What is the Specificity Principle?
The specificity principle is a principle or style of training that... yep you guessed it, is SPECIFIC and uniquely relating to the sport, skill or exercise you are training for. It states that exercising a certain body part, component of the body or particular skill primarily enhances & develops that body part or skill. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz. It really does speak for itself. It should be and most probably is a crucial part of your training in one way or another. In relation to a body part, let me ask you this...when you go to the gym and want to build your arms, what do you train? your legs? or your arms? If you answer legs, then you may need to retrain your training brain. If you answered arms like a normal person, that means you are incorporating a variant of the specificity principle. Remember it can relate to either training a body part, a component of the body, working on a skill or a mixture of both.
Training for a body part
Lets say you are wanting to build up your chest, everybody wants a big full chest right? A go-to and staple exercise everybody should be including in their chest routine is some form of chest/bench press, whether it be decline, flat or incline. You are not going to get a big chest by training your back with heavy rows, thats just common sense. The quest for a big chest is to incorporate exercises that specifically target your chest. With a solid chest routine and progressive overload you will be on your way to building the chest you've always wanted.
Training a skill
This is where practice makes perfect really comes into play. You may of heard the term "hard wired" before? This stems from the act of motor neurons and nerves within the body and muscles being trained to a an extend where your system is "hard wired" to the skill and exercise involved ultimately creating an environment where the skill is almost subconscious.
If you are a runner, you wouldn't get on a bike or go swimming to perfect your running ability. This would be counterproductive. In saying that, the only thing that would come from performing exercises that is not the exercise you ultimately will be performing is the increase in cardiovascular system. Even then, different sports and exercises have a different kind of fitness entirely. If you are a world class runner, you are no doubt fit as a fiddle, but moving to cycling and trying to compete at the top level would prove difficult to say the least. All the triggering stimuli, muscles and motor skills involved in the two sports are completely different resulting in a lack of performance and ability.
Going deep into specificity training
Now most sports will require a skill in itself but in addition to the actual skill, motor skills are a necessity. What are motor skills you ask? Well lets take a look at the 6 motor skills and delve into an example where these are needed and how to train them.
1. Agility - The ability to move and change direction and position of the body quickly and effectively while under control.
Let's take football as an example. To be a top footballer, its not just the skills on the ball that are needed. It's everything that comes with it. They are not called athletes for no reason. Athletes are a master of their craft with the additional fitness levels and motor skills to really take them to the top level. A footballer has to be able to move quickly from one direction to another, hence the ability and need for agility.
One simple but extremely effective way of working on your agility is to place cones down on the floor spaced out to one another. Either in a straight line or zig zag. You would then define your starting point and run to the 1st cone, either touch the cone with your hands or say "quick feeting" around it. As quick as you can you reverse direction back to the starting point. Repeat this until you have been around all cones. Ensure this is done with speed while maintaining control. For a better understanding of what this drill really looks like and more drills you can perform for yourself, watch the agility drill training video right here
2. Balance - The ability to maintain the body's positions over a fixed base of support (static) or while the body is in movement or challenged by a base of support that is changing (dynamic)
One sport that springs straight to mind is gymnastics. The balance required performing the exercises involved is insane. This comes down to repetition and practice. Again, hard wiring your body and muscles to allow familiarisation in the activity your are performing while triggering the stimuli needed to enhance performance.
3. Coordination - The ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.
Making football the example once again. To be able to even kick a ball, players need to develop a level of foot-eye coordination. This will allow players to make precision passes, free kicks with pinpoint accuracy and dribble the ball. The training for this speaks for itself... Practice passing, dribbling, shooting and controlling the ball. Though these are the basic practises to increase foot-eye coordination. There are extensive ways of training for coordination and trying to explain them all would be insanely long winded and unnecessary. With this in mind, components of coordination and all the motor skills that are mentioned in this article are almost never trained individually. It is often a combination of different aspects and the execution of movements that introduce new stimuli, triggering new adaptions throughout the 6 motor skills. This is more so with balance & coordination, these go hand in hand in almost all cases. As simple as holding a cup of tea while walking will require balance and coordination.
4. Power - The ability to exert a maximum force in as short a time as possible. While strength is the maximal force you can apply against load, power is proportional to the speed at which you can apply the force. In simple terms Strength + Speed = POWER.
PowerLifting really takes the limelight here. The training involved for powerlifters is strength and power. The rep ranges usually range from 1-8 reps. 1-4 for strength sessions and 4-8 for power sessions. Remember power is the speed element mixed in with strength so to train for power you would not want to lift your heaviest. This would be counterproductive and not allow you to perform the exercise as fast as you can. You will find exercises fro powerlifting to be - squats, power cleans, sledge hammer hits, bench press, deadlifts etc. Theres a fine line between strength & power. Thats why its crucial to lift heavy, but light enough to perform the exercise in a speed manner.
5. Reaction time - The speed at which an athlete responds to an external stimulus. This is related directly to agility but a smaller component of physical fitness.
The reaction time of a sprinter is absolutely essential to enable him/her to begin the race as soon as the gun goes off. We are talking milliseconds to react to the external stimuli. Sprinters will train for this by replicating this on the training ground. Reaction time is the hardest of the motor skills to measure but its a must have for many athletes.
6. Speed - The ability to move quickly across the ground or move limbs rapidly. Movement speed requires good strength & power, so as you can see again... the 6 motor skills for in conjunction with each other.
4 Speedwork & Sprints workouts that'll help you PR will get you running at your best if you stay consistent with it.
So all in all specificity training has a whole range of components with a multitude of training methods attached to it. Know your sport, know your craft, break down the exercises into mini skills and work on each component of the motor skill spectrum. Train your muscles and trigger the stimuli needed to increase performance in whatever you do.