Updated: Feb 9th, 2013
SAID: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.
When designing both rehabilitation as well as training programs, one must always consider this principle:
Your body will adapt specifically to whatever you train it to do.
It’s an intuitive concept, and most people would agree immediately that this makes total sense.
However, it’s often misunderstood – people think “if I train endurance somehow, I’ll have better endurance at everything” – but it doesn’t always work that way. Furthermore, the principle is often ignored completely by trendy fads in fitness and athletic performance.
Let’s review how it really works…
How specific does your training need to be?
For example, if you want to be a better runner, would cycling help? Since it uses a lot of the same muscles and you’re building endurance, it should improve all other endurance activities, right?
Research has shown that when training for running, the best results occur with running rather than cycling. 1 The more different the exercise, the less its effects transfer. For example, studies have shown that cycling transfers to running by a fair amount, but swimming does not! 2
However, when you are already relatively fit, especially at a competitive level, you should stick to training specifically for your goal. Cycling involves the same leg muscles as running, but you don’t work them in exactly the same way… like how hard each muscle works, positioning, timing, coordination, and for how long. And that’s how your body adapts – extremely specific!
The more specific your training is to the task you want to improve in, the better your results will be. Your body tissues will adapt to whatever task you place on them – especially the brain (which is what’s most important when learning particular skills). Want to sprint faster? Strengthening the legs might help, but not nearly as much as actually training your sprints!
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strength train, as there are many health benefits. However, just because you can squat a ton of weight doesn’t mean you can jump high, kick hard, or run fast. And it’s true the other way around, too. The most important thing is practice, and consider other training as complimentary.
Some skills are so specific that there are very few methods to train for them – other than simply practicing!
I didn’t learn this move by doing pushups and sit-ups, or squats and deadlifts:
If you’re going to call it a principle, there better be some good research to back it up!!!
Besides the research referenced above, I did a quick review of the literature (probably too quick), and all I could find were a few articles supporting the principle. 4, 5 There might not be much research on the principle itself – it likely comes from a general observation in athletic research. When you look across the vast majority of studies in athletic training or rehab, if something is practiced the same way it’s measured, there is typically a greater improvement.
For example, if you have a group of people stretch their hamstrings by sitting and reaching forward (static stretching), and have another group stretch by trying to kick as high as they can (dynamic stretching), then measure their hamstring flexibility by having them do the ‘sit-and-reach test’, what group do you think will do better? Usually, the static stretching group will perform better, but not because static stretching itself is better… it’s because the stretch they did was exactly the same as the one measured, and their bodies adapted specifically to that task. The other group is also probably much better at kicking higher!
Results like this are typical in most training studies.
You want to get better at something?
Practice exactly that thing, and your body will adapt to exactly that thing!
- For example, if you want to kick higher, then practice kicking higher. Strengthening your kicking muscles or stretching might help a lot, but not nearly as much as simply practicing the kick (don’t forget to warm up).
- This does not mean you shouldn’t train in other ways – for example: strength training. There are still many benefits. However, just because those muscles are strong, don’t mean they will skilled. You should always focus on practice, with all other training considered complimentary.
- When preparing for a competition, practice in a way that is as similar to the conditions of your competition as possible! Focus not only on what you have to do, but for how long, and in what kind of environment.
Hope this makes things a little more clear when thinking about what you should do to achieve your goals!
What’s your experience with training? Do you agree? Share your thoughts!
1. Pierce EF, Weltman A, Seip RL, Snead D. Effects of training specificity on the lactate threshold and VO2 peak. Int J Sports Med. 1990 Aug;11(4):267-72. PubMed PMID: 2228355.
2. Millet GP, Candau RB, Barbier B, Busso T, Rouillon JD, Chatard JC. Modelling the transfers of training effects on performance in elite triathletes. Int J Sports Med. 2002 Jan;23(1):55-63. PubMed PMID: 11774068.
3. Ruby B, Robergs R, Leadbetter G, Mermier C, Chick T, Stark D. Cross-training between cycling and running in untrained females. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1996 Dec;36(4):246-54. PubMed PMID: 9062047.
4. Cronin J, McNair PJ, Marshall RN. Velocity specificity, combination training and sport specific tasks. J Sci Med Sport. 2001 Jun;4(2):168-78. PubMed PMID: 11548916.
5. Blazevich AJ, Jenkins DG. Effect of the movement speed of resistance training exercises on sprint and strength performance in concurrently training elite junior sprinters. J Sports Sci. 2002 Dec;20(12):981-90. PubMed PMID: 12477008.