Specific fitness involves focusing the fitness goals of an athlete to meet the specific need of an activity. The term is most common when referring to athletes who play a particular sport; the athletes identify the specific physical requirements of that sport and then target exercises that will increase their fitness in those areas. An awareness of these goals can help athletes excel in their chosen sports because it directly connects their workouts to their performance in their sport. It also can have some drawbacks when athletes become too focused on specific fitness at the expense of overall fitness.
The first step an athlete must take before undertaking specific fitness training is to identify the needs of his or her sport or activity. These needs can vary tremendously between different sports and thus will call for different workouts. A cyclist, for instance, will focus on exercises that increase lower body strength and cardiovascular endurance, and a baseball player might focus primarily on upper body strength and pay little attention to cardiovascular fitness. After determining the fitness needs of a chosen activity, the athlete then formulates a workout that will prioritize those benefits over other areas of fitness.
The primary benefit of this sport-specific fitness technique is that the athlete wastes little energy building fitness levels in areas that are not directly beneficial to his or her sport. A body builder, for instance, will not spend time going for extended runs because doing so would drain energy that he or she would be better off dedicating to lifting weights. Similarly, a marathon runner will not choose to lift weights, because this would take time away from more important aerobic exercises and would increase muscle mass, thus slowing down the runner.
As useful as sport-specific fitness can be in maximizing an athlete's performance at a given task, there can be some negative consequences if an athlete does not maintain an awareness of his or her overall fitness. First, most sports require a variety of skills, so getting too focused on one area of fitness can limit the athlete's versatility within his or her sport. A baseball player who works only on upper body strength for the sake of his batting, for instance, will end up lacking the explosive lower body strength necessary to be an effective baserunner.
Another problem that can arise as a result of sport- or task-oriented fitness is that the athlete can create unnatural imbalances in his or her fitness that can eventually have health repercussions. A powerlifter who performs lifts that build up the leg, back and arm muscles necessary to perform his lifts, for instance, can eventually develop back problems because of underdeveloped abdominal muscles.
It also is important for athletes to remember that achieving their specific fitness goals usually will require some degree of overall fitness. For instance, a bodybuilder might think that the best way to build muscle mass is to perform bodybuilding-specific exercises exclusively. However, incorporating some strength-building exercises will enable him or her to lift more weight when returning to the bodybuilding lifts, thus increasing the benefit. A workout that is too targeted can, over time, actually be detrimental to an athlete's performance.