The Principle of Specificity

If overload is the quantity of work demanded by an exercise, specificity is all about quality. It describes the muscles involved as well as the manner in which they are working.

Golden Rule #2: SPECIFICITY

The human body adapts to the specific demands of the exercise performed.


That quality of work may refer to a number of factors that describe human movement such as the:

  • energy system activated
  • type of muscle contraction
  • range of motion
  • speed of movement
  • degree of balance required
  • overall coordination

Practically speaking, the principle of specificity explains why lower body exercise will not strengthen the arms and why long walks will not increase running speed.

It reminds us that every exercise has a purpose and that exercise selection needs to be made with a specific goal in mind.

Specificity is highly relevant to the matter of technique and form. The common practice of “cheating” is a good example of a bad idea. In the gym, cheating means deviating from correct form to complete an exercise.

Cheating violates the principle of specificity because it shifts the focus away from the targeted muscles.

Some styles of exercise are known for their attention to technique and form (i.e. yoga and pilates), but form is critical in all types of exercise. You probably see lots of gym goers cheating in the gym, and they may appear to be getting away with it, but improperly performed exercises yield no benefit at all and they may increase your risk of injury.

Keep the principle of specificity in mind when your newsfeed shows you the best exercise you’re not doing. Do some research. Get a professional opinion from a certified trainer. Then decide if it’s right for you and your goals.

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