Back To Basics III

9 Jul

With our third installment of back to basics, keeping in theme, we will touch upon another feature of adaptation; Specificity. The principle of specificity is basic in theory, but complex in practice. Therefore, the average gym goer should be cognizant of the principle, but it may not warrant application immediately.

So what is Specificity?

The authors of “Science and Practice of Strength Training,” note that “training adaptations are highly specific.” More simply depending on the type of exercise you perform you will produce a more positive change congruent with said exercise. If you lift weights you will get stronger and add muscle. If you jog every morning you will increase your aerobic capacity.

Now you might wonder – Does that mean lifting weights won’t improve my running? Or Does that mean running won’t improve my performance in the gym?

Those are both great questions and that is why Vladimir M. Zatsiorski and William J. Kramer offer the idea that specificity may more accurately be described as an issue of transfer of training results.

We could answer your original questions like so: Lifting weights may improve your running but it will improve your strength and muscle mass more drastically. Just as Running may help you out in the weight room, although minimally compared to how running will help out your aerobic capacity, making you a better runner. With that in mind, a better question would be: how much will lifting weights improve my running? Or, how much will running improve my performance in the gym?

Performance is measured differently, depending on the exercise. Weight lifting is commonly measured in force, running in distance or time. Therefore to compute the transfer of training result we must first find the result gain of the exercise, this is done using the following formula:

Result Gain = Gain Of Performance / Standard Deviation Of Performance

*The Standard deviation is a dimensionless unit. It is like the average of the average. Any time you take data you will have a mean and you will have some entrees that are on the far end of that mean, in either direction. The Standard Deviation is a unit describing the closeness of your entrees to the mean. If most of the entrees are right around the mean, the standard deviation is small. If they are spread out the standard deviation is high. Everyone is different, so it is important to use this unit of Standard Deviation in measuring performance to be as accurate as possible. This article is titled back to basics so I am not going to explain standard deviation any further: If you’re like me and you want to know exactly what it is and how it’s applied / how to compute it, check this article out by Robert Niles.

The “Science and Practice of Strength Training” gives this example:

If the average performance of a group is 60 + / – 10 kg (Average + / – Standard Deviation) and the performance of a single athlete improves by 15kg as a result of the training, the athlete’s personal gain equals 15 / 10 or 1.5 standard deviation.

The authors add that scientifically, result gain for a group is expressed as (Post Training Mean – Pre Training Mean) / Pre Training Standard Deviation.

Make Sense? I lost you. Ok it’s like this:

You me and Bob go to the gym together every Tuesday for 10 weeks. We are doing Squats. I squat 135, You Squat 140, and Bob Squats 145 at the start. I add 20 lbs, you add 15lbs, and Bob adds 10lbs over the 10 weeks. So our Post training mean is roughly 157 , our pre training mean was 140, and our pre training standard deviation was about 4lbs. So the result gain of the group is about 4.25. So what was your result gain? Well your gain of performance was 10lbs. The standard deviation of performance was 4lbs. Therefore your result gain was 4 standard deviation.

That was a lot of talk, so what’s the point? We need to find our result gain in order to figure out the transfer of results from one exercise to another. Here’s what I mean by transfer of results:

Certain exercises will produce more specific results. Here is a good example, and hopefully I can spare you a waste of time by giving it to you. Squats on a BOSU Ball versus a standard barbell squat. People perform squats on top of the BOSU ball because they believe it will help their balance and “functional strength.” However training on such equipment produces a result highly specific to the exercise. This result doesn’t transfer. By squatting on the BOSU Ball you are training your body to be great at squatting on top of a BOSU ball, and that’s basically it. Not to mention the risk of injury being on top of such a piece of equipment is high. The ground is firm, and relatively flat, it does not wobble and it sure as hell isn’t dome shaped and made of squishy plastic. I digress, the point is, as your performance improves at BOSU squatting, you have added little or no gain to other areas, i.e. running, walking, pushing etc.

Alternatively, a standard barbell squat offers a much higher transfer. The exercise allows you to load more easily, and performance gains at this exercise transfer more positively to a number of different areas.

You can use this formula to compute the transfer of traning results:

Transfer = Result Gain in Non Trained Exercise / Result Gain In Trained Exercise

As you can see both measurements are in standard deviations. When the ratio is high the transfer is great, when the ratio is low the transfer is small.

More specifically, when the ratio is high the exercise transfers well and when the ratio is low the exercise is more specific.

There is nothing wrong with very specific exercises. Except maybe the BOSU squat. Unless you’re training for the BOSU squatting championships of course.

When you are relatively new to weight lifting you don’t need to program such specificity into your routine as say an olympic athlete or a competitive bodybuilder. Exercises as simple as the barbell squat are going to transfer greatly to everything else you do. Since the end goal is building a more impressive, stronger, and better performing physique the lessons to take away are as follows:

  • Use big compound lifts that hit many muscle groups because the transfer of training results is high – especially in beginners.
  • Use “smart” specific exercises that will help bring about a very specific training result that you NEED – Non aspiring BOSU professionals please take heed.
  • If you are using one form of exercise to improve your performance at something else, weigh the transfer of training results, and prioritize your workouts – If you want to be bigger, why are you still distance running instead of sprinting?

The principle of specificity can be applied to your workouts right away, so do so! As you progress specificity will become more and more important to you obtaining performance and aesthetic based results. Have a good Weekend Everyone!



2 Responses to “Back To Basics III”

  1. cna training July 27, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it


  1. Guest Post: 3 Principles of Program Design « Greg Robins - April 4, 2012

    […] and Practice of Strength Training (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer) states that Overload, Accommodation, Specificity, and Individualization are the basic concepts of physical training. To obtain your short and long […]

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