Nutrition & Health OnLine Magazine
The Reason We Train
By Davey Dunn
Do you know what the real purpose is behind training? I am willing to bet that if you asked 100 people in a gym only one or two would have any idea at all as to why we train. The answer is pretty simple but grasping all the realities of the answer is fairly difficult and what is even more difficult is applying them in a way that will lead to consistent improvements. The answer of course is that we train in order to apply positive stress to our bodies which will cause our bodies to respond with increases in size and strength.
The scientific basis for training is summed up in the General Adaptation Syndrome first postulated by Hans Selye in the 1930's. The General Adaptation Syndrome basically states that as the human body undergoes stress it will respond by making adaptations that will better enable it to handle future stress. The meaning of stress is simple any outside force that has an impact on the body such as illness, physical work, mental work, psychological strain, etc. According to General Adaptation Syndrome as the body is subjected to such stress it will go through three distinct phases of reaction called respectively the alarm stage, the resistance phase, and the exhaustion phase.
Since our scope of reference is primarily related to training it is important to understand how the GAS relates to physical activity. There has been quite a bit of research in this area the most notable being that done by Garhammer who examined how the body responded to the stress imposed by training. Garhammer discovered that, as with other types of stress, physical stress from training also produces three similar phases of reaction consistent with the phases of the General Adaptation Syndrome.1 Garhammer concluded that the key to improving physical performance lies in maximizing the benefits of the first two stages while avoiding the destructive results of the third phase of the General Adaptation Syndrome.
Everyone that has ever exercised can relate to the effects of the three stages. As you first start training you experience the alarm phase when you have increased muscle soreness along with a decreased ability to perform exercise. You experience the resistance phase when your body adapts to the new stress by growing bigger and stronger and training becomes much easier. The third phase of exhaustion has also been experience by just about everyone as you have gotten to the point in training where you are tired and can no longer make any positive progress. If you ever want to make any real progress in your training it is important that you understand these three distinct phases so that you will know when you are achieving the desired effects of training.
As we began with, the purpose of training is to provide the body with positive stress to promote increases in size and strength however, by now, I think you can see that the manner in which this is done is critical to overall success. The real purpose of training should be to apply as much stress as possible to your body to benefit from the responses seen during the first two phases of adaptation while avoiding so much stress that you enter the third phase. This is much easier said than done but understanding what the real purpose of training should be is the first step toward achieving success. The next step is applying this knowledge in a systematic way that will lead to success. The good news is that we have already covered the actual application of the theories we have discussed in this article in other articles like How Should You Train or Specificity & Variation. After also reading these articles you should have a solid foundation in training principles that will allow you to maximize your results.

1Garhammer, J. "Periodization of strength training for athletes." Track Technique 73:2398-2399, 1979.


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