are interested in increasing the stores of ATP, then training will involve heavy weight, low repetitions, and lots of rest. Glycolytic training will involve moderate reps, moderate weight, and little rest. Aerobic training means lighter weights, many repetitions, and no rest.

A final consideration with specificity concerns the velocity of movement. The gains from exercise are specific to the velocities that the exercises are performed at. If exercises are performed at slow speeds, then we become stronger at slow speeds; however, there is little transfer to faster speeds. If exercises are performed at faster speeds, then we become stronger at faster speeds. This is important for athletics because few sports are performed at slow speeds.

If one is designing a conditioning program for a sport that is performed at high speeds, then one will need to include exercises that make athletes stronger at high speeds. These include things like the variations of the Olympic-style lifts (the clean, the snatch, and the jerk), plyometric exercises, and sprints.

The principle of specificity is important because it dictates what gains are made.