You started to exercise. You lost weight. You kept exercising. You stopped losing weight. WTF.
We’ve all been there.
There is SO MUCH FITNESS INFORMATION out there. It is easy to get confused. What’s right? What’s wrong? Yoga? Paleo? Carbs? Running is good? Running is bad? Wine helps me lose weight? I’d be lying if I told you I have not been caught up in all of the non-sense in my lifetime (Ask the local supplement stores. They made THOUSANDS off of me).
However, in my time in the field, I have found that no matter what like to do for exercise, certain principles apply and are essential to long-term health and fitness success.
Today, I want to discuss one of these principles, the principle of overload. I chose to discuss this principle because I feel it is the one that I see neglected the most by the average gym goer.
You’re Not Training Hard Enough
Please don’t stop reading. I know it’s a rough place to start. I swear I’m not the jerk making people throw up every day. I’m not the #trainharderthanme guy. I just want to help you understand how the body responds to exercise and give you some strategies to fight through plateaus.
Unfortunately for most of us, training should be hard. Our bodies are amazing machines that can learn to adapt to almost anything. When we exercise, we are inducing stress on the body. The body then adapts to that stress so that it can attain a level homeostasis. If we continue to apply stress every workout, the body has no need to adapt any further.
Confused yet? The homeostasis thing? We should have paid attention in Mrs. Keating’s 8th grade science class. Let me use an example.
Imagine you have not exercised for 1 year. In that time, you have eaten a lot of food. We eat food so that we can have the energy to live. If we take in more food than we need, that food is either digested and eliminated, or stored as energy to be used at a later date – this is commonly known as body fat. Over the past year, let’s say you have gained 20lbs of “energy” and would like to lose it.
You decide we are going to start walking for 1 hour per day. It’s hard at first. This walking is “new stress.” Your body says “Wow, this is new. We need to use some of this extra energy we have lying around to account for this new stress.” Your body takes some of that stored energy and uses it. You lose 10lbs. Sweet! You are half way to your goal.
You continue to walk one hour a day, but the weight has stopped coming off? Why?
After a while, your body starts to figure out exactly how much energy it needs to expend for the amount physical activity you are performing. It will expend no more and no less. Your body has “adapted” to the stress you have induced on it.
Adaptation is a good thing. It mean’s our body has changed in reaction to the stresses induced upon it. Adaptation is what we are shooting for in any exercise program. However, once adaptation has occurred, to continue to make progress, new stress is needed for new adaptations to occur. This new stress is called “overload”.
So you now you have read this article and say to yourself, “Well, I’ll just start running for 10 minutes and walking for 50. That is new stress , right?” Congratulations, you now know more about training than the majority of personal trainers. You run/walk 10/50. You lose another 2 pounds, then stall. You progress to 20/40. Another 2 pounds. 30/30, 40/20,10/50, 60 minutes of running. Boom, 20 pounds gone.
This is the principle of overload, and it is arguably THE most important principle to consider in an exercise program. If your exercise program does not induce stress, adaptation will not occur.
The problem I see on a daily basis is that people are either doing the same thing every day or never doing the same thing twice. If you have been pressing 75lb dumbbells for 3 sets of 10 every chest day for a year, you cannot wonder why you have not gotten bigger. You’re body knows how to respond to that stress. On the other hand, If you are a variety chaser and refuse to do the same workout more than once, you are not giving your body enough time to adapt and make a change. Just because your legs got sore once does not mean your body is adapting.
I want you to pick ONE THING to try to improve upon every single workout for the next 30-60 days. If you like to bench press, add either more weight to the bar or do more reps every workout. If you like to run, add 1/10th of a mile or reduce your time by 10 sec every run. If you like to take group fitness classes, pick one exercise in the class you find challenging and do a little more of it every week. This should not be easy. You cannot just go through the motions. The body needs to be introduced to new things in order to make changes. Introducing the body to new things is difficult. Pick one thing and embrace it.
Let me know how it goes.