When it comes to getting stronger everything works, that's right everything works-at least initially. Almost any new training program will bring on some type of new gains during the initial stages.
This holds especially true for beginner and youth athletes new to performance training. The gains come rapidly and adding weight to the bar is commonplace. For a time it seems like these amazing strength gains will continue forever until you start to realize one day that over the past two months you have not improved on anything. Almost every athlete who has trained hard for any significant amount of time has gone through a point of stagnation or plateau where gains are non-existent and progress comes to a loud and abrupt halt.
As we know the human body is always seeking a level of homeostasis by continually adapting to the stress that it deals with from day to day. If we look at this through a training lens then the purpose of training is the attempt to manipulate certain variable that cause enough stress to the body to force a positive physical adaptation t occur. The training induced adaptation is commonly referred to in the text as Seyle's Adaptation Syndrome or in training circles as supercomepensation, and should be the purpose and goal of any and all long-term training programs.
To be able to cause this training adaptation or supercompensation to occur we first must understand what happens before we actually get bigger, faster or stronger. The first step is simply the application of the stress and the accumulation of fatigue which is determined by the actual physical training. This application of stress fatigues the body and for a duration performance is impaired. This performance drop is predictable due to the initial breakdown of muscle fibers, nutrient substrate depletion and nervous system fatigue.
Step two is the recovery or unloading phase. During this time training stressors are reduced to aid in recovery and restoration. Training volumes and intensities should be reduced to minimize stress an aide in the rate of recovery. IF enough training stress has been induced in the first stage and adequate recovery has occurred in the second, then the body will experience the third step of the adaptation process which is the effects of supercompensation.
This effect is the rebound that takes place from the stress overcome during the fatigue stage. The human body is always seeking homeostasis so this supercompensation is simply the body's way of improving its level of preparedness and ability to combat fatigue in the future. This effect is derived from the lowest point of fatigue accumulated and is not only physical but psychological and biomechanical in nature. If supercompensation has occurred an athlete will be able to handle the same training load or greater training load in a subsequent workout than they were previously. This process if planned and applied correctly can do wonders for athletic gains and should really be the foothold for all solid strength training programs. Simply put if you are not causing the supercompensation effect to take place you are not getting any...(Bigger, stronger, faster, etc). By nature if you have not caused a positive adaptation to occur you have not gotten any better.
Although supercompensation is the preferred outcome of a training program it is not the only possible outcome. If an athlete spends too much time recovering and/or the demands of training do not accumulate enough stress then plateaus will occur. If training stress is well below an athlete's current physical preparedness then the principle of reversibility will occur. This rule dictates that athletes will lose the effects of training if they discontinue or minimize their training. Negative effects of training can also occur if the body is constantly pushed beyond its ability to properly recover. If the fatigue state is pushed past the point where recovery can be made complete a detraining effect occurs where the accumulative fatigue significantly impairs an athlete's performance capabilities. This state of overreaching or overtraining in extreme cases can have long-term deleterious effects on progress and performance.
The training process needs to accumulate enough fatigue to cause an adaptation to occur but at the same time not so much that the body cannot recover. To ensure super compensation takes place an athlete must be healthy and the training volume, intensity and frequency must be appropriate. This is where the importance of designing a long-term training plan comes into play.
Periodization, an organization of training, can allow a coach or athlete to look into the future and plan for accumulated fatigue and active recovery to ensure supercompensation takes place. This is typically done by organizing a training plan that proceeds in a wave like fashion with peaks and valleys in the amount of training volume, intensity and frequency performed. The accumulation of training stress and the adaptations do not occur at a said rate. Some adaptations take much longer to occur than others. Therefore it is important to understand that an athlete will not improve upon their performance every time they are in the weight room. Gains do not take place in the weight room but are made when the body is fully recovered from the stress induced from the training. If the coach and athlete understand that if applied correctly the outcomes of the training process are predictable in nature, then they will be able to plan and apply with high levels of success. Training is simply an applied stress to the body and the athlete's ability to respond to fatigue that ultimately determines the success of the program and the athlete.