As with most things in life, there’s a “sweet spot” for exercise. You need to challenge your body to see change, but not to the point that you’re injured, fatigued, or overtrained. At the other end of the spectrum, your body needs to experience enough of a training stimulus that it’s forced to change. Striking a happy balance with your training will help you become stronger, fitter, and have a healthier body composition.
How Your Body Adapts to Exercise
When you first begin an exercise program, every exercise feels hard. That’s because you’re asking your body to do movements it isn’t accustomed to. According to general adaptation syndrome, your body adapts to exercise or any kind of new stress in three phases:
Weeks 1-3: Your body is caught off guard by the training you’re asking it to do. This is the “alarm” stage. The newfound stress on your body activates the sympathetic or “fight-or-flight” portion of your nervous system. You feel sore after your workouts as you’re creating microscopic tears in muscle fibers that must be repaired. Along with repair comes growth and strength gains.
Weeks 4-16: Your body slowly begins to adapt to the stimulus placed on it. Those squats and deadlifts that were once so challenging now seem more tolerable. Your body is also making subtle adaptations that make it more efficient at doing the exercises. In response to the load you place on your muscles, you begin laying down new muscle fibers and your nervous system is becoming more efficient at telling your muscles what to do. Initially, most of the adaptation is the nervous system becoming better at communicating with your muscles. Changes to muscle architecture begins only after 4 to 6 weeks.
Weeks 12-16: At this point, your body is starting to adapt to its training regimen and the routine no longer feels as challenging. You don’t experience the soreness you did in the beginning and aren’t as challenged by the workouts either. Unless you make changes, your body will no longer feel the pressure to further adapt and change.
It’s also at this point that your body can become exhausted if you’ve place TOO much stress on it. You see this in hardcore athletes and bodybuilders who try to advance their training too quickly or do too high of a training volume. That’s why recovery is so important. Training is challenging to your muscles as well as your neurological system and without rest and recovery periods between training sessions, you run the risk of exhausting your system. Excessive training without enough recovery time doesn’t give your joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nervous system a chance to recover from the stress you’re placing on them. In some cases, this can lead to a rise in cortisol, which has a negative impact by suppressing your immune system, interfering with sleep, and reducing insulin sensitivity. Plus, cortisol