SAID Principle

What Is The S.A.I.D. Principle?

What’s an effective workout?

Am I under-training or overtraining?

How will I know which program to go with?

How will I be certain it will work for me?

So many questions many you ask when you’re ready to start.

Well, it simply starts with you, your fitness level or even your genetics.

What is your log term goal when it comes to your fitness, health, or rather, your well being? (build muscle, build strength, get lean…)

Answer this and you can begin to build a training program for you. (you also need to consider your current health state… your injuries, sicknesses etc.)

Even though you may have your own set of motivations for doing specific training/workout routines, your body (mother nature) only knows one thing while you are doing this:


You’re training your body to do that specific exercise or activity.

In some cases, those learned activities can also carry over to a similar activity done in a similar way.

Ultimately, it’s our mind that controls and teaches our muscles to control the body.

You start by knowing your goals and focus.

Let’s discover what this is, the theory behind it and how you can utilize this scientific principle to fast track your training goals.

What is the SAID Principle?

… the most important rule of exercise and fitness science.

Firstly, “S.A.I.D.” is an acronym that stands for:

Specific Adaptation To Imposed Demands

This simply states that the way you train is the way you will perform.

This includes the angles at which you train, the muscle contractions you impose and the speed at which you train for a specific result.

Your training, then, needs to be in harmony with your desired outcome.

Strength Training Handstand Outside

A Simple Example Of A Specific Adaptation:

A simple example of the SAID principle in action can be seen by comparing the training of a sprinter with that of a marathon runner.

The sprinter will train with explosive plyometric exercises that are of short duration and doing this will simulate the actions his body goes through during the 10-20 seconds that he is actually performing a sprint.

As a result, he will improve his sprint performance.

The marathon runner, on the other hand, will focus on long distance endurance type training in order to build up his time and improve his cardiovascular response.

The majority of his training will be spent running long distances.

There would be little point to train at a 1600-meter distance.

Now, if you took the sprinter and placed him on the start line of a marathon, he would probably not perform well, just as the marathoner would more than likely be less than impressive as a 100-meter sprinter.

This is the main function of the SAID principle in action.

Complex Adaptations

Learning new motor skills. (Motor Units)

As your working out, not only are you training towards your physical goals but your brain structure also changes as a result.

For example, if you are practicing the guitar a few days a week, the section of your brain that controls hand coordination will grow.

Next thing you know, when you pick up that guitar, your brain will automatically tell your fingers what to do without any effort or thought.

Implications for Training

In order to be able to apply the SAID principle, you need to know what the end goal of your training is. Your root cause.

  • Do you want bigger muscles?
  • Is your goal to improve your vertical jump for basketball?
  • Are you set on smashing a baseball out of the stadium?
  • Do you want to build strength/power?

Until you identify what you are training for, you cannot select the exercises that will get you there.

Man hitting a tire with a sledge hammer SAID Principle

The SAID principle tells us that in order to achieve the greatest gains in our ability to perform a chosen task, most of our training time should be spent performing that task or tasks that are extremely similar to it.

That means that a swimmer is better off swimming than he is running on the treadmill. (In fact, a 1975 studyshowed that swimmers showed no improvement in VO2 max when running the treadmill.)

Another exercise, which at first glance looks like a great adjunct exercise, is sled dragging.

If you are using this exercise for fat burning, endurance training or improving your V02 max, it is a smart option.

But it’s not so good as a sprint training exercise. Your goal as a sprinter is to improve speed, yet sled dragging will slow you down.

It will also cause your dynamic movements to change; your normal sprint action will be altered.

When we apply the SAID principle we see that sled dragging will not enhance sprint performance.

If you are training in the gym for a sport, you obviously want the effort you expend there to pay off on the field.

Yet, the first word in the SAID principle is specific.

Unless your exercise mimics your sports performance exactly, there will be a drop off in effect.

According to Sports Scientist Matthew Wright, 100 hours of endurance running will produce a similar effect to just 10 hours of actual cycling training for a cyclist.

In other words, 90% of the effect will be wasted!

So, how does all of this actually affect your exercise choice?

Well, if you are a basketball player, the majority of your training time should be spent on the court.

When you train in the gym, you should concentrate on exercises that simulate as closely as possible the ways your body moves when it is on the court.

This may involve an emphasis on plyometric type movements, squat jumps, and explosive stop/start sprinting.

Discover how the SAID principles apply to your everyday life here:

Weight Training Applications

Anaerobic exercise, such as performing bodyweight or weight resistance exercise, produces specific adaptations in the body which are very different from the adaptations produced by aerobic exercise.

However, within the category of anaerobic training, there are specific ways to perform an exercise that will result in different outcomes.

If for example, you are training to increase the size of a muscle you will want to train it differently than the person who is training for maximum strength.

This is an area where a lot of guys get mixed up in the gym.

Simply put, they forget what their training goal is.

Often, those with the goal of building muscle get caught up in the obsession with lifting more and more weight, resulting with form break down.

The loss of form and the focus on weight is counterproductive to the muscle builder.

In order to produce a hypertrophic (muscle building) response, the weight needs to be controlled by the target muscle and the overload should not exceed 80% of the trainer’s one rep max.

The SAID Principle:

  1. Assures us that sloppy form and the obsession with weight will not get the desired results.
  2. Makes it clear that there is little carry-over benefit between a strength training lift and a skill on the sports field.

There will be some carryover but not as much as you might think.

Think of a football linebacker.

You might think that the best use of a linebacker’s training time would be on heavy lifting, such as the bench press and squat.

However, the SAID principle tells us just the opposite; the majority of his functional training should be spent in explosive activities on the field, not in the gym.

Of course, a football linebacker needs to be strong, so there is a need for exercises like the bench press.

But the bench press is not the same as a block on the field.

If he is following the SAID principle, the athlete will spend around 70% of his training time on the field, and just 30% in the gym.

Breaking Down The Stress – Being Smart

To get better at anything, just keep progressing the level of difficulty of each compound exercise without injury or too much fatigue.

Simple enough, but it can be hard to keep in practice.

We found that your performance tends to plateau when you keep training through a fatigued state.

You never seem to get that last rep or hold that position for those 5 more seconds.

Recovery is very important. It’s ok to train when you are sore/fatigued but when you are trying to break that plateau, the need to recover become important.

This brings up a stint with stretching before training also with regards to injury.

We mean passive stretching.

If you want to effectively prevent injuries on the football field do a warm up of specific skills to be used on the field – like bounding, sprinting and blocking. (The SAID principle in action)

The Real Workout Begins When You Want To Stop

The Best of Both Worlds:

Gym Machines?

Many skills that you perform on the field can be replicated in the gym, with the added bonus that you are able to add extra resistance.

We aren’t fans of the gym scene or machines to build true functional strength but we are talking about specific sports.

This mostly is for injury purposes.

So, the effect of a machine, is that you will be getting stronger in the specific range of motion that you use on the field.

Cables are an excellent means of facilitating this response.

Cable machines allow you to replicate many of the moves involved in a sport, including a golf swing, baseball strike or a boxing punch.

You can progressively increase your resistance over your injury training cycle using cables to simulate your sports action, without further injuring yourself.

Understanding The SAID Principle

This is the foundational principle of exercise programming.

It states that the body will specifically adapt to what is being asked of it.

It’s why Usain Bolt is very unlikely to win the Boston Marathon – he’s not trained to do so.

The SAID Principle, though simple, has profound effects on the way you train.

Here are the key take-home points and the breakdowns:

“S” – Specific: Know specifically what your training goal is.

  • If you are training for sport, spend as much time actually doing the skill as possible.
  • If you are training for a skill in the gym, choose exercises that simulate the movement as closely as possible.
  • If training for muscle size, don’t get obsessed with moving weight (a powerlifting outcome) but focus on muscle contraction

“A” – Adaptations: (Change) You simply need to adapt your body with the skill/stimulus you place on it.

  • As far as carryover, the closer the movement/exercise resembles the real thing (like climbing the side of a rocky mountain for rock climbing), the better the adaptation and results.
  • The stress you put on your body in a specific way to obtain the results of your goal. (a rock climber will have no benefit with doing sprints!)

“I” and “D” – Imposed Demands: Imposed Demands

  • Adding stress/resistance/weight/reps
  • You would need to max out your reps or create more time under tension to improve results. So, imposing demands on your body will yield your training goal results.


  • Strength: Target a specific type of strength training: speed/skill/flexibility
  • Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy): Considering your genetics also, for this to happen try adjusting your volume/sets/time under tension/resting periods/reps/variation of exercises.

Filling The Foundational Gaps With The SAID Principle

Your genetics wont always give you the advantages when it comes to your training. Building a strong foundation within your body will help structure your goals and help you figure out where to start.

This is where you find your weak points within your body.

If you haven’t trained or you’ve been sedentary person for awhile, then please start slowly.

First: Strengthen Your Soft Tissues & Tendons

Time to head back to the basics here. I mean real easy compound exercises to build strength in your joints and soft tissues. Perfecting this step will prevent injury.

You can’t just go balls to the wall and start doing burpees if you can’t even do a push up. You literally need to be fit in order to attempt a burpee.

Hell, you need to be fit enough to just go for a run.

Don’t wake up one day after year or more of never jogging or running… thats how injuries happen.

PROGRESSION is the key here.

Example: 2-3 Days per week until you can progress in your reps. This may take 1 month or 1 year!

(mix these up with 2 exercises per day) (with a 3 second count) (execute each rep slowly until you perfect the form)

  • 1 set of 10 wall push ups
  • 1 set of 10 shoulder-stand squats
  • 1 set of 10 short bridges
  • 1 set of 10 vertical pulls
  • 1 set of 10 knee tucks
  • 1 set of 10 wall handstands

(hold for 30 seconds and progress to 1 minute+)

Second: Function And Stability

Can your body get into the position you want to perform?

Remember your CNS (central nervous system) will not allow your body to move in positions if your aren’t stable and don’t have the functionality.

Third: Control Your Strength

Walking into a martial arts class, trying to kick as high and fast as you can would get you knocked on your a** in no time.

Training your body to move slowly and in control for your full range of motion is the safest way to kick faster and stronger.

It seems our muscle fibers love being in the “off” position.

So, when we’re ready to turn “on” our muscles, it takes a slow jump start. We figure out what our weak links are.

This goes for our joints with regards to positioning or even angles.

The best way to find these weaknesses is to go slowly (if you move to fast using momentum, you could bypass those weaknesses)

Rule of thumb for your fitness journey:

Master your exercises with perfect form, slowly.

Then use progressions to slowly build upon that strong foundation.

said principle rehabilitation Martial Arts Round House Kick

Do You Know What You Want When It Comes To Your Strength?

For us here at Strength Roots, we want to build a strong/solid foundation from within to prevent injury.

Thats it.

Thats why we advocate to start your training with the crazy easy basics and develop those connective tissues, soft tissues and joints to be Thor strong.

Basically your structural tissue, all your bones, tendons, fibers of your muscles etc. will become stronger.

Your nervous system will also begin to enhance in ability.

Your motor units With the basic 6 exercises above, make sure you master those to perfect form to build that solid foundation.

Once that happens, you will see your external activities and physique begin to change.

How do you apply the SAID principle in your training programs?

For example, how much of your training time do you spend on skills performance as opposed to auxiliary exercises?

OR how do you resist “training tangents” and stay on track becoming stronger in your field?

Let us know in the comments section below.


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