Athletic Conditioning – the principle of specificity

by Liz N on February 27, 2012

In the field of exercise science there are some universally science based principles that exercise physiologists and other fitness professionals work with to deliver an individual the best training program based on their needs, current training and goals.

One of those principles I brushed up against last week was the “Principle of Specificity”, that is to become better at an exercise or a skill you need to place some focus on the practice and development of that skill.  It’s well known that training for pure strength and power does not mesh well with training for endurance, due to the different muscle fibre types used and whilst it’s nice to be fit in the general sense, to improve in any given sport you must train for it specifically.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know I’m a real mixed bag when it comes to my fitness program – I cycle, I run, I lift heavy weights once or twice a week and teach four pilates classes – I’m a ‘sweaty generalist’ as Lululemon likes to say – hence when it came to redoing my 1RM testing, my results, although I had improved somewhat, weren’t spectacular.

My deadlift had gone from 76kg to 82.5kg (and Lisa and I both thought I could have gone higher) and I think my squat (from memory) went from 46kg to 52.5kg – and as for the upper body I was still banging out the same number of pull ups (one, but it was from the dead hang position) and overhead press (31kg).

Being the competitive little bear I am, I had secretly hoped for more improvement – after all, I got four chin ups in a row from the standing position at Toowong the next day with no push off and for the first time ever, I nailed a wide grip pull up from standing on the floor!

At the same time, every time I go for a ride, I’m having a continuous conversation with myself about pushing harder and getting better – yes, I’m improving but what fantastic things would happen if I gave it my full attention?

Hence I’m at the point now where I’m considering my fitness options – one of which is to maintain my sweaty generalist lifestyle and focus more on enjoying the journey than getting too worked up about the improvements I should or should not be making.

Are you a sweaty generalist like me and love dipping your toes into many different fitness pursuits – or do you just like to stick to the one thing?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

vee February 27, 2012 at 8:40 am

I hear you out Liz – i initially wanted to have it all – do triathlons AND lift heavy; it was too much for me after awhile. (And got a bit pricey with me having gone back to uni!) So i’ve decided I’ll give each”type” of fitness a bit of TLC separately. I still love the idea of being wonderwoman though… :P

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:21 am

Vee, when I read your chin up record, I just thought you really were Wonderwoman :) Good on you!

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Marion February 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Hi Liz! Well, it’s hard to be a generalist when there are so many possible sports available, yet so little time! I’m sure I’d like other things other than what I do (e.g. pilates, martial arts, dance). However, I use personal body restrictions to rule out a lot of things. I have a “delicate” knee, so that rules out a bunch of things. I also am prone to ear infections, which rules out swimming. Great numbers for weightlifting, btw. :D

:-) Marion

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:20 am

Thanks Marion – I’m pleased, given that I’m around the 132 pound mark – or 60kg for the Aussies! x

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Katie Squires February 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm

When I am training for a race (like my first marathon right now) I focus on that :) But when I am without a goal race, I am a sweaty generalist that runs, lifts weights, does yoga and plays (will try any kind of exercise or class). While training I still strength train, but its only full body twice a week and I miss having more time to put in to it, to get better results. I feel pulled in too many directions sometimes because I would like to do it all…if I could working out would be my full time job because I LOVE IT :) LOL

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:13 am

Hi Katie, sounds like you’re taking some great actions to make working out your full time job. Hooray for you!

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Kate February 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

This post made me smile, Liz. I see myself in the disappointment in improvement. I understand what you are driving at and I do firmly believe, for myself at least, that training specifically is the way to go.

Like me, you are more of an endurance type, so to make noticable gains in power/strength lifting, loads of eating, sleeping and heavy training would be needed. The only time I make gains worthy of reporting is when I abandon cardio and focus on the task at hand.

I miss the cardio, especially the long runs and cycles. But I know they don’t work for what I want to achieve.

Given your love for all things fitness (and I sure don’t blame you), why not try the “abandon outstanding results” track for a while and see how it fits? You can always go back to specific training if that is what you’d like to try next.

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:19 am

Hi Kate,
When you give up the cardio and just focus on the weights, amazing things happen – I’ve got the proof in two sets of comp photos taken six months apart. So keep at it!
In the meantime, I’m just going to keep dabbling!
xx

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Kate March 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm

:-D

Love the dabble!

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Char February 28, 2012 at 12:40 am

Nothing wrong with being a generalist – it means that you’re an all-rounder. I’m a specifist and only reach out into other forms of exercise when my running gets broken.

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:02 am

How are you going Char – I would miss running too, even though I only do one or two a week.

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Tara @ Sweat like a Pig February 28, 2012 at 1:23 am

I used to be more of a generalist when I was running, dancing, lifting weights and doing yoga. Now I mostly lift weights, and play tennis once a week. I like that *much* better, I love focusing on the weights!

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:01 am

It’s very cool to see the changes that strength training can bring!

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Emma February 28, 2012 at 2:12 am

Hey Liz,
Well I think I’m a bit of a sweaty generalist like you. Although my main focus is running now and I have a few goals this year, I am finding that I have developed my own little fitness bucket list. I know that I will never be the winner on the podium and so, I think I delve into so many different things so that I can say that I have done them :)

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:01 am

I love your fitness bucket lists – actually I think you’re so cool and I love that you love all of this training and having fun as much as I do :)

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Emma February 29, 2012 at 2:27 am

What a gorgeous reply! Love ya Liz xx

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Liz N February 29, 2012 at 10:46 am

Love ya back!

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Vicki February 28, 2012 at 5:53 am

Hey Liz .. I’m the sweaty generalist like you, and like you also love to have my finger in a few fitness pies. However, when I train for specifics ( ie half marathon etc ) I miss doing different strength training. So, then I don’t run so I can focus on more strength training .. And miss running! This does my head in! So, this year as I reach a milestone birthday ( I’m still coming to terms with it ) I have decided to do what I want to, when I want to as long as I keep heading in the improvement direction.
Let’s see how long it lasts!
Keep inspiring us Liz!

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

hI Vicki – a milestone birthday – how cool! Can’t wait to see how you approach it!

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Kari @ bite-sized thoughts February 28, 2012 at 6:54 am

Definitely a generalist! I sometimes dream of being a ‘do one thing really well’ fitness person, but I just don’t seem to go that way. At least general can be fun – varied at least :)

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Liz N February 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

Hi Kari, with you = general can be fun!

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Tony March 4, 2012 at 8:10 am

Hi Liz,
Good article. I appreciate your perspective on being a generalist. My Dad was a coach, and we played all the major american sports and rugby as well. So we got a pretty good dose of variety, which was fun. But in college, I had to choose one sport and train specifically for it, to the exclusion of the all the rest. I didn’t like it, but I learned that it was essential for competing at that level, and I’d had a friend suffer a serious knee injury while skiing, which thwarted his opportunity for a pro football career. Then in the military, where fitness is based on endurance and body-hardening, the training is completely different. After my injuries, and all the PT/rehab., I have returned to the martial arts as a means of balance and over-all conditioning. It’s really great, and I figure if you want to break a sweat staying fit, you might as well be having fun – and learning or maintaining a skill set while doing so. For me, it was the answer..

Cheers!

Anthony -

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Liz N March 4, 2012 at 10:08 am

Hi Tony,
I have several friends who do martial arts and report some of the same benefits you have. I have yet to really try any formal martial arts, but might have to put it on my bucket list to try. What appeals to me about martial arts (and correct me if I’m wrong) are the aspects of self discipline, thought control and non violence.
Cheers
Liz :)

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Tony March 5, 2012 at 8:55 am

Yes Ma’am,
Self discipline, inner strength (control over thoughts and emotions) and intestinal fortitude are key aspects in the arts, and though the term
“Martial” indicates combat or war, every TRUE Warrior yearns for peace!

There are many different applications within the two main styles- hard and soft- which makes the study so engaging, so knowing what particular style interests you and finding a GOOD, well-rounded teacher is paramount.

Now that I’m in my 40′s and having spent many years learning and applying the hard styles, my focus is now on the softer, more gentle way which incorporates healing as well. And I am finding that Aikido, a Japanese art, requires very little physical strength to be effective, but rather utilizes grappling and throwing techniques by foot movement, blending with and re-directing an attacker’s momentum as a counter measure, regardless of the opponents size or weight.. pretty cool, huh?

This is why the Japanese taught this art to their women.

In Aikido, there are both physical and mental aspects of training. The physical training is diverse, covering both general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques, with the goal being to defend one’s self while protecting an attacker from injury.

Mental training and the ability to relax the mind even under the stress of a dangerous situation is emphasized, wherein an attack is met with confidence and directness.

“Kokyu Ryoku” (Breath Power) is essential and also emphasized in both the mental and physical aspects of training.

Aikido’s founder Morihei Ueshiba once remarked that one “must be willing to receive 99% of an opponent’s attack and stare death in the face” in order to execute techniques without hesitation. As a martial art aikido is concerned not only with fighting proficiency but with the betterment of daily life, this mental aspect is of key importance to aikido practitioners.

So, if you ever decide to put some Martial Arts training on your bucket list, you may want to consider Aikido – I bet you would really enjoy it.

It is referred to as “The gentle art of peace, and the power of love”

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing is so gentle as true strength”…

Have a great day!

Ciao :)

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Liz N March 5, 2012 at 10:38 am

Hey Tony,
What an awesome reply. It sounds amazing! I think you need to start a blog about aikido. I would sign up for sure :)

Cheers
liz;)

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Anthony March 10, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Thanks Liz:)

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