The Principle of Specificity: Getting the Balance Right to Maximize Performance


[4-min read]

If you’re training for a particular goal or outcome, the best way to get better at it is to do it. If you’re a sprinter, sprint. If you’re a swimmer, swim. There is a lot of other training that you can do to improve your performance of a specific task, however. General fitness levels are also important when it comes to performing well at any sport or physical activity.

In this blog, we’ll look at the Principle of Specificity and how you can use it in your programming to ensure you get the balance right between specific and general training to optimize your client’s and athlete’s performance.

What is the Specificity Principle?

The Principle of Specificity is a training principle which states that, in order to improve a particular component of physical fitness, a person must emphasize that component in training. A training program must stress the physiological systems used to perform a particular activity in order to achieve specific training adaptations. For example, a weightlifter who trains only for strength and power will probably be stronger than an untrained person but have no better aerobic endurance.

Why is it so important?

For any athletic activity, whether it’s playing soccer, weightlifting, or swimming, a base level of fitness is required to perform. For that reason, general training, such as aerobic conditioning and strength training, is critical to build and maintain general fitness levels. As well as to build resilience in order to avoid injury.

The Principle of Specificity becomes important when an individual wants to excel at a particular task, sport, or activity. They must then evolve their training from the general to the more specific training, like performing, the task, sport, or activity itself. This is done so that their training mimics the muscles and movements they will use when they are performing the task or activity, or competing in the sport.

When a sport is made up of a number of different skills, the training can be broken down into these different skills. To use rugby as an example, training would consist of strength and power, sprinting, change of direction, handling, tackling, and other skills.

Benefits of Specific Training

There are many benefits of specific training:

  • The athlete conditions the muscles that he/she will use in the task, sport, or activity itself
  • The athlete will master the skill in question and variations of the skill
  • The athlete will develop muscle memory so that he/she can perform the task without concentrating on it
  • The athlete will gain the mental benefits of having performed the task or activity, or played the sport many times before
Getting the balance right between specific and general training

How do I apply the Principle of Specificity?

When it comes to applying the Principle of Specificity, the most important thing is about getting the balance right. If you focus too much on general fitness you won’t develop the skills and conditioning necessary to excel at your sport or activity. Similarly, if you focus too much on the skills specific to your sport or activity it can impact your general fitness and therefore limit your ability to perform the task, sport, or activity. While also limiting the long-term development of physical attributes that will help you improve your performance in the future.

Getting the balance right between general and specific training

In that case, it’s important to include enough specific training to develop the skills the athlete needs to perform the task, activity, or sport at a high level. While also including enough general training to develop athletic qualities in the long-term that will benefit performance.

The coach can then decide whether to combine general and specific training in the same block of training and vary the focus depending on the time of the season or proximity to competition. Or to design distinct blocks of training with a general or specific focus.

This can also influence the design of individual training sessions. The time of the season or proximity to competition can influence the balance between specific and general training as discussed by Shayne Murphy in our previous blog Fitness vs Conditioning: How to Prepare Athletes for Elite Performance, with more general training sessions favoured in pre-season and more sport or competition-specific favoured in-season in order to maximize limited training time and training transfer to competition.


If you want to improve at a particular skill or physical attribute your training program needs to include specific training to achieve those training adaptations as stated in the Principle of Specificity. However, as coaches, it’s important that you get the balance right between general and specific training in your client’s and athlete’s training programs to ensure that they are mastering the skills they need to perform but also developing the physical attributes that will improve their performance in the long-term.

Click here to learn more about the other Training Principles of Overload, Individualization, Specificity, Adaption, Recovery, and Reversibility.

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RYPT is a performance coaching platform designed to help multi-disciplinary coaching teams deliver athletic development programs efficiently at scale. RYPT helps coaching teams manage every aspect of their coaching relationship from the delivery of individualized training plans, to athlete monitoring and communication. RYPT centralizes athlete data to give coaches better insights and help them manage their athletes more efficiently and effectively – reducing injury risk and optimizing performance.

Over 2,000 coaches worldwide, working from grassroots to Olympic level, trust RYPT to deliver their athletic development programs and monitor their athletes. RYPT supports individual coaches, private gyms and academies, schools and universities, and large sporting organisations.

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