How many of you have ever gone to the gym and spent a specified amount of time on a treadmill? Maybe it was for a warm-up before hitting the weights with your trainer or maybe it was for a specific amount of time that had been set out as a cardio session in your current training block? Now how many of you have worked out at the same speed and incline each day? Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that you’ve cultivated some discipline by doing that, the bad news is that most likely after you finished your second or third session you ceased to make any further improvements to your level of fitness. Why is that?
In order to answer this question we’re going to take a look into some of what is going on behind the scenes with our bodies whenever we apply a stimulus to them.
Homeostasis is a term developed by Claude Bernard, to describe the concept that an organism or cell had an internal environment that could maintain its condition regardless of the external conditions. However, we now know that the ability the organism or cell has to maintain it’s homeostasis is quite limited. The internal environment can be maintained only if the change in external conditions is not great.
For example, a small change in external temperature is tolerable. If the change in external conditions is too large, it exceeds the organism or cell’s ability to regulate the internal environment. As a result the organism or cell will have a response. If the change in external conditions is applied multiple times, this will lead to an adaptation.
When a single stimulus is applied that disrupts homeostasis, physiologic processes occur to restore it. However, if the stimulus is applied repeatedly, the body will find that it is not efficient enough to constantly elicit the same processes. Instead, the body will elicit processes that change the condition of the organism or cell. This process is a very simplified version of what we’ve come to know as adaptation.
The whole purpose of exercise is to elicit adaptations in order to sustain or improve health and/or physical fitness. By understanding the process in which we disrupt homeostasis to bring about an adaptation, we can identify the important parameters to manipulate when developing exercise programs.
First, the stimulus must be sufficient to disrupt homeostasis. A stimulus will be sufficient if it is the right type of stimulus AND if it is of sufficient volume and intensity i.e. if you want your squats to get stronger you need to squat a volume and intensity that will allow you to do so. Second, the stimulus must be applied multiple times i.e. a 200kg back squat doesn’t happen overnight, you need to expose yourself to squatting multiple times.
These facts give rise to the FITT principle, which is an acronym for the 4 parameters to be manipulated and controlled in an exercise program.
- F stands for frequency, which relates to the application of the stimulus multiple times. For example, are you squatting once a week, twice a week, or three times a week?
- I stands for intensity, which is the exercise difficulty. For example: are the squats mentioned above being performed at 65%, 75%, 85%, or 90% of your current 1 rep max?
- The first T stands for type, so what type of exercise is performed. Are you performing strength training or cardiovascular training? Is your training targeted at increasing your maximal strength, power, aerobic capacity, etc. Or are you performing a specific exercise, i.e. the squat.
- The second T stand for time, which is a measure of volume, or the amount of exercise performed. Volume can be broken down into the amount of reps, sets, total load lifted, etc.
We know that exercise stimulates adaptation through disruption of
homeostasis. However, over time this will lead to two distinct problems.
The first is diminishing returns. Diminishing returns means that for the same stimulus, a smaller disruption of homeostasis occurs, therefore less adaptation. Said another way, the same stimulus (FITT variables) applied over time will result in lesser improvements, so the returns are diminished.
Let’s look at an example of this: An individual performs 5 sets of 5 reps at an intensity of 75% of their 1 rep max on back squats over the course of 12 weeks. Initially they might notice or feel like they are getting stronger, however, as the 12 weeks progress they might notice that they aren’t feeling much of a difference. The squats no longer feel as hard as they used to and they feel as if they have plateaued. The initial feeling of having made some change to their level of strength could be the result of some increased neuromuscular efficiency, however, in time the body will have adapted to that stimulus and they will no longer be eliciting enough of a response to warrant the body needing to adapt to the stimulus. Eventually, the returns (adaptations) no longer occur, because the same stimulus no longer disrupts homeostasis. At this point, accommodation has occurred.
So how do we prevent accommodation from occurring and keep making gains?
To continue to make progress we need to figure out a way to keep eliciting adaptations, this is accomplished initially by manipulating the frequency, intensity, and/or volume of the exercise, or by changing up specific exercises.
There are multiple ways of going about manipulating each of these variables. Listed below are only a couple of very brief and simple examples:
- Manipulating the intensity only from week to week: Week 1: Back Squats: 5×5 @ 75%, Week 2 Back Squats: 5×5 @ 80%
- Manipulating the only the volume from week to week: Week 1 Back Squats: 5×5 @ 75%, Week 2 Back Squats 5×6 @ 75%
- Manipulating both the intensity and the volume: Week 1 Back Squats 5×5 @ 75%, Week 2 Back Squats 5×3 @ 80%.
- Manipulating the exercise on a weekly basis: I.e. Week 1 Day 1; Back Squats @ work up to a 3 rep max. Week 2, Day 1 Box Squats @ work up to a 1 rep max.
However it’s not as simple as merely increasing these parameters over time.
Each individual has a finite amount of capacity to continue to adapt. For the purpose to this post we’ll refer to it as their physiological/genetic ceiling. The closer that we get to that ceiling the harder it is to adapt and the more nuanced the programming must become in order to elicit specific adaptations. For example, at an elite level we might expect to see an athlete make an increase in their performance of a movement, such as a back squat, by 2% over the course of an entire year of training.
Now for the good news, bad news, and good news sandwich.
The good news about all of this is that most of us rarely come close to reaching our true physiological ceiling during our lifetime which means that there is still a tremendous amount of room for us to keep on making improvements with our training.
The bad news is that the old adage of ‘it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger’ really is quite true. Each increase in performance, brings us closer and closer to our ceiling. Which means that the effectiveness of simply increasing the variables mentioned in the FITT principle begins to decrease more and more.
The other good news that we have, however, is that there are models and other ways of manipulating all of the FITT variables in a systematic manner which allow us to constantly apply varied stimuli and allow for individuals to continue to adapt over time.
So what now?
If you’re feeling like you’ve plateaued or your progress has come to a stop, remember that there’s still an immense amount of room for improvement. Whether the improvements come quantitatively, via measurable increases in performance i.e. a 5kg back squat pr; or whether the increase comes qualitatively via increases in your overall quality of movement, there is still room for you to make progress. However, it’s going to require that you get outside of your comfort zone. So what will it be? Will you choose to continue on doing the same intensity, volume, and exercise each week and keep being stuck in a rut of not making any progress or you will you choose to manipulate your variables in order to get a better response out of your time in the gym?
Are you tired of feeling like you aren’t making any progress in the gym? Maybe you’re bored of your current program? If you’re looking to make the most out of your time spent in the gym we can take the hassle out of manipulating all of these training variables for you and provide you with a program that will ensure that you’re making progress in the right direction and maximizing the time that you spend training each day.
This weeks training:
A) Seated Box Jump- 3 x 5 @75% of max box jump height @ x,1,1,1
B) Back Squat- 4×5 @ 77.5% @ 1,1,1,1
C) Romanian Deadlift- 4 x 7 @ RPE 8/10 @ 2,1,1,1
D) i) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat- 3 x 8/leg @ RPE 8/10 @ 2,2,1,1
ii) Single Leg Romanian Deadlift- 3 x 8/leg @ RPE 8/10 @ 2,2,1,1
*Notes* Perform the FFESS & SLRD w’ Dumbbells or Kettlebells
E) Hollow Body Hold- 3 x 30s
A) i) Close Grip Bench Press- 4×4 @ 80% @ 2,2,1,1
ii) Supinated Grip Bent Over Barbell Row- 4 x 6 @ RPE 8/10 @ 1,2,2,1
B) i) Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press- 3 x 6/side @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,1,1,1
ii) Single Arm Dumbbell Row- 3 x 6/side @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,2,1,1
C) Structural Work:
I) Zottman Curls- 3 x 8 @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,1,1,1
II) Tricep Press Downs (with rope or band) @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,2,1,1
III) Deadbugs: 3×10/side @ 1,1,1,1
A) Conventional Deadlift- 5 x 4 @ 77.5% @ 1,1,1,1 *reset each rep (no touch-n-go)
B) Barbell Hip Thrust: 3 x 6 @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,2,1,1
B) i) Push Press: 3 x 7 @ 75% @ 0,1,1,1
ii) Pull-Up: 3 x 7 @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,2,1,1
C) i) Z-Press- 3 x 7 @ 72.5% (of strict press) @ 1,2,2,1
ii) Lat Pull down- 3 x 7 @ Rpe 8/10 @ 1,2,1,1