Jeromy Bryk – @Bryk_Squuaadd
I’ve touched on this briefly before in other articles, but I wanted to dig in a little bit deeper here on The Principle of Training Specificity–What is it? How can we use an improved understanding of Training Specificity to improve our performance? What are some mistakes we should avoid?
What is The Principle of Specificity? Why is it Important?
Specificity of Training is rather self-explanatory by definition: For an athlete to improve in a certain area, that athlete must train in that area. This is a relatively easy concept to understand and basically just reinforces the idea that if you want to get better at something you need to practice it. For example, if you are a powerlifter you should be practicing the main three lifts, if you are a bodybuilder you need to be training with lots of isolation movements to bring out the detail in the muscle and focusing on symmetry in your training, just the same as a football player should be playing football if they want to become better at football.
Understanding the Principle of Specificity is important to an athlete because whether it is used correctly or incorrectly it directly impacts our performance in our given sport. For the sake of this article I will be focusing on Specificity in Powerlifting and Bodybuilding training.
How can we use an improved understanding of The Principle of Specificity to improve our performance?
At bare minimum, we need to know that the closer to competition that you are the more important it is that your training conditions should be as close to competition conditions as possible, putting you in the best possible position to reach your goals on competition day. The further away from competition that you are, your training can be much more generalized.
For example, as a competitive powerlifter gets closer to a meet they need to increase their training specificity to be as close to what they will be doing on meet day as possible. This means training with competition bars, competition commands, and hitting singles on the competition movements as well as placing more emphasis on these movements and less on the accessory movements. The further out from competition that a competitive powerlifter is they can and should use less specific training to focus on weaknesses and improve their chances of success when it comes time to prepare for competition again.
The same goes for a competitive bodybuilder. The closer a bodybuilder gets to a show they need to be focusing in on training that lean their body out and make it look the best that it can on stage, this means more cardio and more isolation movements to improve the detail in the muscle. They still will want to train as heavy as possible to remind the body to hold onto muscle in a caloric deficit, but most of their training attention will be on detailing the body. They should also be including posing practice at this point since after all that’s what they will be doing on stage. Further away from competition a bodybuilder might focus on more compound movements, and focus on packing on size and hammer away on lagging body parts.
What Are Some Mistakes to Avoid?
The biggest mistake to avoid is of course not being specific enough to your goals in time for competition. If you are a powerlifter, leading into a meet you need to be making it your goal to get stronger and get better at the competition lifts. If you are a bodybuilder, you need your focus to be on getting every last detail into your muscles before getting on stage. Be as specific to your sport as possible the closer you get to game day!
On the flip side, however, it is entirely possible to be too specific in training. I have seen it time and time again with powerlifters, where they want badly to practice and get better at their big three that they focus on these three lifts alone and either neglect or abandon their accessory work completely. Hitting some extra bodybuilding accessory work absolutely can do good for a powerlifter as a means to bring up weak muscle groups that don’t get the attention that they need when training the competition lifts alone.
At the same time, if your goal is bodybuilding I think it’s a big mistake to neglect the major compound movements and focus specifically on isolation movements. Many of the best bodybuilders in history (Arnold, Franco Columbu, Ronnie Coleman, Dorian Yates) have all been known to use compound movements as a staple in their training. Not only did they have all-time great physiques but they were pretty damn strong too! Don’t leave these out if you want to put on some dense muscle in your offseason!
The moral of the story here folks is to pay attention to where you are at in your training and understand what you need at that place and time. Adjust your training accordingly!
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