Why isn’t your conditioning improving?
At the beginning of this whole ‘weight loss’ experience, you were under the impression that you were working out to lose some weight and would feel more fit.
Well how come every time you get to the gym to set out on your interval trek, lift your weights, or go for your long runs, it still feels hard?
Isn’t it supposed to get easier at some point?
In a word…
Nope…not if your objective is weight loss or improved performance.
Maintenance is an entirely other ball-game, and something we can discuss below or in another article if you want.
Adaptations Get Tired
Last week I wrote a post on the S.A.I.D. Principle, a physiological fact of training. In a nutshell the body adapts very specifically to the demands placed on it.
If you run, you’ll get efficient at running, but you still might get tired if you suddenly cycle.
If however, you change a variable like intensity — an increase in speed, maybe sprinting intervals as an example — you’ll get faster.
If you change a variable like the surface — road running vs field running or trail running — you’ll get better at running on that surface.
The S.A.I.D. principle is so specific, that it takes into account environmental changes — why endurance athletes often train at the high altitude, or the altitude they’ll be competing at in their next competition — technique changes, equipment changes like footwear, training protocols, speed, duration, and so on.
Why This Matters
If you want to create a weight loss adaptation then you constantly have to be stressing this system in order to force it to adapt.
Once a system has adapted the workload placed upon it becomes easier. For instance, once running for 20 minutes begins to feel easy, your body now works towards making it more efficient.
New neural connections, improved metabolism, better hormone usage, better use of energy systems or fuel sources, for instance lactic acid, and other physiological and neural changes, means 20 minutes of running requires fewer calories to complete and creates less and less stress on your body the more you do it.
For weight loss to continue, you need to change the stress or stimulus placed on the body.
Once the body has adapted to the existing stress/stimulus, it has reached the point of diminishing returns, or the point where there is essentially no longer a point to doing what you’ve been doing.
If there is no longer a stress outside of your comfort zone, then there is no longer a reason for you body to continue to adapt.
If you want to get faster during those 20 minutes, now you have to change things up in order to create adaptation for speed — which in terms of weight loss the mere change, will force new adaptation to occur.
Therefore your training should always lean towards being, just a little bit uncomfortable all the time, if you want to continue to see changes and make progress.
Explained another way, if you put a plant in the sun, it will grow towards the sun.
Turn the pot around and the plant will still change course and try to move towards the sun even though the lean of the plant may now be in the complete opposite direction.
If you want your plant to grow straight, you’ll have to manipulate the positioning of the pot on a continual basis.
As it grows taller (or you approach your weight loss objectives) it will need to be stimulated appropriately so that it can get as tall as possible (or your weight loss objective is achieved).
This is what mixing up your training does, keeps you on the path of weight loss, and generally speaking, changes need to occur on a regular basis, usually every 3-6 weeks, or every 3-16 workouts.
More frequent changes are needed if you’re more experienced, and less frequent changes if you’re new to the game.
However, every time you switch things up outside of your former routine, things are going to feel tough, like you’re starting all over.
This isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t show that you haven’t conditioned yourself well, it just shows you haven’t specifically conditioned yourself yet, to the new challenge.
If you feel tired taking on new challenges — and you should be if your objective is weight loss especially — then you’re probably more on the right path than you might think.
Take on new things and tough it out that first week or two, it gets better, then switch again when you’ve adapted well to the new stuff.
You can’t mix things up too frequently, this is a big mistake I see all the time. Or you’ll never feel like you’re getting good at anything.
You want to feel like you’re making progress at least, even if you know you’ll eventually have to switch things up again to make new improvements.
If you move the pot too soon, before the plant has a chance to autocorrect into it’s straight line, then it won’t grow straight up and you end up with this lean, that gets harder and harder to fix the deeper and deeper you get into your training experience.
The plant never reaches it’s true height or potential. You never fully get the adaptation you seek.
Similarly, if you change your workouts up, every single time you head to the gym, you’re body has no idea what adaptations it needs to make, so you lose system balance.
Have you ever been in a state of physical shock?
It’s like you can’t move or do anything, you won’t even acknowledge people around you, and that’s exactly what happens if the stimulus is too frequent.
Some people mistakenly call this ‘muscle confusion,’ but it simply means your body never completes the adaptation process, so you don’t derive the maximum benefit.
The huge amount of variety found in Crossfit or P90x, can be useful as a way to shock an adapted system into new changes, but should only be used in short isolated training cycles as the variable to the training itself.
It’s inadvisable to do this for too long or risk:
- Stagnant Results/Lack of Progress
- Boredom due to lack of Mastery
If It Stops Working, Switch
This is the general rule of thumb to use, since we see people at both ends of the spectrum.
They either do the same thing for too long — have you been doing one minute on, one minute off intervals now for 6 months? — or they don’t do something long enough to create real change — go to the gym and do something completely different every time you go?
Are you getting stronger? Even if it’s 5 lbs here or there?
Are you getting faster? Even if it’s a second off your time, or 0.1 mph faster?
Can you jump higher, move faster, work more efficiently?
Can you last longer or do more?
Does it feel easier?
Have you taken a de-load week or an active rest week recently?
If you want to get better, you probably should be tired in your conditioning workouts.
Weigh in the comments below.