Examples of Specificity in Sports

Woman running

Specificity in sports training is a fairly simple concept to understand. The term has limitless applications, however, and should be just one component of a well-rounded training program. According to the specific adaptations to imposed demands, or SAID, principle, the type of training imposed on the body will determine the physiological impact. Therefore, training should generally mimic the movements and demands required in a given sport.

Resistance Training Specificity

Specificity is perhaps most directly applied in resistance training, as coaches and trainers seek to find exercise maneuvers that replicate the motions needed in a particular sporting event. For example, a football player should perform strength and power lifts, and a marathon runner should perform exercises that build muscular endurance. A football player may perform power cleans, snatches and sled pushes to mimic blocking and tackling, and a runner performs dozens of repetitions of body-weight squats to build endurance in the quadriceps and gluteals.

Training Modality Specificity

On a similar note, the modality of training should be specific to the physical demands of a particular sport. For example, it s unlikely that you would see Usain Bolt performing long slow distance, or LSD, training. As a 100-meter sprinter, he spends most of his time doing high-intensity interval training. On the other hand, a marathon runner rarely performs anaerobic training. Lance Armstrong trains for his long-distance cycling races by spending hours on the bike.

Tactical Specificity

In sports that require tactical strategy, such as basketball, baseball and football, practices should replicate game-time situations. For example, a basketball coach should isolate specific situations that may occur within a game and replicate them in practice. A baseball coach can use fun games, such as "pickles" to simulate tagging a runner or turn a double-play. A sprint kayaker should practice his race plan several times throughout the year.

Additional Considerations

It's easy to get carried away with the principle of specificity in training. It's important to remember that training is not performing and has a unique purpose in improving athletic capability. Variety is equally, if not more, important in a training program. To promote continued muscular adaptations, you must continually vary the modality of training in order to induce a state of overload. It's best to perform more generic training in the offseason, focusing on variety, and then gradually design practices and training sessions to be more sport-specific as the competitive season nears.