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Specificity Principle in Athletics and General Fitness

What is the Specificity Principle?

The principle of specificity states that the body adapts to the type and magnitude of physical activity done and the stress it imposes. The idea is that practicing specific activities allows athletes to develop the adaptations needed to perform better in the future. For example, if someone lifts heavy weights, they build strength; if they run, they develop endurance. 

However, athletes shouldn’t necessarily expect their performance in related activities to improve. For example, if an athlete runs frequently and creates an overload, they can expect to become better runners. Still, there might not be much carryover in other endurance-dependent activities, such as rowing or swimming.

Specificity Principle Applications in Sports and Fitness

As a coach creating workout plans for yourself and your athletes, you must consider the specificity principle to ensure that the type of training develops the necessary adaptations. 

This allows you to create efficient and effective programs that don’t include unnecessary activities that only generate fatigue without having a meaningful positive impact.

Let’s use a sport-specific setting as an example. Here, you must consider what skills the athlete needs to develop and what athletic characteristics would allow for optimal performance. You must also consider each athlete’s unique needs and what weaknesses they must work on.

The training plan must include activities that mimic specific movements, use the same energy systems, and train the same muscles. 

More complex sports that involve various activities at different intensities would require athletes to work on more things to prepare better. In contrast, simpler sports, where the athlete must focus on fewer things, would require less complex training programs.

A basketball or football player would need to train at a high and low intensity and do sport-specific drills to develop endurance, power, stability, and agility. In contrast, a marathon runner can mostly focus on endurance with some elements of strength training. 

General strength and conditioning is another example. Here, the goal is to develop strength, power, endurance, stability, and mobility while considering unique needs, preferences, and limitations.

This means the training plan must include activities that develop these characteristics. For instance:

  • Strength and power – resistance training and plyometrics
  • Endurance – cardio exercise
  • Stability – balance activities (often part of a resistance training plan)
  • Mobility – stretching, yoga, and loaded movements that improve range of motion

Greasing the groove is a concept closely related to the principle of specificity. It’s about practicing a specific activity purposefully and frequently at a low enough intensity to develop the necessary skills and improve performance.

Your job as a coach is to find the best way to organize everything for the best outcome while controlling fatigue.


1. How does the specificity principle differ from general training?

Whereas general training aims to improve multiple characteristics, often to improve general fitness in previously sedentary people, the goal of specific training is to develop certain abilities and skills that improve performance in a given sport or practice.

2. Are there any risks associated with overly specific training?

Focusing too much on specific training can increase the risk of overuse injuries, muscle imbalances, and an imbalance between athletic characteristics (e.g., strength versus endurance). It may also lead to less varied and more boring training for athletes.

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