Two popular terms that people use to describe the action of going to the gym are working out and training. Let's take a look at how these terms are defined:
Working Out: Engaging in sessions of vigorous physical exercise.
Training: The action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event.
There is a clear difference between these terms and the main distinction is the desired outcome of the person when working out versus engaging in a train program. When you are working out, you are going to the gym and exerting yourself through various methods such as weight training or cardiovascular activity. You are at the gym, with a very general approach of getting into or staying in shape. There is nothing wrong with this approach at all, and the large majority of gym-goers falls into this category.
The other term we are discussing here is training. Training also involves going to the gym and exerting yourself as working out does, but the key distinction between the two is the end goal. Training is a course of action, an execution of a plan to create a desired outcome in an upcoming event or competition. When you are training, you are working towards a specific goal.
Now that we have these two terms defined, let's talk training. Training for a competition is a grueling journey. You will push yourself harder than ever before in order to beat your previous results or win your upcoming event. When training for a competition or event, you have a specific objective.
When working out, you are not required to do anything specific. You can and should vary your workouts and exercise selections to keep them fresh. When training for a competition, your workouts should be more and more specific.
The principle of specificity can be very simply defined -- "Specificity is the principle of training that states what you do in the gym should be relevant and appropriate to your desired outcome" (J. Angus). Train to prepare yourself for your competition.
With powerlifting you have the objective of one maximum rep on the squat, bench and deadlift. In bodybuilding you have the objective of bringing the most muscular, lean and symmetrical physique possible to the stage. In strongman, you are to maximize your strength and athleticism, while simultaneously improving your technique on the specific disciplines to be competed in.
These strength sports have very specific demands. A powerlifter should not be doing sets of 20 reps 2-weeks out of a meet. A bodybuilder has no use for a one rep max bench press the week of his show. A strongman shouldn't waste his time doing endless sets of seated calf raises. These statements all seem very obvious when you put them under the scope of the principle of specificity. The closer you get to a competition, the less general your training should be and the more specific it needs to be.
By training using the principle of specificity, you are setting yourself up to perform your best in your upcoming contest. If you are getting ready for a strongman show and are trying to pack on some weight so you are your biggest and strongest on the day of the contest, you are going to have to eat more calories. You may not have your best looking physique on gameday, but who cares? You are not competing in bodybuilding. You are competing in strongman. Your goal is to win the competition.
In bodybuilding, training doesn't need to change much as a competition approaches. Diet is the biggest factor in getting yourself stage ready. In strongman and powerlifting, training does change -- it gets more specific! Here is an example of how training might change for a powerlifter over the course of meet preparation:
High Bar Squat w/ a Belt: 5 x 5 with 75%
Front Squat: 3 x 8
Sled Drags: 4 x 30 yards
Leg Press: 3 x 20
Leg Curls: 4 x 10
Weighted Sit-Ups: 3 x 15
Competition Squat w/ Belt & Knee Wraps: 2 x 1 with 92%
Paused Competition Squat: 2 x 3
Hamstring Curls: 3 x 6
Weighted Sit-Ups: 3 x 8
As you can see, there are a few changes that are taking place as the lifter progresses towards the meet. 3 months out, the lifter is focusing on building a solid strength base and developing the muscle mass necessary to lift more weight down the road. As the contest approaches, the plan gets more and more focused on peaking the strength built earlier in the training plan. It gets more targeted towards completing a one rep max squat -- the goal of powerlifting competition. The intensity (% of max weight) increases, the volume (number of sets and reps) decreases, the variation from the competition lift decreases and the number of accessories decreases. The workout gets more SPECIFIC!
It doesn't matter what a bodybuilder can deadlift and it doesn't matter if a powerlifter has abs. Sure, we all want to be well rounded, but when entering into a phase of 3-4 months out of a competition, keep in mind the principle of specificity when constructing your training and diet plan. It will help you focus your workouts to align with your goals and bring about competition success.
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