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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Progressive Improvements Require Consistency


photo by hugo

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"I just don't get this exercise thing. The more miles I put on my car, the more likely it is to break down. Why would I actively try to 'put more miles' on my body? Wouldn't it just break down faster?"

This is a very common misconception. The problem with the analogy between your car and your body is that the two are not the same. There is a very important distinction.

Your body has the ability to repair itself; your car does not.

You body is a fantastic machine that has the ability to repair minor "damage". The soreness you experience from a particularly tough workout is actually the result of microscopic muscle tears that occur when you ask your body to do something that it isn't accustomed to doing. The fancy- schmancy term for this is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. The discomfort associated with DOMS typically peaks 48 hours after the incident that caused it. These tears are not dangerous, or considered an injury, but they are the key to improvement.

You see, your body does not only repair the muscle tissue back to its original state, it adapts by rebuilding to be stronger. This protective feature of our biology is called supercompensation. Supercompensation is the key to progressive improvements. By consistently overreaching, allowing yourself to recover, and repeating, you get faster, or stronger, or gain endurance, depending on your training. Consistency is important, though, because the supercompensation effect is temporary and will be lost if the additional capacity is not used again soon. Your body won't support additional capacity if it isn't needed.

So what does all this mean? For one, there is some truth to the old adage, use it or lose it. If you sit around all day and don't make an attempt to move more, your body will transform into a body that is very well suited to doing nothing. If you want the body of an athlete, consistently do the things that athletes do, and your body will respond by performing those actions better. It may be counter-intuitive but more use of your body will make you stronger, unlike you car, not more likely to "break down".

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