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The Principle of Specificity

Updated: Feb 14

The principle of specificity states that training should be relevant and appropriate to an individual’s goals to produce the desired effect. To get better at cycling, you need to cycle. To get bigger biceps, you need to train your biceps. You are not going to get big biceps cycling.

Connected to this, training should go from general to specific to really maximise results. Your general conditioning is your foundation for more specific training in the future. If you want to run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds in the summer, you start by preparing your body in the winter with general conditioning work that gets progressively more explosive, fast and specific.

The client I reassessed wants to pass the physical fitness test to enter the Fire Brigade. This individual wasn’t particularly active so the first 8 weeks were focussed on very general fitness to create the foundation for the more specific training.

So, this individual’s training program consisted of…

1. Moderate intensity cardio to get some base aerobic fitness.

2. High repetition and low weight resistance training to safely introduce resistance work. This included compound exercises where appropriate but also machine weights at this introductory stage. All muscle groups and movement patterns were targeted.

3. Traditional circuit style sessions with me to combine the two and add variety. Circuit training is a great way to train aerobically whilst also performing resistance training. I also used the circuit training to teach technique for fundamental movements.

So, how did this individual do at their first reassessment? Here are the areas where this individual performed incredibly well…

1. Aerobic fitness improved considerably. Their resting heart rate after a 3 minute step test improved from 150BPM to 100 BPM. The bleep test result improved dramatically from level 3/7 to level 5/0 (and that is without any focussed anaerobic training – i.e. learning to cope with high intensity cardio).

2. Upper body strength improved fantastically. In the old fashioned ‘bang out as many push ups as you can in 1 minute’ test, this individual could only perform 22 knee push ups originally, but at their reassessment they completed 22 full push ups (with great form). With weights, this individual could perform, on average, 3 times as many reps with the same weight on a military press, bench press and seated cable row.

However, not everything improved dramatically…

1. Leg strength improved marginally as measured by a leg press test and a wall sit.

2. Core strength improved only marginally with the plank test and got worse in the sit up test.

Now here’s where we refer to the principle of specificity. After the assessment, this individual and I spoke in depth about his program. As it turns out, he had been skipping some of the leg exercises and most of the core exercises on his program. His test results has precisely highlighted that fact that you cannot improve in a component of your fitness if you don’t train that component – your legs won’t get stronger if you only bang out pull ups every day!

These test results also highlighted another very important point - be honest with your trainer! I was delighted with this individual’s reassessment (it was a great reassessment) but I was also delighted that he was totally honest with me. We could then discuss why certain exercises had been skipped and what we can do in the future to make it easier to perform those exercises. I think that this is particularly important when it comes to weight loss and diet – we are here to help! If you don’t tell us the truth, we can’t help you.

mobile and outdoor personal training


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