A SUMMARY OF SPECIFICITY
Rushall Thoughts, 1992.
It is obvious that as a general rule, the principle of specificity remains dominant in almost all facets of sport conditioning and training. However, there are some anomalies that have been reported in the literature which need to be considered.
- When training has occurred through participation in large-muscle total-body activities, such as running, rowing, or Olympic weight-lifting, there can be a partial but minor transfer of training effects to simpler activities. For example, aerobic improvements derived from running (a complex activity) have been shown to produce improvements in the aerobic work of cycling (a simpler activity where the work occurs in fewer large muscle groups). The amount of the transfer is marginal at best. For example, the aerobic benefits that could be derived from 100 hours of endurance running might translate into the equivalent effect of 10 hours of endurance training for cycling. It would seem to be more expedient and economical to just train for 10 hours on a bicycle rather perform 10 times as much running training to get an improvement in cycling. As well, cycling produces specific endurance effects plus other associated benefits (which would not result from relying on the transfer of the running-training phenomenon).
- When training has occurred on a relatively simple activity, the benefits of that training are specific and do not transfer to more complex activities. The reverse of what has been explained above in point #1 does not occur. When an individual trains aerobically for cycling and shows marked training effects there is no transfer of aerobic benefits to running. Similarly, specific weight exercises do not cause improvements in the more complicated Olympic lifts (which, incidentally, require a high degree of complex skilled movement). Thus, when a coach considers auxiliary training exercises that are supposed to benefit a particular sport, if those exercises are simple, they will not be beneficial for an athlete. If they are performed with sustained intensity, they actually could prove to be counter-productive, primarily because of the development of unnecessary fatigue that could hinder more beneficial recovery.
- There are four circumstances where auxiliary training is beneficial.
- Rehabilitation from injury is facilitated by general activities and specifically designed localized programs to promote particular tissue growth;
- general resistance exercises and other forms of training can be used to prepare the body for unusual circumstances that can occur in competitions and thus, serve as a method for lessening the likelihood of injury;
- general endurance training has general behavioral effects that are beneficial to target sports, and sports where attention and decision making are crucial elements (e.g., yachting, playing in-goal in ice-hockey); and
- general activity training involving most capacities is beneficial if the fitness levels of participants is particularly low. This is true of young performers or adults starting new activities. When the new performer is so low in general fitness characteristics any improvement in them, whether or not they are specific, will be beneficial. However, those benefits are only displayed when the level of performance is very low. As performance improves in the sport, the value of any transfer of general or unrelated training effects diminishes rapidly.
The principle of specificity has one further implication for coaching. If an athlete enters a training program with fitness capacities already in a high degree of general adaptation, it makes no sense to pursue further general development (any further improvements will be of no benefit to the specific competitive activity). Thus, athletes who are already in a high state of training when training commences, such as when they are selected to a national or representative team, should not have to go through further exhaustive general or basic training. They should be able to embark on a program which encourages the maintenance of the general fitness capacities but emphasizes the development of specific fitness attributes and skills.
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