Making sure you see Progress (Driving Adaptations)

Making sure you see Progress (Driving Adaptations)

The human organism is extremely adaptable, it changes to the demands placed on it. External sources such as the environment we are in or place on the human body and from internal sources what we put in and how our internal systems react. Each time we step into the gym or start a workout our mission is to create a physiological adaptation in the body. We are looking to change some aspects of our fitness. 

Many have goals to gain muscle, lose fat, get aerobically fit, to better their conditioning, gain flexibility, get strong whatever the change may be. Often people look to improve all qualities at once, sometimes even in one workout, or training session. This is something that the body does not want to do, it is too costly to the body. If it gets pulled in too many directions the adaptations will be compromised.

The big things that can impede adaptations.

  1.  Stress
  2. Competing Demands- Doing to many random things
  3. Programming
  4. Recovery

Now let's dive in!

  • Stress

  • The body adapts through the stress placed on the system, and in order to drive change there needs to be a significant amount of stress. As a coach if I am not placing a high amount of stress on my client then I might not be driving the change I want and need.

    I need high amounts of stress to create change.  HIGH AMOUNTS!

      Adaptations to the stress means that the next time the stress is placed on the body will be able to handle it. And the stress needs to be greater than before to elicit a bigger change. Dr. Hans Selye created the General Adaptation Syndrome, which describes three stages involved in response to a stress, alarm reaction, resistance development and exhaustion phase. 

    Looking at the alarm reaction stage this is where the high load of stress elicits a hormonal response to tell the body to change and become better to handle the stress the next time it faces it. The body is always looking to be more efficient at tasks and will adapt to make the stress less threatening on the system.

    If we are not threatening the system with high enough stress then the adaptation will not occur. This is where you will need to have training days that are high intensity, high load, miserable and will be taxing on the system. These are not the fun days. These are the days where you are sitting on the floor for a bit after the workout coming back to reality.

    Have these days at least 2x a week.

  • Competing Demands

  • We have all done this before we perform a strength training routine then after we jump into a long bout of aerobic exercise thinking, okay I did my lifting now it's time to get my conditioning in. Or you start off the day with lower reps with high weight and at the end of the workout it's high reps. 

    The body will adapt to the specific demands placed on the body and if we are giving it too many signals then it does not know what adaptation to perform. Let's say we want to improve strength, performing 3-6 reps at a higher weight intensity will increase strength, if we also perform high volume 12-20 reps then the body thinks it is trying to increase size and will change the adaptation. 

    An easy way to go about it is, think of the last things you are doing during a workout, that is what your body will adapt to. So if we have had a strength training session to increase anabolic hormones and promote growth, why would you jump on a treadmill and reverse that with catabolic hormones?

    We would like to think that the body will adapt to anything and everything we give it, but that's just not the case. 

    So if you are looking for specific adaptations keep all the training to that demand, with this it is also key to pair the energy systems with the adaptation you want. 

    • High Repetition with lighter load lifting, sets greater than 20 seconds with shorter rest gets paired with aerobic conditioning 
    • Medium Intensity sets of lifting (6-10 reps) lasting 10-20 seconds pair with Anaerobic Lactic system 20-40s of high intensity conditioning 
    • Strength, Heavy Resistance, High Intensity gets paired with Anaerobic Alactic, 0-10s of work, these are your fast powerful sprints.

    Pairing the energy systems to the similar strength system ensures that the muscle fibers we want to adapt will adapt to the similar stimulus and make changes in the correct area. 

  • Programming

  • Flowing right from the previous step of competing demands this is where programming is so key to making the adaptations you want. Going in and doing random things each and everyday will pull the body in too many directions and will not adapt the way you might want it to. This is where I have seen many clients and people struggle when it comes to working out. Too many mixed signals and the body gets confused and will pick only a few possibly to adapt.

    On the same lines from number 2, we want to align the adaptations to the day, one day aerobic focus, one day anaerobic lactic, another anaerobic alactic, Days of high intensity/low volume, moderate intensity/volume and days of low intensity/high volume. 

    Athletes will have a more focused training microcycle and macrocycle based on the demands that they need for their sport. We see more focused training with them, they might have more high intensity days in one block vs the other. For athletes their macrocycle is planned on their competitions so they have specific needs.

    For the general population a great way to model programming is to train each of the qualities at least one time a week. This pulls the system in all directions to adapt and be good at them all but it allows for appropriate recovery and changes to the system before being pulled in another direction. 

    An example of this for 3x a week is.

    Monday: Moderate Intensity/Moderate Volume: Anaerobic Lactic

    Strength Training Sets of 6-8 Reps

    Conditioning 20-40s

    Wednesday: High Intensity/Low Volume: Anaerobic Alactic

      Strength Training 1-5 reps (heavy weight)

    Conditioning- Under 10s (fast and powerful)

    Friday: High Volume/Low Intensity

         Strength 8-15 reps- Total Reps per movement 35-50 reps

    Conditioning- Aerobic 30s+


    This allows training for mixed qualities and an increase in adaptability in all without competing too much within each workout.

  • Recovery

  • The final aspect of adaptation is straight forward, make sure we are getting enough recovery to allow the body to change and grow. The big things being proper nutrition fueling the body with optimal amounts of protein, carbs, and fats to allow the rebuilding process to occur. Getting less than optimal can lead to plateaus of adaptations and performance. 

    Sleep is another hugely important part of the equation, much of the growth and adaptations occur while we are sleeping. A great deal of hormones are released during the night when we are dreaming away. Do not let the opportunity to let changes slip away because you wanted to watch one more episode of some tv show that will be there tomorrow.


    1.Brooks, G. A., Fahey, T. D., White, T. P., & Baldwin, K. M. (1999). Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications, 3rd Edition (3rd ed.). Mayfield.

    1. Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic Training: A systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance (Volume 1) (5/28/12 ed.). Bye Dietz Sports Enterprise.

    3.Jamieson, J. (2009). Ultimate MMA Conditioning. Independently published.

    Back to blog

    Leave a comment