‘Specificity’ helps target particular goals
The other day, I was doing staff development training, and in the training component section “specificity” was a subject. One of its definitions is “the quality of being specific.” In my health and fitness world, that would translate into exercises which are specific to the goal you are trying to reach. For example, I have a YMCA member who asked me what they can do to improve their balance. You can do all kinds of strength exercises to make your legs and core stronger, but ultimately to get better in balance you have to perform balance exercises. That’s what we call specificity.
I was telling my class that for years I had the hardest time pronouncing this word. For foreigners, it isn’t an easy word to pronounce. But I kept practicing and now I can say it very well (might be spitting on some people in my vicinity). So, even with saying this word better I had to practice the actual word.
Here is something to think about: I want to run a 5K, what can I do? Correct! Run! There are all kinds of programs out there to help you reach that goal and of course, we have running groups at the YMCA. There are even free apps for your smart phone that will guide you from couch to 5k. To enhance any sport, you have to practice that sport, and cross training is very beneficial. If you run a lot, it is great to have some weight training in your program (could be body weight exercises such as push ups) and it is super important to add a flexibility component into your workouts. So, to become a better swimmer, you need to swim more. To get better at tennis, play tennis more. To improve your horseback riding skills, ride horses more. In any of these activities, you would have to do the specific act to improve. Specificity does not just translate to sports — how about rehab?
If you receive a new knee, they put you in “joint camp” at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center where they work very specifically on things you need to do to make your surgery successful. If you go home and stop doing the specific exercises your physical therapist instructed you to do, within a pretty short time, you will feel your range of motion in your knee joint disappear. Then, if you go back and tell your doctor, he or she will ask if you have been doing your physical therapy exercises.
We have to take ownership of our own health. Your doctor or physical therapist doesn’t give you “homework” just to aggravate you. They know that to make a surgery such as a joint replacement successful, you need to continue the exercises to get the full benefits.
This also applies to daily activities such as walking stairs. There are so many people who will not do stairs here because they can’t; in many cases they just don’t want to. I came from a country where your taxes are paid for the square footage that is touching the ground, so most houses have two and three floors with very steep staircases. My mom is an 80-year-old who has had two hip replacements (left and right), yet she still climbs two sets of stairs which are in her house.
There are many folks who are like my mom who still can do lots of things because they have not given up on them. All of these specific activities can be part of your workout. It kills me when someone comes in upset that they had to park so far away, but then they but hop on the treadmill to do their workout. Crazy, right?
However, there are times when just doing one specific thing will not target your goal. One of our No. 1 questions is “Where is the machine that makes my belly smaller?” If I want my belly smaller, all I need to do should be abdominal exercises right? That would be a specific exercise which targets that area. Doing abdominal exercises correctly will make your abdominals very strong, but if your eating habits do not change, you will get a “six pack” but it will be hiding beneath your keg! Stay active, stay determined and, as Nike says, “Just Do It”!
Ester H Marsh Heath and Fitness Director JF Hurley family YMCA
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