The SAID Principle – (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand)




The SAID principle is one of the most important basic concepts in Sport science. It is an acronym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.

That sounds technical but it’s actually quite a common sense idea.

It means that when the body is placed under some form of stress, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at withstanding that specific form of stress in the future. Due to a thing called neuroplasticity, we are always training the nervous system in this way. Neurons are the most “plastic” of all our tissues. That means they are quick to change form and function in response to whats required, so you can think of it this way. If I decide to sit on the couch and watch TV a lot, my nervous system will adapt and get very good at that. This includes my motor neurons, sensory, neurons and my cognitive (thinking) neurons.

It means that if you want to get good at something, you have to practice it. For example, it is well understood now, that there is almost zero benefit for a soccer player to train on a bicycle. The movement patterns are so different, its basically a waste of time.

Most people have heard of cross training and yoga is a great cross trainer because it includes a diversity of movements and it is low impact. I find that for many sports yoga seems to help maintain a base readiness for action. A few years after I discovered yoga, I started to use yoga as a kind of “staying ready to surf ” training. I found that it kept things mobile and I found it easy to come back to good form even after a period away from surfing.

Here is the story of how I first learned about the SAID concept.

In the year 2001 I was doing Humanitarian Aid work in a post conflict zone in East Timor just North of Australia. It was a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to establish a “new democracy “ (the one that happened before Afghanistan). I took a break from my Remedial and Sports Therapy Practice in Sydney to be a volunteer, and ended up as project manager and stayed for 2 years. It was a time of stressful work and 80 hour weeks, and in hindsight, and one of the best things I have ever done.

I had a morning yoga routine going there and was teaching two classes a week to a group of mostly UN staffers. My morning routine was Ashtanga Yoga, (primary and second series) in the warm dawn hours before the sun got high and oppressed everything on the ground. But aside from the yoga I wasn’t doing any exercise or surfing so I wasn’t really fit, plus, I hadn’t really rebuilt strength after a round of Malaria.

Then out of the blue this invitation came. Old mates from Sydney had arranged a charter boat to the remote Mentawai Islands and some of the best surfing waves on the planet. They weren’t asking me to come along, they were telling me “You’re coming with us.” I complied pretty easily. I needed a break.

So this was where the yoga for sports idea started to sprout. I had only 4 weeks to get fit enough to face some serious waves. It would be powerful, hollow waves breaking over shallow, and very sharp coral reefs. I had explored that area before so I knew what to expect and that made me nervous. I hadn’t been on a surfboard for the last 8 months.

So I made a plan. I thought about what specific type of training I could do that would translate into surfing fitness. First I started to alter my morning yoga routine and incorporate every kind core strengthening that I could think of and repeating them several times. I invented some weird kind of oblique sit up. Then I started cycling 4 mornings a week out to the end of the bay. Once I got there I would decide whether to run or swim based on whether or not the tide was high enough to cover the coral or not.

The run was a short, intense route up to the Cristo Rea monument on the little peak. It was about 300 steps that gradually increased in its incline. The last section was a lung buster. The swim was out over a beautiful tropical reef behind the beach. I would alternate laps of the beach with small breath-hold dives.

I started feeling ready and by the time I was on the surf trip, I was up for anything. Apart from losing a bit of skin from each limb from scrapes against coral, it was an epic trip. By coincidence, our charter boat had been host to a group of famous pro surfers just before our group. One of them, was the 1999 world champion, Mark Occhilupo ( AKA Occy). Occy had left his training Manual behind on board by mistake. It was thick book of notes from his fitness trainer.

I dove into the training manual, curious to see what training tricks had brought Occy back from “washed-up-has-been” status to world champ. What I found was surprising and encouraging. Much of what I had been doing and making up in my yoga practice was really pretty close to his program. Lot’s of core strength and balance work.  He had more intense things like dynamic rotational medicine ball throws to build a more explosive twist but then he is pro.

The basic concept is pretty simple. First ask what can I do with the body that closely mimics the action required in that sport? What will build and/or maintain strength and neural motor control patterns for those actions? And then, what can I leave out that doesn’t provide any S.A.I.D. benefits and as such, will be a waste of time and energy?

And then it can go still further with questions like these:

What is required for the body to recover from the rigors of that sport? What would be good to do just before the event or game, which will be quite different to just after the event?


What could be done to get my head right?

This is where is started really putting together my Sports/Therapeutic training and my experience of Yoga. Since then I have expanded from surfing into several other fields, even Cricket. The bottom line is Yoga Practice for Yoga practice’s sake is one thing and Yoga for Sports, with a specific intention in mind is a different thing.


All the best,








Photo courtesy of Lance Slabbert


About Lynette Morris

Yoga teacher, blogger and organic addict

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