Nomothetic Stress Principle: Hurt Me, Heal Me
Anything in excess, is a poison. – Howard Bloom
Even good old fashioned exercise. And what is exercise but the application of a stressor? And what is stress in excess but a poison? But our bodies need to be stressed as much as they need rest. Applied stress is how we disturb, destabilize and knock our body off its homeostatic kilter, expecting an adaptation of resilience to the exact distress we put it through. This can be over-done or under-done, however, and that is where good science is best applied as intuitively guided art – the art of program design. And this is where the majority of people are failing with their goals. While hyper-complexified and sexified nutrition is incessantly promoted, debated and prodded for details, program design (how the training plan is designed and then an eating plan to feed the training) is barely given an after thought. The reverse is where your focus should be instead. But I digress. So let’s stay on topic.
Specify Your Stress And You Specify Your Result: Stress Is Your Chisel
All exercise is a regimented, controlled and applied form of stress seeking a positive adaptation. Like a wound seeking to heal, the body seeks to heal from the infliction of this stress by becoming more resilient to the act of being kicked, prodded and knocked around just so you and I can have a nicer looking body. My argument? That the way you program your exercise gives it’s own “stress signature”. And your body interprets this signature uniquely. That as you adapt, you accumulate fatigue and fitness – the negative and the positive. And that with enough an iteration and extended enough a duration, the negative over-powers the positive and you experience organismic fatigue. No such separation as neural and muscular fatigue. But that fatigue has a specific and general aspect. And that if we view fatigue in this way, we can create an additive or emergent effect with programming where one and one added become much more than two.
Break It Down To Build It Up. Apply Stress To Progress
The fundamental principal of all exercise methodology to date has been the realization that we need to break down, and allow the body to re-build. Even the most illiterate novice understands this in a tacit sense. But we are now beginning to understand “why” biological systems, like you and me, need to be challenged to stay healthy.
What Stuart Kauffman in another context, called “rugged fitness”. Nassim Taleb wants us to appreciate the value of volatility. Kelso brilliantly explains how the very mechanism of adaptation is triggered by instability. All fundamentally have one message, that complex and dynamical systems literally feed on disturbance.
Thus application of stress through the strain of training, to illicit a short term detriment in physical capability and stress buffering capacity, is done in the expectation of the long term enhancement of the same stabilizing mechanisms we are disturbing.
The idea is to cause chaos great enough to serve as the stimulus for subsequent adaptive reconstruction.
This is the cyclical nature of all things biologically complex.
Pendulum like, booms and busts, ups and downs are the basics of natures innate protocol. Tear her down in a specific way and let her rebuild herself. She will process the instructions you leave in the design of your destruction. Which is why specific programming is essential for optimal progress.
Stress: Is It All The Same?
No. Absolutely not. 5 sets of squats at max intensity, done in one day is not going to be interpreted (or cause the expression of the same neuro-muscular adaptations) in the same way as 1 set of squats at max intensity done every day for 5 days in a row.
First of all, max intensity will mean two different things depending on which break-down we use. Secondly, the chaos rate, magnitude and frequency is completely different and the body literally “interprets” the uniqueness of the stimulus as such . You will eventually fatigue from either method (or something in between) used for too long. And then a break becomes almost essential. The mental/physical conjunction engine needs respite. Because you cannot continually accumulate positives. The negatives eventually over-power. There is no continual up-regulation, ad infinitum. (separate blog post on what is happening here soon, but in my Fission Fusion Model, the concept of auto-amplification suggests the system itself becomes extremely skilled at taxing its own limits and eventually over-rides them and experiences a generalized sense of fatigue; is the psychological/neurobiological correlate of this fatigue, boredom?)
But you can continue training extremely hard if you cycle the stressor types. (In my Fission Fusion Training Model, I call this sort of cycling Dispersion/Concentration cycling). While you are adapting to the short term effects of one, you are adapting to the long term effects of another. This, of course, has to be planned well. The pay-off is tremendous as it allows MORE training per year, at a higher intensity than if you had stuck to one singular method, technique or style of stress application; of training.
When Is Bad, Good And When Is Good, Bad? When Is A Poison An Elixir?
The role reversal of stress as a positive or negative, seems to be frequency, magnitude and duration dependent. How much is too much and how little is not enough are variables that have to be assessed through individual biofeedback. The fact that tolerance and adaptation rates are highly individualized – if optimal progress is what you seek – means that each program has to have various degrees of freedom within a large encompassing structure. More on this topic soon.
Thus a stress or poison, in small enough a dose, or for short enough a time frame can heal, strengthen or rejuvenate. The opposite is true when a biological system does not expose itself to the demands that seek to destabilize it’s homeostatic state. Long term stability can sicken, poison or kill. Death IS stability. Life is instability.
Nature is an unstable bitch.