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The Art of Movement Edition 30: Training Principles 1 - GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome)

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Edition 30 - Training Principles 1: GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome)

For the rest of this year, I wanted to use my newsletter to summarise some important principles of training which I thought could help the average person understand training and exercises better. These are concepts we need to take into consideration when identifying the best way to put our next foot forward in pursuit of our exercise goals. The first I am going to discuss is called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which I think is going to help you understand:

  • In order to grow stronger or physically adapt - we need to apply a training stress

  • We do not achieve adaptations while we are applying the stress

  • We are triggering an alarm phase while training

  • When we rest/recover correctly, we can respond to the alarm by growing and adapting

GAS (theorised by researcher Hans Seyle) refers to the stresses we place on our body, and the subsequent responses and physical adaptations we develop as a consequence of the initial stress. GAS is broken down into 3 stages:

Alarm > Resistance > Exhaustion

It normally works like this:

  • Apply a training stress (lifting weights, or running)

  • The muscles exert themselves and fatigue to a level of depletion

  • We rest, recover and feed the muscles with good sleep, hydration and nutrition

  • The muscles recover to normal over time, only now with more muscle fibres

  • Or our lungs recover, with better oxygen uptake capabilities than before etc.

  • If we refuse to let our body recover (short term) we get injured/underperform

  • If we refuse to let our body recover (long term) we develop more serious problems

GAS is a really simple way for us to understand training and exercise, and how in order to get stronger, we need to apply a stimulus to the body to make it believe it needs to get stronger. If we want to be fitter, we need to apply a training stress to the body which elevates our heart rate, increases breathlessness, and causes our body to believe we need to be fitter, resulting in adaptations such as an elevated lactate threshold, or VO2 max (maximum amount of oxygen our body is able to utilise during exercise).

Importantly, understanding GAS helps us amplify the fact that you don’t get fitter/stronger *in the gym*, those changes do not take place until the hours and days that follow. It can be quite easy for a beginner to have the impression that the more you lift in the session, the stronger you get, which is not the case. A good visual for seeing GAS in action is the graph for the supercompensation cycle - it works like this:

Supercompensation Cycle

We are at our base level physical state before training, then as we train, we are technically causing small damages to our body, we are causing micro-tears in muscle fibres, depleting our energy stores, creating neural fatigue and so on, which puts us in a declining state. After the session however, when we recover correctly, we begin to experience a ‘bounce’, where we accelerate back to our previous levels but then go on to exceed them - we are better than we were at the start of the previous session. Now, if we time our training effectively, we can ride this wave, and carry out another training session before the peak of this bounce begins to dip off (see below).

Riding the wave

Understanding this cycle helps us know 1) we do not grow in the gym; 2) adequate session recovery is crucial; 3) so is programming and timing of days between sessions; 4) inconsistency will lead to slow and inconsistent adaptations.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you” ― Fred DeVito

Movement of the Week: Press Up Challenge (GAS experience)

Pick a height for your press ups - Beginners: Table top (belly button height), Intermediate: Sofa arm (mid-thigh height), Advanced: Floor

How did your max compare from your initial test?! Do you feel like your body adapted to the stresses in any way? Perhaps you did more reps, or the same amount of reps but more range of motion, or the technique felt smoother/more effortless. There are many ways we can adapt to training, and I hope this was a useful tool for you to experience it.

That’s all for this week! Please spread the word about my Patreon channel so more people can enjoy the videos and newsletters!

Thank you,


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