Specificity (s’s of fitness)

The Specificity Principle for Sports Training
The Specificity Principle is key to developing effective fitness training programs for sports. Specificity also underlies how athletes learn sport skills. However, the principle is sometimes misinterpreted.

Specificity and Sports Fitness
Specificity refers to the type of changes the body makes in response to sports training. Very simply, what you do is what you get.

When an athlete trains, he or she repeatedly performs activities to prepare for the exact requirements of the sport. In time, the athlete’s body becomes better able to meet the demands of the sport as it adapts to the training regimen.
Adaptations to training are most evident in elite athletes. For example, the effects of years of rigorous training clearly distinguish the bodies of distance runners from throwers.For distance runners, major adaptations from the demands of sustained running include a larger, stronger heart and increased blood vessels to supply oxygen to the specific muscles involved in running. In contrast, adaptations to training for throwers include increased size and thickness of specific muscles of the body that are trained to improve power.

This principle applied to sports fitness training means that the overall energy demands of the sport determine which fitness components (e.g., strength, power, endurance) should be developed so that the requirements of the sport are matched.

For example, basketball fitness training should include some distance work with intermittent speed and agility training. In contrast, golfers would require little distance work, but train for power and flexibility.

The Specificity Principle and Sport Skill Learning
Sport skills are unique to each sport. Competitive sports require athletes to command an arsenal of options for executing skills so that they can make split-second adjustments in a variety of competitive situations.

Specificity for learning sport skills involves performing a variety of closely related movements. Rather than practicing and perfecting any single skill or movement only, specificity of skill learning means that athletes must develop variations of skills so that they can quickly adapt to the different conditions they will encounter in game play. See Training VariationEarly in learning, athletes tend to benefit from practicing skills with little variation because they are just beginning to understand what the skill requires. This is called the cognitiveor mental stage. However, as learners progress, adding variation to practice better matches the specific demands of competition.

Last week I introduced the 4 foundation areas of triathlon; technical, tactical, physical and psychological. This week I want to go into a little more detail with each (particularly the physical) and explore the S’s of fitness.
When we say things like “I wasn’t fit enough”, it really only scratches the surface. Are you referring to refer to speed, or the ability to sustain it, was it the force produced?
The following S’s of fitness are the key elements I think strongly relate to triathlon performance and fitness as a whole. The more you understand the sport the more holistic you can be in your long term planning. Each race from a mini through to an Ultra triathlon will involve different combinations of each.
To start with you need to get a feel for

  • what each aspect of fitness refers to,
  • how important it is to your sport/event and,
  • how you rate for each

For instance run stamina would be a 9-10/10 for an IM and 7/10 for a sprint distance race, while your current rating might be rating might be 5/10 based on where you are with your fitness.

The high importance and low current rating elements are the ones that promise the best opportunity for improvement

  • Stamina – The ability to endure the event distance, pace is less important.
  • Speed endurance – Maintaining race pace speed for extended periods without fatigue. Efficiency of movement is vital.
  • Strength endurance (local muscular endurance) – The ability to repeatedly produce moderate, sustained levels of muscular force without fatigue.
  • Sustained threshold power – The ability to perform the most work (speed/times /power etc.). over a 1500m swim, 40km ride and 10km run
  • Stretch shortening cycle – The ability to store and use elastic energy
  • Speed – Typically how fast we might go over shorter distances
  • Slipperiness (agility) – The ability to efficiently and quickly change direction
  • Stability (balance) – The ability to minimise energy loss through unnecessary movements especially while overcoming the effects of gravity, wind, terrain
  • Strength/power – the ability to produce high amounts of force
  • Suppleness (flexibility- ROM) – Static and Dynamic ROM, related to skill execution and maybe injury prevention
  • Stature – Height, body mass, lean tissue, fat : muscle, power to weight ratio
  • Sustenance – Sound nutritional (food and drink) practices and recovery strategies that counter the training/race load.
  • Strategy – The ability to counter the effects of the environment including other competitors
  • Skill – technique – The ability to execute the motor patterns (skills) required with maximal efficiency under various levels of fatigue.
  • Psychological – The ability to remain positive and overcome adversity in training and racing. Motivation and self-belief
  • Supplies/slipperiness/ equipment – Comfort, practical, aerodynamics/drag, performance gains and weight effects