Simulation vs. Specificity


Simulation and specificity are two concepts that can easily be confused with one another. Simulation is the act of performing an event in it’s entirety or a segment of the event during training. Specificity is choosing exercises that aim to train the energy systems that closely resemble the metabolic and nervous system demands that an athlete would encounter during competition.

When planning your training, it is important to distinguish between the two concepts and to use them properly.

Simulation could be a shot putter throwing a lighter or heavier shot, a pitcher throwing a weighted baseball, or a golfer trying to improve swing power on a cable machine. Specificity, on the other hand, could be considered a sprinter performing power cleans or a soccer player performing repeat sprints.

While specificity and simulation can potentially cross over – a 100m runner performing sprints or a weightlifter performing the snatch and clean & jerk, it is important to remember that you can also improve at your sport by performing movements that don’t necessarily mimic the sport.

One common mistake is to design training methods which look like the event itself, but neglect to meet the exact energetic, metabolic, and nervous system requirements.

A weightlifter could oftentimes sprint (10-15m) or perform a variety of plyos. Neither of which are directly simulating the weightlifting movements, but the demands on the body are closely related – exerting a large amount of force over a short period of time. “Just because an exercise looks like the event doesn’t make it effective. Likewise, just because an exercise doesn’t look like the event, doesn’t make it ineffective.” Using different exercises while maintaining specificity can also aid in reducing overuse injuries and maintaining freshness in training.

There does need to be a focus on simulation as you get close to the event (especially if you’re a sport coach that doubles as the team’s strength & conditioning coach), but don’t get too caught up in what looks like the sporting movement and what doesn’t. Worry about energy system demands and how you can closely relate that to your training.

Brunner, Rick. Tabachnik Ph.D, Ben. Soviet Training & Recovery Methods. Sport Focus Publishing. 1990. pg 47

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace


Performance Coach | @ChicagoFire | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.
@MattSiniscalchi Possibly, but that’s a problem. This would lead you to believe that all stiffness jumps, regardles… - 5 days ago