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  • Writer's pictureJayaram Krishnan

The PO and SAID principles for all individual and organizational progress

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

In this article, we discuss how two fundamental principles of capacity growth, widely applied to many areas of physical fitness training, can be applied to many other kinds of goal pursuit as well.

The two principles, known respectively as Progressive Overload (abbreviated here to PO) and Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID) are integral to strength based activities such as athletics, gymnastics, calisthenics, power-lifting, weightlifting and bodybuilding. For that matter, they are also applied in some form or the other in all areas requiring muscle memory, such as skill based sports, dance or music.

However, in this article, we explore how PO and SAID can be applied to achieving goals in areas of individual aspiration such as academics, professional growth, entrepreneurship, personal life and personal milestones as well as areas of organizational goals such as business growth, geographical expansion, product and service quality enhancement, team and leadership building, strategic diversification, and so on.

Of course, to effectively apply PO and SAID to goal achievement, we must have a clear idea about our goals. So if you haven’t already read our previous posts, do read about how to identify our goals and how to correctly assess our current levels before we start working towards our goals

So what are these two principles, and how do they work? They work on the basic premise that the human being is a living, organic creation who can grow and transform, if given the correct stimulus. What happens if we take a 10KW (Kilowatt power rating) machine, and run it at 9KW load? It should perform well. What if we gradually increase the load to 10KW? The machine reaches its maximum capacity. Now, what happens if we gradually increase the load further, to say 12KW and higher? The machine eventually fails and burns out. That is because it is a nonliving, inorganic object which cannot grow. On the other hand, if a human being is able to produce “10KW of power output” in a particular physical activity and we gradually increase the load (say with tiny increases every week for a few months) from below 9KW to 12KW and higher? Then, the human being adapts and becomes a 12KW output human being!

PO (Progressive Overload) is the process of gradually increasing the load in a particular activity or set of activities, so that a human being adapts to a higher capacity. On the other hand, the SAID principle suggests that if we want a specific kind of gain in capacity, the PO applied should also be specific. For example, if we consider a leg exercise like the squat: an unassisted one legged squat requires strength, mobility and balance. If an athlete practices the standard two legged squat with PO from increasingly heavy barbell loads and then hopes to do one-legged squats, he may find that it is not possible for him. Although he probably has more than enough strength to do the one legged squat and also theoretically may have the mobility and balance, he may find that the one legged squat is a completely different animal. The best (and for most individuals, ONLY) way to learn the one legged squat is to do the specific and correct progressions to train that specific movement. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this article, but involve neural pathways as much as pure physical capacity like strength and endurance; but suffice it to say that in general, if a person practices a particular movement more, he or she will get stronger specifically at that. This is also the reason that sometimes, people who work in various physical activities like construction labour, agricultural labour, carpentry, iron smithy, stone cutting, disaster rescue etc are actually much stronger at their specific work than they may seem, given their relative size and physical traits.

An important additional point on SAID is that, while an individual training session for a particular result must be specific, it does not have to always be for the complete skill over the entire range. It can be and in fact, must be, broken up into smaller parts. For example, if a person is trying to learn the handstand: this is a very specific and specialized skill which is impossible for a beginner to achieve initially, as a complete move. Therefore, the target skill can be broken up into several components like: general body fitness like pushing strength, full body rigidity, hamstring flexibility; shoulder and wrist strength, joint preparation; getting used to being upside down without fear; learning to fall out of a handstand safely; getting up into a handstand smoothly; accomplishing the full movement correctly with wall support; learning to balance without the wall. Now, each of these components must be trained separately and specifically to achieve progress. Training them all together is impossible for the beginner; on the other hand, training generally without specific methods, shall never result in progress.

So now, how can we apply the PO and SAID principles to the pursuit of all other types of goals? Here are some examples, anecdotes, cases and possible scenarios to apply these principles in our individual life goals as well as key organizational goals:

In business presentations: An excellent presentation may need to have an excellent start, end, inclusion of examples and stories, usage of enough but not excessive visual aids like slides and videos: Each component can be trained specifically with SAID on increasingly complex topics or by simulating increasingly diverse and challenging audiences.

In sales negotiations: Often sales persons are excellent at early stages of sales activities like search, qualify, engage, communicate value propositions etc, but may falter when it comes to closing sales. PO and SAID principles can be applied effectively here, by allowing young upcoming professionals to progressively play more and more leading roles in negotiating deals followed by detailed postmortem analyses with senior mentors. Exposing a junior professional to too much pressure too early may result in breakdown, but never allowing them to make decisions and to take risks shall result in no growth, as there is neither PO nor SAID load being applied.

Preparing for extreme pressure situations: Recently in the IPL T20 cricket tournament, team RR beat the top rated team GT in a shock result. One of the main architects of the win, Guyanese batter Shimron Hetmeyer, exemplified SAID in his post match interview, when he said, “It helps to practice with that mindset that you're a couple of wicket down and you need 100 runs with eight overs left. You just try to program your mind that way and so far it's working” (sic: source While Hetmeyer’s excellent knock (56 of 26 against a top bowling attack and a collapse at the other end), is by no means unique in the IPL or pro sport, the notable point here is how he says he imposes specific load on his mind in practice situations, to prepare for a real crisis. This is an invaluable method of preparation for individuals and organization leaders, whether it is preparation for a high stress exam or interview, or for an emergency of any kind, if you are in aviation, military, police, traffic police, fire service, disaster rescue, anti terrorism, hospital trauma care, and so on.

Preparing for intense action “sprints”: In the course of a routine activity, there could be a need for extremely intense intervals or sprints. The capacity for these cannot be built without PO and SAID methods, and it is easy to miss the fact that these sprints occur in a larger activity which is mostly of lower intensity. While training for small extraordinary sprints within a long routine activity are common in sports (eg. power hitting in cricket, sprints and set pieces in football or basketball), they are often neglected in individual and organizational goal pursuits, resulting in predictable and recurring crises, eg. in some organizations, every year-end accounting book closure is a crisis, every annual personal review cycle with employees ends up in a mess, with some municipalities, every infrastructure project of a particular type gets delayed etc.

For incredible results in the long term in any area: ASPIREKEN is based on the philosophy of simple progressions for incredible results (blog post 1), and the point of underestimating our long term potential (blog post 2). We strongly believe that if we pursue our long term goals giving sufficient time and doing the correct things to continuously progress in the correct direction, then these goals can be achieved, no matter how challenging, improbable and virtually unattainable they may seem at present. But what are these “correct things”? These correct things that we can and must do, are nothing but PO and SAID. Think about it: The advantages and disadvantages that we start with are not in our control. External events, conditions and changes in our operating environment are not in our control. The level of our competition is not in our control. The only things that are in our control are our efforts to keep progressing consistently and specifically in the desired directions. Therefore, PO and SAID are integral to the process of achieving incredible goals and results.

We hope that you shall effectively apply the PO and SAID principles to achieve your chosen incredible results and goals and amaze even yourself!

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