Probably one of the most misunderstood concepts in training concepts would be the Stress Recovery Adaptation cycle.
In simple terms, you must place your body under stress, then give it time to recover, after which your body has adapted to said stress.
For training to be productive, you must balance these three factors on a scale. You must endure enough stress, that is both specific and tolerable. Give your body enough time and resources to recover, which then allows it to adapt.
Stress comes in many forms, I’ll be focusing on training stress and more specifically, stress that is caused by weight training. The stress must be:
- Specific: Running 5 miles or even 20 reps won’t increase your single rep squat
- At a suitable level: bodyweight squats will never help you squat 300 lbs and you also don’t go into the gym on day one and load up 300lbs and try to squat that.
This one is pretty straight forward, you need to give your body time and resources to recover from the stress. Otherwise, people would train for 24 hours a day and be deadlifting 1000 lbs within a year. This incorporates proper rest and nutrition. Making sure you have adequate sleep and are eating enough of the right foods.
This is probably the point that most people forget about. Adaptation is an important part of the cycle. Without it, you would forever squat the same weight. With the first two principles in mind, we’re gradually increasing the body’s capability to not only perform a task, but get better at recovering from said task.
There’s a reason why most novice programs begin with three days a week. This gives a beginner’s body ample time to adjust to a novel stress. This structure allows the body to adapt to not only training for three days, but more importantly, it’s adapting the body to recovering from three days of training – which may have been zero in the past.
It’s also why a beginner should never go to failure. This is too much stress to place on a beginner. Much like you wouldn’t try and learn quantam physics in one day, you would probably start with basic arithmetic and as you accumulate more knowledge, you would expand your difficulty.
What this means for the mid level athlete, is that the body has become suited to both the stress and the recovery. When someone hits a plateau, is it because they are too stressed or not stressed enough? I would argue it is due to a lack of stress. As you lift more and more, your body is capable of recovering from more and more, so you need to increase the stress your body is exposed to in order to move forward and progress.