the joy of strength training


July 28th, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Specific vs general training

Olympic weightlifting

Olympic weightlifting from the Elite Fitness Manual

Specific vs general is a popular argument in fitness circles and can often get quite technical. But I think that for anyone who isn’t a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter terribly whether you train for something specific or for general fitness. Which mode you choose depends on your personality.

Some people respond to the challenge of training for an event, or acquiring a new skill and will therefore thrive on specificity. Some people train because they want to feel fit, look good or have fun and thrive on variety and balance.

Some people do a bit of both: train for an event some of the time, and train for fun the rest of the time.

I’m in the first category. I like to train for specific sports and skills, but I like to do several at a time. It’s multi-specificity, if that makes sense.

I know that by training several sports at once, I lose out on some of the benefits of dedicating myself to one sport. But I also gain from the crossover of benefits between one activity and another. For example I am better at indoor rowing because of my powerlifting background. My endurance is not as good as that of the other girls but I have a more powerful leg drive. Sometimes this difference results in me winning.

You could say that all things being equal, an athlete will do better in one sport if they dedicate themselves to it. But all things are not equal, not for most of us who aren’t professional athletes. We have a relatively small amount of time to train and how we use that time most effectively will differ from person to person.

It is not just time, we also have a certain amount of will, patience, tolerance, mental energy and belief. How we apportion these things, in training and in life in general will significantly affect what success we have in our chosen sports or activities.

I can’t be the best powerlifter I can be by only doing powerlifting. It doesn’t work like that for me, even though it might for someone else. It is part of my personality type to enjoy learning new skills and to thrive on making connections, so restricting me to one skill isn’t going to stimulate my abilities. To another person this might seem like madness!

I also think that one’s goals and ambitions are very much shaped by personality; whether, for example, you have clear idea in your mind of where you want to get to (in which case, specificity might work for you) or whether you are more comfortable living in the moment and being ready for anything (in which case a general programme could be ideal). Of course, living in the moment doesn’t mean being directionless. But it might mean that your goals evolve more gradually and organically.

Different strokes...

Yoga by listenmissy

What does this all mean for training? It means that an understanding and acceptance of what kind of person you are helps you to make better choices when it comes to training aims and programmes.

It is easy to beat yourself up because you can’t follow someone else’s programme or emulate their dedication. This is not meant to be a get-out clause for the lazy. A bit of soul-searching should tell you whether your failure was down to not being bothered or whether it just really didn’t suit you.

It’s like being a parent struggling to find that thing that will unlock their child’s imagination or abilities. You can apply this process to yourself and when you find it, it will be so exciting!

What do you think? How important is personality in training? Is it something you take into account?

Further information about personality types

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  • 1

    I think a great deal in my work about a similar idea- compliance. Will the client actually do what I recommend?

    If a fitness regimen is attempted which is not enjoyed, it probably won’t last long or be done with enough enthusiasm to make a difference. However, I also am keenly aware that variety is needed to keep the different areas of the body in balance. For instance, rowing is great cardio, and will develop the posterior torso, and some other muscles, but not the anterior torso. (Plus, it violates my cardinal rule: Don’t Sit Down!*) So I would say that from my therapeutic perspective, training for a single sport isn’t wise, but it is a lot better that watching the telly.


    Steven Rice on July 29th, 2009
  • 2

    Yes I agree that for the majority of people, training for a single sport can be less than optimal. What I like though, is training specifically for several sports which cover most of the bases.

    I like your ‘don’t sit down’ article – a simple, effective way of getting the message across.

    gubernatrix on July 29th, 2009
  • 3

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