Last time I wrote about body basics, I talked about the three mechanisms of fitness, whether that it was a focus on strength, weight loss, or general fitness as a whole. Those three mechanisms were: Stimulate, Adapt, and Recover. I briefly explained each, but I think that there is a lot more information available to us to help us really understand these concepts.
Stimulation, being the first part of the fitness cycle, seems appropriate to start with.
Think of someone sneaking up behind you, and then very quickly yelling in your ear. Most people would probably jump, scream, or in extreme cases flail about. You will almost immediately feel your heart rate go up, feel yourself start to sweat a little, and feel somewhat shaky (for some people). This is a stimulation. Getting startled kicked your body into a state of fight-or-flight (parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous activity). It introduced a stress.
The same is true of your body when you exercise or train. Running, lifting, or moving puts stresses on your body. Now, the body has already adapted to general physical activity, so when we talk about exercise or training, we are talking about planned abnorma
l activity. This means that you are doing it with the purpose of creating a stimulus. In order to know how to create a stimulus, there are 3 ways to create different stimuli for the purpose of training:
Volume is the amount of total reps and sets done in a workout, or total time/duration of an exercise. If you want to stimulate your body utilizing volume, you are either doing more total reps than normal if resistance training, or longer duration if aerobically training. This could mean that after a few weeks of doing 3 sets of 10 reps, you do 4 sets, increase your total volume by 10 reps (now span that across a few more exercises, we're talking a good increase in volume). If you're doing aerobic training, this could mean doing an extra half mile or mile, or an extra 5-10 minutes.
Intensity can be thought of as either the resistance used for a series of sets, or the rate at which an exercised is performed. We know, from a practical level, that 3 sets of 10 at lower resistance is not as intense as 10 sets of 3 at very high resistance. Though they are both 30 total reps, the resistance used to make a set of 10 hard is not as high as the resistance used to make a set of 3 hard. Overall, at the end of 10 sets of 3 reps at a higher resistance, you will have a higher average intensity for those 30 reps. If you are doing aerobic training, you can increase the intensity by increasing the rate of the exercise (this can be done with resistance/strength training, just decrease the rest time between sets). Maybe instead of running two miles at a 8 minute mile pace, run 2 sets of 1 mile at 6:30 pace with a 2 minute rest between sets. Just like the 10 sets of 3 versus 3 sets of 10, the sustained intensity is greater throughout.
This is something I notice a lot of people lacking in their workouts. They come in day after day and do the same routine. Variance can go for both intensity and volume, but I want to talk about it more with exercise selection and order. Every exercise out there stimulates the body (or a muscle) a different way. Even slight changes to a bicep curl, such as doing them palm facing down instead of palm facing up, stimulates a little different. If you are looking to have long term, sustainable progress, you need to vary the exercises you select or the order you do them in. A lot of times we think we need to do all of our exercises in a specific order (from most muscle groups to least), which is true for the most part, but if you want a new stimulus, mix up the order of the exercises. This could mean that you fatigue to smaller muscle groups before you have to use them for a bigger exercise, which definitely introduces a new stimulus. If you always run, hop on the rowing ergometer (commonly called a rower), or on the bike. These choices are variances that can change the stimulus you give your body.
Now, in the next in depth post on body basics, we'll look at adaptation, and how to plan these stimuli into your workouts in order to get the best effect. Hopefully, in the long term, this information will keep you training longer, and seeing more results.