This is Part 1 of a 4-Part series detailing how to build a successful training program.
Every successful strength training program must be designed with specificity, variation, progressions, and overload built into them. If all these variables aren’t addressed in the program, you are (1) limiting the potential to achieve your desired results, (2) likely to reduce adherence to the program, and (3) possibly increasing the probability of injuring yourself.
This blog post will address training specificity, which is a very specific way to accomplish a targeted change or result. Whether you want to look better, feel better, be more fit, or perform better for a specific activity / sport, you are working out to achieve a specific change or result. Take me for example. I am a competitive weightlifter, so almost all my workouts are specifically designed to improve my lifting performance in some way, shape or form. But it doesn’t matter what your targeted results are - the strength training you’re doing needs to be specific to your goal.
There are different methods to applying training specificity. One application is with workouts tailored to target specific muscle groups. You see this in programs that are designed with a split-day routine (i.e., chest / back on day 1; legs on day 2; biceps / triceps / shoulders on day 3, etc.). Most people that don’t compete in a sport for a living are training to either put on some muscle mass, tone up, or a combination of the two. Is this you? If so, then you need to look to integrate training specificity into your routine.
Training specificity can be applied to energy systems. I have a client whom I’ve been recently training for general fitness. One day he showed up to a workout after losing a tennis match. He was upset because he was leading for most of the match but ended up losing. He was bothered by the fact he knew he didn’t lose because of his lack of skill – the guy he was playing wasn’t better than him - he lost because he just flat out ran out of gas. Losing because of a lack of endurance is something he knows we could have trained for. So, we did. I put together a 6-week cycle for him that had muscle endurance as the primary training goal. It wasn’t the only goal; but it was the primary goal. A few months later, he reaped what we sowed, and revenge was exacted. Needless to say, he was lit up and couldn’t wait to tell me “Hey man, the training worked”!
Training your energy systems doesn’t apply to just competitive athletes. I have clients who bike ride on a regular basis. You can meet one of them here. Another one rides regularly with a group of riders in a cycling group. This client is consistently in the middle of the pack but wanted to consistently be more towards the front of the pack. Considering the typical length of his rides, I identified his energy systems as an aspect of his fitness we could directly improve over the course of a season…so we did, and he cemented his place further up in the group!
You often hear about athletes, like basketball players who despite all the conditioning they do in the offseason and preseason, have to play their way into being in “basketball shape” during the first 6 weeks of the season. Believe it or not, that’s a real thing. It implies that the energy systems they use during game time improves as they experience live action in games that count.
Another method of applying specificity to your strength training program is movement patterns. This type of specificity is typically associated with sports performance but can also be applied if you want to improve a specific activity. Here in Denver, training for ski season is a thing people actually do. Skiing has a very specific movement pattern that can be targeted and trained in the time leading up to ski season. One of the best things about training to get someone ready for ski season is the added benefit of also maximizing injury prevention during those training cycles (usually 2 or 3 cycles) at the same time.
Regardless of what your training goals are, the strength training and lifting cycles you’re doing should absolutely have specificity built into them. If they don’t, even if you make some progress (and you probably will), you’re not maximizing your genetic potential (or injury prevention.)
Specificity training is built into every one of our cycles and programs.
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