Progressing as a Derby City Athlete
Written by: Coach Slater
As a general rule, we tell people that coming to class 3x/week is like “breaking even”, 4x/week is “when you see amazing progress”, and 5x/week is “when you see life-altering change”. Obviously, attending 1x or 2x/year/month/week is not going to cut it. So, how do you know when you’re ready to add another workout day to the week, or use more weight, or add more intensity? Or, when you should consider dialing it back?
The answer will vary from person-to-person, so let’s first look at something called the General Adaptation Syndrome. The GAS has four stages: Homeostasis, Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. These phases are generally shown as linear:
Your body’s “normal” is the Homeostasis phase. If you’ve been sitting on the couch watching tv and eating ice cream for the last 6 months, only getting up to retrieve your E-Cig refills from the door step, that is your normal. If you’ve been regularly attending classes, and spending active weekends hiking or biking, as well as eating foods that you’ve raised yourself, drinking only water, and never having any fun, that is your level of normal. Everyone has their own homeostasis.
This is disrupted by change or “stress”, where your body moves into the Alarm phase. For the couch potato, that may be taking a walk around the block once a day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it may be increasing the weights lifted or the distance ran. Your body will react to these new stimuli with an immediate response. Basically, it’s an “oh shit, what is this?! All hands on deck! We need to make sure this organism doesn’t die” response. Your adrenaline levels will rise, your heart will beat faster, you’ll breathe harder, blood will rush from inactive organs to your muscles and surface tissues, you’ll become very alert, and hormone levels will increase.
Shortly after the new stress has ceased, the acute responses recede fairly quickly. Your heart rate goes back to normal, you breathe as usual, etc… However, your body says to itself “That was scary! Let’s fortify the compound in case that happens again”. It begins to build new tissues and make adaptations that will improve its response time and ability to sustain a new stress factor better the next time. This is called the Resistance phase.
This will continue forever, as long as you keep putting new stress on your body. If you keep increasing your weights, you will keep getting stronger, until you eventually hit your genetic potential.
However, if you push yourself too hard and are constantly in the Alarm phase, your body will reach the Exhaustion phase, and essentially quit responding, perhaps even regress. This phase is typically drawn out; it’s not just a quick, “That was too much. Let’s back it down and hit it tomorrow.” It’s often several weeks long of feeling tired, unmotivated, beat up, and unable to adequately respond to new stress at all.
The idea of exercise is to continue to cycle your body thru the Alarm and Resistance phases, and let it recover over and over until the desired goals are met. Too little stress and the body doesn’t change; too much stress and the body shuts down.
So, how does this apply to us and how we train at Derby City? You need to recognize your level of homeostasis, and the level of intensity that you are putting in here. Additionally, you need to recognize the outside stresses that you are putting on your body. These outside stresses can be your diet, sleep, alcohol, work, etc… It will all play a part in your body’s ability to react and adapt because you can only fight so many battles at a time. Although exercise is generally great for you, if you’re adding it to an already toxic environment, you’re just doing further harm.
Example – Beginner
If you’re currently not exercising at all, but maintain a fairly healthy lifestyle outside of that, starting at Derby City 3x/week will be a great addition and will cause positive adaptations in your body. Or, if you’re new here and new to weightlifting, in general, stick to this 3x/week plan for the first few months. Keep in mind that this is still a pretty dramatic change for your body. You’ll need to take it easy to avoid the Exhaustion phase, which can cause people to quit altogether.
Example – Intermediate
If you’ve been attending consistently for months/years, you should consider giving it a little more intensity, or adding another workout day to your week, while paying attention to how you feel throughout the process. Improving your sleep and nutrition, while reducing your stress outside of the gym, will help you adapt to this additional workload. But, you can’t keep doing the same thing you were doing and expect to continue to make progress. You’ve got to add more weights to the bar, push a little harder in the WOD, try a Splife WOD if you always do Life, try a Sport WOD if you always do Splife, and/or spend more time working on your mobility/recovery.
Example – Advanced
If you’ve been attending 4x or 5x/week for years, you could probably train as much as you want, paying attention to your body’s response. To continue making positive adaptations, consider adding that 5th day to the week, or finding 1 or 2 days/week where you really try to find your highest intensity in a WOD (“redline”). Purposefully pushing the boundaries for a short period of time before backing off a little may lead to a rebound effect where your performance/gains increase to a greater degree. This is the whole point of taking periodical deloads like we naturally program in our strength cycles; you build up the stress over a number of weeks before dropping volume/intensity to allow for recovery.
With all of that being said, I sincerely believe that it is 100x more important to get in a routine of attending as frequently as possible, but paying close attention to intensity. A high frequency of attendance ensures that you’re consistently practicing many complex movements. As a result, your level of proficiency will increase, your progress will be incredible, and you’ll create a “routine” of attendance for yourself. However, continue to listen to your coaches and your body. As you progress and adapt, go a little harder, and so on, and so on… In my experience, the best progress and best development comes from people who are here 4-5 days/week, but who aren’t trying to die every time a coach says “3-2-1 Go!”, but ARE trying to die a 1-or-2 days/week. They use intensity intelligently.
If you’ve been here for a while, and feel like you’ve plateaued, you need to find a new way to stimulate change in your body. That could be improving your nutrition, sleeping more, creating an active recovery day, attending class more frequently, making sure that you’re increasing your weights, really pushing to decrease your times, and/or you may need to explore the idea of our competitor programming. In any case, we should probably talk about your goals and intentions for being here.
Hopefully that gives you a better idea on training volume, training effort and what we are trying to achieve. As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.