Specifically Speaking

By Lon Kilgore PhD

In ExPhysiology

October 01, 2007

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Every single kind of exercise researcher and practitioner known to mankind has been indoctrinated with the concept of specificity of training. The idea is so well entrenched in the professional psyche that it even has an acronym, the S.A.I.D. principle--Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. In a lot of ways, it's pretty correct physiologically. We all remember Dr. Hans Selye and his General Adaptation Syndrome model, which explains how the body becomes stronger and fitter by adapting in response to physical stress. The S.A.I.D. principle fits nicely into that model. Training anaerobic exercise at the very edge of one's physical limits causes the body to adapt in a way that pushes out that boundary and increases the body's capacity for that kind of work. We believe this and we use this concept in exercise programming. Specificity does work.

Let's go a little further in our consideration of specificity though. Lots of coaches and trainers want to make their programs as specific to a trainee's sport or task as possible. To some extent, this is a physiologically sound idea. We wouldn't approach training a 100-meter sprinter the same way we would approach training a marathoner, since one relies on muscle contractile speed and stored and rapidly recycled adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate for performance while the other relies on several metabolic pathways, carbohydrate availability, and cardiorespiratory efficiency.

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