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The sports training principle known as Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) means that your muscles, tendons, and nervous system will respond to the specific demands imposed upon them. They will respond to a given demand, whether biomechanical or neurological, with a specific, predictable adaptation. In other words, your muscles, tendons, and nervous system will grow and develop based on the way you exercise them.

If you train by lifting weights very slowly, you will not do much to improve actions that require you to move quickly, such as, golf, tennis, basketball, or martial arts. Running for endurance causes the body to adapt by making fast-twitch muscle fibers to change into slow-twitch ones. Training slowly may prevent you from moving as fast as you could before the training. If your desired activity requires speed or quickness, you must train for speed and quickness.

In 1958, Berkeley Professor of Physical Education Franklin M. Henry proposed the "Specificity Hypothesis of Motor Learning". He proposed the following progression to be used in physical endeavors:
  • Start with basic and/or simple then move to the advanced and/or complex.
  • Move from slow to fast.
  • Use low force to high force
  • Move from short distance to long-distance.
  • Move bilaterally to unilaterally
  • Gradually start overloading. 
The SAID principle applies not only to learning new motor skills but relearning ones that may have been lost through illness or injury. For this reason, the principle is used extensively in the field of physical rehabilitation, where specific exercises are used to involve certain muscles or muscle groups.

Which exercises are better or worse for martial artists?

The muscles used to move a checker on a checkerboard are like those used to move a piece on a chessboard. But, while playing checkers may make you adept at moving playing pieces, it will do little toward making you a better chess player. Likewise, while weightlifting may build the muscles need to lift the weights, but it does little toward bettering your martial arts skills.
Another example involves training in sports that require conditioning in vastly different areas of aerobic and resistance training. A bodybuilder can play a game of football and look convincing as a football player, but his strength will be of little use because the training demands imposed by football are different than those of weightlifting.

Heavy squats will build great lower body strength; however, you will not necessarily see your vertical jump height increase proportional to the increase in your squatting weight. To improve your jumping height, practice plyometric jumping drills.

Even though your arms move like a punch when you are performing a bench press, heavy bench pressing will not make you punch much harder or faster unless you also practicing punching drills. Since martial arts require twisting and moving in more than one plane of action, you need to train using twisting in all three planes of movement. Multi-planar exercises are more complex and are more difficult to perform properly so most people need to be taught how to perform these exercises correctly. One plus is that they usually require less equipment.

Heavy slow lifting may be great for hypertrophy (making muscles grow); however, it will not help to give you the explosive power you need for the martial arts. Training for strength in a way you are not going to use the strength can be detrimental because you may develop more strength than your body can safely control. This is one reason why athletes are always injuring their hamstrings. They train to go forward or up, but they do not train to decelerate or stop.

In the past, warriors trained to fight by fighting. One may increase are strength by swinging a sword faster. Acceleration requires force. Greater acceleration requires greater force. Therefore, by swinging a weapon faster, the muscles the warrior used to swing the weapon became stronger, even though the weight of the weapon did not increase.

Muscles can only contract from their attachment points towards the center; they do not contract toward either side. SAID works because, although muscles can only do one thing—contract. Other factors that help determine what the result of a given muscle’s contraction will be:
  • Speed of contraction. Strength of assisting, stabilizing, and opposing muscles.
  • Other muscles. Length, range of motion and elasticity of assisting, stabilizing, and opposing muscles.
  • Core stability. Stability of the legs.
  • Timing. The ability of all the muscles involved to fire in the proper sequence and with the proper force for the proper length of time.
  • Ability to stop an action. Confidence in the ability to not get hurt by being able to stop or reverse any action at the proper time.

Bottom line

Train in your sport! To improve the strength and quickness of your martial arts techniques and skills, perform the individual techniques and skills every day, constantly doing them faster and increasing the number of repetitions. Cross-training can train different muscle groups and skills, it may help prevent training boredom, and it may even be a relaxing break from your regular training, but it will do little to improve the skills that you need in your martial art.

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