Adaptation To Training: How Long Does It Really Take?

You never train in the same body twice

Each dose of straining stimulus that your body absorbs, alters your physiology in subtle ways acutely, and in exponential ways chronically. This alteration is a (positive) adaptation.

And what is adaptation? A shift to a functional state that can oppose your stressors. 

Discussions with philosopher-coach Matt Perryman, suggests we can think of adaptation in positive and negative terms. A strengthening of the leg muscles is a positive adaptation to squatting while a slouched posture is a negative adaptation to endurance sitting. Of course  the squatting takes less time and is of higher magnitude and the sitting adaptation takes much more time at lower magnitude (creep sets in as well). Both are adaptations, albeit not both are beneficial, though seemingly purposeful and functional.

But I digress.

Now you think that when I titled this blog, it seemed to suggest that I was going to give you a temporally quantitative “frame” for you to understand when and why you need to change a program. But I lied. I’m going to rather ask you to assess qualitatively when to change, by understanding the 3 layers of program adaptation; concepts from my Fission Fusion Training Model:

  • Shock:
    The break in phase of a new program. You’re learning how to handle the volume, the intensity and the loading. You’re learning how to co-ordinate through the sequence. What to expect and how to mentally handle the beginning, middle and end of the workout. Learning how long it should take. How much rest you will need. How this program stimulates or not, your appetite. How fatiguing it may be. Strategizing, understanding and learning for future performance optimization.
  • Auto Amplification: 
    The trainee will experience that week by week, as they master the program and learn to dance to it’s rhythm, that they can derive MORE as time goes on, rather than less from the same training. This, of course, does not happen indefinitely. But it happens BECAUSE you never train in the same body twice. Your neuromuscular and psychological apparatus almost fine-tunes itself. You become better at the program as you understand and master the program. Until…
  • Fixed Action Pattern: (the regression/fatigue/boredom link)
    No matter what program, boredom and fatigue will eventually rear their heavy two faced head around and stare you down. This is unalterable fact. But is boredom a way of sensing fatigue? Is boredom the neurobiological correlate of fatigue? Either way, burnout is inevitable and essential. You’ve extracted from the program what you could. Time to recuperate from it’s specific fatigue effects.

Long enough, and a good thing becomes not so good.

Qualitative Indicators
The point to realize is that there is no 4, 6 or 12 week time frame (in terms of absolute certainty) in which the positive adaptions can be expected to seep into negative adaptation (regression) categories. And that sometimes boredom is a signal to either tweak a minor or to change a major. Yet other times, boredom is you just not being patient enough, in which case, you are not fit for fitness.

But generally you should be assessing the following qualitative biofeedback cues to get a feel for how close you are to regression:

  1. A loss or reduction in strength over a handful of sessions
  2. A loss or reduction in power and speed over a handful of sessions
  3. Boredom
  4. Aching Joints
  5. Inability to generate intensity (usually you will not be able to create much oxygen debt) from power endurance movements
  6. In extreme cases, your sleep quality will deteriorate

If you feel no combination  of the above, then you do not need to change your program. But it has to be assessed over a handful of sessions. I prefer an entire week.

Your Body In Flux
Your body is constant adaptation mode. Constantly adapting, changing and shifting to a state that can absorb, oppose and tackle the stressors you impose – it does not WAIT to begin – this happens in cyclical fashion and each cycle changes the system just a bit. But like any complex system, there is a ceiling effect. A limit to the adaptation ability. But I don’t think this is an “adaptation energy” depletion, but rather the system becoming more capable of going beyond the limits of its own buffers, eventually becoming ABLE to break down its stress absorbing mechanisms due to it’s altered nature. As you accumulate positives, you bring along negatives. Repeated enough times, the systems (your body) ability to destabilize (create intensity of effort) itself seems to exceed it’s ability to re-stabilize (recover from the effort) itself.

The body may begin adaptation immedietly, but it takes time for the completion of this adaptation before it regresses again — this DELAY is why we have the concept of over-shoot, sling-shot or supercompensation in the first place. It may not be an OVER-shoot at all – but rather a misunderstanding of the adaptation time frame. This of course shall be a complete blog on its own, but in my Fission Fusion Training Model, I explain how the accumulation of any positive is accompanied by a negative. Though in biological systems, it seems that the negative is followed by a positive when dealing with volatility. The nature of complex biological systems allows us to push ourselves to our outer limits knowing we will experience the adaptation of resilience (anti-fragility by Taleb) once the stressor is removed (for whatever reason we may back off training). The question to ask then, is the fitness-fatigue duality a false one?

Circular Causality?
Training thus seems the ultimate contradiction. That you can train yourself to be able to out-train yourself.

Of being able to stress your limit beyond your limit. Physically and mentally.

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