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The SAID principle of training


If you’re looking to improve your performance and skillset as an athlete, it's crucial to grasp the foundational principles of sports science. One key principle that’ll help you maximize your potential is the SAID principle.

“SAID” is an acronym for “specific adaptation to imposed demand.” Put simply, this principle means that our body will adapt to stresses or demands that are imposed on it in a specific way.

That means if you train a specific skill like Pullups, your body will adapt and get stronger as you progress. The more you practice Pullups, the more your body will adapt and improve on this specific skill.

The variation of Pullup, or skill, does matter. If you train on a straight bar, you’ll get better and stronger at this specific variation. Yet, this adaptation doesn’t translate 1:1 to Pullups on rings or climbing a tree. This is because of another key principle known as the principle of specificity.

According to this principle, any improvements your body undergoes are specific to the stressor or the activity that prompted the adaptation. While similar movements may offer some benefits, they won't match the gains achieved from training in that specific variation.

For decades, the SAID principle has been a cornerstone for athletes, guiding them to maximize their potential and reach their goals. In order to train effectively, athletes must consider the specific demands of their sport and devise training plans that support those demands. With consistent practice, effective planning, and the right mindset, the SAID principle can help you achieve your full potential.

How to apply the SAID principle in your training

You don’t need to be a pro to reap the rewards. By simply understanding and applying the SAID principle to your own training routine, you can elevate your athleticism and reach your goals, regardless of your level or starting point.

Let’s say you want to become a faster football player; having strong, powerful legs can be advantageous. And performing heavy Squats will allow your muscles to generate greater forces during knee extension, making it an effective exercise for overall joint and muscle adaptations. But will it make you faster in isolation? Pretty unlikely.

Sprinting, on the other hand, teaches your muscles and nervous system to accelerate your body faster while running. Therefore, sprinting is more specific and effective for becoming a faster football player.

Should I only train specifically for my goal or sport?

The short answer here: no! While your current training plan or sport may help you develop specific adaptations to the stresses it imposes on your body, it may neglect other areas and skills essential for overall fitness. Most team-sport practices and training methods are repetitive and sport-specific, limiting the body’s exposure to varied stresses.

To overcome this limitation, it's important to diversify your workout routine and mix in different types of exercise. Incorporate strength training with dumbbells, add in a stretching or mobility routine, or sprinkle in some endurance exercises. This can be a simple yet incredibly effective way to develop in areas that are not targeted by your sport or training program.

What’s more, by mixing up your routine, you can avoid overstressing certain areas of your body by strengthening or lengthening others. It can also help improve the resiliency of your tendons and ligaments while speeding up your cardiovascular system's recovery between sessions.

What are some practical implications of the SAID principle?

Training is incredibly individual. We all have different fitness levels, goals, skills, and strengths—that’s exactly why Freeletics offers customized Training Journeys that can be adapted to your wants and needs. More importantly, the Coach helps you progress gradually so that you get stronger and closer to your goals without the risk of overuse or injury. It’s a prime example of using the SAID principle in a smart way.

Let's take another Pullup example. If you tend to always do your Pullups with a supinated grip (your palms facing toward you), it can benefit your overall training by switching to another grip, such as a neutral grip (your thumb facing you), or even switch to another exercise completely for a while. This will allow your body to develop and adapt (and most importantly, grow stronger!) in another similar, but not exactly the same, movement pattern. You could opt for another pulling exercise altogether, such as a Dumbbell Bent Rows or Kettlebell Rows.

Another important takeaway is that the SAID principle doesn’t only apply to exercise – it can apply to daily life. Each prolonged body posture you adopt in your daily life subjects your body to specific stresses, driving it to adapt accordingly. That means if you walk, sit, or stand for most of the day, then yep, you guessed it — your body will adapt.

A classic example is hitting the 9-5 daily office grind from sitting in your chair. Your body will adjust to this hunched posture, shortening your hip flexor muscles and rounding your back. If you find yourself in this situation, it's vital to recognize this limitation and compensate for it.

Focus on adopting other postures that are more extended and upright throughout your day, or incorporate exercises into your training regimen that target these muscles specifically.

Again, this is why training is so individualized and should take into account your daily life as well as your fitness level. If you spend eight hours a day sitting, there may be better fitness approaches than devoting all of your training to seated machines. On the other hand, seated machines may be beneficial for someone who has a job that requires them to stand or walk all day.

Ultimately, it's about doing what works best for you.

SAID principle myths

Let’s have a look at three common misconceptions about the SAID principle:

Myth #1: Training adaptations last forever
Sadly, training adaptations are not forever (though that would be pretty cool). It’s more of a use-it-or-lose-it kind of situation. That means if you stop training, your body will adapt to that.

This can result in the loss of your hard-earned muscle mass or endurance. Why does this happen? Our bodies strive to conserve energy. If we neglect to utilize our excess muscle or cardiovascular capacity, the body will eliminate it.

But it’s not all bad news. If you need to take a longer break from training for whatever reason – illness, injury, or life — “muscle memory” does exist and can help you return to your fitness level. Start slowly, prioritize progressive overload to avoid injuries and before you know it, you’ll be back at your peak performance.

Myth #2: Everyone will adapt the same way to the same exercises
Train the same, gain the same? Unfortunately, no – this isn’t the case. While we can expect strength exercises to yield strength benefits, not all exercises work the same for different people. Highlighting, once again, one vital point in all of this: training is incredibly individual!

Therefore, your training needs to fit your body. If you learn that a particular exercise doesn’t deliver the results you want (or even causes more problems), don’t waste your time. Swap it out for what works for you!

Myth #3: You can’t build muscle and endurance at the same time
While there is some data that might suggest some interference effects, these tend to be minor and limited to elite athletes. If you take CrossFit as an example, you'll find athletes boasting both considerable muscle mass and remarkable endurance. This is attributed to the different mechanisms through which these adaptations occur.

However, the downside to this "concurrent training" is the potential accumulation of stress and energy expenditure from both muscle gain and cardio workouts. So, you’ll definitely need to be on point with your rest, recovery, and nutrition! Apart from that, there is no real reason you can’t build muscle and endurance simultaneously if that’s your goal.

Let’s recap

The SAID principle teaches us that our body will adapt to both the exercises we do regularly and those we neglect. While many of these adaptations are beneficial, some can have detrimental effects, such as sitting hunched over for long periods of time.

The best plan of action is to take control of your circumstances and empower your body to get stronger, progress, and adapt to the stressors that can benefit your overall fitness. Mix up your training routine with various exercises and movements to challenge your body and ward off overuse injuries. Are you feeling bold? Step out of your comfort zone and try a new sport or workout—you might uncover a new favorite along the way!

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