How Much Is Enough?
Most sports scientists will tell you that the key to adapting, or increasing performance, and weight loss is through variance. The more my training varies in volume (how long each training session is), modality (what I do for training: row, bike, swim, run,...), and the intensity (heavy loads, light loads, fast pace, slow pace), the more opportunities the body has to adapt. What we don’t talk about very often is how much. How much should I be training and how much recovery do I need to make my efforts effective?
The general adaptation theory, developed by Hans Selye in 1972, states that in order for change to happen we must pass through the specific phases below.
Stimulus: We usually get this one wrong. A stimulus has to be great enough to cause fatigue. It should be great enough to cause acute fatigue. Example: I just ran 400 meters and I can’t run anymore because I am too fatigued. Most of us have a tough time finding this level of intensity. Of course, it takes time to develop the skill and robustness to handle this type of intensity. There is no doubt that everyone needs a coach to help them develop in stages, starting off slow and progressing over time. Once you are there, you should be able to produce intensity at high levels for yourself in such a way that it brings you to fatigue. Fatigue is the evidence that you got the stimulus!
Fatigue: This is the result of the stimulus and should last anywhere from 12-48 hours. It is not only acute (right after the training session), but also long. The greater the stimulus, the more the fatigue. This fatigue can come in the form of muscle soreness, general fatigue, and tiredness. It’s all totally normal. As a matter of fact, the more you cause fatigue, the more you will be forced to make the body work to recover, which means the greater the hormonal response and the more you will change. So pushing yourself in the stimulus is a good thing!
Recovery: This is the key to adaptation! The more capacity we have for fitness, the faster the body can recover and repair, which means, the more we train and increase our general fitness level, the faster we will recover from a workout. So, once you have followed all the steps above, it’s time to recover. Now, unless you are willing to let the body recover fully, you won’t finish the stages of adaptation and you won’t see change. Let me repeat myself! Only after you allow your body to recover does it change. Recovery can be tricky. How long? How much? How do I know when I’m recovered? Again, just like everyone needs a coach to teach them how to develop intensity that works for them individually, we also need a coach to help us understand when we are recovered and ready to train again. This may look different for everyone, but it’s a necessary step that we often miss in adaptation. My top 3 tips on knowing if you are ready to train are simple yes/no questions. If you answer no to 2 out of 3, then you are not ready to train hard yet.
Did I wake up with a willingness to train?
Is my Orthostatic heart rate less than 11 beats different (see blog on orthostatic heart rate)?
Did I get 7+ hours of sleep the night before?
Adaptation: Change happens! Lastly, once the stimulus is able to produce enough intensity for you individually, and you feel fatigue immediately, the next day you have to let the body recover. Then, and only then, will you start to see change.
How much and how often is dictated by how your body feels moving though these phases. What does your training schematic look like? I usually train 2 hard metabolic sessions a week, separated by 2 days of heavy lifting. I use one day to practice a skill (ie. pistol squats) and then have 2 days of much needed rest, depending on the week. I always answer the 3 questions to gauge my readiness. Do you?