Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Training and stress or, Minimum Effective Dose.

 I'm often asked "How much training is enough?" The answer to that question is: The amount you can recover from. The past few weeks have been enormously stressful for me. With the loss of my business, trying to find a new job, becoming the full time childcare for my son and trying to be a husband and have a social life too, I'm feeling some stress. And so I've had to adjust my training/exercise accordingly.

I worked out last night and did 3 sets of 5 of the following 3 movements (heavy!):
- Front squat
- Push Press
- Weighted pull-ups

Doesn't seem like much, does it? Why is that? Simple. Minimum Effective Dose. I'll explain.

     Your body doesn't know the difference between the various stressors in your life, good or bad. Work, family, job, exercise, it's all stress. And there is an amount of stress above which you no longer are able to recover. The point of exercise is to elicit an physiological response to a stressor (i.e. load, intensity, etc...). Usually this response is what we call a neuroendocrine response. That is, the stress on your physical structure, as well as your nervous system, triggers a hormonal response. This response is to secrete testosterone, human growth hormone, to up-regulate certain enzymes and, in general make it so that your body can handle the stressor better next time. There's obviously an amount of training stress below which, you just don't get results. Similarly, there's an amount of training stress that will just crush you.

     Training doesn't happen in a vacuum. Training happens in the context of all the other stressors in your life. If you're sleeping like crap, you're under a lot of stress, and your nutrition stinks, you won't be able to train as much or as hard and you won't get very good results. Using myself as an example, I'm under a lot of stress right now so, while I want to continue to work out, I have to moderate my training so that I don't just cave in. So, I use the minimal amount of training I can possibly get away with while still giving my body the signal to adapt. Put another way, you want to send the maximum signal to adapt with the minimum amount of recovery required.

     Obviously, based on your training needs and desires, your Minimum Effective Dose is going to very. Again, using myself as an example, I want to at least maintain my strength, stay lean and have some basic aerobic conditioning. If I were racing my bike this season, I'd have a whole other set of training goals. But the principle would remain the same.

     So, the message is this: consider your training goals in the context of the rest of your life. Then, train SMART as well as hard or, if it fits your training goals, a lot. But have an eye towards doing what is most efficient.

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