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The specificity of training principle states that in order to improve physical performance of a particular skill, the body must be trained for that activity. This applies to the particular muscle group, movement pattern, and type of muscle contraction. This principle is widely used in the athletic population with weight training programs. Athletes train very specifically to their physical event, varying the amount of resistance, speed, and movement pattern that their muscles must perform to best enhance the sport activity.

This principle should also be applied in physical and occupational therapy, to help individuals gain the best movement performance of the body for work and every day activities, following injury. We call this “Functional Strength Training.” Functional strength training allows muscles to improve strength, endurance, and coordination for daily use.

Goals of the Functional Strength Training Program Include:

1. Increase in lifting tolerance and capacity
2. Practice of safe lifting and bending techniques
3. Generalized conditioning to enable use of spine for functional movements
4. Increased confidence in activities that have previously been avoided
5. Determination of safe lifting capacities

Many individuals that are recovering from an injury will have better success in functional training programs after building specific muscle strength in an isolated environment, such as MedX strengthening, floor exercise, or isometrics. Once the body has learned how to recruit the proper stabilizers, it is important to progress the program into functional training to allow the spine to be trained for daily use.

Functional strength programs are best prescribed by a physical or occupational therapist, who can evaluate the person’s activity demands upon the spine, set starting weight parameters, and safe goals. The program may entail doing repetitive lifting, carrying, balance, and coordination type activities and involve a progression from lighter to heavier weights, longer endurance, or more difficult movement tasks.