Specificity of Training – What is this?

Specificity of Training – What is this?


The principle of Specificity (of training) literally means training that is directly specific to the task or need – i.e. – the basic fitness requirement for any individual.

For example the problem, your client has poor balance and has fallen several times.

Then the #1 fitness requirement is that the client needs to specifically train for balance.

In water: The feet are the base of support in shallow water and, since water has a 3 dimensional effect around the body for support, someone with poor balance can practice balance exercises in the water safely. To do this you can use simple walking patterns to begin balance training. First start the client walking to create an inertia effect (water current) then stop with both feet in contact with the pool floor. Add sculling to support balance and posture and work on standing tall in the water.

On land: Balance may be trained by standing still and even holding one foot off the floor (at ankle  height, knee height or any position). Most people are afraid of falling and breaking something; however in order to optimize balance the client does need to train the specific component. Moving faster and jumping will not help with specific balance training.

In other words, training must always target a specific goal. There are many components of fitness that are trained in programs to create anenjoyable program.

Here are some of the more popular components of fitness that will need to be addressed with a well balanced fitness program whether in water or on land

  • CV endurance for both aerobic & anaerobic fitness,
  • stretching, active and dynamic stretching,
  • muscular strengthening & endurance
  • core stability,
  • static and dynamic balance
  • agility,
  • coordination
  • Proprioception
  • ADLS, and posture….

Training on land needs to be programmed with safety in mind. Falling and hurting oneself is often more pronounced. Also delayed muscle soreness and sweating may make some new clients uncomfortable.

Utilizing  both water and land training is optimal; however, not always possible.

Using the principles of specificity of training with good technique can make for a very efficient and well balanced workout.

Another example is for cardiovascular fitness which the goal is to benefit the heart and circulatory system to prevent heart disease. Interval training of going easier to harder or less intense recovery to more intensity bout will train a person to perform more total work while lowering resting heart rate.

In water muscles fatigue prior to breathing; whereas most land cardio is due to lack of breathing. Understanding that program design must differ is key to benefiting the individual.

Developing cardio respiratory endurance sets or segments (whether in water or on land) must be performed by primarily engaging large muscle groups of the lower body muscles, dynamically or rhythmically, continuously or intermittently, at low through moderate to high intensity exercise. The exercise design needs to be at least three or more minutes in duration to utilize aerobic or with oxygen energy systems. Simply stated cardiovascular or cardio-respiratory training is training working on the breathing and volume of oxygen uptake so that the heart is more efficient. Ideally try to utilize regular low to moderate intensity sets for those new to fitness and then progress incrementally. Total duration is more important than higher intensity.

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle, or group of muscles, to repeatedly exert force against a given sub-maximal resistance or to sustain an isometric contraction over time. Generally measured by how many times the muscle or group of muscles can contract before reaching momentary fatigue. Programs designed to increase muscular endurance utilize lower resistance and higher numbers of repetitions. In water, clients require more repetitions as the recovery is quicker. Generally we say that 3-5 sets of 8-25 repetitions are effective in water whereas 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions are effective on land. The theory is that muscles recover quicker in water as compared to land because of the massage effects of the water. Also in water there is no gravity to work up against so all muscle work should be done down into the resistance of the buoyancy rather than up with assistance of buoyancy.

The challenge for  most instructors  is that they do not do enough variety, sets or repetitions  for effective muscular conditioning and therefore their clients may not reach attainable training levels.

To train muscular strength:

  • Be sure to utilize the correct joint action to properly engage the muscle
  • Body position must Power down into the resistance of the water rather than just lift up with buoyancy
  • Perform at least 8-25 repetitions (in water) or 10-15 (on land to properly train and fatigue the muscle
  • In water: provide 1 to 2 sets for strength (with equipment) OR 3-5 sets for endurance(without equipment)
  • On land: utilize heavier resistance for strength training or lighter resistnace and more repetitions for toning
  • Need to feel that the muscle is fatigued for efficacy or to hypertrophy
  •  Do not just use momentum -control the movement in water or on land
  • Work with a muscle is created when the movement is started & stopped in good form.
  • Muscles do support good posture. Good form is working in proper body alignment & posture with good technique.
  • For new or beginner or older seniors add active recovery or filler moves in between sets
  • For advanced clients there is no need for break in between sets -super set the muscle work
  • Promoting participants to exercise muscular endurance in their target range will help them achieve the most benefits at a reduced risk for injury.
  • Strong muscles maintain strong bones so provide incentives and tips to inspire exercise

Flexibility is the optimal range of motion around the joints and their corresponding muscle groups without sacrificing stability or inducing pain and discomfort. The key to improving and maintaining flexibility is frequency and consistency of use. Stretch between muscle strengthening sets is helpful for rejuvenating the muscles.

Recommendations for Flexibility:

  • Offer both active mobility and static stretches
  • Offer more active mobility at the start of any program
  • Offer deeper stretching and static stretching when muscles are warm
  • Ideally stretch muscles between sets  or any time when need active recovery or to relax
  • Provide take home stretches for daily stretching for clients (this is the most difficult component of fitness to improve).
  • Work through a comfortable active range of motion throughout the work-out to maintain good flexibility. A flexible muscle is a safe muscle since it can be strengthened throughout its length. ROM can be incorporated through the program for all exercises.
  • In water: don’t use land stretches, use the water for assistance and massage effect.
  • On land: ideally need to relax and lying stretching is generally better but may not be comfortable
  • Incorporate mostly active stretching techniques.
  • Everyone requires both  stretching for all ADL’s, (Active daily living)

To sum up: The instructor’s or trainers job is to help people gain results. Exercise goals must be specifically targeted or mimicked to gain the same or more results as land exercise. Therefore, the instructor is instrumental in teaching and cuing their clients to understand how to train each component for maximal results.