The Specificity Principle

Most of the fitness questions that I get asked start off with the same six words, “How do I get better at…”

The answer is always the same no matter what comes next.

“Practice.”

The specificity principle is a fancy way of referring to the simple fact that you get better at the specific tasks that you consistently practice. Whether it’s handstands or pistol squats or running, to improve your skills on anything, I recommend the direct approach.

For athletes, this means that much of their training time must be devoted to their specific discipline. The little bit of supplemental training they do usually consists of things like squats and cleans to maximize their strength and explosive power. After all, the combination of skill and strength is what leads to success in most sports.

For the rest of us, however, the specificity principle means that once we can establish a baseline of strength through basic exercises like squats, pull-ups, push-ups, etc, we can elect to devote our workout time towards whatever we like.

While skill enhancement isn’t the best means towards weight loss, finding new challenges helps keep your workouts fresh while allowing you to build up a skill set that can make you stronger and more functionally fit across different modalities.

Whether it be a sport, a race or just a good old fashioned pull-up contest, pick whatever interests you and devote your fitness time towards that task.

The goals themselves aren’t really important, but working towards something specific might help you stay focused. After all, goals are just a fantasy; the training that you do today is real.

20 thoughts on “The Specificity Principle

  • By Iniquity -

    Good article Al.

    I can’t help but be reminded of the many times I hear people say that “x” athlete is simply “gifted” at their discipline and may ignore the fact that he/she has worked hard to hone that skill and that while sometimes genetics do play a role, it’s still constant practice and desire to succeed that separates “elite” athletes from regular folk. Thoughtful article.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Iniquity! I agree completely – many people prefer to make excuses over taking personal accountability.

  • By Derrick -

    Great post! 😉
    I myself practice capoeira, and few weeks ago one kid came up to me and said “you’re so lucky to be so athletic”. I was literally speechless :). It’s no luck – it’s constant hard work and persistency.
    But I’ve also realized recently that this particular mindset has became sort of an obstacle. For years I’ve been training, and I became accustomed to waiting for results. Now instead of pushing myself to the limits, I’m just waiting:). It’s a bad habit and I should go and have an exhausting workout right now;).

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on, Derrick! The waiting game sucks – if you want something go out and get it!

  • By Stefan -

    For sure! Practice and patience is key. To me, the latter is the harder. I can still get annoyed with myself for sucking at pull ups, for instance. If my body could take it I would do pull ups all day just to get better at them.

    Speaking of which, this article kind of reminds me of Pavel Tsatsoulines teachings. Want to do a lot of pushups? Well, do a lot of pushups!

    Great post as usual Al.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Stefan! I can relate to your feeling of wishing you could practice your exercises more frequently, but the body needs rest! When I was learning to play guitar, I would sometimes practice for 3 or 4 hours a day, but you can’t do the same with pull-ups.

      As for Pavel, I am a fan. He’s definitely influenced my training style and philosophy.

  • By Eddie -

    Amen Al, Living in the Now Brother.:) Nice post as usual. Pull up contest here we come!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Eddie! Go get ’em!

  • By Alberto -

    words of wisdom, thanks Al!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      You got it, Alberto – glad you liked this one!

  • By Tim Huntley -

    Excellent advice. Sometimes I worry about setting goals (are they too arbitrary?); however, I think it is more likely that I would do the work (practice/training) with goals in mind.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Tim. Goals can be most helpful once we realize the futility of them.

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  • By Branl -

    Great, yes in order to get good at something you must practice. Great advice Al (:

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Branl.  Sounds so simple when you put it that way!

  • By Matthew Abel -

    this is completely off topic to this article but, would you mind doing an article on preworkout shakes/foods?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Perhaps that is a topic I’ll cover at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve
      already done several articles on diet that should provide some food for
      thought.  (Pun intented!)

  • By Joel -

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall 😉  Nice post!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Haha – good one, Joel!

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