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How Does General Adaptation Syndrome Affect Fitness Training

How Does General Adaptation Syndrome Affect Fitness Training

Reading Time: 5 minutes


DATE: 2019-06-12

Understanding how our bodies react to training helps to inform us how we should train and what sort of thinking ought to go into programming for our clients. It isn't just a matter of seeming more professional, rather, it's essential that you know what's going on with this principle as it relates to exercise science so you can maximize your clients' athletic performance and really deliver results.

One huge component of this is General Adaptation Syndrome, or GAS for short. When it comes down to success in the gym, everything comes from this principle. When you see a bodybuilder make massive gains or an obese person lose weight, you are witnessing GAS in practice.

As we become better informed on concepts such as these, it is easier for us to explain our methodology to our clients. If someone is trying to do too much too quickly, for instance, training for a marathon in too short of a timeframe, then it could be useful to explain the effects of long-term stress on the body. This would help you articulate the point and get your client on the same page as you in terms of their goals and programming. When we engage in a workout, we are causing a stressor that will result in the body adapting—whether that's to increase one's heart rate for a longer duration than they were used to or to increase the resistance in their lifts.

We challenge our bodies in terms of strength and endurance to make them adapt. So, let's dive further into this concept.

What is General Adaptation Syndrome?

Dr. Hans Selye was a medical researcher credited with the discovery of GAS. He was the first professional to give a technical term to the observation of how organisms change when exposed to a stimulus. He published research on this subject in 1936, and it still serves as the basis for our understanding of how organisms react to their environments.

Selye postulated that an organism's stress response can be broken into three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. In each of these stages, something unique is happening which causes several changes in the body.

In the alarm stage, the "fight or flight" response is engaged within an organism's body. As stress levels rise hormones rise, especially your cortisol levels. Additionally, there is a boost in adrenaline levels.

In the resistance stage, the body starts pushing back. Your blood pressure might start returning to more normal levels, following a spike from the alarm stage. This is where the body is trying to return to a sense of normal following an initial stressor.

In the exhaustion stage, your body has endured high levels of stress for a longer period of time and you will likely start to feel physical effects such as burnout, decrease in energy, and fatigue, especially after several days without relief.

Although this might seem obvious to a personal trainer who has observed this phenomenon many times, having the right terminology to associate with it will help you to ensure you're adjusting your programming appropriately to maximize your client's training program.

Often, it's little touches like this that separate an okay trainer from a great one. Most certified personal trainers have the knowledge, but sadly, not all of them apply it.

So How Does This Apply to Exercise?

As mentioned before, GAS explains how our training plans work. The important part is for personal trainers to utilize this knowledge to make their programming better. It doesn't matter if it's purely weight training, powerlifting, strength and conditioning, obstacle course training, or any other category of exercise, GAS is the key to optimizing the results you get out of it.

For resistance exercise, it's very explicit—forcing contractions of your muscles end up causing the gains in one's ability and muscle mass. Let's take one classic strength training exercise, the bench press. As a person's body performs more repetitions, moving solidly into the resistance phase of GAS, the exertion causes fatigue within the muscle group. Stop at the first sign of soreness and your performance will not improve. However, push yourself beyond in a safe manner, and you will be able to lift more weight and more repetitions as you develop.

However, it's important that you not go too far. Overload is the concept where an athlete must always push beyond where they currently are to improve. However, overtraining, insufficient rests during workouts, and lack of recovery can do damage. This is what happens in the exhaustion stage. Whereas it's essential for clients to push themselves, they can absolutely go too far.

Observe how your client is reacting as they push into the latter sets of their workouts. Are they taking the time they need to rest before tackling another set? Are they mentally focused? Is their fatigue starting to affect their form? Keep an eye out for all of this.

The Mental Aspect of Training

Remember that GAS is a matter of mental stress as well. Although it isn't the primary focus of what personal trainers do, it's still an integral piece of the puzzle. Your clients are relying on you to give them workouts that help facilitate their lives, not make them more difficult.

For instance, your time as a personal trainer is a great opportunity to help your clients alleviate the stress they feel in their lives. Some trainers try to simply be hardcore and push through workouts that are the toughest possible. Whereas some clients will react well to this, others will take the stress from this and add it to their lives. Sometimes, it can be useful to alter someone's programming to also account for the stress they encounter in their work lives.

For instance, if they spend all day sitting, design workout routines that keep them on their feet and in constant movement. Or, conversely, if they spend most of their day on their feet, sometimes, it can be a nice change of pace to incorporate more static, machine-based exercises, like a stationary rower, hanging leg raise machines, and so forth. This is just an advisement as it isn't always possible to do, just try your best to make their workouts something that alleviates stress in their lives, and doesn't add to it.

Success Moving Forward

Make sure that you're actively looking for ways to apply this with your own clients. It doesn't do a personal trainer any good to know this information and not apply it. Furthermore, this knowledge is best shared. Share it with your clients and prospects.

Demonstrating your mastery of concepts like General Adaptation Syndrome can actually do wonders for recruiting new clients. It only serves to reinforce your expertise and credibility as a fitness professional.

It's essential to challenge your clients. It's only through the challenge that they will eventually grow and adapt to the level of fitness they want to reach. Remember that it requires overload, but too much overload can do damage. And overall, your first job is to keep your clients from getting injured. Otherwise, they might as well be working out with their friends. It's your knowledge that sets you apart from the amateur trainer. Put it to use!

Interested in working with clients to improve their health and fitness and ready to take the next step? Get more information on how to become certified an ISSA Personal Trainer and start improving your future today!

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