Why do we train?
I don’t just your own goals about why you train. I mean why do we physically have to train? Why do we have to put our bodies through the physical and mental pain of intense exercise? Can’t we just magically get stronger, fitter, and leaner, without putting in some work?
I think you all know the answer to that one.
But why is that so?
The human body is really, really good at surviving. It’s always trying to maintain a state of balance and normality – what is known as homeostasis. Every single thing that your body is doing is trying to maintain this state, and it will adapt to any changes to survive. We drink when we’re thirsty because water levels are low; we sweat when it’s hot to bring our body temperature to normal; we lose weight (muscle and body fat) when we don’t eat enough because your body has to draw energy from somewhere to survive if you don’t feed it. The body is always trying to do something to bring things in to balance and a state of ‘normal’.
Exercise is no different.
Physical movement and exercise is needed if we want to elicit physical changes to our own body. As a survival mechanism, it will adapt to the stress you have imposed on it so that it can better deal with the same situation next time. This is why your overall fitness improves when you begin to train regularly. Initially, the physical stress that training puts on your body will cause it to realise that it needs to adapt to this activity to survive. Over time with regular training, your body will utilise oxygen better, your lung capacity improves, your lactate threshold improves, and your strength and endurance increases – and hence you are now fitter. It’s trying to maintain that balance. Your body sees intense exercise as a threat to it’s survival, and so it will adapt by making those changes (that happen to be positive) that we all desire.
So while training is the stimulus that provides the body with a REASON to adapt, we also need to give our bodies the proper tools to be able to do so effectively. This is where your recovery protocols matter the most – most importantly this comes down to your nutrition and your sleep. Simply put, if you don’t provide your body with enough recovery appropriate for your training load, your body will not have the time and resources to effectively adapt to all that physical stress.
You might think it’s a great idea to have multiple intense training sessions a day so that you can produce faster results. That’s fine, only if your recovery is enough to support that load and frequency, otherwise you’re just driving your body into the ground. However, more sessions won’t necessarily mean more results. There’s a point at which the body can only cope with so much stress before you burn out – when you have reached the point of ‘over-training’. The feeling of mentally burning out, feeling drained, where your performance suffers, and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere. You may even start to get sick as your immune system is weakened. You might even begin to dread the thought of training. These are classic signs of over-training, or as I like to think of it, under-recovery.
In this day and age where everything is go, go, go, and we all want results instantly, and it can be tempting to want to do more all the time. From a physiological standpoint, it’s important to understand that it’s okay, and sometimes necessary, to slow down.
The graph below outlines the process of adaptation – you put your body through a stress, and it adapts and develops a resistance to it (in our case, get fitter and stronger). What you want to do is to avoid the ‘exhaustion’ phase, which is achieved by ensuring that you recover enough from your training sessions. The more frequent and intense your training sessions are, the more diligent you have to be when it comes to your recovery. This is why there is such a premium on your nutritional habits and sleeping patterns. They are the two simplest things to work on, and improving both will dramatically improve performance and your results much more than any other recovery protocol you try. Other factors do come in to play when it comes to managing recovery, such as overall stress levels (work, family, other commitments), stretching/mobility work, and literally how you spend the rest of your day. However, nutrition and sleep are the first things you should be focusing on when it comes to recovery.
Make sure you are eating well, eating enough, and getting between 7-9 hours sleep a night.
Not sure how you should be eating to improve performance?
Come and have a chat to us, or book yourself in for a Nutrition & Lifestyle Consult!