Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Concept of Specificity in Fitness

Back when I was originally studying for my Physical Education qualifications we were always told about the principle of specificity - essentially meaning that you get good at whatever you do. It's strange, but in todays fitness industry I'm often surprised how rare it is for people to consider this when they are choosing exercise options.

If you thought about the things that you do for fitness, could you really say that you wanted to become better at doing them? Would an increased skill level in using the elliptical, the chest press or performing a crunch really help in daily life? In fact, I would imagine that most people never perform these types of things outside of the gym environment.

We typically see people choosing programmes, systems or exercises based on a variety of factors but rarely does specificity come into the equation. I regularly speak to clients or friends who want to lose weight, tone certain muscles or build strength but it is a rare occasion when someone tells me that they want to get better at a certain movement. Many times, it seems as though people don't make the connection between exercise and daily life. Exercise, for many, has become a series of arbitrary goals:

  • "I want to build muscle so that I can burn more calories at rest"
  • "I want to burn X number of calories per session"
I prefer to take a different approach to goal setting - how can we improve a persons ability to move well and enable them to accomplish everything they want to in daily life. I like to consider what they currently do, what they can't do and what they've always wanted to be able to do. I find this gives a certain clarity to the programming process and can achieve a much greater level of "real world success". I try to encourage others not to follow programmes simply because everyone else is - make your own choices based on what you want to be able to achieve.

Start to take a look at your daily schedule and compare this to your current gym routine - are there any parallels? If not, start to add in some exercises that will work towards improving some basic skills e.g.
  • Deadlifts (and especially suitcase variations) will assist in picking things up from the floor such as shopping bags or children
  • Lunges and their variations will improve Gait (walking)
  • Cleans and Presses will improve your ability to lift things above your head such as putting objects onto a high shelf
  • Step Ups will improve your ability to walk up stairs
  • Squats will improve your ability to stand up and sit down
These are some very basic examples but hopefully you can see how you might start to analyse your programme in a slightly different way.

Sandbag Training also fits well into this concept and one of the major reasons that I train with them is that they respond more like a "real world" weight. The sand shifts and it is difficult to stabilise - you don't get this challenge from a pair of dumbbells. And, while I may not be able to lift the same amount of weight in a sandbag as on a bar, I feel as though it is a truer representation of my actual strength.


  1. Nice post! I especially love this part: "Would an increased skill level in using the elliptical, the chest press or performing a crunch really help in daily life?"

  2. No dexterity exercises to improve typing stuff into the computer? (90% of my work)