What You Need to Know about Overload/Adaptation if you want Success in Fitness and Weight Loss:

I recently saw a post that said something about Usain Bolt working for 4 years to produce an effort of less than 10 seconds on the track.  It said something like it took 4 years for the 10 seconds and you are wondering why after a few workouts you do not have a six pack yet?  We are in a culture that wants instant results.  Unfortunately, our bodies do not cooperate and cannot be controlled like an Instagram post.   People have a distorted understanding of how the body makes change. 

We have regular educational meetings for the trainers at Sirens & Titans.  The objective is to bring new ideas and further the education of the staff.  One of our recent meetings discussed overload and adaptation and how to optimize this concept for maximum sustained power.  We were focused on the concept as it applies during a workout, but it warrants a further review of the entire concept of overload and how the body adapts. 

Most people’s perception of training is very simplistic.  For example: People think if they start training for a marathon that their heart and lungs get stronger because they are performing more work and this mechanical work results in the cardio system getting physically stronger.  In other words the adaptation (improvement) in running comes because of the heavy breathing and increased beating of the heart.  What really occurs is that once you have an overload in work output over and above the norm your homeostasis is disturbed.  This results in messages being sent to the DNA in the cell.  In many cases this results in an immediate change at the genetic level.  If this disruption is repeated over and over again then eventually the adaptation becomes the new norm.  So in simple terms, going back to my first example of marathon training, the adaptation (improvement) is a result of the stress on the body which results in a message being sent through a signaling pathway to your genes.  This signal is what results in a change in your ability to better deliver and carry oxygen to your legs and run faster. 

At Sirens and Titans I coach many members on body composition and weight loss.  What most people do not realize is that what goes in your mouth will result in an adaptation as well.  If you have been nutritionally stressing your body by poor choices for a number of years then in order to make change you have to have a change in your homeostasis.  It is no different than the change in homeostasis that exercise places on the body.   So if you look at nutrition in a similar fashion you will realize that eating can be a stimulus (good or bad) which sends a message through a pathway to your DNA and results in an adaptation.  Gaining weight is the body’s adaptation to a stimulus that is a result of what and how much you eat.  The problem is that most people realize that to train for a marathon will take many months and to become really proficient will take years.  Unfortunately, most people do not look at weight loss in a similar fashion.  If your current homeostasis has been in place for years, then making a change in your body that is permanent will take some regular and consistent attention to your eating. 

So let’s go back to exercise and see what we can do to shape the resulting adaptations.  I will come back to the weight loss side of the equation.

As a coach it is important to determine what adaptation you are trying to achieve.

At Sirens and Titans we start this process by determining what are the strengths and weaknesses of our athlete and how they apply to their particular sport.  We are determining the athlete’s current homeostasis across the spectrum of fitness.   In the weight loss industry most would refer to this homeostasis as a fat set point.  This fat set point is the composition your body has most comfortably established.   In other words what is the current homeostasis?    As an athlete and coach it is important to revisit this idea because it is a dynamic concept that is constantly changing.  This change takes place on both an inter and intra seasonal level.  In other words, season to season changes as well as changes during the season training. 

So this brings me back to the in service we recently had with our trainers.  At Sirens and Titans we establish primary objectives for each of our workouts.  I instruct the trainers that we have a primary objective so we know what is most important for the athlete to walk away with from this particular workout.  In other words what is the most important training stimulus we are attempting to generate during the workout?   I consider the workout a success if we are able to generate a training stimulus that perfectly matches the adaptation we have determined is most important to this athlete at this point in time.

Here is where it gets tricky.  What if your stimulus objective in a workout is the heaviest 3 rep dead lift the athlete can execute?  The athlete starts the workout feeling kind of crappy and the performance is not where we want it.  If the trainer continues the workout at a suboptimal performance level then the stimulus being produced is not enough to send a message through the pathway to the gene that results in an increase in strength. This is what I call no man’s land training.  The stimulus is not hard enough for an overload or disruption of homeostasis but hard enough to tax the athlete so that subsequent workouts are impacted negatively.  The better decision would have been to change the current training stimulus in the workout that would have allowed the athlete to revisit the initial overload objective in the shortest period of time in the future.  This is typically where the start of overtraining an athlete begins.  Most athletes and individuals spend way too much time in no man’s land training. 

I always say that what a great strength coach really gives an athlete is time.  In other words the athlete is fitter sooner in their careers so the diminishing asset of age has less impact on their reaching their highest levels of performance when they are chronologically most capable of great performance.

So now you have the simple version of overload/adaptation. It is important to identify the appropriate stressors for performance gain it is also important to look at how to speed the adaptation.

Nutrition is a huge contributor, not only from a long term perspective but also in accomplishing appropriate stimulus during a workout.  Try to understand where your body performs optimally and what you eat before during and after a workout.  Athletes can easily articulate to you max lifts for most exercises in the gym, 100 meter times, 40 yds. etc.  However, try asking them the macro and micro nutrient composition of breakfast and most will have a blank stare.  POOR NUTRITION IS A STRESS.  You should keep a food journal until you know how it impacts your performance. 

Knowing your primary objective helps you to create a workout environment that best reflects the desired adaptation.  Is today a strength day, anaerobic fitness day, aerobic day, and how do those different workouts impact your adaptation objectives.  Is the workout conflicting with your performance goals both short term and long term?  What is the specific sport and how does your program design impact the performance objectives of the sport.

In addition more and more science both in weight loss and sports performance is looking at sleep, daily life stress, arousal before and after a workout, and of course nutrition.  All of these stresses send messages to your genes that will impact or shape the adaptation. 

So if you want the most effective and fastest adaptation for both fitness and weight loss, understand that everything you do impacts this process.


Stimulus > Message Sent>Signaling Pathway>Genetic Expression>Adaptation.

You can control a large part of this equation to give you the quickest and most desirable result.


When you are finally ready to start training let us know. 

 Truth in Fitness

Jacques DeVore, CSCS