The Rocking Chair of Homeostasis: The Key to Training Progress

The human body is remarkable. One aspect that does not cease to amaze me is the body's ability to adapt. Think about the smell, for instance; we've all experienced those rank odors that just are not appealing to the nose. After a while, whether we want it to or not we grow used to the smell. 

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This ability to adapt is both a good and bad aspect in regards to training. To some extent we want the adaptation to occur because, well this is how we improve. However, this adaptation is something we must also battle against because if our body stops adapting due to lack of appropriate stimuli, then we will not improve or grow. This adaptation is called homeostasis, and because of it, if we want to see results we have to treat our body as if we are in a dating relationship with it. Hear me out. 

Good relationships are like a rocking chair. Have you ever sat in a rocking chair? What happens when you rock too far back? If you have tried this, there is always the feeling that the rocking chair may slip right out from under you. Have you ever leaned too far forward? You are no longer comfortable and may even feel some cramping take the place of said comfort. If you've ever been in a dating relationship where you rocked too far back you find your significant other may not be all too pleased and start writing you off. If you push too far forward and do not give any space, you may find your significant other acting aloof feeling overcrowded. With this in mind let's explore what homeostasis is and what it does. 

 

Homeostasis is the bodies desire to keep everything balanced and is the primary driver as to why adaptation occurs. Training disrupts homeostasis by presenting a stimulus that causes stress and the body responds by preparing itself for the stressor for the next time said stressor presents itself to the body. The body's desire for homeostasis is how we grow. 

However, if we continually do the same thing all the time eventually the body no longer perceives what we are doing as a stressor, and the adaptation either slows down substantially or in some cases stops occurring. 

We want homeostasis to occur, and at the same time, we want to disrupt homeostasis. As a result, different strategies have to be employed. We must understand the functions of the autonomic nervous system as well as periodization. In all honesty, understanding how the balance of disrupting and encouraging homeostasis is the foundation of fitness. Fitness professionals, myself included, are continually trying to figure out how to go about manipulating homeostasis for best results. I will do my best in this post to help give you the framework for the disruption strategy.

The first thing to understand is something called volume. Volume, in regards to training, is the total work performed during a workout. In most cases the formula for volume is sets*reps*weight. In our disruption strategy volume over time, must continuously increase. However, it should be thought of like two steps forward one step backward type of plan. The easiest way to improve volume is just to increase one of the three variables within the formula I presented. You do not need to increase all three at the same time, but such is a tangent for another occasion. Naturally, and subtly increase one at a time, and you will steadily disrupt homeostasis in a recoverable manner. 

Aside from understanding volume is learning and even mastering exercise variations. This is where movement patterns come into the discussion. At HPI we focus on six main movement patterns:

  1. Squat (Quad Dominant)
  2. Hinge (Hip Dominant)
  3. Single Leg
  4. Reach (Vertical/Horizontal)
  5. Pull (Vertical/Horizontal)
  6. Core (Crawl, Carry, etc.)

For each of these movement patterns, I can think of at least three different exercise you can perform that will disrupt homeostasis enough to cause a need for adaptation without severely hindering recovery. However, this will be a later post in the series.

Finally, recovery must be taken into account. During moments of recovery, this is where our body adapts the most. However, we mustn't recover all the time. Otherwise, this ends up being pointless. 

I hope you are starting to see how our bodies must be treated with the thought of balance. Just like the rocking chair of relationships so also must we treat homeostasis as a rocking chair. Push too far with training and our body may become overtrained, but pull too far back and we will not present enough stimulus for our body to adapt. 

 

So where is the balance? How do we stay comfortable in the rocking chair known as training and our body's response? These are subjects I will discuss in coming posts.