General Adaptation Syndrome and What It Means to You

The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) is one of those important charts that you are never formally taught but learn through experience. GAS describes how your body reacts to stimulus, typically used in reference to performance in the gym, but can be used for other types of stimulus as well such as studying, medication, and nutrition. The General Adaptation Syndrome is broken down into four phases. The Alarm Phase, Resistance Phase, Supercompensation Phase, and Overtraining Phase.

The Alarm Phase is the first to occur when a new training stimulus is introduced to the body. This will often cause a decrease in performance due to fatigue brought on by this new stimulus. An example of this would be if you went to the gym and tried running a mile on the treadmill for the first time. Your body is not used to this type of activity so it will be taxing on the body and most likely leave you sore for a couple of days and you will need extra time for recovery. Many bodybuilders will utilize this in their training, it is called “shocking the muscles”. Arnold Schwarzenegger would talk about this and use it in his training. Bodybuilders will often change up workouts to surprise their muscles to work them in new ways and hit weak points. The Alarm Phase is why you will incur DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) after a new type of workout. This principle also works for nutrition, such as with caffeine. When you try it for the first time, it will come as a shock to the body and is why it will have such a big impact on non-caffeine drinkers.

So you’ve started running a mile on the treadmill when you go to the gym or maybe you’ve started deadlifting for the first time and now you are doing it a little more routinely; now what happens? Now comes phase two, the Resistance Phase. This is where you are going to see your body start to adapt to this new stimulus. Now your deadlifting form is starting to improve a bit and be more efficient. Or maybe you’re not so sore from running a mile. Because of this you can now handle this type of work and be able to incorporate it into your routine a little more regularly without the worry of feeling overly tired or sore afterwards.

Now that you have entered into phase three, your body has adapted and you can deadlift no problem or run a mile and not be completely out of breath. You are now able to see performance gains. Instead of just doing 135lbs for three sets of ten reps, you can add in a fourth set or maybe even push the weights to 145lbs or 155lbs. With your running, instead of having to walk for two minutes and then run for a minute to get through your mile, maybe now you can run the entire distance and now you’ve gotten that PR (Personal Record) that you have been working towards. This phase can also be seen when it comes to medications and vaccines. Take the flu shot for example, when you receive the vaccine, your body builds up antibodies and can now fight off the flu better than ever before. This phase is all about taking the stimulus that once used to take a toll on the body and use it to make the body stronger and perform better than ever.

Now you may be saying that this is all great and you’re just going to keep adding more and more stimulus that way you can just keep improving. That is not always the case however. This is where people can run into phase four, overtraining. Many serious athletes will face this at least once in their life. You’ll know when you’ve come into contact with this phase because you will be in a constant state of fatigue, your progress will plateau for long periods of time and in many instances will decrease. You may also see a lack in motivation or even injury occur here do to the high levels of stress being placed on the body. There is a difference between being tired and being over trained so make sure you can tell the difference with how your body responds to stimulus.

This phase is also apparent when it comes to other parts of life. Take alcohol for example, too much alcohol at one time is a lot for your body to handle and that’s how you can reach points to were a person might pass out or be hung over the next morning. This is why it is good to have a plan when it comes to training, drinking, studying, or anything else. Having the proper plan that works with the General Adaptation Syndrome will pay off big time when it comes to improving performance in any aspect inside or outside of the gym.

This is one of the perks to having a trainer or coach such as myself or one at your local gym. You won’t have to stress out about finding the right workouts and figuring out the three factors that go into writing a workout regimen such as Frequency, Intensity, and Volume. The goal is not to train maximally, it is about training optimally based on your body and your goals. Chance favors the prepared mind. So take your time and plan accordingly.


Edited By: Adriana Colon

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