Weight training will get you stronger, but it does not necessarily transfer to activities that require specific movement patterns and energy demands, based on the SAID principle.
A few years ago, I was training with a lion dance troupe in southern California. I’ve always wanted to experience what it was like to be a lion dancer since I was a kid, as well as tapping into other forms of Chinese kung fu. Training in this traditional Chinese art is no walk in the park, a lot harder than I had thought. There were a lot training in the horse and bow stances, repetitively lifting, shaking, and pulling down of the lion’s head, and constantly bending forward, especially if you were the lion’s rear. Being the only member with the largest thighs and shoulder frame, I trained mostly as the “rear end” of the lion, spending several hours a day, three to four days a week bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Having the largest thighs among the troupe, I trained mostly as the “rear end” of the lion, spending several hours a day, three to four days a week. Because I didn’t have a lion head at home to train with, I used a ViPR to simulate the jerking and pulling movements, as demonstrated in the video above. It wasn’t a perfect match with the actual lion head, but it was the best tool I had to train with.
I could’ve used kettlebells or dumbbells to do fast shoulder presses, but I had remembered the principle of specificity of exercise — commonly known as the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands). If you want to get better at a sport or activity, then you should train in ways that is similar to the movement patterns and energy demands of that sport or activity.
For example, doing free weight shoulder presses would have a greater carryover than doing shoulder presses on a machine in a seated position. And using a ViPR or a similar tool to mimic the movement patterns of the lion head dance has a greater carryover than doing free weight shoulder presses because of the hand position and weight distribution of the ViPR. It is not a perfect, but it was the best tool I had to train with. And so, the SAID principle is useful in determining what exercise you or your clients or patients should do to maximize function.
SAID principle requires triathletes train all three activities
Our body is quite resilient and adaptive to almost whatever stress we placed upon it. Our knuckles get harder and get less painful when we train for boxing or muay thai. Our thigh muscles grow within weeks from heavy squatting and leg pressing at the gym. Our heart and lungs get more efficient in delivering oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, which is why running and cycling seem to get easier the more often we do it. While some adaptations are universal, such as muscles grow almost regardless of what strength exercise you do, not everything that you train for can be carried over automatically or entirely.
For example, although running and cycling has some carryover to actual running, the two activities have almost no carryover to swimming, (1) and running has a greater carryover in lactate threshold improvement than cycling. (2) One study showed that subjects who were trained in cycling had a greater improvement in ventilatory threshold than those who trained in running, even though both groups had similar improvements in their VO2Max. (3)
In the world of strength training and anaerobic sports, similar crossover effects has been found in various studies. One study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that subjects who trained with lower reps and higher intensity had a higher improvement in the maximal strength testing after eight weeks of training than the intermediate and high-rep groups. However, those who trained with higher reps and lower intensity outperformed the other groups when doing the 60 percent of the one-rep max test. Interestingly, all groups had similar muscle hypertrophy at the end of the study. (7)
Related: Weight training: How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do?
Strength gains are also joint specific, meaning that you get the best strength gains when you train within a specific range of motion. For example, doing doing quarter squats will only improve quarter squats, not so much in half squats or full squats. Also, doing quarter squats may improve sprinting performance and vertical jump squats where half squats and full squats provided not much improvement. Perhaps the range of motion demands in those two activities only required the range of motion provided by quarter squats. (8)
A Brazilian study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that power training seemed more effective in squat jump performance than strength training, even though both types of training had no effect the movement patterns of squat jumps and counter-movement jumps. (9)
While the number and quality of studies that emphasize exercise specificity is somewhat low, we should continue to question the validity of most research outcomes because many of the them are based on small samples and specific populations, mostly trained athletes. What we can learn from what we have is that the SAID principle applies to nearly all activities that we do. Our brain is very specific to what we do.
Of course, it is better to train the actual skill itself whenever possible. However, if you cannot train the actual skill, you should train as close to the movement pattern and physiological demands as possible with your given environment. You cannot just squeeze a rubber ball repetitively and expect to play the piano better.
1. Millet GP et al.. Modelling the transfers of training effects on performance in elite triathletes. Int J Sports Med. 2002 Jan;23(1):55-63.
2. Pierce EF1, Weltman A, Seip RL, Snead D.Effects of training specificity on the lactate threshold and VO2 peak. Int J Sports Med. 1990 Aug;11(4):267-72.
3. Hoffmann JJ et al. Specificity effects of run versus cycle training on ventilatory threshold. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1993;67(1):43-7.
4. Campos GE et al. Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance-training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Nov;88(1-2):50-60. Epub 2002 Aug 15.
5. Rhea, MR et al. Joint-Angle Specific Strength Adaptations Influence Improvements in Power in Highly Trained Athletes. Human Movement. 17(1), 43-49.
6. Campos GE et al. Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance-training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Nov;88(1-2):50-60.
7. Cronin J, McNair PJ, Marshall RN. Velocity specificity, combination training and sport specific tasks. J Sci Med Sport. 2001 Jun;4(2):168-78.
8. Lamas L et al. Effects of Strength and Power Training on Neuromuscular Adaptations and Jumping Movement Pattern and Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec;26(12):3335-44. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318248ad16.
A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.
An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.
When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.