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Directed Adaptation

Directed Adaptation

We’ve written on the idea of having specialized training blocks of concentrated workloads for advanced athletes in past articles[1]. We’ve mentioned as well the fact that the human body will react to stressors by remodeling it’s systems to better withstand further exposure to said stressors.

This is all related to the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  The body will adapt in a specific way to training; if you present it with the same stimulus for several sessions, it will become better suited to handle the stimulus.  May be it strength, speed, hypertrophy, stamina, power, as long as the training reflects the demands of the ability you are trying to develop, your body will become better at it.

There comes into play the principle of directed adaptation.  For the training effect to be substantial as well as durable, stimuli of the same type should be presented in sequence for a meaningful period of time (i.e. every week, for several weeks).  That is, if you want to focus on developing bigger muscles, for example, you should be doing higher reps sets every week for an extended period of time, not just a couple sets of ten every other week.

While this seems simple enough, excessive variation in loads, exercises and rep schemes throughout a training week tends to be far too common nowadays.  It’s important to understand that the body has a finite adaptation capability: when presented with too many different stimuli at once, it will adapt poorly to training.  In strength training especially, with the often misinterpreted daily undulating periodization way of organizing training, excessive disparity in rep ranges within the same week for the same exercises are often seen.

While beginner athletes might get decent results training this way, advanced trainees require dedicated phases of training to substantially enhance one or two biomotor abilities at a time.  That is, if we take strength training for example, training will be focused on very specific loads and rep ranges during each different training block.  Our article where we broke down the basics training blocks for powerlifting is a good example of this[2]:

  • sets of 6-12 reps at 60% to 75% of 1RM for the hypertrophy block;
  • sets of 1-6 reps at 75%-90% of 1RM for the strength block;
  • sets of 1-3 reps at 85% to 100% of 1RM for the peaking block.

Note that while it is definitely possible to do some maintenance hypertrophy work during strength blocks (as we said, training two biomotor abilities at a time can be acceptable, especially if they are compatible[3]), it should be done on the appropriate assistance exercises as opposed to the main competition exercises used for the strength work at the beginning of the training session.  A correct way to organize a training session with strength and hypertrophy work during a block dedicated primarily to strength, then, would look something like a set of 5 at 80% with a competition style squat, before moving on to sets of 8 reps on front squats, for example.  Take note that the amount of hypertrophy work would also be a lot less extensive than during the hypertrophy block (i.e. less total sets and reps dedicated to hypertrophy).

However, always keep in mind that the more advanced the athlete, the more training will need to be concentrated, leaving less and less room for significant variation within the same training block.  As an extreme example, Andrey Malanichev, who holds the highest powerlifting total of all-time, does exclusively sets of 3 to 2 reps on the competition lifts for the duration of his strength and peaking blocks without any type of assistance exercises (with the exception of some light abdominal work).

In conclusion, make sure that what you are doing is conductive to reaching the objective of your current phase of training.  If you are doing sets of 10 on squats during a peaking block for a powerlifting competition, chances are you should review your training program.

[1] See “Block Periodization Model” article.

[2] See “Periodization for Powerlifting” article.

[3] For more information on the training compatibility of biomotor abilities, we recommend the excellent “Block Periodization” by Vladimir Issurin.

Posted by
Louis-Alexis Gratton

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