Are you Training like a Lion? What is Overload/Adaptation?

 I am going to spend some time in the next few entries discussing some training principles that are necessary for anyone training today at any level of sport or fitness. I am going to start with the concept of overload /adaptation.

On the surface this principle is simple. An overload is a stress on the body over and above what is normal. If the body is stressed at this level on a regular basis it will adapt to that stress by altering the body to accommodate this new above normal stress level. Once the adaptation accommodates the new stress level there is a new normal level of performance. On the surface this seems like a very simple concept, however without the appropriate training infrastructure to support this concept there is great amount of time that is wasted. At Sirens and Titans we understand that the real product we provide to our clients is time. I know that sounds funny coming from strength and conditioning center. An athlete has a limited amount of training time in a career.

Let’s assume they start their sport at 12 years old and if they rise to the highest level of sport and become a professional they typically retire at 30-35 dependent on the sport. This is a best case basis. Most athletes have a much shorter career, but I just want to demonstrate the impact of poor training on an athletic career. Now let’s assume that an athlete has 12 weeks a year that is off season. This is the time where they can really focus on improving their fitness. By the way, this is usually much less than 12 weeks. That is 276 weeks over 17 years. This is the best case scenario excluding any downtime for any reason. Life has a tendency to get in the way and training time is regularly compromised. The purpose of strength and conditioning coach is to maximize the athletic performance during this time. If an athlete has subpar training for one of the 17 years there is a 4.34% loss of training time. In other words the athlete is 4.34% less fit in the 17th year of their career if all else is equal.

If you lose 2 off seasons the loss is 24 weeks and the loss goes up to over 8%. Of course this is a very general way of looking at the idea of time and is not exact but you get the idea. The impact in the first 8 years of an athlete’s career is even more damaging. In addition early in a career when an athlete is less mature and has just begun to realize their genetic potential the gains can be substantial and also contribute greatly to the mental game of the athlete. As fitness improves confidence grows. How does all of this relate to your overload/adaptation and training as an athlete? First it should be a wakeup call for the necessity of developing an overarching strategy for your training. In the 1960’s the eastern bloc countries would identify athletes with genetic potential and then create strategies that would cover 10 years in length. This was in the form of a structured periodization. I do not think it is necessary to look forward 10 years however the idea of understanding where you want to be and how you are going to get there is of great importance in being successful in sport today. Today most strength coaches are usually good at the tactics of training, but not so good at the strategy. In other words, if you go to the gym and workout with your trainer, you will have a good workout with all types of innovative functional training techniques but most of the time there is no strategy to answer the question as to why you did this workout.

Why are you doing heavy squats today?

Why are you doing deadlifts?

How many reps, rest, why?

How will today’s workout impact tomorrow and how did yesterday’s influence todays and next week?

How did this week’s workout impact 5 weeks from now?

Every workout is a link in chain of a champion. All of this brings me back to overload /adaptation. As stated earlier an overload must be over and above what is normal for the body to make an adaptation. In other words, if you always do deadlifts with 200 lbs. your body will never need to make the changes necessary to lift 400 lbs. This is where the wheels usually fall off in training at the elite level. The funny thing about training is that any change in the normal training routine will typically result in some type of adaptation. That means that any new training routine will show some progress. However, your body usually adapts quickly and then the changes stop once an adaptation is made. This is typically where time slips away in a career. Unless the training program has a structured strategy that is monitored and recorded precious time is lost. All of our coaches at Sirens and Titans are required to share with the client the daily workout strategy and also the longer term strategy which was developed when the client started training at our center. This allows the athlete to have a window into why we are training or resting in a particular fashion, and also forces us to constantly be articulating and reviewing our training strategies.

The strategy is dynamic and personalized and will change with increases in fitness. Weekly reviews of the strategy are made by the whole training staff, to insure relevancy and maximize progress. Some athletes recover at different rates of speed and this must be accounted for in the workouts. In fact as the athlete gets fitter the strategy has to be more precise and the tactics become much more important. Tactics are very important in getting overloads during a workout with an elite athlete. The work/rest ratio becomes very important in generating overloads in an athlete. I call it training like a lion. A lion hunts to survive. They rest all day long allowing their bodies to recover so that when they hunt they are at optimum speed and ability. If the lion was to halfheartedly chase down prey they would become tired and not catch their prey and eventually starve. The lion lays in wait and slowly stalks its prey, then with all of the energy available chases and pounces on the prey to insure the capture.

Athletes can learn something from this. If the athlete is regularly training at sub optimum overloads then no adaptation will take place. They will eventually fall into a no man’s land of training. This training is typified by workouts that are too hard for recovery but not hard enough for an overload. The work rest ratio must be vigilantly monitored to determine if the athlete is generating the optimum overloads. As an athlete gets fitter the rest needs to be greater and the intensity higher in order to obtain an overload. This is why most athletes stay at good and never become great. The overarching strategy and the monitoring of work rest is one of the most important aspects of quality training. This insures proper overloads and subsequent adaptations.

I will talk more about the tactics of training which are of great importance in obtaining overloads during a specific workout.


Jacques Devore, CSCS Sirens and Titans Fitness