Understanding the STRESS-->Recover-->ADAPTATION Phenomenon

(And, why Your Exercise Program Might Be Limiting Your Performance)

How do you feel when you run? Is it a blissful exhilarating feeling or a worn down tired feeling? Do you wake up in a day or two ready for another run or do you wake up feeling broken and dreading the next run?  Chances are, you’ve actually felt both ways many times.  So why do you sometimes feel tired and broken, and why can’t you capture the bliss during and after every run? The answer to the second half of the question is that you CAN have a productive run that leaves you feeling healthy and strong for your next run every time.  The answer to the first question of why runners break down requires some analysis into how our muscles develop.  We’ll then take that information and talk about how training and exercise can either foster or hinder your muscle development.  The end result is athletes will either grow and flourish or they will break down and hurt depending on how they plan their training.

Lets begin our lesson with defining some key terms:

Stress:  The reaction to a stimulus that disturbs either physical or mental equilibrium.  In our case the stress will be the amount of stimulus our body withstands with training, racing, or even living.  Running, strength training (see strength), gait training reduces the stress and allows for better recovery.

Recovery:  A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.  For runners, triathletes, or any athlete for that matter, yoga, stretching, ice bath, corrective exercises (but NOT “strength” training), foam rolling, etc.  Anything you do to feel better.

Adaptation: An 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.

Ground Reaction Force:  A physics and biomechanics term used to describe the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it.  The GRF a runners needs to handle is 2-5 times your body weight.  Think about that for a second.  That is an incredible amount of force.  That is why running is so GOOD for us.

Exercise: Any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness.

Strength:  Ability to with stand an applied stress.  In the weight room, it is the amount of weight being lifted through the greatest amount of range of motion. 

Training: The action of teaching a particular skill or type of behavior.

When you are mindful of choosing your workouts, ask yourself 2 questions.  How much adaptation will that provide?  Is that exercising or training?


Do you remember the very first time you ran 1 mile without stopping?  Do you remember that feeling of buzzing or tingling?  What about the first time you ran 20 miles?  Some say pain, some say buzzing, some say tingling, they are all describing the same thing.  That is the bones, connective tissue, ligament, tendons, and muscles responding to stress - the healthy stress of running.  You take a day or two off, you stretch, you go to yoga, you swim. Each of those is a recovery technique called active recovery that will allow your body to adapt.  Your body physically has to change its structure to tolerate 20 miles for the next time.  A marathoner knows that the next long run of 22 miles the 20th mile felt fine but the last 2 were different.  Your body adapted to the stress of 20 miles.  When you adapt to the stress of the 22 miler 26 won’t be too hard to reach up to.  Ever wonder why we don’t run more than that leading up to a marathon for an average marathoner?  The stress is too high! The body cannot recover in time, and it can lead to MALadaption.  In short, they body is not prepared and the runner is now hurt.  An injury is a poor adaption.  The stress is too high or the recovery is inadequate. 

A typical Physical Therapist is not taught how to modify the stress of a runner (that’s what coaches do). Instead, they are educated in the recovery of humans.  The recovery plan is not, necessarily runner specific.  Other professionals who “exercise” runners are not trained in any aspect of the stress recovery adaptation process at all.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t publicize corrective exercises as adaptation.  The supreme skill for a coach in developing athletes is having the understanding of what stress they can withstand, how to properly manage that force, then to manipulate the stress to create a desired adaptation.  A 5 minute mile is a managed adaptation.  Recovery techniques masking as adaptation is a misuse of your time. 

Are You Exercising or Training? 

Exercising helps the general body become fitter.  Training imparts a desired effect. Education, development, and following a plan are major aspects of training.  Mimicking the force of how you perform is merely repeating stress and will limit gains.  Why don’t we train runners with one legged loads since that is the same way they run?  Because it recreates repetitive stress.  Running causes one legged stress, do more one legged exercises and the leg is stressed the same way thus adding to the repetitive nature of running.  Instead, you could squat with both legs with more load and get the muscles that perform running more loaded than the way they perform when they run.  This would be a novel force or stress. This adds work capacity to the system.  When the squat technique is performed correctly, it does not require any recovery and will allow the legs to produce more power and adapt to running better.  Battle ropes?  Same thing.  Should a swimmer slam a rope down with the same force and position as swimming?  NO.  The details of what happens to the shoulder with that stress reproduces swimming.  The swimmer needs more.  How about if we build the capacity of the muscles for swimming in a new way and not repeat the stress but engineer the muscles to be stronger when swimming occurs.  That is how swimmers can swim faster if the strength is limiting them.  Able to move more water helps them swim faster.  A runner with a long history of “fragile lower back pain,” who refuses to adequately stress her back will be doomed to a life without proper adaptation.  Her back will simply never be able to rise to the occasion of managing stress if she never stresses it.  All the recovery techniques in the world wont build its ability to handle the stress.  Instead, it will maladapt to weaker and be less able to withstand force.

MVPT is the only running specialty Physical Therapy clinic in Las Vegas.  We primarily treat athletes, however, non-athletic people are simply under stressed.  We can change that too.  We have spent the last 10 years learning to modify the stress of runners via coaching and strength training. We don’t want to take over for your coach. We want to use the principles of training to be a part of a team of people to allow you perform at your optimum.   We source a ton of research knowledge that is put into place with cross country and track athletes of all abilities including Olympic caliber runners.  We back up the research with experience.   As a primary PT, the most up to date recovery techniques are employed.  Stress modification, however, has much better long term outcomes than passive techniques.  The details of elaborate recovery techniques are lost when adequate stress management is applied.  We get good adaptions.  We use active intervention for active problems.  That is just simply good practice.  We don’t over complicate, we usually load it (not rest it), and then we force good adaptions.  Feel free to call or email for questions.  702-998-2900 or rjg_mpt@yahoo.com.  You could also get onto maxvelocityPT.com for more on the blog or request an appointment.  We are here for all of your performance goals.