Training Concepts - Part 3 – Specificity/Overload/Reversibility

It is been more than a few weeks since the part 2 of the training concept series, but I finally got around to writing part 3.

As a quick summary, in part 1 I discussed the concepts of stress/strain/adaptation (overload/supercompensation), some of the physiological adaptations that we generate with our training, and how some of those can produce positive, unchanged or even negative effects in our fitness.

On part 2 I discussed the training load concept, presented the simple formula we use to plan our training ( volume + intensity + frequency) and discussed why it is important.

Now I'll focus on specificity, overload and reversibility to complete this part of the series before moving to periodization and taper.

What is the Specificity Concept?
Specificity refers to the way our bodies adapt to a particular training load (stimulus). It means, the type of training load we do determines what kind of physiological adaptations various tissues and organs produced and maximized. For instance, if you do a great deal of long/steady training, your muscles will respond by mainly producing more of the chemicals that help during long/steady sessions; your muscles fibers adapt to become more fatigue resistant and you increase mitochondria density, at a lesser degree other adaptations occur such as increase in the efficiency of energy production, improvement in oxidative enzyme levels, etc.

It is important to notice training adaptations interlayer based on different training loads, hence while doing work at your critical power/velocity will maximize certain adaptations, others will also occur at a lesser degree. On the other hand, adaptations that are maximized during long/steady sessions will also improve other adaptations at a lesser degree. Specificity is a key concept because performing the kind of training that matches that which will be experienced during our key competitions will enable our bodies to adapt optimally for it. With that in mind, this concepts plays a fundamental role when we design a training plan.

What is the Overload Concept?
The main goal for any training programs should be to induce the necessary strain forcing our bodies to positively adapt and grow stronger/fitter after recovering. This involves a constantly management of the balance between optimum stimulus (training load) and methodically disturbing our body homeostasis. That simply means, doing enough load forcing our body to adapt, without doing so much it can adapt. This refers to the overload concept defined as "the stimulus that requires a greater physical effort than the body's current capacity to handle a particular load".

This concept is important because it can allow us to manage our programs by mixing up our training load based on our current fitness level, our specific needs and our training phase. If we also consider the specificity concept, it then will allow us to know when we should focus on particular training loads that will improve our fitness overall and specifically for our main event(s).

What is the Reversibility Concept?
Training load is how much training we do, overload is how we incrementally managed that load; reversibility refers to the loss of training adaptations due to the reduction of training load. It is defines as "organic and functional changes that can improve performance as a result of training will revert to the original level in the absence of of training stimulus".

We know recovery is an important aspect of our body's ability to cope and adapt to the training load we expose it to, however, same as with load, the recovery period has to be managed in a way for our body to constantly adapt without losing (at least significantly) the achieved training adaptations. In addition, when formulating a training plan, training reversibility has to be considered when setting long time goals to allow the athlete to improve over time while at the same time allowing for periods of rest for physical and mental regeneration. Fitness gains in this period will decrease, though the good news is those adaptations will return at a faster pace for previously trained individuals.

There you have it, 3 more concepts we frequently use when designing or discussing training programs. These are simple terms and pretty inherent to understand. yet, often neglected when formulating training programs. The good news is that if you are reading this, you will be among those athletes/coaches who won't do that.

All the concepts I have presented so far will set the tone for Part 4 in which I'll discuss the performance equation (fitness minus fatigue) and introduce the periodization concept. understanding training load and the different components I discussed so far will make rather clear as to how and why periodization is an effective tool when designing a training plan.

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