Updated: Nov 22, 2018
Adaptation is the primary law of training.
Adapt or become extinct!
Adaptation is the underlying principle that makes training worthwhile and therefore is the fundamental principle behind planning a training program. You see without the ability to adapt you wouldn't become stronger or fitter, making training essential just a way to kill time I mean you wouldn't get any better if you didn't possess the ability to adapt. So when we are looking at planning any type of training regime, we must keep in the forefront of our mind that the intention of the regime is to improve our or someone else's physical fitness and physical strength.
In fact, its adaptation that really got me into the art and science of strength training and has fascinated me ever since. The human body really is an immense machine that can be conditioned to withstand extreme pressure and endure almost anything. And like I said in the introduction that with some blood, sweat and a lot of grit you can essentially transform the capabilities of your body to exceed those around you. As it turns out by submitting your body to these stresses makes it fitter and healthier allowing you to keep up with the things you enjoy even as you age and watch your peers become more fragile and less able.
I mean look at the picture it's an MRI scan of a 70-year-old triathlete compared to a 74-year-old sedentary man look at the difference in muscle mass and adipose (fat) tissue. Never underestimate the body's ability to adapt and overcome it takes time, persistence and consistency, O and a little bit of knowledge on how to correctly apply stressors.
I don't look at training as just the hoisting of weights or the jogging from A to B. I look at it as an artificial stressor than when systematically sequenced can bring about remarkable changes to the body where physical fitness and strength increase. The reason I say artificial is because the principle of adaption is something the body does in order to survive but we can hack its ability to adapt by placing specific stressors and specific times, and we get to choose and create the exact methods, loads, movements, energy systems, frequency, time that we decided to subject the body to before it happens which means with have the ability to improve and become better continually.
Before we talk about the specific adaptations to strength training I want to first talk about the general adaptation syndrome. Because we humans are smart enough to generate all sorts of stressful events purply in our heads activating the stress response for things that never happen or take place. Unlike Zebras whos stress response kicks in when they are face to face with a real danger like a lion staring you down from across the savannah. We activate the same stress response in the anticipation of challenge and more often than not those challenges are purely psychological. This Stress Response is the reason why even after a relatively light competition we feel more beat up and sore than if we just did they session casually in the gym. It's also key to understand that our ability to withstand stress is finite you can't just keep pouring unlimited amounts of stress into you an imaginary cup and not expect it to overflow. What I'm saying is don't expect your body to adapt to the training stressors is you're stress out with work and kids and paying bills etc.
Alarm Stage of Hans Selye's General Adaption Syndrome
So you're walking down the road turn the corner, and suddenly you're confronted by a bear you need your muscles to work and run at full capacity, and you need it instantly. Luckily your body has got you covered it begins rapidly mobilising energy from storage and also shuts off further storage for the time being. Glucose starts pouring into the bloodstream; your breathing begins to deepen and speed up sucking in as much oxygen as possible. Thud, Thud........Thud, Thud heart begins to beat at an alarming rate pumping more blood, coronary arteries dilate, and blood pressure surges. Oxygen and glucose are pumping around the bloodstream ready to fuel whichever muscles are needed to save your ass. All other bodily systems which are not directly involved in your current survival are shut down forget digesting lunch now you need to get your ass out of this situation and fast.
The alarm stage is built around the fact that your muscles are going to need to work a full capacity right now. Ever wondered why you always perform better in competition than in training? Well, it has something to do with the fact that your forcing your self into a stressful situation, so your body calls upon its stress response.
Hopefully, by this point, you have dealt with the immediate danger, the body begins to shift to recovery to repair the damaged muscle tissues and lower the production of stress hormones. The body remains on guard though in case the stressors persist, and the body is required to fight them continuously.
By this point, the stress has been persistent for too long a period. The body begins to lose its ability to combat the stressors and reduce their harmful impact because the adaptive energy is all drained. At this stage, you're on your way to completely burn out and stress-related autoimmune diseases.
Human beings have an excellent way of creating all kinds of stressful outcomes with our minds, outcomes that often never come to fruition but these stresses elicit the same response to walking around the corner and being nose to snout with a bear. If you have ever been through a stressful period of your life, you'll often remember just feeling burnt out this is the exhaustion stage the stressor has been going on to long with sufficient recovery. The body is more than equipt to deal with stress what's more important is that you provide it with time to recuperate and adapt between stressors.
Now let's move onto what happens in the body as a response to resistance training.
Your brain's ability to recruit motor units increases within individuals with perform resistance training. Demonstrating greater abilities to recruit motor units maximally. In other words, untrained individuals could only recruit 71% of their muscle tissue during a maximal effort leaving 29% of the muscle tissue potential they already have wasted whereas in trained individuals showed a much smaller deficit.
Motor units adapt by increasing the rate of firing, synchronisation of firing or a combination of these because lifting heavy weights not only requires these units to be activated but to also fire at very high rates.
Skeletal muscle increases in size ( hypertrophy ) increasing the cross-sectional area of the muscle which has a positive correlation with gains in strength. During resistance training, both type 1 and type 2 fibres are recruited and therefore stimulated to increase in size although type 2 fibres manifest more significant increases in size than type 1. So this would suggest that training the type 2 fibres to be more beneficial in strength and size. With that said, however, I'd advise strength endurance work especially when the postural muscles are concerned.
Connective tissue adaptations
In response to mechanical loading, osteoblasts migrate to the bone surface and begin bone modelling, increasing the diameter and strength of the skeletal system. Stronger muscles exert high contraction forces which provide an increased mechanical stress on the bone, and the bone must subsequently increase in mass and strength to provide sufficient support structure.
Just like with the bones tendons, ligaments and fascia must increase their functional capabilities in response to the increased muscle strength. Stronger muscles pull with greater forces so the connective tissues must increase in the strength to deal with these forces this is done by an increase in collagen fibril diameter, a greater number of cross-links within the hypertrophied fibre, an increase in the number of collagen fibrils and increase in the packaging density of collagen fibrils. Collectively these adaptions increase the tendon's ability to withstand greater tensional forces.
Resistance exercise has been shown to result in elevated testosterone both total and free, growth hormone and molecular variants. Hormone fluctuations occur quickly in response to stimuli which challenge the bodies homeostasis. Testosterone elevations are most prominent in men although some studies have shown a slight increase in men. The magnitude of these elevations is most significant when large multi-joint movements are performed such as squats, deadlifts and clean & Jerks. As a result of consistent resistance training, the acute hormonal response may improve as the individual's strength increases so does his or her ability to generate more force resulting in an increased effort as a result.
Training is an organised wait let me rephrase that training should be an organised process whereby the body and mind are constantly exposed to stressors of different volume and intensity. A high level of performance is the result of many years of well planned, methodically sequenced, ever-increasing stressors. The objective of any training plan is to induce adaptions that improve performance. Improvement is possible only if this sequence is followed.
Stimulus => Recovery => Adaption = ( performance improvement ) => Increased Stimulus........ and the cycle continues.
If the load is always the same adaptions, occur at the start of the training process but very quickly level out, and not further adaptions are made.
Lack of Stimulus => Plateau => No improvement
Also if the stimulus is excessive or overly varied, you will be unable to adapt, and maladaptation will occur.
Excessive Stimulus/ Overly Varied => Maladaptation => Decrease in performance.
The objective of training is to progressively and systematically increase the training stimulus and induce superior adaptions and as a result improve performance by the adaptions made the to neuromuscular, muscular, skeletal and hormonal systems. High performance is the sum of small adaptations brought about by systematically repeating bouts of exercises. In the case of adaption, most people generally overestimate their ability to adapt in the short term but underestimate to power of small adaptions over a more extended period of time. I think its key to remember the processes of remodelling the physiology of your body isn't an instant process and that trying to force the process to happen quickly often results in excessive stimulus and maladaptation.
The key take-home point is that without adaption you do not get better so you must adhere to the process if you wish to make progress beyond just an elementary level of fitness. The greater the magnitude of training the more time that will be needed for fatigue to dissipate and adaption to take place.