The SAID Principle: the most important concept in training

If you take your training seriously you need to understand the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. This means that how you train has a direct impact on your results. You get out what you put in. The stimulus you provide creates the adaptation. It isn't just limited to the gym though. The SAID principle applies to all aspects of your physical life, including what you do in the remaining 23hrs of the day spent outside the gym.

Let's talk about what it is, how it affects your training and how you can take advantage of it to maximize your performance.

Muscle, unlike fat, is highly metabolic. That means it takes a lot of energy to operate. Another way to look at is it that it is expensive. It costs a lot of energy to keep around. This is essentially why muscles atrophy (i.e. shrink) so fast. If your body doesn't need to use the muscle it might as well get rid of it. Why continue to spend money on something we never use? This is still a Specific Adaptation, but the Imposed Demand is a sedentary lifestyle and hours of inactivity. Use It or Lose It.

Police Fitness exercise deadlift

The problem with these adaptations is that they are short-term thinking, for that sake of short-term survival. Your body isn't thinking "I shouldn't put on any more fat because that can lead to heart disease and I might have a heart attack", instead it is thinking "YES. CALORIES. I CAN SURVIVE ANOTHER WEEK." This is what would keep us alive if we weren't able to find food for a couple days or weeks in years past.


What SAID means to your PERFORMANCE?:

You can't undo 23 hrs by training 1 hr a day. If you want to improve your performance you need to change your lifestyle. Need to shed some pounds before your test? You have to change the things that got you there (overeating, sedentary lifestyles, poor sleep habits, etc.). Instead, start treating yourself like an athlete (which you are). Go for walks, take the stairs, train hard and recover harder. Prioritize the machine at your disposal (i.e. your body).

What SAID means to your TRAINING:

It is not rocket science, but understanding the specific demands of your goals will shape your training program. If we take the POPAT, for instance, you need to be a well-rounded athlete to have a competitive time. You need to be strong enough to conquer the Push/Pull machine, mat jump, stairs and the vault. At the same time, you need to be agile and conditioned enough to navigate the obstacle course and not burn out before the last lap.

How you choose to train matters. Remember, the body is lazy. It does not want to do any more than necessary and only wants to get good at the things it needs to be good it. When this comes to training, you need to take a targeted and intelligent approach.

Conditioning: Training for a marathon? Then you need to put in some longer duration work, for sure. Training for the POPAT or PARE? Most of your training should then reflect the sub 5 minute time-cap. Too often, I see police candidates (regardless of RCMP or municipal forces) training for the POPAT, PARE and SOPAT but running 10km. While this definitely FEELS like you are putting in the work, you are missing the mark. You are simply building the wrong energy system (a complex topic that we will not dive into here, but if you want more information check out the Leo Fitness article series on Energy Systems and How to Train Them). There is benefit to running longer distances occasionally (once per week or so), but if it gets in the way of higher pay off training such as 4/-5 minute higher intensity intervals you are missing out.

Strength: having a well-rounded, progressive strength program is ESSENTIAL. Your body needs to be strong in every direction and every movement. The best way, by far, I have found to do that is a program based on the 7 Primal Movements. Again, this is an extensive topic, but we will cover the basics below (if you are interested in a deeper dive, check out the 7 Primal Movements post here). In its’ simplest form, my strength programs include 1 of each of the following during a workout

  1. Upper Body Press/Push (e.g. Cable Press)

  2. Upper Body Pull (e.g. Suspension Row)

  3. Hinge (e.g. Kettlebell Swing)

  4. Lunge (e.g. Split Squat)

  5. Squat (e.g. Goblet Squat)

  6. Anit-Rotation for core strength (e.g. Pallof Press)

  7. Carry/Gait movement (e.g. Skipping)

If you make a conscious effort to include each of these in your strength training sessions you will be well on your way to adding the demands you need to adapt to in order to meet your fitness goals.

So what? If you perform a conventional deadlift, obviously you will get better at a conventional deadlift. Well, it turns out doing that is going to increase your leg strength and definitely make you stronger, faster, and more injury proof. This is called a carry-over effect. At first, this seems to contradict the Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands principle. However, this is a great example that SUPPORTS the SAID principle instead. The Deadlift is a hip-dominant movement (i.e. it targets the muscles around your hips, instead of your knees or back) and makes them stronger at what they do. In this case, these muscles extend and stabilize your hips during movement. It turns out, these same muscles are HIGHLY involved with running (hamstrings and glutes). By strengthening those muscles (and the other muscles of the posterior chain) using a deadlift or another hinge movement (such as a kettlebell swing) we can expect to see a carry-over effect to running because the DEMANDS of running are essentially the same as deadlifting (which may be hard to wrap your head around at first).

The importance of VARIATION: 

Ok, I get. Deadlifts are good. Strength training is good. BUT... (a big but) if you only ever do the same style of deadlift you are leaving performance on the table. You need to add variety to your training to experience other training adaptations. Deadlift sumo, conventional, Romanian, from blocks, from a deficit, at tempo, low reps, high reps.... variation is the king. That being said, there is no need to change your training session every day. Take time on each variety and gain strength. Using other variations will help you maintain your strength (your brain still thinks you need it!). On average, I will change 1 or 2 lifts per week for my Law Enforcement clients. It is enough variety to fool the brain and keep the training session more exciting, but still enough structure to make strength gains.

There is also something to be said for getting better at a single movement and maximizing your strength there. If you are new to strength training it is likely not worth changing your session every week. Spend a couple weeks on the same routine. Once you find you have plateaued, or even if you are just bored, it is time to change it up.

POPAT Ready Training Program

Step-by-step approach to Police Fitness Training in preparing for the Police Officers’ Physical Abilities Test (POPAT).

This program integrates highly effect strength and cardio exercises in order to prepare candidates for a fast, competitive POPAT performance in the least amount of time possible. Includes a 16-Week Bonus training protocol for candidates starting from scratch.

What ‘SAID’ means for INJURIES:

Injuries are the result of exceeding our capacities to adapt. This can be in an acute scenario (e.g. spraining an ankle, or breaking a leg), or an overuse injury (e.g. stress fracture after running too much). Most injuries tend to fall into the overuse categories. We would classify these as CHRONIC Injuries, where they persist for weeks to months and often do not have a known "Mechanism of Injury". In other words, there wasn't a specific event that caused the injury. (The opposite of that is known as an ACUTE Injury, which would be the ankle sprain example).

When you are starting your training, your body is constantly trying to adapt to the new demands you are placing on it. If you over-work yourself and push yourself beyond your ability to adapt, that is when your injuries happen. Every time we train we break out body down. Strength training stresses our muscles and joints, as does conditioning exercises. These stresses though are a GOOD thing. They are the signals that tell our body to put on muscle, or thicken our bones. However, in order to adapt we need to be able to recover. Otherwise we will never be able to handle the demands.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS? Make sure your nutrition, recovery, and sleep are on point.

At the end of the day, getting in the gym and putting in the work is the most important part of training, but how you live the rest of your life is going to make the long-term difference. Your body adapts to the stimuli you provide it with. Make sure it is a positive one. Start by making a better decision 51%+ of the time. Take the stairs 6 times out of 10. Choose the salad 6 out of 10 meals. Take a walking lunch 3 of 5 work days. Majority rules.

Law Enforcement candidate and not sure where to start? Check out the Leo Fitness POPAT training program.


- Mark Murdoch

B.Kin, Chiropractic Student

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POPAT Ready Training Program

Step-by-step approach to Police Fitness Training in preparing for the Police Officers’ Physical Abilities Test (POPAT).

This program integrates highly effect strength and cardio exercises in order to prepare candidates for a fast, competitive POPAT performance in the least amount of time possible. Includes a 16-Week Bonus training protocol for candidates starting from scratch.

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Author: Mark Murdoch, Kinesiologist, Chiropractic Student. Have questions? Email me. I want to help!