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The Rule of Specificity

One of the principles of exercise often overlooked by the casual gym goer or recreational athlete is the principle of specificity.

It’s a principle often thrown around when talking about sports training (e.g. sport specific strength training or sport specific conditioning). In a sports sense what it means is that you have to do whatever it is that you want to be good at. So if you’re an aspiring footballer then you need to be playing football and if you’re a swimmer you need to be swimming. Agreed, there are other forms of training that can compliment these sports, and a bit of cross training now and again is always a nice way to break up training, but if you’re serious about improving then you need to spend the majority of your time perfecting the specific skills, movement patterns and biomotor requirements that apply to your sport.

It seems however that this principle has been lost on those training for reasons other than sport. It doesn’t matter whether you train for vanity, health or just because you enjoy it, your training would still benefit from being specific. Think about it, why would someone who wants to lose some body fat benefit from bodybuilding training? But there are tons of guys out there in exactly that position. How many women out there claim they want to tone up, but after hours and hours of running have still not achieved this? I feel there are two main reasons for this:

  • 1. People haven’t been specific enough with their goals
  • 2. People just follow generic workouts that others do, hoping that it will work for them too

The first thing we do with any new client at aps is to ask what their personal goals and aspirations are. The second thing we do with a new client is to ask them to be more specific. Most people when asked for the reason they train will reply with:

  • To lose weight
  • To bulk up
  • To tone up; or
  • To get fit

The problem with any of these goals is that they mean so many different things to different people. Losing weight could be achieved by cutting water weight or chopping a leg off, but oddly enough this isn’t what most people desire! Only when we have found out exactly what a person wants can we train in the most efficient way. So we may change the goals listed above to the following:

  • Dropping two dress sizes
  • Adding 2 inches to the circumference of my arms
  • Having definition around my stomach; and
  • Having more energy by the end of the day

So now that we have specific goals, we need specific training. There are many different ways of arriving at the same goal and I’m not going to attempt to debate them all (not in this blog anyway), but there are certain things that can be agreed on. If you want to burn calories and drop fat you’re going to have to raise your heart rate one way or another, so sit ups aren’t your answer no matter how many you do. On the other hand if you want to grow bigger muscles then you need to be overloading your muscles though resistance training of some sorts and not running on a treadmill every other day.

A lot of people when told this respond that it is boredom with the same old routine that leads them to trying other methods of training. This is often why you find men, who are training for running races, in the weight room doing their ‘split routines’. In a way this isn’t a bad response, and varying up your training is a good way to stop the whole process from becoming stale, but you must be warned that participating in non specific exercise will only bring you a short break from boredom and will not edge you closer to your goals. I would also respond to these people by pointing out with all the varying training methods and systems that have been developed there is no reason that you can’t vary your training but still be specific.

Finally then we come back to the point that in order to be good at something you need to spend the majority of your time doing it. At aps Fitness we ask clients before they do any exercise by themselves to ask why. Why will doing this exercise help me to achieve my goals? If you can answer it then carry on, but if you can’t then maybe it’s time to change the exercise.

The more specific you are, the more success you will find.

Stay Healthy


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