It is all about that adaptation...

Before we can discuss the underlying principles of sound programming, it’s worth taking a step back to talk about what we’re trying to accomplish through programming.  If you’ve spent any time speaking with your coach about your own programming, a term you’ve likely heard is adaptation.  Adaptation is very important.  The goal of any program is to produce adaptations that will help is win in the sport we choose. Through the use of appropriate stimuli in training we tell our bodies what kind of world we live in.  Our body responds with a series of changes that allow us to PERFORM better within that world.  When you squat you’re telling your body that you’re in a world where strong legs would be a good thing if it wants to survive.  It is either create stronger legs, or die under the stress of the world.  With proper programming you create stronger legs and increase your chances of survival.  In this way we adapt to the world and thrive. 

How we adapt...

The process by which we adapt to stress is understood according to the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS for short).  This is a four step process. 

  1. ALARM PHASE: Here a novel or new stimulus is introduced.  This could be a new movement, more weight/volume, etc that freaks out the body.  This results in the fatigue, soreness, and stiffness we feel after training and may last hours to weeks depending on the stimulus and the athlete’s state of preparedness.  During this phase our ability to perform is decreased because we are too sore, tired, etc. 
  2. RESISTANCE PHASE:  Following this is the Resistance Phase, where the adaptation magic begins to happen.  In this phase the body fights back against the stimulus you’ve exposed yourself to and returns to it’s normal functioning capacity.  
  3. SUPERCOMPENSATION PHASE:  Your body wants to be better prepared for the next time it experiences that stimulus, which leads us to the Supercompensation Phase. Through supercompensation your body adapts to surpass your previous level of performance. The result is that the next time you experience that same stimulus it won’t have the same effect on your body.  Not only will it cost you less energy to endure but it will result in less fatigue, soreness, etc.
  4. EXHAUSTION PHASE:  The last phase (WHICH WE DON’T WANT!!!) is the Exhaustion Phase. Exhaustion is the result of excessive stimuli or inadequate recovery from stimuli, leading to non-functional overrreaching or overtraining. This is a state characterized by prolonged symptoms of the alarm phase. It is very important to avoid reaching this phase as it can take A LOOOONG time to recover from. In severe cases it has the potential to considerably hamper or end an athletic career.

Managing that Fatigue...

Looking at the Four Step Process of GAS we can clearly begin to understand that we must figure out how to stress our body just right to cause adaptation, but not go too far and cause complete exhaustion.  In essence, we are managing fatigue.  

We manipulate training factors to manage overall fatigue levels, rate of recovery, and adaptive response to stimuli.  Doing this successfully results in that increase in performance we’re after.  When we train we are tired.  Just as we hit our supercompensation phase we shock ourselves with a new alarm phase.  This is because we want to get better and better.  If we don't do this, we stop adapting.  And if we stop adapting, well, we might as well be dead! 

BUT when we are tired we can't perform as well.  My 1 rep max on my back squat is going to be lower if I only had 2 hours of sleep the night before compared to 8 hours.  That is pretty obvious, but seemingly forgotten by many athletes!  When we keep hitting that Alarm Phase we are tired and we can't perform as well even though our fitness levels keep going up.  When training loads are high our fitness goes up, but so does fatigue, reducing our overall performance.  BUT if training loads are low, fitness and fatigue either stay the same or decrease, along with our performance.  Low training loads wont cause an alarm phase and wont cause an adaptation.  

You can see how this could be problematic!  If both scenarios result in a reduction in performance, how can we increase our performance?  Luckily our body is able to get rid of fatigue (through proper recovery techniques) faster than fitness.  By the the time we dissipate the fatigue we’ve accumulated, our fitness is still in an elevated state, which results in an increase in performance.  We can then capitalize on this elevated performance to to either perform in competition or begin a new training cycle with higher levels of stress. 

In the next article we will look at some of the different tools that a programmer uses to cause desirable adaptations for their athlete.  Stay tuned Next Tuesday at 10am!

Kaleb Burnett, CSCS, USAW-ASPC L2, AOLC

Strength & Conditioning Coach, Murder of Crows Barbell Club