Understanding Specificity: Practice Makes Perfect

The following post is the second in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of Specificity. Future posts will address the Principles of Reversibility, Variability, and Individuality.

If you want to learn to jump higher, eventually your feet need to actually leave the ground!

If you want to learn to jump higher, eventually your feet need to actually leave the ground!

This May, the Generate Fitness team has decided to explore “getting comfortable with discomfort”. There are so many ways in life that this phrase applies, and the gym is no exception. The simple, cliche, and sometimes hard to accept, truth is that nothing changes unless you do.

Last week, we took at look at the fitness principles of adaptation and progressive overload, and how these two phenomenons related back to forcing your body to always feel challenged and pushed. Most of our growth lies in how much effort we are putting into our work, and fitness is no exception.

But what about those times where you feel like all you do is work harder and harder, and still don’t seem to feel like your progress is in a rut? Or you really want to improve at one specific type of training, but find that nothing you do is working for you. Well, it is entirely possible that you are working as hard as you can, but on the wrong things.

Today, we’re going to explore the principle of specificity, or- as I like to call it- “practice makes perfect!”

Training to be an exceptional goaltender in hockey is vastly different from training to be a defensemen, and even more different than the training done to be an elite level runner.

Training to be an exceptional goaltender in hockey is vastly different from training to be a defensemen, and even more different than the training done to be an elite level runner.

In exercise science, specificity refers to the fact that the body adapts to the specific stimulus and stress to which it is exposed. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that if you want to get better at something, you need to work on it, or on its specific elements.

That’s right, folks. This is just about the the most brutal it gets: No amount of squats will make you better at burpees. Squats will absolutely allow you to improve in certain elements of a burpee, but without the upper torso engagement and closed kinetic chain component, the squat is simply a completely different exercise that works on completely different elements of your strength.

The same applies for any other skill such as flexibility, balance or coordination, or activity, be it running, cycling, kickboxing, dance. You will only improve in ways that you train yourself to improve in. Hockey players must focus on various elements of fitness training that are related to their sport. And being great at hockey does not necessarily equate being an amazing long distance runner. The two actually have very little in common besides requiring a lot of aerobic endurance.

It’s easy to understand how a sport or activity might require specific training, but it becomes a little harder to apply that same principle to our own individual training, especially when participating in group fitness. Most of us don’t have specific training goals beyond wanting to be healthier in an overall, holistic sense. Some of us may want to improve our aerobic endurance, or increase our muscle mass, but even these are much less specified than the training goals of performance athletes.

And since, in group fitness, you don’t control your program design, and may have some movements that are outside of your scope of ability, your ability to manage specificity may be even further limited.

This is why working with instructors who are highly qualified and capable of designing well-rounded programs that have appropriate modifications that will accurately reflect the movement patterns being trained becomes so very important. In part 2 of Specificity, we will explore in more detail how using the For Every Body Movement Scaffolding System, or other program design approaches can ensure that you are giving your body all the tools it needs to progress in a well rounded way that is specific to your needs.

Zita Dube-Lockhart (CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.