Generalists and Specialists

Generalists and Specialists


With regard to fitness or training, most people enjoy being a specialist. Enjoying a sport, becoming a runner, pursuing strength, hand balancing, attending yoga. Participate in any of these activities on there own and you are, most likely, a specialist.

Other side of the coin there are generalists. Those that work to be good at many different and contrasting pursuits. Crossfit is probably the best example of this. I’m my opinion, elite Crossfit competitors are fittest on earth. They can run a Marathon while being able to weight lift competitive, walk on their hands and use gymnastic rings. Crossfit is not your only option here, there are as many different variations on being a generalist as you can imagine. A ballet dancer who also loves long distance running. A hand balancer that also loves Olympic weightlifting. A bodybuilder that also loves flexibility and aerial tricking.


Generalists tend to have health-related or wide-ranging performance related goals. There is a cost it being a generalist – it will take longer to develop the attributes you are training. Depending on your starting point and time you have to invest, you may never develop some of the harder movements or high skill attributes of the things you train.


Specialists tend to have skill or movement specific goals. There is a cost to being specialist – attributes that you are not training will deteriorate. Possibly costing you with regard to health. You don’t train cardio? – your respiratory system may be suboptimal, don’t train mobility? – your muscular-skeletal system may be compromised.

What if you’d like to be a generalist, cause you want it all and you want it now (let’s be honest, who doesn’t), but you are not progressing towards your high skill goals (such as handstand)?

Consider becoming a short-term specialist.

Short term specialist

For most of us average people, focusing on a particular skill for 6 – 18 months in order to learn the skill and develop the attributes needed is required. This comes at a short-term cost that can be rectified later.

When I learned to balance a handstand I eventually had to dedicate all my training time (about 1.5 hours a day) to mobility and handstanding. Due to my starting point, i had to keep this focus up for a little over a year. Over this time I lost about 7 kg of muscle and my strength (other than handstanding specific) dropped considerably. My cardo dropped to worse than terrible. That was the cost for me to achieve 1-minute freestanding handstand, a full pancake and a foundation to learn a press handstand from.

Over the following year, I worked hard to put the lost muscle mass back on and bring my overall fitness back to where it was. Except I now had a freestanding handstand to use in my training which ‘opens doors’ to many previously unattainable movements.

This approach is needed for most people that want to achieve hard movements. A period of focus followed by a period of reconsolidation.

The wrap-up

Most importantly, enjoy your training or practice whether generalist or specialist. Do what you enjoy, work towards your own goals and seek advice from those that have been there before.

There is nothing wrong with training towards the goals you have. As the years go by your goals will change and so too will your training. Whether you practice as a generalist or special, enjoy where you are at now and be ready to embrace change as the years and decades go by.

See you in class,


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One response to “Generalists and Specialists”

  1. Alan Yost says:

    Inspiring as always thanks Mat.

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