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A STRESS AND ADAPTATION FORMULA FOR RUNNERS
If we assign -1 to the “stress” part, and +2 to the “rest” part, we get a +1 for the “adaptation” part. So I tell my athletes all the time - when you do a workout, you do not walk off the track stronger, faster, fitter, or with more stamina. You are actually worse! It’s true, the workout stresses your body, creates micro-tears in your muscles, or (if it’s a long one) leaves you depleted of glycogen and energy. It’s not a fun place to be. If you were to stay in such a state, your fitness and health would deteriorate.
So what does appropriate recovery look like? Well, remember that the hard workout is actually detrimental to your body, especially if you were not in a good place to begin with when it started. You are in a -1 state. It’s like giving yourself a cold or a slight fever. How would you take care of yourself if you were sick? It might seem like a stretch, but it isn’t. The treatment is the same. You drink extra fluids. You eat something healthy, especially with a dose of protein if your muscles are beat up, and as quickly as you can after the workout is over. You get to bed a bit earlier than usual and get extra rest. And, finally, you take it easy the next day. If it was an especially challenging workout, you might need to take it easy the next two or three days. If it was a race, you might need a week or more, and so on. Your body will tell you what it needs. Your job is to listen.
There is an old saying that progress in life often happens by taking one step back and two steps forward. Training is the same way.
So if stressing our body in this way is actually damaging, then why do we do it? We do it because of the second, all-important part of the formula. With proper recovery, your body will repair itself, absorb the hard effort, and undergo what exercise physiologists refer to as “supercompensation.” In other words, what doesn’t kill you might make you stronger. But it’s crucial to recognize not only that this is a two-part process, but that the second part is where the magic happens. The recovery must be done correctly, and even then it will only give you a +1. Not a +2 or a +3. There is no magical workout that can do that. It’s not how the body works. Fitness evolves over time in small increments. And fitness will always hit a ceiling.
An often-quoted formula for training is: stress + rest = adaptation. It’s a good recipe for how to advance in your fitness, but like all good formulas, it works better with numbers.
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Coach Plummer has guided both sprinters and distance runners in their training. He runs competitively for the Central Park Track Club and trains year-round for road races, indoor and outdoor track, and cross-country. He is also a USA Track and Field Level 1 certified coach.
Remember, if you skimp on the recovery, you might only get a +1, rather than the needed +2 to actually advance your fitness. A -1 and a +1 gives you zero for all of that hard work. Now imagine this happening workout after workout, week after week. Don’t let that happen! Get all the gains you can out of every hard effort. Be patient, and give your body time to absorb, replenish, and repair.
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