Smarter Performance Training – The SAID Principle

biking, cycling, sport-5517911.jpg

SAID stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands and essentially states that the human body responds to the stresses placed upon it. In practice, this means that your training should aim to replicate your specific goal activity as closely as reasonably possible. The more closely your training matches your sport, the greater chance your progress in training will translate into performance. At the most basic level, that means using the activity itself as training to improve at that activity. If you want to be a better runner, practice running. To boost your soccer skills, you should play soccer. Seems straightforward enough, right?

Although it really is not a complicated concept at its core, it often becomes challenging to balance the desire to improve specific athletic performance with the need to avoid overusing specific muscle groups or movement patterns, while neglecting others. Read on to learn more about how you can use the SAID principle in your training to ensure that your hard work pays off where it counts.

The SAID Principle in Performance Training

In discussing the SAID principle in practice, I will take you through a few different applications. We will move from the most specific to the least and discuss the use-case for each.

Using the Activity Itself as Training

This is the most straightforward way to apply the SAID principle. As mentioned, this simply means engaging in the activity you want to get better at. The most direct approach would be the exact activity – using soccer as an example, this means playing games of soccer exactly as you would when competing. Sport-specific drills also fall under this category as long as they closely replicate scenarios you might encounter in competition or performance. Looking at soccer again, this would most likely be on-field drills using a soccer ball. Check out this video for an example of drills that closely replicate actual game-play.


Training in the Same Body-Position

The next-most specific application is to replicate the body position used in the sport-activity you want to train. This is where things can get complicated and there is often no single correct solution. A simple place to start is deciding whether you should perform the exercise sitting, standing, laying down, kneeling, etc. If your sport requires you to be standing (like in running or soccer), then exercises also done in standing are more specific than those performed sitting or laying down.

Taking that a step further, you may consider other aspects of body position such as whether your feet are directly next to one another, spread apart, or in stride. Going even deeper, where are the other parts of your body that are not directly involved in the movement? What direction is force being produced and at what speed? Are you moving against an external object or just your own bodyweight?

Take surfing as an example. When paddling, you lay prone (on your belly) with your legs outstretched and feet close together. In training for surf paddling, you should focus on exercises in this same position. The below images show an example exercise for surf paddling (left) alongside an image demonstrating good paddling position (right). Check out this article for more.

In another example, suppose you hope to increase power for sprinting. For this goal, a stride stance clearly makes more sense than standing with your feet next to one another. Getting more specific, the force production through your leg is directed down and back as your arms swing forcefully in the opposing direction. Check out this video for an example sprint training exercise.

Outcome-Specific Training

Another factor to consider in performance training is the specific athletic outcome you hope to achieve. Examples include strength, power, speed, agility, and hypertrophy (growth in muscle size). This is where training parameters such as sets, reps, rest periods, volume, and intensity typically come into play. An important note is that outcome-specific training is not mutually exclusive from body-position training. You can expect better results if the two are combined. Below I will outline some of the typical parameters used for training. There is no strict rule here and some research suggests that rep ranges are more fluid than traditionally thought. These guidelines are still a helpful place to start.

Training for Strength

When training for pure strength – the ability to move heavy weight without emphasis on speed – the recommended rep range is 1-6. At this number of reps, you should be lifting approximately 80-100% of your 1RM (one-rep max, or the maximum amount of weight that you are able to lift one time for a given exercise). Rest periods are long in strength training, ranging from 2-5 minutes. A typical recommendation is to perform 2-6 sets of each exercise.

Training for Size

When your main focus is hypertrophy, you should start in the range of 6-12 repetitions for 3-6 sets. Rest periods here are shorter, somewhere in the range of 30-90s. In this rep range, you should be lifting approximately 70-85% of your 1RM. The key in hypertrophy training is taking your muscles to near failure, achieving high metabolic fatigue.

Training for Power

Power is simply force multiplied by distance divided by the time taken to produce it,. This is arguably the most important athletic performance metric. Training for power traditionally involves 3-5 sets of 1-5 repetition(s). The key here is to move the weight as quickly as safely possible while maintaining good form. Rest periods range from 1-5 minute(s) with loads of 30-90% of your 1RM.

In power training, the primary focus is quality and speed of movement. 90% of 1RM will likely be too heavy for most people to safely move weight at high speed, so exercise good judgment when selecting the weight to use. Bodyweight exercises can also develop power for athletic performance since many sports involve power production with only bodyweight. Training for power is one of the more complex aspects of athletic performance training; check out this article if you want to go deeper.

Training for Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability to exert repeated or sustained force over long periods of time. This type of training involves short rest periods of 30s or less and 2-3 sets of 12-20+ repetitions. The load should be less than 70% of your 1RM. Muscular endurance is an important part of many athletic activities. The key is high volume, either through sustained efforts or high rep counts.

Training for Agility and Speed

Agility and speed are more complex than the other examples in this section. They are both a combination of power and technique, so will require more specific training. While power training can contribute to both, you will see the most significant gains by also focusing on improving your technique through specific activity-training. Drills using ladders, cones, bands, and other implements can assist with this type of training.

Mobility Routine

Wish you Could be as limber as a Kitten?

Download this free e-book to learn a simple daily mobility routine for stronger joints, less stiffness, increased mobility, and better athletic performance!

How NOT to use the SAID Principle

While specificity in performance training is crucial to athletic performance, it can be taken too far. If you only engage in one specific activity with no cross-training or supportive training, your body will develop imbalances over time. The human body is inherently asymmetrical and this asymmetry causes subtle side-to-side differences in our movement. This asymmetry can be in size, shape, strength, mobility, or a host of other characteristics.

Asymmetry in itself is not something we should expect to fully eliminate, but repeating the same movement patterns over and over can accentuate existing imbalances. Our bodies develop compensations to account for these imbalances and over time can exacerbate them. The progression of compensation patterns takes place over long periods of time, which means it often goes unnoticed until pain develops. This gradual progression is why many people spend years happily engaging in just one sport with no issues only to suddenly have injuries start showing up in lots of places at the same time.

The Role of Cross-Training

Beyond these compensations, athletic activities involve specific movements that often only utilize particular planes of movement at certain joints. Neglected motions and joints develop weakness and limited mobility over time. Even if this doesn’t cause issues in your specific sport (and it often does), it can cause problems in daily life. This is important because like it or not we do have to use our bodies in life too, not just sport. Cross-training also enables you to pick up new sports more quickly and with less chance of hurting yourself. Targeted training for areas neglected in your chosen sport reduces injury-risk and makes you a more well-rounded human!

When Less-Specific is Better

Less-specific training is not always a bad thing, and in some instances it can be exactly what’s needed. In rehabilitation cases, sport-specific positions or movements are often painful. Changing positions or movements enables the athlete to build strength and mobility to support the injured area without further aggravation. Another example is if the supporting muscles are too weak to control or tolerate training in a particular position. In this case, de-loading in a different position allows the athlete to safely start building strength and mobility with gradual progression to increasingly specific exercises.


To sum things up, in order to achieve athletic goals or improve performance in a sport your training must be specific to your goals and your sport. That said, each of the different types of training add value – even if they fall on the less-specific end of the spectrum. Cross-training, while not specific to your sport, can still be thought of as specific to a different goal. That could be defined as overall injury-risk reduction, strengthening neglected areas, and making your athleticism more generalizable. In some cases, less-specific training is indicated to de-load painful or weak body regions.

If you want to learn more about me, check out my about page here. For more blog entries, go here. And if you want to get some individualized help designing a performance training program to address your imbalances while improving your athletic performance, give me a call at 323.609.7073 or fill out a request form here.

Health Advice Disclaimer

This article provides example exercises that are applicable to many, but not all people.  They are based on typical presentations seen in my personal clinical practice.  These exercises address common deficits found in the population discussed, but can in no way take the place of professional evaluation and treatment by a licensed medical practitioner.  It is impossible to provide 100% accurate diagnosis or prognosis without a thorough physical examination and likewise the advice given for management or prevention of any injury cannot be deemed fully accurate in the absence of this examination. 

There should be no pain during any part of this program aside from a normal muscle “burn”.  If you are currently experiencing any pain or injury, seek professional evaluation before undertaking this or any exercise program.  Ensure that you are medically cleared for exercise before undertaking this or any exercise program.  Significant injury risk may occur if you do not seek proper evaluation.  No guarantees of specific outcome are expressly made or implied in this article. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sign up to get notified whenever a new blog post drops!


Sign up to get notified whenever a new blog post drops!