Stress, adaptation and overload - principles at the heart of training.
If you are new to cycling or even if you are not it is most likely that you have heard the terms frequency, intensity, time - or the FIT principle. These terms relate to a physiological training principle known as the overload principle. But what is overload and how does frequency, intensity and time contribute to it?
OK, we need to go back one step and discuss what exercise/cycling does to us. We need to go back to the early 1930s when Hans Selye first discussed the general adaptation syndrome, which basically says the body will restore itself to a level or homeostasis in response to a stressor. So how does this relate to cycling? Basically when we train on the bike the exercise we do is actually considered the stressor, before our body responds positively (an adaptation) after a period of rest or recovery.
This normally happens in three distinct phases (as can be seen from the figure above). Phase 1 is the stressor or alarm phase, phase 2 is the resistance or adaptation phase and phase 3 happens when the stressor is NOT removed. If we think of phase 1 of our exercise or training bout then phase 2 will see us improve our bodily (including cellular level enzymes) responses giving us protection against the stressor that is occurring. In other words for a set exercise level that we undertake, over time the stressor is our adaptation or resistance to that bout increases - we therefore get fitter.
To get fitter over time however, we need to continually place stressors on the body so that we continue to increase and develop our fitness.
So in what ways can we stress our body? Well this can occur through a number of different ways: the amount of training sessions we do per week (frequency), how hard we ride in each of these sessions (the intensity) and finally the length of time we ride (the duration). Changing any of these dimensions during a training period will lead to an increase in stress placed on the body therefore requiring the body to adapt to that training stressor.
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