Training Principles

There are different versions of general training principles that are frequently taught. Perhaps you have heard the acronym SPORT (Specificity, Progression, Overload, Reversibility, and Tedium) to cover the basic training principles.

In this post I am going to briefly cover the following training principles:

  • Specificity
  • Overload
  • Individuality
  • Moderation
  • Reversibility

If you have studied any sport or exercise science then you have likely heard of them. In fact, these are some of the training principles I will cover when teaching my first-year students. They are simple, yet have depth in application to programming from daily training through to fully periodised plans.


  • Adaptations are specific, thus training must be specific
  • In order for a stress to be applied, the magnitude of the training stimulus must grow
  • The client is key, training needs to suit an individuals background and needs
  • The optimal amount of stress should be applied, not too much, not too little
Competing at Whanganui Olympic Weightlifting in 2017


In my opinion, this is perhaps the most important principle. There is no point training in a manner that is counterproductive to your goals. If you want to have the biggest squat in the world, then you should often perform squats – movement specificity, and these squats should be heavy – load specificity. Going out for 30km runs, or even performing light weight squats for high repetitions, won’t achieve that objective.

Specificity of training ensures you stress the system in a manner that produces adaptations that align with your goals. The body doesn’t adapt at random, but rather specifically to the stress applied.


The principle of overload dictates that we must apply a greater stress than the system can handle. No stress = no adaptation (as discussed in the previous post). Essentially, as the body adapts, we must add a greater training stimulus – or training load – if we are to stress it. This principle is sometimes referred to as progressive overload, because the greater training load is progressively added over time.

In resistance training, this could be a greater weight, an increased number of sets or reps, or even reducing rest periods between sets. Further to intra-workout rest periods, if we decrease the time between training sessions (increase our workout frequency) then again we increase stress – this time within a given week.

Likewise, in training to enhance metabolic conditioning this could be faster movement (e.g. speeds when rowing/running, power output on the cycle), longer distances covered or duration of exercise, or reduced rest periods – both between intervals in a single session or through increased training frequency in a given week.


This concept covers a multitude of factors, but essentially it means training should take into account the needs of that client. Factors such as an individual’s specific goals, training history, movement capabilities, injuries, etc.

On top of factors such as those mentioned above, individuals may respond differently to similar training. So even the way an individual responds to training volume, intensity, or exercise selection may differ. This is why a program written by a capable coach should always trump progress made on cookie-cutter programs – because that coach can ensure an individualised approach and make intelligent modifications throughout a training plan.

Being coached by Chris Gibbs – Photo credit to 41 Degrees Weightlifting Club

Moderation & Reversibility

I write about these two principles together because they go hand in hand. Moderation refers to doing enough to progress, but not so much that you push the system past its breaking point. While reversibility refers to the fact that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Moderation is a hard pill to swallow for many athletes – often thinking more is better. However, in reality, sometimes less is more. Stress is only one part of the equation, the other is recovery. If we consistently stress the system then we don’t get a chance to recover. We must carefully balance these two factors.

Reversibility shouldn’t be an issue for most athletes or clients who are serious about their training. The odd week away from training won’t destroy your gains (in fact, it may be good for you), although several weeks without any training could have a negative impact. The application of this principle should be in finding ways to get some type of training in during extended periods of time where regular training is not possible – such as injury or travel.

Concluding Remarks

The above principles should always be in the mind of a strength and conditioning coach. Whether planning a single day, or an entire year, they should guide the process so that athletes continually improve.

In my next post, we will take a look at longer-term approaches to training. I want to consider some of the ways these may differ with athletes who are of different ages – both chronological age and training age

As always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to ask me below. Alternatively feel free to leave a comment for me on Instagram or Facebook!

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