Strength Performance Network

The Relationship Between Overload and Specificity

Overload and Specificity are two of the building blocks of any effective strength and conditioning program. In simple terms Overload is an increase or change to the application of stress while Specificity is the applications and coordination of physical abilities to perform a specific sport task. The key to good program design is to understand the interplay between these principles.

Weight training is one of the best tools available to the strength coach when it comes to forcing adaptation. Lifting weights is an unbelievably efficient way to produce overload but is only specific for and will only have direct transfer to sport for weightlifters and power-lifters. If the sport you compete in involves running, jumping, kicking, throwing or catching you must understand that the vast majority of what might be considered “sport specific training” will occur during sport practice, not in the weight room.  This is due to the unfortunate fact that the more specific a training stimulus is, the less it can be overloaded. While we are well aware that Overload is what leads to adaptation; and Specificity is what leads to transfer of training; there are several reasons that the combination of the two often proves difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with use of any single means of training.

  • In order to illicit adaptations through training, demands must be placed on the body. These demands must require more of the athlete than he is presently capable of. If executed properly, this stress will cause the body to adapt to the new demands. However, if future adaptation is desired, a more strenuous or different demand must be put in place. Any one stimulus, no matter how specific it is, will eventually become ineffective. 


  • True sport specific actions tend to be violent in nature and are performed in unstable environments at high velocities. Very hard to program and control. Increasing the number of exposures to and/or adding load to already dangerous movements would seem to be an endeavor where the risk may outweigh the reward.


  • From a technical standpoint, performing a direct sport movement with too much additional load or fatigue due to volume of work will lead to changes in movement mechanics. Such alterations risk potentially altering rhythm and patterns which have been carefully developed over long periods of skill development.


The involved musculature, necessary rates of force production and energy system requirements of the competition sport are factors that should be present in all forms of training. Specificity beyond that must be included but only where appropriate.  It is the responsibility of the strength coach to select training means that can be aggressively overloaded in order to have the greatest impact on the trainable attributes associated with success in the main sport. At the same time, a well-designed training program will include more specific activities including sprint & C.O.D work, plyometrics and most importantly sport practice to allow for a seamless integration of enhanced physical capabilities into improvements in sport skill.  

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