by Coen de Heer, Supreme Strength Coach | May 24, 2022
If you are a seasoned powerlifter specificity probably plays an important role in your training regimen. What this means in more detail might differ from person to person but we can all agree that it's a core concept within the world of strength sports.
Specificity within the sports domain can have multiple definitions. I’ll start by stating some working definitions.
“Doing that which is most specific to the outcome goal.”
An example here is doing sets of 8 to 15 reps on hack squat instead of low bar 4x2 when the desired outcome is hypertrophy for the quadriceps muscles.
“Activities that are the most specific to the sporting demand.”
An example here would be a powerlifter doing an SBD training session with 3 singles on each lift. For a soccer player, playing a practice match would also be very specific. These situations most closely resemble the actual sporting conditions.
Specificity is important because of the so-called SAID principle: “Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands". This basically means we get better at what we train. Super surprising right! But keep in mind that just because these two definitions work through the same principle, it doesn’t mean they should lead to similar decisions in training design and periodization.
Block specificity comes down to designing a block in a way that is most conducive to the desired outcome. So if the outcome is hypertrophy, this should be apparent by looking at your training design. Sport specificity means sport specific training. In powerlifting terms this would be your high intensity singles and SBD days.
As lifters and coaches we have decisions to make about our training. One of the first things we should think about when making these decisions is specificity. So the question should be what do I want to achieve during this block? Only when we have answered this question for ourselves can we start to think about other factors. By now it's probably obvious to you that specificity is a very important piece of the powerlifting puzzle. It gives our training shape and direction that we wouldn't otherwise have without it.
Imagine a training cycle without any way of specificity in mind. This is difficult to imagine but without specificity we could be swimming in an attempt to improve our bench press. Surely a good swimmer would have a better bench than a completely sedentary person. But you get the point. We absolutely need specificity to create a productive training stimulus.
Now we are left with an important question. When should we apply which type of specificity? This is dependent on a multitude of factors which would be too much to get into in a single article, so I will focus on a few that best convey the message.
First we need to establish where we are in regards to our training. Are we 6 weeks out from a meet or are we 6 months out from a meet? Training will most likely look different in these scenarios because of specificity demands.
The amount of time away from a meet will for most of us to some extent determine what our training looks like. Now, as stated before, this is dependent on multiple factors but we will focus on a few factors. I would argue that the further away we are from a meet, the less sports specific our training needs to be. An athlete that is 8 months away from a meet might benefit more from block specific training. Meaning that if the goal of the block is hypertrophy, which is a common offseason goal, we should cater our training in such a way that optimizes hypertrophy.
So should we still be doing frequent doubles and singles on our competition lifts? We could be, but we don't have to. Departing from this lower rep competition style work and trading it in for higher rep hypertrophy work would in this context be more specific to the desired outcome of the block.
A lot of athletes fear letting go of their competition lifts because they are afraid that the skill component of the lift will become foreign to them and they will lose strength doing so. Trust me, I totally understand this fear because I can relate to it myself. Luckily, obtaining proper squatting technique isn't as complicated as we make it.
It's a squat, it's not a snatch or a clean and jerk, let alone something like a gymnastics routine.
In essence it's just a squat. Regaining the skill of performing one of the powerlifts is, compared to other sports, really damn easy. So please don't let your fear of losing this skill undermine other necessities you might have in your training. Trust that you have the self efficacy to regain this skill in a matter of weeks.
So how would this look when we get closer to a meet?
In essence we use the same principles of specificity as before. When we are working towards a meet we want our 1RM strength to climb as high as we can, because this is what will be required on the platform. Training then inherently becomes more sport specific because the block or cycle has to be more specific towards 1RM strength. This is the time to really dial in on your singles and let go of some accessory volume. Frequent weekly singles and higher intensity work would be the norm here. The interesting part is that the closer we get to a meet the smaller the difference between block specificity and sport specificity becomes. There might be some minute differences but this will become largely negligible.
The takeaway of this blog is to think about your needs as an athlete in the short AND long term. Decide with your coach (or for yourself) where your training needs lie and cater your training specifically to that goal. This will give you the highest chance of achieving what you have set out to achieve as a powerlifter with the minimal amount of interference.