Nutrition & Health OnLine Magazine
Davey Dunn
There are two principles of training that are much more important than all the others. Once you learn to employ them properly you will be amazed at the outstanding results you will achieve. These two principles are Specificity and Variation.
The principle of Specificity means that whatever training you engage in should be specific to the activity in which you are planning to compete. If you play, say, football then you need to practice skills related to the position you play. If you are a wide receiver then you need to practice sprinting short distances, catching the ball and other movements that you would perform in a game.
The principle of Specificity seems pretty simple, and it is, but it is amazing how many athletes violate this principle on a regular basis. I have yet to see a football game where anyone had to run five miles without stop. Yet many football teams regularly require their players run long distances a part of their training. Such practices are in direct conflict with the principle of Specificity and may actually lead to a decline in performance in the athlete's sport.
Adhering to the principle of Specificity is just as important for people engaged in weight training and bodybuilding. I have seen far too many people who stated that their goal was to gain muscle but every time I saw them working out they were performing some type of aerobic activity. The only way to gain muscle is with resistance training not aerobics.
Even when you are spending the majority of your time lifting weights it is still necessary to make sure your training is specific to your goals. If you are trying to gain mass then you need to train with the majority of your repetitions in the 8-12 range. Higher repetition training (8-12 reps/set) has been shown to product the greatest gains in lean body weight as well as the largest positive changes in body fat percentage.1
If your goal is to gain mainly strength then the majority of your training should be done with repetitions in the in the 5-6 range. Scientific research has shown that the greatest strength gains occur when using 3 sets of 6 repetitions maximum.2 If your desire is to exhibit your strength in competition where you lift as much as you can in a single repetition then according to the principle of specificity you will need to perform singles in order to be able to achieve optimum performance in competition. This is where it becomes a little complex because you need the 5-6 repetition training to develop the strength but you also need to be able to showcase the strength by performing maximum singles. The most efficient way to train that enables you to accomplish both of these goals and adhere to the principle of Specificity is through Periodization which was covered thoroughly a couple of issues ago.
As important as the principle of Specificity is by it's self it is when you combine specificity of training with our second most important principle Variation that you start to achieve outstanding results. The principle of Variation refers to the need of the human body to undergo change in order to make new adaptations. By incorporating variation into your training you help prevent monotony in your training and put added stress on your body to make positive changes. As a general rule you should change your training in some way about every 4-5 weeks.
As with the principle of Specificity, the principle Variation seems pretty straightforward but most people do not implement it in their training. How many people do you know that perform the exact same workout day in and day out year after year? How much muscle have they gained in the last year. Probably not much and lack of variation in their training is probably the main reason why.
I have often wondered why it seems to be so hard for most people to incorporate the principle of Variation in their training. I constantly tell people they need to change something about their training every month and I know a lot of the other publications are saying the same thing. I suspect the reason is because it is much easier to stick to what your body is already used to in training. Whenever you make a change your body undergoes the alarm phase as part of its physiologic response to new stress. As we have talked about before in previous articles the alarm phase is usually distinguished by increased soreness and fatigue and by decreased performance. Apparently most people try to avoid triggering the alarm phase and are willing to accept mediocrity rather than go through the pain and discomfort you experience when you make changes. This is sad considering that once you understand what is happening you begin to welcome the extra pain knowing the later rewards will be well worth the momentary discomfort and decreased performance.
Once you decide that you are going to follow the principle of Variation it is actually very easy to implement. I have always been amazed at how little change is necessary to trigger the training effect. Try changing your bench press grip an inch and see how much more soreness you will have the next day. Another subtle change you can make is to use a different exercise to train the same muscle group. Perform your bench press using dumbbells instead of a bar and see the difference it makes. It does not take much change to make a big difference but it does take some change. And as I have said many, many times before try to change something about your training every month.
If you can incorporate both of these principles into your training you will be well on your way to achieving your athletic goals. I can not promise that it will make your training any easier but I can promise that the results will be well worth the extra effort. The principles of Specificity and Variation are not the only training principles that you should implement but they are definitely the most important. I you are serious about your training I encourage you to read our article: How Should You Train? "Periodize" your training for maximum results since it is a comprehensive training approach that utilizes both Specificity and Variation as well as many other sound principles in order to yield maximum athletic performance.

1Stone,M. O'Bryant,H. Weight Training: A Scientific Approach. Minneapolis, Burgess Publishing Co., 1984.
2Stone,M. O'Bryant,H. Garhammer, J. A hypothetical model for strength training. J.Sports Med. 1981; 21(4): 342-351.


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