Vail Daily column: Consider the benefits of specificity |

Vail Daily column: Consider the benefits of specificity

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

I awoke this morning to a sore back, legs and hips after a three-hour shift on Grouse Mountain yesterday. A few friends and I covered just shy of 30,000 vertical feet on a glorious soft day on the hill. It doesn’t amaze me that I would be sore today. I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to ski often this season. My overall fitness is arguably as good as it gets for me. Why would I be sore from a sport that I have been practicing my entire life? There’s an elephant in the room that needs addressed. The SAID principle isn’t discussed in mainstream fitness circles right now; it’s about time to explore this amazingly simple concept.

The SAID principle is an acronym for specific adaptations to imposed demands. In physical rehabilitation and sports training, the SAID principle asserts that the human body adapts specifically to the demands placed on the body. In other words, given stressors on the human system, whether biomechanical or neurological, there will be a specific adaptation to imposed demands.

Specificity hypothesis of motor learning

In 1958, Berkeley professor of physical education Franklin M. Henry proposed the specificity hypothesis of motor learning. Henry was the first to deeply explore the science of motor learning above and beyond previous models that explored psychology and the implications on motor ability.

To be even more specific, skiing short laps on the moderate pitches at Vail, will not necessarily prepare you for longer sustained pitches on the Birds of Prey terrain or Grouse Mountain terrain at Beaver Creek, or the long pitches at the infamous Aspen Highlands Bowl.

Regardless, I don’t want to turn this column into the specifics of motor control and motor learning; the conditions which this marriage occurs requires a learner, skills that are trying to be learned, and the conditions in which the skills are acquired. This is a good working definition of acquiring new motor skills for the sake of today’s discussion. Back on point.

ADAPTING TO what you do

The SAID principle hypothesizes that if you ski at Beaver Creek for a designated number of days, snow conditions, terrain and time period for which you take rest periods, you specifically adapt to those physical stressors placed on your body.

To be even more specific, skiing short laps on the moderate pitches at Vail, will not necessarily prepare you for longer sustained pitches on the Birds of Prey terrain or Grouse Mountain terrain at Beaver Creek, or the long pitches at the infamous Aspen Highlands Bowl. Regular Vail guys seem to have a perpetual spare tire around their waist from skiing the expert, ahem, flat terrain that persists. I’m partly kidding, don’t get heated.

In a typical season, if I ski three or four days per week, I adapt to skiing three or four days per week. This season, I’ve skied one or two days per week, and despite great gym fitness, I sometimes wake up sore the day after a hard session of hip swiveling.

This is precisely why triathletes must practice all three disciplines of the sport. If any aerobic activity improved all other aerobic activities, we would see triathletes perform the only activity they hated the least, and hope that the performance gained carried over to the other two activities. Not the case. Swimming doesn’t improve cycling, and cycling doesn’t improve running. Triathletes must train all three events if they ever care to be competitive.


What are the implications for fitness development with this information?

Well, Doris, there are two ways to skin this cat. Given the hard evidence for the SAID model, it is difficult to argue with the assertion to train generally, and practice specifically; it is very difficult if not impossible to precisely mimic the sporting activity in the gym, so stop wasting your time trying. The most efficient path to victory is to perform the very minimum effective execution of exercises, and spend your time and energy specifically playing whatever activity you’re trying to improve your fitness in. For me, I’m easy as I enjoy skiing, hunting and eating. As a three-activity individual, I don’t need to waste valuable energy trying to mimic these sports in the gym. I train the fundamental human movements: push, pull, squat, bend and a type of locomotion — walking, jumping or carrying heavy objects for distance. That’s it. This is an effective template that underscores simplicity.


The second way to go about this is to consider fitness programs such as Crossfit or P90X. In summary, these programs maintain that specificity is too narrow of a focus; broad general fitness in which trainees are exposed to a large variety of technical movements and exercises performed at a high intensity for short periods of time is the key to overall fitness development. Even though I see several issues with these programs, high intensity exercise regimens do have value for making sure all of your measurable fitness qualities are at least covered to a reasonable minimum.

So there you have it. Consider this valuable lesson on specificity today and keep logging the vertical if you want to have improved ski legs. By the way, Peregrine is longer and steeper than Highline; 2077 feet and 1657 respectively. Just sayin’.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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