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When it comes to change, the human body excels at adapting to any stimulus you may throw its way. In other words, with diet and exercise, the results you will see when you initially implement a new plan will come to a grinding halt if you keep things the same for an extended period of time. Let’s discuss adaptation – what it is, what causes it, and how we can prevent that from happening, so that we continuously get the results we want.
The mechanisms of biological adaptation are an evolutionary trait. In other words, the human body’s ability to react and then adapt to any stimulus thrown its way has in the past ensured survival of the human species, over time. For our purposes, adaptation is defined as any alteration in the structure or function of an organism or any of its parts that results from natural selection and by which the organism becomes better fitted to survive and multiply in its environment. Quite the mouthful, huh?
In the cases of both diet AND exercise, our bodies will react and eventually adapt to whatever we throw its way. For example, if we cut our calories, we will initially lose weight. Eventually however, our bodies will become more efficient, and will adapt to run at a lower caloric intake. When that happens, weight loss will plateau and you may even gain weight. The same concept goes for weight training and cardio. If you weight train the same way, all the time, you’ll see some initial changes, but then those will come to a halt. If you increase your cardio, you will lose weight, but your body will eventually again become used to the “new normal”, and you will ultimately stop seeing results. Sad, but true.
Variety is the spice of life, and in this instance, a necessary key to always seeing the results that we want. Here’s how to fight adaption in our big three steps to self-transformation: diet, weight training, and cardiovascular training.
Carb Cycling – One way to always prevent adaptation is to always keep your body guessing on its intake. Carb cycling is a process by which you alternate between high, moderate, low, and no-carb intake days. While your overall calorie intake stays the same, replacing carbs with fats in a pattern you set will always keep your body guessing on energy expenditures (a.k.a. Calories burned). When staying in an extended carb deficit, throwing in a cheat meal or even a cheat day can do wonders to reset your body and metabolism, so that you continuously see results. If you’re interested in Carb Cycling, we have a more thorough introduction you can read here.
Dieting and Reverse Dieting – In competition prep, a deficit is a necessary evil. The trick here is to start small, and gradually decrease your intake, over time. When done dieting, gradually (very gradually) increasing intake can prevent unwanted weight gain, as your metabolism slowly adapts to taking in more food and maintaining. In this instance, adaptation is actually working to our advantage.
HIIT vs Steady-State. Fasted vs Non-Fasted – We have already touched upon the pros and cons of both HIIT and Steady State Cardio, Fasted and Non-Fasted cardio, too. The trick here is to mix it up, on all counts. Try fasted, steady-state one morning, and non-fasted HIIT one afternoon. Go for a jog instead of taking the stairs. If you always change up your cardio, your body won’t be given enough time to adapt, and you will always see results. If playing sports for cardio is your thing, play different sports to condition your body in different ways.
Frequency: Reps and Sets – Altering the number of sets and reps in all of your exercises will ensure that your body never gets used to “the same old thing”. Even changing the order of your exercises will fatigue your muscles and cause growth, every single time. Alternating your training style between lifting for strength and lifting for size will go a long way, as well.
Compound and Isolation Exercises – In the quest for constant change, engaging in compound movements and continuously going up in load is one of the fundamentals of muscle growth. Exercises such as the squat, bench press, and pull-ups are benchmarks of progress. Not to be discounted, isolation exercises also help us on the path to change. The key here to prevent adaptation is in how you perform all of these exercises. Simply by changing your emphasis or angle, you can keep your body guessing on the stimulus, and fight adaptation. For example, the squat can be performed narrow stance, wide stance, or sumo stance. You can go down slowly and come up quickly, go down quickly and come up slowly (negatives), or pause and hold at the bottom of the movement (when tension is at its peak), working your muscles in a different way, each time.
If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always be what you always have been. Constantly changing your routine is the key to always seeing results, period.