To get a full understanding on how preparedness is improved, we have to start with understanding how and why humans survive in any given environment and/or situation. It has been said that man is the most adaptable creature on the planet, and indeed this adaptability is the key to surviving and thriving in nearly any situation. This is what allows any sort of training to be effective.
The purpose of training is always to cause an objective improvement in a trainee’s (or your own) physical fitness. A physical load is applied to the organism through a training program and by adapting to the stress, the organism arrives at a higher level of physical fitness and well-being. A training routine must be planned and executed correctly in order for this mandatory process to take place.
An understanding of the biological process of adaptation is clearly the foundational element of effective training program design and implementation. This the law of training for any purpose from Bodybuilding, to combat sports, to bat-and-ball games, or any other physical activity.
What is Adaptation?
If you ever moved to a new area, or even just took a vacation to a place with a very different climate, you had to adapt. In biology, adaptation is considered one the main features of an organism, the key to its very survival; we adapt or we die. When we do eventually perish, it is because a stress came along we couldn’t adapt to quickly enough.
Exercise or regular physical activity is a very powerful stimulus for positive adaptation. The body produces force as an highly integrated system when compound barbell lifts are executed and this in turn causes a training effect in all of the organism’s processes. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Cleans, and Snatches all have a positive adaptive effect on the neurological (intra and intermuscular coordination), glandular (hormonal) systems, cardiovascular, strength, bone density, muscle anabolism and energy metabolism, and even the functioning levels of the internal organs.
The five-pound incremental loading system of the barbell allows for an exact programming of intensity for different training levels and purposes. This makes for an exact prescription of overload stimuli in training (we can program for the exact type of adaptations we want according to our training purpose), which is exactly the stress that causes training adaptations to occur.
What is an Overload Stimulus?
A training adaptation will take place only if the magnitude of the training load is above a habitual level. In reference to Adaptation the magnitude of the load refers to that of the internal load. The magnitude of internal load of a training session (or microcycle, mesocycle) is determined by the interplay between the magnitude of the external training load (the product of the average intensity and total volume of the training unit) and the current state of two physiological factors of the trainee: Fitness and Fatigue.
The Two factor theory of training: Fitness and Fatigue
Fitness and fatigue are the two components which make up a trainee/athlete’s preparedness.
The two-factor theory is based on the idea that preparedness (the current potential for performance) is not stable but varies with time. It is the product of the interplay between physical fitness and physical fatigue at any given moment.
The two-factor model states that the immediate training effect after a workout is a combination of these two processes:
1. Gain in fitness prompted by the stimulus of the training session
2. The fatigue caused by the training session.
After a single training session, a trainee’s preparedness:
• Ameliorates due to the fitness gain
• Deteriorates due to the fatigue from the workout (see fig.1)
Figure 1: The affect of a single workout on fitness, fatigue, and the combination of the two: preparedness.
The final outcome is preparedness, which is determined by the summation of the interplay between the two factors. The fitness gain from a single session is moderate but long lasting. The fatigue effect is much greater in magnitude, but it dissipates much faster.
In order to ensure continual success in a training program, the training load must be proscribed carefully so that the stimuli provides the right amount of stress to the system to cause the desired adaptation. As we can see in Figure 2, if the stress from the training stimulus is too low no adaptation will occur, but also no fatigue will accumulate so preparedness won’t change at all.
If the stress is too high then the overload will exceed the optimal and the dreaded “overtraining” will occur, thus resulting in a loss of preparedness.
If the stress is just right then adaptation will occur and preparedness will increase. This means your performance in whatever your field of play is improved. This is what we want.
Figure 2: The three possible outcome pathways following a training stress. When the stimulus is correctly programmed, it results in a performance gain.
Excellent training programming increases fitness to the highest extent currently possible for the athlete while causing the least amount of fatigue. This is known as good training economy; the least amount of energy possible should be expended for the largest possible gain in preparedness.
Training timing in relation to the interplay of fitness/fatigue is also very important. Training sessions are best scheduled when the fatigue from the previous session has mostly dissipated. This is the basic dynamic of beginner strength training.
With advanced trainees, training is often done in the presence of previously accumulated fatigue, so a clever sequencing of the exercises throughout a microcycle (1 week) is very important. For instance, if pressing work is done on Monday, some local fatigue will be present specifically in the pressing musculature on Tuesday, but an advanced trainee might need to train on Tuesday to get enough volume in the cycle to cause an adaptation. For this reason, squat work would be a good idea on Tuesday, since it would not stress the pressing musculature to a large degree. If more pressing work is done it must be done with lower intensity and volume.
Both the proscription of the external training load and the timing of training become much more complex at the advanced stage because the desired internal load becomes more specific, and it becomes more difficult to assess. Regardless of the stage in training, the two-factor theory is always the underlying physiological dynamic of training.
To summarize: positive adaptation is entire purpose of strength training. A training stimulus (external load) is applied to cause a specific stress to the trainee (the result is the internal load). This internal load results in a short-term increase in fatigue and loss in current preparedness, but a long-term increase in fitness, which in turn makes a higher level of preparedness possible. Future training stimuli will interact with this improved preparedness so the magnitude of the external load must be continually increased (over different periods of time), but this must done in an economical fashion in order to ensure preparedness is consistently improved and high performance ability is readily displayable. This drives adaptation towards athletic perfection. This is the name of the game for competitors, and in life in general. You adapt or you lose, so start adapting.