The Principles of Specificity, Overload & Progression

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By Jade Mckee

When programming for your clients, there are training principles that need to be followed. These are the principles of specificity, overload, and progression. As always, these principles will need to be tailored to your individual client’s needs in order for them to get optimal results.

The principle of specificity (or the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) refers to HOW you will be training your client, in order to produce a specific outcome. Training needs to be specifically focused to address the demands of the activity they will be undertaking. You will need to understand the most important elements of fitness that are involved in their particular sport or activity, and focus the client’s training to improve on these areas.

Keep in mind, the best way to get stronger and more efficient at a particular movement is to train that particular movement!

Stress is needed in order for training adaptations to take place. In other words, the client’s training stimulus needs to be continually increased over time, in order for them to progress – whether this would be with their hypertrophy goals, their strength, power, or endurance.

Progression will occur as overload is applied. This might take place through increasing the intensity, or the volume of the session, adjusting the frequency your client is training, how long they are training for, or the type of training they are completing. It may be that the difficulty of the exercises are progressed in terms of the technical skill required to perform them.

In order to ensure your client continues to progress, it is also important to allow adequate time for rest and recovery to take place. Progress won’t necessarily happen each week with your clients, but should happen within each training block.

For example, when looking at a 4 week training block with a client working to progress their deadlift, their weekly goal may be:
Week 1: Work up to 90% of their current max weight
Week 2: Work up to 95%
Week 3: Hit a new PB
Week 4: Progress again – lifting 105% of their previous max

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Brukner, P. and Kahn, K. (2007) Clinical Sports Medicine. McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd. Helms, E.,
Haff, G & Triplett N. (Eds) 2016. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Fourth Edition. Human Kinetics
Morgan, A., & Valdez, A. 2018. The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid. Second Edition.

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