May 17, 2002

Classic: Specificity II

May 17 “The principle of specificity states that training/practice must BE SPECIFIC to an intended skill in order for skill improvement—or “carryover” to occur. -Mark Asanovich

StrongerAthletes.com Classic: Specificity II


This article first appeared on February 20, 2002. We feel due to the recent increase of new readers to our site that it is important to rehash some of, what we believe to be, the basic principles of a safe, productive, and efficient training program.


Specificity, to StongerAthlete.com, refers to the following: In order for the athlete to improve a skill such as tackling, he must practice tackling. In order to improve at the skill in volleyball, he/she must practice those skills. This definition of "specificity" is clearly stated in Physiology texts. Yet many coaches still interpret sport specificity different.

One interpretation, by John Garhammer in his article "Sport-Specific Program Development," states the following:
"Free weight resistive exercises in standing postures similar to positions used in one's sport not only involve sport specificity, but can stimulate increases in bone density and strength".

He goes on comparing weight room exercises with sport skills, for example, volleyball players would benefit from stiff-leg deadlift or Romanian deadlifts, and barbell bent-over rows because this is similar to a volleyball players defensive receiving position.

StongerAthlete.com would like to point out that he did say that the lifts are similar to the defensive position. Specificity means the activity must be exact not similar. That is why weight room exercises should not be used to simulate sport specific movements. [See Specificity Part I]

Mark Asanovich, Strength Coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs, in his article, "Power/Explosive Training Considerations" relates,
“The principle of specificity states that training/practice must BE SPECIFIC to an intended skill in order for skill improvement—or “carryover” to occur. “Specific” means exact or identical, not “similar” or “just like.” Therefore, accelerating a bar from the floor or knee-height-position by a forceful rolling of the hips may somewhat assimilate driving off the line of scrimmage-but the truth of the matter is, Olympic lifting will only improve one’s skills at Olympic lifting – and nothing else.”

However, Garhammer also says,
"All these athletes (basketball, football, or soccer players) benefit from the squat to improve straight running and jumping motions. These players in the team sports mentioned should also practice running and agility drills that mimic their multi-directional movement in competition."

StrongerAthletes.com could not agree more with him on this one, provided that the squats are done with a heavy load to failure. An increase in leg strength and power will help the athlete become a more explosive in running, agility, and actual movements on their sport.

Garhammer also feels that jump squats could be used to increase the speed of joint motion. "Recent experiments have examined strength and power athletes using specialized equipment that mimics a "throwing action” with a barbell. Such studies have indicated that maximal power output in bench press and squat related movements occur at about 55% of the 1 rep max loads in the corresponding lifts performed with a straight barbell.”

StrongerAthletes.com believes using these loads, (55%), will not work the muscle to complete muscular failure. It contradicts the principle of muscle Fiber Recruitment for training for power and explosiveness. Also we believe that using 55% of your 1 rep max will only express power not develop it. [See Expressing vs. Developing Power] Garhammer concluded that sub-maximal loads would be best to use for power development but did state that loads closer to the 1 rep max will increase strength. We feel that is a contradictory statement.

StrongerAthletes.com believes loads that allow the athlete to perform 6-15 reps to failure will develop strength and thus, power. Strength must first be developed before the athlete can better express power with greater force. [Again, we point you to See Express vs. developing Power] StrongerAthletes.com also maintains heavier loads should be used with controlled movements if the athlete wants to develop power and then they can go to the field and practice their sport skills.

Send us your thoughts on this issue and we'll post 'em up!

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