Understanding Adaptation: Putting Progression Into Practice

The following post is the first in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of progressive overload. Future posts will address the Principles of Specificity, Reversibility, Variability, and Individuality.

Earlier this week, we discussed the principles of Adaptation and Progression, and how these both relate back to your fitness goals. Put simply, you need to contsantly increase the demands upon your body for it to continue to improve. This is true not only for strength training, but also for developing aerobic fitness, improving stability, gaining flexibility and developing muscular endurance.

Feeling uncertain about how to progress your exercise can lead to a fitness rut, where you continue to do the exact same thing but with less and less results.

Feeling uncertain about how to progress your exercise can lead to a fitness rut, where you continue to do the exact same thing but with less and less results.

While there is no question that a customized and individualized exercise program designed by a Qualified Exercise Professional is the most effective way to ensure effective way to ensure that you are continuously progressing your workouts towards your specific goal, working with Personal Trainers isn’t always a preferred or realistic approach for many people. That’s why so many choose group fitness options which allow them access to high quality programming for a fraction of the cost, and with the added benefit of building a community of friends.

There is a belief in the fitness industry that group fitness, by its very nature, can not effectively deliver a progressive overload due to the generic nature of the programs. Research indicates that, after an initial period of growth and development, many participants find their results slowing down or plateauing altogether.

As a seasoned CSEP Certified Personal Trainer, as well as an AFAA Group Fitness Instructor and NCCP Sports Coach, I sincerely believe that this phenomenon is due to 2 critical issues:

  1. On the part of the instructor, it is created by a lack of structure and informed progressive planning in their program design, and

  2. On the part of the participant, a lack of understanding of how and when to influence their own work outs and push themselves beyond their comfort zone. (Which is, in large part, why I am writing this series for you!)

Increasing your weight is one of the easiest and most effective ways to progress your workload.

Increasing your weight is one of the easiest and most effective ways to progress your workload.

A well designed program, along with a sound base of knowledge, can and should effectively be able to create a progressive overload in virtually all participants. So today, we will take a look at some of the easiest ways to progress your group fitness workouts based on the programs you are using and the fitness goals you have in mind.

Increase the weight

Go ahead, load up that bar! Grab that heavier dumbbell! Take your push up from wall to your knees! Increasing the weight refers to the literal amount of weight you are trying to work with.

  • Best For: Building larger muscles and increasing overall strength

  • Most Applicable in: Classes that utilize resistance training equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands, such as Surge, Short Circuit, and Transformer.

Do more reps

Need to distract yourself from that muscle burn feeling? Try counting your reps in each set! Aiming to do one or two reps more per exercise set can dramatically increase your workload. Going from 10 reps to 12 reps is a 20% rep increase! That’s massive!

  • Best For: Increasing muscular endurance and re-enforcing proper technique at lighter loads.

  • Most Applicable In: Classes that are timed such as Surge, Short Circuit, and TRX

Balance training work is a trained fitness component that focuses on core stability.

Balance training work is a trained fitness component that focuses on core stability.

Decrease the base of support

Did you know that balancing on one foot requires effort from your toes all the way up to your head! Balance is a trained fitness component that involves significant core stabilization. Taking exercises from two feet to one foot, or from a stable base to an unstable one is an easy and efficient way to progress your work out.

  • Best For: Improving stability and muscular endurance, and integrating the core

  • Most Applicable In: Classes that focus on lower weights and higher repetitions, though it can be integrated into most unchoreographed/lightly choreographed workouts. Ideal for Open Barre, Fuze, Short Circuit, TRX and Surge.

Choose the right progression for your can make your workout much more effective! Remember: master a movement at its most basic level before trying to progress it.

Choose the right progression for your can make your workout much more effective! Remember: master a movement at its most basic level before trying to progress it.

Manipulate the range of motion

Range of motion (ROM) is best described as the full movement potential of a joint, usually in extension or flexion. Now, in exercise, refine this definition to include safety, efficiency and effectiveness, as not all human bodies are able to fully move their joints to their full capacity. A person’s ROM is a reflection of their flexibility. We can manipulate ROM as a training tool by either a) seeking to get as much range as is safely possible with each repetition, or b) targeting specific muscle fibres through strategically utilized partial range movements (ie: working only the top half or bottom half of a movement)

  • Best for: increasing the size and shape of a muscle, as well improving the flexibility about a joint.

  • Most Applicable In: Virtually all classes, but specifically relevant in Transformer, Pound Fitness, Open Barre, and CardioLIT, where choreography can sometimes impede ROM.

Play with the tempo

One of the best things about Group Fitness is the MUSIC! But did you know that Tempo- or the speed at which you are working- isn’t just about the tunes? Your movement tempo can greatly affect your fatigue levels, either by slow down and focusing on control and stability, or by speeding things up and trigger our fast-twitch, speech responsive muscle fibres!

  • Best For: A slowed tempo will help to develop and strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibres which are responsible for muscular endurance, and an increased tempo will fire off the fast twitch muscle fibres responsible for power and explosive reaction.

  • Most Applicable In: This technique is one of the primary one used in choreographed fitness classes such as Transformer, CardioLIT, Open Barre and Pound. Non-choregraphed programs such as Short Circuit and TRX may also make use of tempo manipulations to increase or change workload.

  • NOTE: Remember that increasing your speed should never come at the expense of your form! Safety first, friends!

Maximize OR Minimize your recovery

So I know that this one seems contradictory. After all, how can two polar opposite approaches both yield the same result? The trick to recovery is understanding your training goals and what your body needs to do to best achieve these.

If, for example, you are working on aerobic endurance, then achieving and maintaining a steady-state heart rate might be the best strategy for your class. In this case, performing continuous or near work might be the most effective strategy. Alternatively, if your training goal is to perform high intensity work or to work as hard as you can for a short period of time, recovery periods become essential for allowing your body to recover fully and work at its maximum potential with every set.

The simple rule of thumb here is “the harder you work, the more taking recovery periods matters.” A high quality recovery period can improve your work out, but too much recovery can impede your progress, so make sure to talk to your instructor about how to best manage this in their classes.

  • Best for: Manipulating the body’s reaction to exercise to allow it to better achieve your training goal.

  • Applicable in: Shorter Recovery interval: CardioLIT, Pound, Running Club, Kickboxing, TRX, Fuze; Higher recovery interval: Surge, Short Circuit, Transformer

Integrate additional muscles

This one is actually quite simple. While there is definitely a time and place for isolated resistance training, working on only one muscle group at a time, the more of your body you use at once, the harder your body needs to work. Compounding exercises, or working on several muscle groups simultaneously, is an extremely effective strategy for increasing your workload and progressing your workouts.

  • Best For: Exercises that allow for greater leeway when it comes to form and precision (ie: Step Ups, with an integration of cross body upper torso/arm movements), or that work two or more muscle groups as part of their design (ie: Bicep curl to shoulder press).

  • Most Applicable In: CardioLIT, Pound Fitness, TRX, and Short Circuit.

A little jumping can go a long way towards pumping up the heart rate and increasing the cardiopulmonary demands.

A little jumping can go a long way towards pumping up the heart rate and increasing the cardiopulmonary demands.

Explore explosiveness

Sometimes, the most effective ‘weight’ is the one created by your own body! Adding hops, jumps and plyometrics to cardio body weight movements can leave you feeling mighty sweaty, super out-of-breathy. Amp these up by adding directional changes or involving all the different planes of motion! Upper body plyometrics are also excellent progression options and include plyometric punches, push ups, throws, tosses and slams.

  • Best for: Improving muscle speed and power, muscle recruitment and the density of fast-twitch muscle fibres.

  • Most Applicable In: CardioLIT, Kickboxing, and the BODY WEIGHT components of TRX, Kickboxing, Surge, Short Circuit,

  • NOTE: Weighted plyometrics are extremely high impact, can be damaging to the joints and should only be attempted by seasoned athletes under the supervision of qualified exercise professionals.

So there you have it. While not exhaustive, these 8 strategies are practical, easy to integrate progression options that will allow you to maximize your work out and take control of your fitness level. Remember, your instructors are your partners in this process. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help, advice or specific modifications to help you get the most out of your time with them!

But wait! We taught you how to progress your workouts…but how do you know when to progress them? Well, we will talk about that a little more when we take a closer look at intensity later in this series!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Zita Dube-Lockhart (CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.

#GenFitTips: Understanding Adaptation Pt. 1

The following post is the first in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of progressive overload. Future posts will address the Principles of Specificity, Reversibility, Variability, and Individuality.

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The other day, after a particularly grueling session of CardioLIT, a participant exclaimed “Just when I thought I was getting better at this, Zita brings in new choreography and shows me just how close to death I actually am!”

It was intended as a joke, a bit of self-deprecating snicker among close friends, but I felt the need to address it with the group.

I answered, “You know that I keep making things harder for you on purpose, right? That it’s not that you aren’t as fit as you thought you were, but it’s that you are actually way fitter than before which means I have to find new ways to challenge you even more?”

This led to a great discussion about one of my favourite training principles: Progressive Overload.

We hear a lot in modern fitness culture that exercise “doesn’t get easier; you just get better.

And, like so many things in pop-fitness culture, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Exercises DO get easier as you get stronger, and if you want to continue getting stronger, you need to constantly remember to find ways to challenge yourself.

Whether you are trying to get faster, stronger, or even more flexible, the key to fitness success lies in "progressive overload", the gradual increase of physical demands placed on the body beyond its normal capacities.

Using modifications and progressions is an excellent way of creating additional stress in an exercise.

Using modifications and progressions is an excellent way of creating additional stress in an exercise.

You see, the body is a brilliant machine that is designed to do one primary thing: to stay alive as long as it can. And one of the ways that it does this is by adaptation to its environment. The body is capable of making amazing changes in order to meed the demands placed upon it. It does this by carefully measuring and balancing its energy expenditure and energy balance. Note: The body will use more energy when it needs to, and conserve energy when it doesn’t need to in order to use it in the future.

Every time you perform a strenuous physical activity, your body undergoes stress. Ligaments and tendons are stretched, muscle fibres are torn (we call these tears “micro tears”) , and stored energy is consumed. After the stress is over, your body enters into a restorative cycle, during which several systems activate to repair the damage that the tissues have undergone. If this damage is minor, the recovery process is quick and easy. If the damage is more significant, the recovery process takes longer.

The repair process for skeletal muscle, the type of muscle that we use to move our bodies, results a few fascinating changes, all of which directly relate to the type of activity we underwent. We call this the Principle of Specificity. The body is capable of becoming stronger, faster, leaner, more powerful, more flexible and more energy efficient. It truly is remarkable!

But change is hard, even for a body designed to undergo it. And all of these changes require expending energy. Now remember: The body has one major job. and that is to stay alive. The best way to stay alive is to store as much energy as possible in order to have it available for use when it needs it.

This means that, while the body is fully capable of expending energy, it will not expend energy on things that it doesn’t feel it needs to. It only adapts to new environments when it feels that it is forced to.

Changing your load is another excellent way to progress or regress exercise, particularly in group fitness settings.

Changing your load is another excellent way to progress or regress exercise, particularly in group fitness settings.

As the body is exposed to the same stimulus repeatedly, it becomes increasingly well adapted to that specific activity. This is why a CardioLIT or Open Barre routine that may have seemed impossible a few weeks earlier becomes easier as you perform it more often. Every time you perform it, the body undergoes its adaptation cycle as a response to the stress that you imposed on it.

But what happens when the ‘stress’ doesn’t actually feel like stress anymore? What happens when you have gotten so good at the routine, and your body has gotten so well adapted to it, that it doesn’t feel like work anymore?

Well, then your body gives itself a Big Ol’ Proverbial Pat-On-The-Back and stops sending the signals to change. After all, it no longer needs to change. It has become perfectly suited to the demands you are placing on it. It has undergone a successful adaptation. It no longer perceives a reason to make you stronger, faster, or more resilient.

This means that, in order to keep progressing in your fitness goals, you must continue to find ways to make your workouts more challenging. By strategically changing the stress your body is undergoing, you can create the variability you need in order to change and grow.

In “Understanding Adaptation Pt. 2, we will talk more about the many different strategies you can use to keep yourself growing and adapting!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Zita Dube-Lockhart (CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.

Jason: Personal Training Made Me A Better Dad

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Generate Fitness client Jason has been training with CSEP CPT Kyle Lobb since long before Generate was even an idea. Jason shares his story in today's #iamgenfit client testimonial:

When I first started training with Kyle, he was still a student at NAIT. I had struggled for my entire adult life with being physically active in large because of my kyphosis-lordosis scoliosis and severe internal rotation of my hip. These structural and muscular issues caused me great discomfort and significantly reduced my quality of life. Despite my best efforts working with doctors and chiropractors, difficulty with movement was my normal.

Kyle Lobb supports Jason with his chest press on a stability ball.

Kyle Lobb supports Jason with his chest press on a stability ball.

I opted to train with Kyle because he was strongly referred to me by Zita, and because I knew that his education at NAIT included a great deal of training on correctional exercise techniques. I was hopeful that Kyle would be able to support me through learning how to move safely again.

I knew upon meeting him that he would be an exceptional match for me. His high level of professionalism and incredible attention to detail was exactly the approach I needed to help me feel safe and confident in training. Now, two years later, I am not only able to lift up my children- I can lift my 80 lbs son with one arm and carry him for hours if needed.

Kyle literally changed my life. My weekly appointments with him are always challenging, offer great variety and innovation, and are fun and motivating. But above, I walk away every week knowing that I am stronger- physically and mentally- because of the work we do. He makes me a better parent, a better partner and a better person.

Every time I pick up one of my kids, I know that a big part of why I can do so safely is because of my amazing trainer, Kyle.

Jason, 37

Financial Controller and Dedicated Dad

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Thessa: The Dancing Queen

One thing is certain: Thessa definitely loves to dance!

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She started taking Zumba classes way back in 2008, when the program was relatively new in the fitness field, and she has been loving it ever since. In 2016, Thessa formalized her Zumba love by taking her instructor certification and began teaching in large-scale facilities ever since. While the dancing aspect of Zumba was the most appealing factor, Thessa also loved that it emphasizes fitness and health. Through her career as an instructor, she has been able to manage her early onset blood pressure condition and live the healthiest life possible for her and for her family.

When she isn’t dancing, Thessa can be found beating the drums- which makes it no surprise that she was excited to add Pound Fitness to her program offerings. Thessa certified in Pound last spring and is excited to begin teaching classes soon.

When it comes to music, Thessa loves a solid beat, and is especially drawn to pop music, R&B and Hip Hop. That said, she has a serious nostalgia streak, and can be frequently found enjoying an old school Backstreet Boys track.

Thessa is inspired by her family. She is blessed to have two wonderful sons and a loving and supportive husband who believe in her and cheer her on all the way. She doesn’t feel out of place in a full family of boys, though. Her love of board games, lego and all things Star Wars, Sports, and Harry Potter help her to fit right in with them.

When it comes to her personality, Thessa likes to keep things light and fun. She considers herself to be most like Ernie from Seasame Street, beccause he is humble, kind, genuine and a little silly.

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Her participants love her gentle, good humoured personality. Thessa always brings a little extra warmth with her everywhere she goes- it’s in her smile, and the way she makes ever person she talks to feel welcomed and accepted.

We are so lucky to have her on our Generate Fitness team and are super excited to see her make here debut in January teaching the new Zumba/Pound hybrid on Sunday nights at 715pm.


Welcome, Thessa! We can’t wait to get dancing with you!