What in the world is Training specificity? And why is to poorly misunderstood?

The specificity of our training is important.  

Ultimately, training results in specific adaptations. In terms of athletic development, training should be both relevant and appropriate to the sport in which the individual is training for, leading to specific adaptations (or outcomes) that improve the individual’s capacity to perform that sport.

So, to put it very simply, if we squat a lot, we are probably going to get very good a squatting (which is good if you are say, a powerlifter). This is a fine (if not a little simple) example of training specificity.

Unfortunately, training specificity is frequently misunderstood, and as a resulted, implemented poorly.  This results in the line between sport specific training and gym based training becoming nothing more than a small, blurry smudge.

So today, i am going to clarify what it means to strain with specificity, while also discussing where most people go wrong.

Hunter Bennett performance adelaide athlete development


Training does not have to replicate an activity to be specific

With the continuing increases in popularity to methods of functional training (whatever that means…), unique exercises are becoming the norm. These same exercises are frequently said to replicate the actions that individuals make during specific sport performance (and as such, are thought to improve the performance or that sport).

Often this means using unstable surface training to try and improve balance, or doing strange single leg / single arm combination movements as means to work the ‘sling systems’ in a sport specific manner, or training using loaded throws, or poking my own eye balls out with a blunt stick... but I digress.

Whatever these unique or 'functional' means of training are, it doesn't really matter - because they are not actually specific.

And subsequently, they don't really work.

I don't know what this is exactly, but I don't think its gonna make me bigger, stronger, or faster...

I don't know what this is exactly, but I don't think its gonna make me bigger, stronger, or faster...

You see, there should be a very clear line between training in the gym, and sport specific training. Sport specific training occurs during field based practice. It is during this time where you get the opportunity to train those skills, and movements specific to your individual sport.

This holds true whether you are a field based athlete such as a soccer player, or a track based athlete such as a sprinter or a pole vaulter.

You train your sport specific skills during your sports training.

As such, the gym is for training the physical qualities that lead to successful sport performance.

For most, this means improving strength, power, and stability (with the occasional corrective exercise thrown in). This is training with specificity at its absolute finest, as it leads to improved physical performance (eg. Improved speed, balance, power, and acceleration) which in turn, carries over to improved sport performance.


Training specificity relates to the needs of the individual

Furthermore, training should be specific to the individual. If we have a field athlete who has a high level of strength and power (and is subsequently extremely fast and explosive), but has limited aerobic capacity, then we should focus on increasing aerobic capacity.

This holds true for corrective exercise interventions, as they should be specific to the individuals requirements, whether stability or mobility related.

But again, it relates to improving the physical qualities that are needed for successful performance.

It is not our place as strength and conditioning specialists to try and improve sport specific skills using gym based exercise - that is what sport specific training is for.

The gym is for building strong, powerful, and resilient individuals, who meet the physical requirements required to perform their specific sport at a high level.


Makes sense right? 


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