Principle of Specificity in Athletic Training

A man taking breath during swimming freestyle
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Specificity is the principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect. Training must also progress from general conditioning to specific training and skills for the sport or activity. You must perform the skill in order to get better at it.

General to Specific Athletic Training

The specificity principle of sports conditioning simply states that training must go from highly general training to highly specific training.

You need a base of fitness in order to perform in most sports and physical activities. Whether you play soccer or basketball or you are training for a marathon, you need aerobic conditioning. But to become better in a sport or activity, your training must include performing that exercise or skill. To be a good cyclist, you must cycle. A runner should train by running and a swimmer should train by swimming.

In sports that require a wider set of skills, a training program may break down different components so you train specifically for each one. For example, in baseball you would train for batting, catching, throwing, or pitching. The training mimics the action and skills that will be needed in the game or activity.

Benefits of Specificity in Sports Training

Specificity of training conditions the muscles that will be used in the activity. You develop muscle memory for specific actions so you can perform them without having to concentrate on them.

You are able to master skills you will need and learn the best form to use. You may also then be able to progress to learning variations that may occur during a game or activity.

If you are training to run a race, you will work on your speed and endurance. But you also want to train under conditions that will mimic the race itself.

This includes training in the same sort of terrain with hills, pavement, and weather conditions. You train to build up to the distance and pace required. While you could simply run on a treadmill, that would not prepare you mentally and physically for the varied conditions you will find in a road race.

Drawbacks of Specificity in Training

A well-designed training program does not neglect aspects of fitness that aren't specific to a sport. You still need to maintain overall fitness and balance the development of opposing muscle groups. If you focus only on drills and skills specific to your sport, you may end up unbalanced.

The Six Principles of Sports Conditioning

The six principles of sports conditioning are the cornerstone of all other effective training methods. These cover all aspects of a solid foundation of athletic training. Once put together, the most logical training program involves a periodized approach which cycles the intensity and training objectives. The training must be specific not only to your sport but to your individual abilities (tolerance to training stress, recoverability, outside obligations, etc). You must increase the training loads over time (allowing some workouts to be less intense than others) and you must train often enough not only to keep a detraining effect from happening but to also force an adaptation.


Kenney WL, Wilmore JH, Costill DL, Wilmore JH. Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2015.