Stimulate, Recover, Adapt, Repeat

It is commonly believed that strength training can make an individual stronger, faster, more muscular, leaner, and generally "really, really, ridiculously good looking"(cue Ben Stiller's Zoolander Voice). The truth is, the immediate effects of strength training are much less glamorous and can be downright unpleasant. These effects include but are not limited to micro-trauma to muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons as well as worsening of technique due to fatigue of the nervous system. Now if that's what happens during a workout why would anyone ever want to strength train? The answer is that the body can not only recover from being beat down by hard and heavy training, it can also become stronger than ever before through a process of adaptation called Super-compensation.

Supercompensation is a four-step process including the following:

1) Stimulus: The stimulus (ex. Strenuous physical activity) must disrupt the body's state of equilibrium and will most likely need to be of greater volume or intensity than previously applied to do so.

2) Recovery: After the training stimulus ceases, recovery must occur. Recovery includes but is not limited to sleep, eating food, relaxing, hydration, and stress management, etc. It would be nice to just workout 24hours straight and gain a month's worth of adaptations but it does not work that way, you must apply an effective dosage of training and then apply an effective dosage of recovery.

3) Supercompensation/Adaptation: In order for Adaptation to occur via Supercompensation, the individual must have sufficient recovery to not only bring the body's systems back to baseline but to allow for increased adaptation to occur. It is possible for an individual to apply a stimulus such as resistance training to the body and merely recover but never actually adapt OR even lose performance due to a lacking recovery process.

4) De-training/Involution: If exposure to further training stimulus does not occur, performance will decline. If further training stimulus IS applied again, the SRA process will occur again and cause further adaptation

The process of Supercompensation is depicted by the Stimulus-Recovery-Adaptation (SRA) Curve presented below in which Performance is charted over Time:

It is shown that when a training stimulus is applied to the body, the body's performance decreases as it experiences fatigue. When sufficient recovery occurs, performance rises up until it reaches a point higher than prior baseline performance. If another training stimulus is presented, this SRA curve occurs again. If a stimulus is not presented, performance will fall back to baseline again, or even further below. Thus, the goal is to train by allowing the SRA curve to run its course up until Supercompensation occurs and then to apply further training stimuli so as to keep the body adapting upward in performance.

The thing is, the human body has a wonderful way of adapting to any stimulus experienced. The body REALLY doesn't like being brought out of it's state of balance and equilibrium which is called "Homeostasis," so when a stimulus is applied to the body that causes a disruption to homeostasis, such as a demanding and harder than ever before resistance training session, the body will attempt to adapt. When this occurs the body attempts to "plan ahead" to make sure future encounters with the prior stimulus will be less stressful and in order to do this it supercompensates to become stronger, faster, or more enduring, etc than ever before. On the other hand, if the stimulus presented is not deemed to be abnormal it will not disrupt the body's state of homeostasis and no Supercompensation will occur.

In the diagram above, multiple SRA curves are presented charting performance over time. Each time a training stimulus is applied is represented by a black dot and the solid black line charts performance overtime as each SRA curve runs its course. Interestingly, the dotted lines presented above show the potential detraining of performance that would occur at each point in time if another training stimulus was NOT presented. If an individual strength trains hard, even if the session is incredibly difficult, the stimulus must be applied again in a greater amount within the time dictated by the SRA curve for the adaptation to be retained or improved.

The bottom line is that training must disrupt the body's state of homeostasis in order for the body to go through the process of recovery and adaptation. If the training does not disrupt homeostasis, there will be no adaptation. Simply put, continuing to use those 10lbs dumbbells at your house to do the same sets and reps of the same exercises day in and day out is not causing any adaptation whatsoever. It is not toning, lifting, sculpting, bulking, strengthening or doing anything other than maintaining the status quo and probably doing a poor job at that. Likewise, the individual who likes to workout hard once per week will quickly reach a point where further progress is simply not possible due a lacking frequency of training.

When a stimulus that disrupts homeostasis is presented, function of the system is depressed until sufficient recovery brings the system back to baseline, further recovery brings forth adaptation but only up to a certain point. If adaptation occurs and no further stimulus is applied, the adaptation will decrease and eventually be lost. Simply put, if you don't use it you lose it. It is for this reason that strength training multiple times per week is necessary to induce and retain optimal adaptations. In order for the strength of muscle, bone, connective tissue, and the nervous system to be developed the body must be presented with stimuli that disrupt equilibrium at a frequency that allows for recovery, adaptation, and further application of the stimulus to retain or improve desired adaptations. In order to cause your body to change you must do something that your body thinks is worth changing for. Furthermore, if you want to keep the adaptations that you have earned you must continue to do the necessary work that will maintain or increase them.

We at True Fitness and Nutrition recommend a minimum of 3 days per week of resistance training, although individualized programming can range on average from 3-6 days of strength training per week depending on the individual and goal. If you are interested in learning more about how to maximize your results in the gym instead of spinning your wheels working out with poorly designed programs and inexperienced advice, contact us at True Fitness and Nutrition.