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. Stress of any kind disrupts homeostasis by presenting a stimulus that forces the body to respond by bolstering itself up making sure that next time the stressor hits it will not be caught off guard. The body's desire for homeostasis and its response to when homeostasis is disrupted 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.

There are 5 key strategies to employ to disrupt stress. In this post I will highlight a couple, but throughout the series I will go more in depth regarding each. These strategies are:

  1. Volume - The total amount work performed
  2. Intensity - The heaviness of the weight used.
  3. Variation - Different, but similar exercises used.
  4. Density - How much work you do in the time allotted.
  5. Frequency - How often you work.

Without going too far down the rabbit trail each of these are interrelated, however, they can only be manipulated their own way, which I will talk about in coming posts.

So these are strategies to disrupt homeostasis, however, 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. Although to give recovery the respect it deserves requires it's own post, which I will talk about later. 

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.
 

Why I Stopped Training Myself

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, "A man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client". I like to paraphrase it a bit and say, "A man who is his own personal trainer, has a fool for a client". 

I'm going to be vulnerable today. I recently had to do some introspection because I was stalling in my training. We've all been there, we've plateaued, or whatever was working stops working. And these plateaus can be frustrating. For me, I was going on close to a year without any real progress, and I was wracking my brain. 

It's when I took a step back I realized the issue. I had been training myself. More specifically writing my own programs and holding myself accountable.

At the surface this doesn't seem all bad. I write a lot of really good and successful programs, for other people. The issue when it comes to myself is the fact that I can't get out of my mind the exercises I enjoy doing. 

I wrote really good programs, but most if not all the exercises were exercises I enjoyed. The issue with this is that these were exercises I didn't really need. When working with other people I often notice the exercises we hate the most are often the ones we need. This was the first problem. 

The next issue I had training myself is the fact that I'm holding myself accountable. Even when I put exercises in place that I needed I would always find a way around it. My knowledge base was my own enemy. I know a million different variations, and would somehow find a way to talk myself into an easier variation. Before long the program changed entirely from what it was originally supposed to be. 

 

All these issues continued for a long time, and it wasn't until I checked my ego at the door and started doing a program that was not my own that I've started to see success again.

This is a pitfall we all need to be cautious about when it comes to our own training. We all have a tendency of doing what we think we need and in all actuality it's really just something we want, and not what we actually need. 

Being trained or coached by someone other than yourself goes a long way in helping you work harder, be more consistent, actually do what you need and most importantly feel accountable to someone who isn't you. 

- Dave