Theory of General Adaptation Syndrome in relation to training advancement
It is time to turn up the science meter and tackle the monster that is strength program design. Following is a topic that entire books have been written about; therefore it is my goal is to synthesize enough information so that we can analyze popular strength programs and ultimately create our own without rewriting the book. In part one I will discuss General Adaptation Syndrome and its implications for novice, intermediate, and advanced level athletes.
The theory of General Adaptation Syndrome is that repeated exposure to stress at sub-lethal levels creates tolerance of subsequent exposures to the same stressor. To set this theory into motion a stress must be applied to the body, the stress in our case being strength training. Following the stress the body responds in a manner specific to the stress. In the case of strength training; inflammation, soreness, and fatigue are produced if enough work was done to disrupt homeostasis. A transient period of reduced force production immediately follows the stressor. The athlete is actually weaker than before the session. If this was not the case an athlete could simply stay in the gym and lift endlessly and continually improve.
Following the stressor the body must respond through expression of gene activity, alterations in hormone production, and increases in protein metabolism and synthesis. This phase is known as recovery. The bodily reactions to the stress are again specific to the stress encountered. Sufficient stress and recovery from the stress will cause an adaptation specific to the stressor, creating a tolerance for it. An insufficient stress will require no adaptation from the body but may still utilize precious resources. The amount of time required for recovery varies depending on the severity of the stress, trained recovery abilities, and an athlete’s ability in relation to their maximum potential.
If too great of a stress is applied the body will be unable to effectively adapt causing exhaustion, decreased ability, and taken to the extreme, death. In relation to strength training, a stressor of too great in frequency, load, or for too long may cause exhaustion.
The proficiency of the athlete whether novice, intermediate, or advanced has serious implications regarding the appropriateness of the stressor and recovery thereafter. Novice athletes, far removed from their genetic potential, are easily stressed. Anything greater then what a novice athlete is currently doing will create strength improvements once recovered from. Loads are light and performed in low numbers but adaptation still takes place. Because the stress is small, only a small amount of time is required to recover. Therefore novice athletes experience General Adaptation Syndrome rapidly, 48-72 hours. Novice’s are best served with strength programs that are simple and account for rapid adaptation.
Intermediate strength athletes have adapted to using heavier and more stressful loads, as well as recovering more effectively from stress in general. Therefore the amount of stress must increase to cause disruption of homeostasis and adaptation. Increased stress requires amplified time to recover and overall complexity of program design must increase. Intermediate athletes experience General Adaptation Syndrome over a greater period of time then their novice counterparts. Intermediate athletes recover on a continuum from 5-14 days in length. Intermediate athletes are best served by a strength program that provides the necessary increases of load and respects the need for additional recovery time throughout a week’s period of time.
Advanced athletes are near their genetic potential and require tremendous amounts of stress usually created over multiple sessions with greater than 14 days for recovery. Advanced athletes require very complex programs built over weeks and months of time to continue to improve.
General Adaptation Syndrome in relation to training level, guides strength programming theory. With a basic understanding of the physiological underpinning of improvements to strength we can venture into the world of strength programming. Tune in for part two where we discuss the adjustable variables of strength programming.