• Jon Reid

SAID: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands

The SAID principle is one of the most commonly referred to principles when creating training programs. SAID stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands and basically means that the changes, or adaptations, your body makes in response to training are specific to the stress, or stimulus, to which it is exposed.

In other words, the neural, structural and functional changes your body makes are directly related to the type of activity you partake in.

Practical Terms

Going for a 5km run will improve your cardiovascular endurance but it won't improve your ability to play the ukulele.

Just as playing the ukulele will make you better at playing the ukulele but won't make your lower body muscles grow.

Heavy overhead presses will improve your upper body strength but not your archery skills and cycling on a bike will improve your chances of winning the Tour de France but will not make you a better swimmer.

Pretty Simple?

At it's simplest, SAID does seem like a fairly straightforward concept. After all, most people training for a 5km foot race aren't getting their running kit on and then sitting the down with their ukulele.

However, when we delve a little deeper we see that there is a little more to the SAID principle. Let's use the 5km runner as an example...

The goal is to get as fast a 5km running time as possible...

You might think going for a 20km run is going to help improve your 5km time. After all, it'll improve your cardio and if you can run twenty kilometres, surely five will be a breeze...

However, because the body adapts specifically to the imposed demands, the 20km run might not help as much as you’d think, certainly not to the point where long runs should be the focus of your training plan.

The duration and intensity (imposed demand) of a 20km run is quite different (longer and slower) to that of a 5km run...

Basic Principles of Training

The duration and intensity of your training is crucial to how your body responds adapts.

In this 5km running scenario the body will adapt by improving its functioning during prolonged low-intensity running, but these adaptations won't help you out much in the shorter and more intense 5km race.

Basically, your body will be unaccustomed to — and won't have adapted specifically to — the demands of the faster 5km pace.

So my 20km run was a waste of time?

No, the changes your body made after the 20km will still be of benefit; your general cardiovascular health will have improved and you will have laid a base of aerobic fitness upon which you can build more task-specific endurance.

So, the 20km run wasn't a waste of time, it's just that (assuming you have a base of general aerobic fitness) you could make better use of your time and elicit adaptations more specific to your 5km training goal by training at an intensity that more closely matches that of a 5km race.

It's All About Improving

Ultimately, what matters is that you are improving your performance at your chosen activity. The training world is filled with different thoughts and theories; there is no single established way of applying the SAID principle to performance improvement.

Individual variance in anatomy, biomechanics, physiology and personality mean different people will respond to different methods.

That may seem like a cop out, but it basically just means there are loads of different methods that will improve performance for a given activity and that, within reason, there aren't really absolute right or wrong training methods...

So how do I improve my performance?

This depends on the demands of your activity and your specific goal. Applying the SAID principle is easier in some situations than others.

Low Skill

If there is either no (or a low) skill element to your activity then applying the SAID principle is simpler.

For example, if you want bigger biceps then you'll need to stimulate your biceps to grow by placing them under stress. So, do a variety of exercises that work your biceps and the specific adaptation will be bigger biceps. Fairly straight forward.

High Skill

If you are training for a skill-based sport then strength and conditioning sessions should aim to develop physical qualities that transfer to sporting performance.

For example, we know that nothing you do in the gym will make you a more skilled tennis player, the best way to improve your tennis skill is to play tennis.

However, there is a physical element to the sport of tennis; strength, speed and power are required to hit the ball, change direction, accelerate and move around the court.

All else being equal, the quicker and more powerful tennis player is the better player.

Dedicated strength and conditioning sessions can improve the strength, power and speed of the muscle groups and movement patterns involved in tennis, thus gym training can help you become a better tennis player.

What Exercises Should I do to Improve my Sports Performance?

How best to improve your strength and power for tennis, or any sport, is a topic of much debate and is where the art and science of creating training programs comes in to play.

By understanding the SAID principle you can ask yourself questions that will help draw out the information required to design a program…

What specific adaptations am I seeking? Do I need bigger biceps? Whole body strength and power? Lower body endurance? The answer will steer you towards smart exercise selections and a good training program that improves your physical qualities in accordance with the specific demands of your sport.

Does the SAID principle apply if I just want to burn fat and build lean muscle?

Yes, because your body will still adapt specifically to the imposed demands.

The idea behind fat burning and building muscle is ramping up metabolism and stimulating muscle tissue to grow.

This can only be achieved if the demands imposed are going to elicit these specific responses.

That's why some exercises and training structures are better than others for burning fat and building muscle.


Hopefully not! But, if you are, just ask yourself: what adaptation am I seeking?

Want to better at a skill? Whether it be tennis, juggling or violin you need to practice the skill to get better at it.

Want to use strength and conditioning sessions to improve your sports performance? Ask yourself what specific physical adaptation (leg strength, running speed, punching power etc.) you are seeking and this will show you the way.

Want to burn fat? This is still an adaptation, choose movements and styles of training that will elicit the necessary adaptations.


Understanding the SAID principle keeps your training specific to, and effective for, your goal. By inadvertently ignoring the SAID principle, people will often think they are training effectively towards their goal when they are actually either not improving or, worse, moving further away from what they want to achieve.

Keep it simple: ask yourself what adaptation you want from your body and then take it from there.

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