General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) & avoid Overtraining

Something that can creep up on us after Xmas when getting back to the gym with plenty of motivation fuelled New Years Resolutions is ‘Overtraining’.

Overtraining is something that, as coaches, we have spoken to individuals about in the past if they have been feeling fatigued or picking up little niggley injuries.

The importance of Rest and Recovery is common knowledge, yet for those fitness fanatics – or those on a mission to lose a few pounds after the festive period it is something that can often fall by the way side.

Understanding the theory behind Overtraining may just help you appreciate the importance of avoiding it and keeping you injury free and making improvements in performance.

The effects of training can be understood within the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ known often as The G.A.S Theory. This theory states that when an external stressor (exercise) is added, the body goes through a series of short-term responses and long-term adaptations (GAINZ). Repeated exposure to sub stressors will eventually lead to tolerance of this stressor. Basically, if you Squat a weight that challenges you but doesn’t cripple you over a number of weeks, your body will meet the challenge by getting stronger. Weight that once felt heavy will start to feel light – again something that we try and enforce with everyone when working through our strength components or within a workout. Technique is everything, Load is king. Take the time to master the techniques and you will still make good gains as a result.

The stressor must be of an appropriate quantity in order to generate adaptation. This is the principle of Overload, which refers to the application of a physical stimulus – greater than that to which you are already accustomed – to encourage adaptation to the new stimulus after frequent exposure. We need to increase the weight we lift or the reps we do over time if we want to continue to stress and progress. You won’t continue to build muscle mass and strength if you squat 50kg forever, you’re going to have to add a little of weight over days, weeks or months, depending how quickly your body adapts.

Too little stress – will cause no disruption of to our homeostasis, so there will be no adaptation and no change in performance.

Too much stress will cause a disruption to our homeostasis, but will be too much for the body to handle and as a result will have a negative effect on performance.

The appropriate amount of stress will cause a disruption of our homeostasis and cause positive changes and adaptations, and resulting in performance gains.

Performance gains do not occur during a workout, they occur when the body recovers from a workout. When you’re training hard – REST is the most important part of training, not training MORE. Immediately following a workout, there is an initial drop in performance due to fatigue. Given the right recovery time, Supercompensation will occur.

This is a mechanism where the body reacts to a stress by improving the level it was previously functioning at, resulting in increased performance. You train to stress the body, you get tired and sore, the body goes into panic mode and boots up recovery processes to build a stronger, fitter, faster you! Get your nutrition on point and you will see optimal results!

This is all well and good, if recovery processes outweigh post-workout fatigue. If training and recovery are imbalanced, Overload will eventually bring on Overtraining, rather than Supercompensation. Performance will remain low from overload and could continue to decline if recovery processes aren’t given a chance to catch up. With overtraining comes increased risk of injury, hormonal imbalances, depressed mood, pain, poor sleep and general fatigue. If you walk into ION feeling excessively tight, slow, sore and unmotivated, you would most likely benefit from a day off!

Training in a highly fatigued state will only further exhaust the body’s ability to recover and adapt.

Our programme quantifies volume and intensity of training to control the level of stress being placed on you. Yet we all tolerate training stress and recovery times at a different rate, so it is important to take an individualised approach and accountability to planning your own REST DAYS. Age, training experience, sex, diet, sleep and genetics all effect training tolerance and recovery. If uncertain just ask one of our ION coaches for some guidance.

As an individual becomes more advanced, the stress must become greater, striking a balance between training and recovery. Surprisingly often, what individuals need to overcome a plateau is not more work, but more rest.

Performance only progresses if we give our bodies time to react to stress, recover and make positive adaptations. Overload is essential for progress, but only if it can be recovered from.

Please take onboard what’s been written and listen closely to your body, and take a rest day when you need it. Train SMART – GET BETTER, not injured!

Robin Sowden-Taylor
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