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.

Wellness is a Team Sport

Wellness programs have been part of some business models for decades and the trend has grown to the level where 85% of large companies offer wellness programs to their employees, according to a 2017 survey from Kaiser. The corporate wellness industry that provides wellness programs to companies of all sizes has increased annual revenue to $7 billion and is expected to grow further at a rate of 0.6% according to IBISWorld.

Wellness Programs are Flexible

Relaxing at workWellness programs vary by company and include a range of services. Some offer employee assistance programs and general health promotion information while others focus on disease management for employees dealing with chronic illnesses (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, obesity). Educational workshops may be provided to employees on topics such as smoking cessation, weight management and stress reduction.

On-site medical and/or fitness facilities offer a convenience to employees that reduces barriers to health behaviors such as exercise, health screening and medical treatment while also decreasing time away from work for outside appointments. Without a dedicated facility, companies may offer on-site health and fitness classes led by certified instructors. Online coaching and hotlines for medical assistance are also available.

Companies often incentivize participation with financial rewards (i.e. lower health insurance premium contributions) and contests that bring people together and add a fun social element to the program.

The Value of Wellness

MDclipboardCompanies are primarily motivated by employee productivity and the rising cost of health care. They invest in their employees to lower health care costs and absenteeism, to bolster productivity and morale and also to recruit and retain talent. A 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review listed positive outcomes from several different company wellness initiatives:

  • A return of $2.71 for every dollar spent at Johnson & Johnson.
  • $1.5 million in cost savings at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a result of an 80% decrease in lost workdays and a 64% reduction in modified-duty days.
  • Reduced annual medical claim costs of $1,421/person that added up to $6.00 in savings for every dollar invested at another company.

In addition to the evidence-based results, businesses leaders see wellness as the right thing to do, vital to their strategic planning and necessary for employee development and productivity.

Where are the Employees?


Many successes in worksite wellness have been celebrated and emulated, but the challenge of engagement persists. A 2011 report from the ADP Institute listed participation rates of 39% and 51% for large and medium-sized companies.

The value of wellness programs has been shown, and is often defined, at the company level. Companies study the demographics of employees, survey them about topics of interest, design effective marketing campaigns and offer incentives for participation. Return on investment, health care costs and employee engagement are key metrics. The best corporate programs build wellness into their business culture and communicate messages effectively.

This makes a lot of sense from the organizational perspective. Businesses must develop strategies, allocate resources and measure outcomes. Data points, opinions, actions and dollars may be assessed in aggregate, but lost in this conversation, however, is the perspective of the employee. As someone who has managed corporate fitness programs and worked with clients and members from a variety of professional backgrounds, my instinct is to think about the individuals that make up these reports.

Steps Employees Can Take


Talk to the wellness or benefits team at your company about how you can improve your health, fitness and wellness. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Build fitness into your professional development plan. If you are saving for retirement and setting long-term career goals, why not do the same for your health?
  • Assess your current state of health. Schedule a heath risk appraisal and biometric screening to measure your baseline values and learn what they mean.
  • Evaluate your lifestyle and commit to healthy habits. Focus on exercise, healthy eating, weight management, coping skills for stress and get help quitting smoking if you need to.
  • clockwithtagsPrioritize one area your want to change and set a realistic goal. Create a 12-week program and track your progress on a weekly and monthly basis. Consult a professional about where to begin and how to progress. Continue the process with new goals and plans.
  • Manage your workday. Instead of having good intentions and letting the day get away from you, be proactive about planning healthy meals and snacks as well as breaks for activity and stretching.
  • Join “team wellness” at work. Wellness programs succeed when people across organizational levels are on the same page. Encourage your staff to participate, buddy up with someone from another department or sign up for the contest, workshop or class that matches your goal.

Instructor Taking Exercise Class At Gym

Employees and companies are in the distinct position of being able to promote health and wellness at their worksites. Reports show that employee wellness programs consistently yield a positive return on investment. That’s one thing we can all support – individually and collectively.

The Principle of Overload

Most of what we read and hear about fitness comes from advertising. If this is all you see, you may think the rules of fitness and exercise are very simple. Just choose a body part and work it out.  Find the “best exercise” and do it for 60 or 20 or 7 or 4 minutes.

Just do it!

Train dirty! 

No pain, no gain!”

Or perhaps you’ve found a program with “effortless exercise” that promises “dramatic results quickly.” It almost sounds too good to be true.

Without knowing the fundamentals of fitness you might think there is nothing more to do, or even think about. Too often the questions raised are very predictable:

  • What body part is the exercise for?
  • Will it make that part bigger (“tone-up”) or smaller (“tone-down”)?
  • Is the exercise easy to do, or clunky and strenuous?
  • How long will it take?

This entire dialog misses the mark. These questions perpetuate fitness myths more than anything else. They are a roadblock to results because they feed the goal of getting bigger or smaller quickly and easily. Fortunately, there’s a better way to plan your workouts.

The science of exercise recognizes several rules that are known as the principles of conditioning. At Live Better Fitness we call them The Golden Rules of Fitness. They will help you make better fitness decisions for better fitness results.

Golden Rule 1 Overload

Our bodies have the capacity to adapt and improve. The ability of the human body to accommodate increasing physical demands is known as stress adaptation. When modest physical stress is applied to the body, and followed by an appropriate recovery period, performance improves.

This phenomenon does not occur in nonliving systems. When a chair is overloaded it breaks. When your computer runs out of memory it does not automatically acquire more – no matter how long you let it rest. But our bodies, when carefully overloaded by exercise, will respond by increasing our capacity for physical work.

Exercise cannot be effortless because without effort there is no stimulus, and  without stimulus there is no response. And that means no results.

Overload refers to the quantity of physical stress applied to the body. The body must be asked to perform work that is not normally encountered. As your fitness improves a greater overload will be required to stimulate further improvement. Increasing overload as fitness improves is known as progression. It is the reason why your old program may not work anymore in terms of getting results. You may have outgrown it.

If your exercise routine for the past year has included jogging 2 miles in 20 minutes, your fitness has likely reached a plateau. To further enhance your fitness, you would need to increase the distance, the speed or incorporate some hills into your workout. Similarly, if you perform the same bodyweight exercises every morning, and you want to improve your fitness, it would be beneficial to add some resistance by performing weight training and making it an alternate day routine.

The body will adapt to a modest overload, but only if it is allowed to recover. The greater the overload, the longer the recovery needed.

When progressing overload, each increase should be modest. About 5-10% every week or two is recommended. If you lift 50 lb twice a week for two weeks and you feel ready for more, increasing by 2.5 or 5 lb makes sense.

A conservative approach works best because it is safer and more effective. It is also important to get enough recovery. Insufficient recovery between workouts will impede progress. This common mistake is one type of overtraining and it is a probable cause of many preventable injuries. If you are sticking to a fitness program and not making progress in terms of how much, how far, how fast or even how comfortably you perform the workout, then you may need to increase your recovery time between workouts. This may be accomplished be decreasing the number of workouts per week, or by rearranging your schedule to rest the overworked muscles.

Keep the principle of overload in mind the next time your hear about the latest greatest “easy exercise” or “killer workout” that promises awesome results. Any workout worth it’s weight in overload should be scalable to your individual fitness level, needs and goals. Make sure you talk to someone who can answer the right questions.

What’s Better Than Following Fitness Trends?

Keeping up with fitness trends is great if you want to know how businesses are marketing their products and services and what people are buying. But it won’t make you an educated fitness consumer.

The menu of fitness offerings at your local gym or from your favorite app likely misses the mark when it comes to the facts of fitness. Fitness menus rely on buzzwords and fail to provide the information you need to make smart fitness decisions.

The Buzzwords:

Muscle Toning

Fat Burning

Body Sculpting

Effortless Exercise

Killer Workouts

Rapid Weight Loss

Spot Reduction

Buzzwords are the root cause of misinformation about fitness, exercise, diet and weight loss. Check out my post “Do Fitness Words Matter?” to learn why.

Fitness education is the solution to all of the “fake news” in fitness. I believe it is the answer to a wide range of fitness frustrations.

For over 20 years I’ve been teaching and training people in fitness classes and one-on-one sessions. In 2015 I wrote two eBooks to launch my fitness education theme. Key Terms were posted in The Chalkboard Series (aka: “Key Terms of Fitness”) and the Fitness Education pages on Live Better Fitness.

Fitness Education Topics:

Physical Fitness – learn more

Muscular Fitness – learn more

Flexibility – learn more

Cardiovascular endurancelearn more

Body Compositionlearn more

With the meaning of Key Terms established, it’s time to introduce the Golden Rules of Fitness. This upcoming series explains the scientific principles of fitness programming in language that is easy to understand and easy to use.

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