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The S.A.I.D. Principle

I didn't learn this by doing shoulder press exercises. I practice it, starting with handstands. Specificity is key.

I didn’t learn this by doing shoulder presses with big weights. I practiced it, starting with handstands. Specificity is key.

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?

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?

Not exactly!

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

If you are out of shape, however, then any form of exercise will improve your performance in other activities. 3 So if you’re out of shape, start walking! Do anything!

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. 45 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.

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    30 Responses to The S.A.I.D. Principle

    1. Making Art times Two MaTT says:

      Awesome blog! I’m interested in the science of bboying too and hope your works can help me too. Thanks!

    2. FraGue says:

      Hey there,
      Dope blog. Super interesting topic. I am a bboy myself and stumbled over this one due to the hint of a friend. I will definitly keep reading your stuff. I have an example on the topic. I was practising leg speed (getting more clean steps in the same amount of time) on top, as I do some house dance as well and made pretty good progress up there. But I needed to do get some exercices on the floor as well to get the speed down. So from my experience this is totally right.

    3. Ben says:

      Thanks for this, really interesting. I was kind of aware of this idea but this has really solidified it for me!

    4. Great article. I always want to cry when I see injured runners doing clamshells. I always remind them that they got injured because something was dysfunctional with their running and that the only thing that they will get better at with doing clamshells is…doing clamshells. Your dancing is impressive!!! Keep up the great work!

    5. Dale Favier says:

      Great post! I’m in my mid-fifties, which is a good time for taking a clear-eyed look at what being old is going to be like. I’ve been observing old people: my clients & just people on the bus or whatever — and I’ve gathered a short list of physical abilities I don’t want to lose, as I age. Things such as getting effortlessly up off of the floor, keeping my balance while I put my trousers on, being able to look out the rear view mirror over my shoulder as I back up the car, being able to catch myself if I trip, or — if I can’t — being able to “fall” to the ground in various ways without hurting myself. Whatever else I do for exercise, I always run through a little repertoire of those things, or things that are much like them but a bit harder. I imagine I look pretty silly, practicing tripping and falling! But that’s what I want to be good at, so that’s what I practice.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Dale, that is incredibly insightful. You could probably make an exercise program out of that – “essential aging skills”, or something. I bet it would actually prevent falls and reduce injuries too. Great comment and thanks!

    6. oli says:

      great post and super-interesting topic. I found this talk (TED) a interesting example of why there might be benefits to going “off the beaten path” in order to improve a function.


      introducing novel movement can be super-useful in the context of pain and learning -keeping it relevant and/or connecting it back into the function can be tricky.

      interested in your thoughts

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hey Oli!

        I think it depends on your goals. I’m definitely a fan of novel movement, for numerous reasons (pain treatment, fun, and I suspect injury prevention). But when it comes to improving a particular skill, specificity is incredibly important. Occasionally deviating (like doing squats if you’re a sprinter) may also help, but not nearly as much as specific training.

        For example – the video I posted of myself doing the dance move: doing a different or novel movement is unlikely to help me attain it compared to simply practicing the move. In fact, doing something else might even throw me off. That’s not to say there isn’t value in doing other things – it’s just not as important. Get what I mean?


    7. Mike Zwack says:

      Great post my man- Love your insight!

    8. Sandrolee says:

      Sempre Digo Isso Aqui no Brasil,especificidade é tudo para um treinamento!!!!!!!

    9. Bboy Seeker says:

      Dude, this is totally true! When I first started bboying I invited a couple of my friends who were younger & less athletic than me. 3 months later my friend could do better & longer handstands than me cuz he was practising it ALL the time – I mean, he wasn’t even dancing he was always up on his hands, day & night and pretty much everywhere in between. His little brother though could dance WAY better than him but couldn’t even hold a 3-sec handstand cuz he was top+downrocking ALL the time. I finally realized that DELIBERATE PRACTICE (I didn’t have the term back then) was the key and now I can handstand longer than all of the guys now as well as a few other stuff he2. Thanks for the post it really confirmed a lotta things for me. I’ve been a “follower” for 6 months ever since I stumbled upon your site (Google) and I love all your stuff! Keep it up!

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hey Seeker!
        Thanks!!! Really glad to know that bboys are reading this site. Part of my mission is to help the bboy community. Great example you bring up about the handstands – and hopefully others who are reading this will take note!

    10. Nick Ng says:

      Very simply and concisely described, Tony. The same can be said for martial arts, where the more closely the moves resemble each other, the more transfer of skills and movement there are. Compare boxing and wing chun. The former is mostly long range while the other is mostly short range. Can a boxer learn wing chun better than a capoeira fighter? Of course. However, in krav maga, there are strikes that resembles the wing chun punch. And so, when compared to boxing, the wing chun punch is more transferable to krav maga than boxing.

      I learn BJJ first for a year at SDSU back in 2000-2001. There is very little tranfer to wing chun when I start learning it 3.5 years ago at UCSD. However, learning other striking arts, like Hung kuen, krav maga, and tai chi chuen, was easier because of wing chun.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Great examples Nick. As I progress through my dance, and try others, I keep having similar experiences. The applicability of the specificity principle is striking. And when you’re familiar with some basic neuroscience, it makes a lot of sense.

        Thanks for the insightful comment!

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