Times have changed since Bannister wrote this, and what Newton foresaw more than half a century ago has materialized. (Today, of course, the top runners are professional in everything but name.)
For those of us whose talents are not in running and who will never break into the professional ranks, I like to think that this rule stresses the importance of specific training. For we now appreciate that training is absolutely specific and that we are fit only for what we train.
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Most runners will have already experienced this. They will know that although they can run effortlessly for hours, they are quite unable to swim comfortably for even a few minutes. The reason for this is that running and swimming train different muscle groups. When the runner exercises his or her untrained upper body in swimming, for example, the body responds as if it were essentially untrained.
This distinction may be even more subtle within an activity. Beginning runners frequently find hill running difficult. This is because uphill running stresses, in particular, the quadriceps (Costill et al, 1974)a muscle that is much less important during running on the flat and is therefore undertrained in persons who run exclusively on the flat.
Training specificity also involves training speed, hot-weather training, and altitude acclimatization. As discussed in post 1, the speed or intensity of training determines which muscle fibers will be active in the particular muscle groups that are being exercised. So, if you train only at slow speeds and then race at a faster pace, you may utilize muscle fibers during the race that are relatively untrained. Similarly, to race effectively in the heat or at altitude, you need to train under those specific conditions (see posts 4 and 18).
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