(Before starting any fitness routine, contact your doctor for a complete physical and advice to ensure that you are healthy and have no underlying problems that could worsen during an exercise regimen.)
The Ability of Your Body to Remember
Your body has a unique ability to remember and adapt. One of the primary things you must remember when training for fitness or a specific goal, to make gains and improve your performance, you must utilize a training program that will ensure your body does not adapt to one weight or way of training.
This process has many names depending on who is describing it. The most common name used is periodization. This is when you develop your program that allows changes in the program at planned intervals to reach your goal. When developing any program you must keep your goal in mind and your periodization program should allow you to reach that goal.
Your body has the ability to adapt to situations. This ability is due to our evolution through our development. This includes storing of body fat, dealing with stress, and putting limits on how much work it will support. Each person is different in their body’s ability and learning what those limits are depends on each individual. Not everyone can lift 300 pounds or run a marathon. We as individuals are different creating a unique situation. Not all programs will be the same and each may require adapting what works.
Survival and Defensive Mechanism
Our defensive and survival mechanism in our being will cause our body’s to store fat if it feels that we are starving it. Which is one of the reasons that fad diets and in many cases dieting in general do not work on a long term basis. Especially those that have us eating so little that we are always hungry. Or when we continually put the same amount of stress in our programs that allows our body to learn to only put out the amount of energy required for that effort. This adaptation also can even fall into how your body processes food and nutrients.
An example of this is how marathon runners can continually run those 26.2 miles and make it look easy. Their bodies have learned to adapt and conserve energy over long periods. Granted it takes an incredible amount of training to reach this point and an immense amount of running. But even they must use periodization in their training to continue to improve their times and the ability for their bodies to take stress.
The same effect happens to those who do weight training. If they continue to lift only one amount, your muscles learn to adapt and will only generate the minimum amount of force to lift that weight.
What This Means to You
When developing any fitness or exercise program you must keep this in mind. Your individual program should continue to balance between increasing and decreasing loads or effort to ensure your body does not adapt there by decreasing your chances of achieving your goal. Any program must include aerobic and resistance training.
If you are working to improve your overall fitness, then your program should include changes in intensity and volume of your aerobic activity as well as anaerobic or resistance work load.
Intensity in your aerobic activity would be increasing your speed or including walking/running hills to increase the intensity. The volume equates to the distance of time spent in this activity. The same goes with resistance activity. Increasing the intensity would include the speed of your repetitions or the number of sets for each body part. In regards to volume, by increasing and decreasing the amount of weight used in exercises will ensure your muscles will not adapt and continue to grow stronger and improve your overall fitness.
The thing you must understand and always keep in mind is that our bodies through evolution have learned to adapt and change with the amount of stress we place on it. Change is good when it comes to fitness. That does not mean to go to extremes. If you progress too quickly and our bodies are not prepared for that dramatic change, it will more than likely cause more damage. In other words, don’t go out and run a marathon on the first day. Establish an exercise routine that you can stick with and then continually vary the activity. Perhaps for aerobic activity, schedule aerobic class training on Monday, running/jogging on Wednesday and then maybe swimming on Friday, with a family activity such as bike riding or hiking on the weekend.
Several studies easily found on the internet have shown resistance training is essential for your health and well being and must be included in any fitness program. As well as varying your aerobic exercise, you need to also vary your resistance training. This may require work and study to discover what works for you. A personal trainer can help but most of you do not know a good trainer or have no desire to pay someone to do something we think we can do ourselves. But that is another article.
In varying your resistance training, you should develop an initial program to begin with, one that you enjoy and like to do. This may be a full body workout doing one exercise for each body part. Then after a couple of weeks, modify this workout and split your workouts between upper and lower body adding one or two more exercises per body part. You should also increase the intensity as I discussed before which will also vary the stress placed on your muscles and keep them from adapting to a constant and never changing routine.
Keeping a diary of your workouts can help you see your progress and assist in how your program is working. Keep notes on how you felt after your activity. These can help in determining your individual limits and see any progress you make in your overall development. For example, if your aerobic activity was a 30 minute run and you felt extremely tired, you may consider dropping your running time to 20 minutes until you have built up your stamina.
Without saying, if at anytime during your exercise routine, you experience fatigue, severe pain, or difficulty breathing, stop your activity and decrease the intensity immediately.
The Bottom Line
If you want to get the most out of any exercise routine and improve the overall health and ability of your body to handle the stress and grow stronger, you need to vary your exercise routine. We as humans have a unique ability to adapt and conserve our energy as a preservation response. If you have been working out for a long time or are just getting started, factor in variations in your exercise routine to continue to make gains. If you don’t your body will adapt and you will find yourself reaching a plateau and may get frustrated with the lack of progress.
*Richard Hinkle is a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Navy, certified as a Personal Trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), a contracted ISSA Rep and owner of Tala Personal Fitness. In 1983 he was diagnosed with Aorta Insufficiency and in 2002 had open heart surgery. One year, one month, and one day after his surgery, he participated in the Marine Corps Marathon completing it in 5 hrs and 40 minutes.