Running in the 'Meda: Adaptations

Running in the 'Meda: Adaptations

Marty Beene

I think we can all agree that the human body is a truly amazing thing. There is seemingly no end to the fascinating characteristics of all of its systems, with organs, blood, bones, and, of course, the brain. Yet, as amazing as it is, our bodies are easily tricked. When you train your body, it "thinks" it literally won't survive if it doesn't change in response to a training stimulus.

Think about that. Your body's various systems have a one-track mind: survival. They will react to anything based on that goal.

Try this. Pick up a dumbbell (or a bottle of water or a can of soup), and do a few bicep curls with it. What happens now? That bicep muscle sends a message to your brain:

"Brain! Help! I had to lift something! Cough! Cough! I think this is it; I'm a goner ... Unless you can, you know, build me up a little."

That bicep muscle is sincere - it feels the stress you just put on it, and "believes" it absolutely must be stronger as soon as possible. Your brain is very gullible. It doesn't say, "Sheesh, it's just a few reps with a can of soup. Get over yourself." No, instead, it sympathizes with the bicep muscle. It immediately sends out messages to various bodily systems to crank up the muscle strengthening mechanisms. This was a light stimulus, so the changes that your body makes to that bicep muscle in this example are very easy to make.

Fitness training is based on this simple concept. You stress some system in your body (muscles, lung capacity, etc.). Your body, thinking it must make changes to survive, makes those changes, and - voila! - you're now stronger and fitter than you were two days ago. The changes your body makes are called adaptations.

The time period for most of these adaptations to happen is relatively short, so we usually want to apply stresses every day or two. If you only work out once or twice a week, the brain starts to get messages from the muscles you stressed, telling it "Sorry, I guess it was a false alarm. Move it along; nothing to see here." Your body will shift resources to something else, and you won't build the fitness that you want.

If, indeed, you are applying stresses to your body every day or so, you need to be mindful of the time period between when you apply those stresses, which we call the recovery period. During the recovery period, you will want to give your body the tools it needs to make adaptations. If the stresses are relatively light (e.g., a few reps with a can of soup), then there isn't much you need to do that would be different from a regular day. But if you do a more rigorous workout, it is important to treat your body right.

The first thing to be sure you do is to stay fully hydrated. Replacing the water you've lost through perspiration and respiration will make it much easier for your body to transport the various chemicals and nutrients throughout your body to build or rebuild muscles, increase lung capacity, etc.

The second thing to do is to eat. The rule of thumb for post-workout nutrition is to ingest a combination of carbohydrates and protein (e.g., chocolate milk) within about 30 minutes of completing a workout. Then, eating a complete, well-balanced meal of healthy food within about two hours is recommended.

Finally, it's important to "rest" - not taking a week off like I described last week, but just enough to give your body that 24 hours or so to make its adaptations. This is where getting a good night's sleep comes in, so be sure to allow enough time for that.

You've heard of altitude training, right? The conventional wisdom of altitude training these days is to "train low, sleep high," which means that you don't have to actually do the training at high altitude. The benefits for endurance athletes who do "high altitude training" actually come from the adaptations their bodies make while sleeping in a high altitude environment.

How did you stress your body today? And what did you do to recover?

Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at


Submitted by Mary Hamilton (not verified) on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

Great article, Marty!