24 January 2019
DIARY OF A SKINNY KID 3 – SRA
Before we dive into the final instalment of this series, let’s briefly review what we have covered so far: Specificity – The direction that adaptations take is specific to our training methodologies. Is of the utmost importance, but can be detrimental to other principles if overemphasised. Overload – System Tolerance: Training must be of a certain…
Before we dive into the final instalment of this series, let’s briefly review what we have covered so far:
Specificity – The direction that adaptations take is specific to our training methodologies. Is of the utmost importance, but can be detrimental to other principles if overemphasised.
Overload – System Tolerance: Training must be of a certain difficulty in the short-term in order to disrupt homeostasis and generate adaptations. There must first be a challenge for there to be a change.
Progressive: training harder over time so that it remains beneficial, as resistance to adaptations rises with increased exposure to training. If training didn’t progress in the long run then eventually we wouldn’t produce System Tolerance Overload in the short-term and training would cease producing adaptations.
Fatigue Management – The control of one’s fatigue status so that it never reaches counterproductive levels and prevents the ability to complete overloading training and generate adaptations, which is the purpose of training. Training is not for the purpose of making us tired, nor is that a reliable indicator of successful training.
I will now take this opportunity, to state now for the record: If your training ONLY satisfies these principles, you will still have an excellent training program on your hands. Although, the counterpoint to that is that it is practically impossible to NOT have at least some qualities of all the training principles within any program.
However, the point I am trying to convey here is that even if you do an amazing job of programming for the training principles that I will discuss from this point onwards, they really aren’t going to make or break your program (provided you aren’t be completely idiotic and purposefully programming in an unintelligent manner).
With that being said, let’s meet today’s contestant!
SRA likes watching it rain outside and listening to Celine Dion on a Sunday morning…
Nah I’m just f*cking with ya.
SRA stands for Stimulus-Response-Adaptation / Stress-Recovery-Adaptation, which essentially means the same thing. The SRA principle describes the sequence of processes that occur during and after the training bout. Although this may seem obvious to most and of little importance to some, it still does have rather large implications on how we program when we consider this principle in its entirety.
There are a few key take-away when considering the above SRA model, which I will tie in with the renovations analogy of the previous article. PART 1: Adaptation/Improvement ONLY occurs AFTER Recovery i.e. Baseline performance has been re-reached.
- The house can only be made better, once the repairs have been done. Damage > Repairs > Renovations. You do not have an improved house if you renovated and expanded the bathroom, but still have broken windows and no front door.
PART 2: The magnitude of adaptation (labelled “super-compensation” above) is dependant on the magnitude of the training stimulus/stress imposed on the body. Smaller stressor, smaller adaptation.
- When you come home and find your house damaged, the amount of improvements you make to the house will be dependant on the amount of damage done. If you come home and just the front door has been graffitied then you’ll likely just re-paint it (recovery) and maybe put a new doorknob in (improvement). But if you discover that the windows have been smashed and plants ripped up also, then the repairs and improvements you make will likely be larger and more substantial.
PART 3: There is a limit to the amount of regeneration that the body can signal for in any one amount of time. An imposed stress that exceeds the
regenerative capacity of the system will result in a reduced/no adaptation. Beyond a certain point (the green line), any more damage and disruption doesn’t result in greater adaptation, it simply takes away resources from adaptation and has to utilise more of them for recovery (the red line).
- Damage sustained to your house that is so significant and will take so much money and effort to repair, reduces the total amount of renovations you could make.
- For example, if you sustained $5,000 worth of damage, and you had $10,000 dollars worth of materials saved up, then the result is $5,000 worth of repairs and $5,000 worth of renovations/improvements.
- But if the damage is $8,000, you only get $2,000 to put towards improvements.
- Damage of $10,000 only results in recovery and no improvements at all. However, tying into point 2, if you only sustained $100 of damage, then you wouldn’t likely go and spend $9,900 on renovations, you’d spend maybe an extra $100 dollars, as anything more than that is hard to justify in that specific situation and the money/resources could be saved for a later time.
PART 4: Additionally, there is a fourth point that cannot be inferred from the above graph, as it is slightly inaccurate, based on the current understanding (the yellow-line should complete its full cycle slightly faster than the green).
The amount of time required to first recover and then reach the adaptive peak is dependant on the magnitude of the stress imposed. Smaller stressors result in less disruption and thus require less recovery and adaptation time/resources. This means that smaller stressors can be imposed more frequently in order to accumulate adaptations. However, the stressor still must be large enough to generate system tolerance overload and in order to maximise results, must result in the largest adaption per unit of time.
- Smaller damage means faster repairs and more frequent renovations, however this method runs into some issues when taken too far. There is always going to be at least some time-cost to the repair and renovation process, so the amount of damage done and repair required needs to be also considered an efficient trade-off from a time standpoint.
- For example, if it is a minimum 30m round trip to get to Bunning’s and back every time you do repairs and you need supplies, then it’s likely not worth your while making a trip for every time a bit of pain that chips off your door or a single blade of grass dies. Although small damage means faster renovations in comparison to larger damage and can be done more frequently, there is a tipping point and when taken to the extreme as the time-cost exceeds the rate at which more frequent renovation and repairs can accumulate in a beneficial manner.
That all might seem a little confusing…
So, using the above points (as well as the previous articles), I’m going try show you how all the training principles discussed so far, are used to design an effective training program.
Let’s say you’re writing your training program and you’re trying to build as much muscle as possible. You know that training volume is the variable most strongly correlated with hypertrophy and has a dose-response relationship.
So, in order to be SPECIFIC to your goal, your training program should prioritise volume.
Because there is a dose-response relationship with growth and volume, you should also be producing OVERLOAD via the addition of volume primarily (mostly progressing sets and reps, as opposed to weight on the bar).
Through FATIGUE MANAGRMENT you ensure that you don’t under-recover so that you can keep progressing training volume higher (and growing more because of that) until it’s too much for your recoverability.
Now, those are the key factors.
So we know that our training program has the purpose of allowing us to progressively overload volume as much as possible up until the point of which we cannot recover (and thus benefit).
But what does that actually look like on paper?
How do we know what a good training program would be for this situation?
Well… That depends.
If you can only get to the gym twice a week, then what good is a push-pull-legs or a bro-split?
Even an upper-lower would very likely be less than optimal, as scientific evidence strongly indicates that training a muscle group AT LEAST twice a week is needed to optimise growth.
Does that mean that three times a week is better than twice, and four and five times would be even better again?
Nope. It does not suggest that.
In regards to what the science says, there seems to be minimum thresholds that must be met for both training frequency and intensity in order to optimise growth, but once the minimum thresholds are accounted for, then growth is predominantly a factor of volume.
In layman’s terms, once we train hard enough (heavy-ish weight, close-ish to failure) and often enough (each muscle group at least twice a week) then the more training we do within these confines, the better, up until we can’t recover.
And that’s it.
It really can be that simple.
Now, as coaches, we make our living by understanding the nuances of training and how to eek out every little bit of progress possible. But just to be clear, beyond that rough overview, it is diminishing returns in regards to the magnitude of effect.
However, let’s examine the impact that the SRA principle has on our programming.
But first, let’s recap.
The SRA principle suggest that:
- Adaptation only occurs after recovery
- We make larger adaptations when larger stressors are imposed
- But too much stress reduces or negates our adaptations
- The time is takes to recover and adapt depends on the total amount of stress imposed
From this, we can draw a few conclusions that we can apply to our training:
- Training muscle groups two or more days in a row is likely not ideal, as adaptation likely hasn’t occurred yet and you’re just interfering with the recovery process and thus delaying or minimising the adaptation process.
- The more intense or voluminous a training session is, the larger the adaptation will be, but the more recovery time it will require.
- More training is not always better. Sometimes less training means even more strength and muscle gains, even if that is counterintuitive.
- Movements that allow for greater forces to be produced, have larger ranges of motion and disrupt more muscle fibres, require longer recovery times e. the recovery and adaptation process from 4×10 in the squat might take 4 days to complete, where 4×10 in the leg press might only take 3 days to completely recover and adapt, 4×10 using the leg extension might require 2 days of recovery and adaptation time, while 4×10 biceps curls you could likely do every day BUT the movements that required the longer recovery time, also likely build the most muscle and strength, so it’s a balancing act.
Returning to our discussion on programming, how do we implement all that?
Because the SRA principle is somewhat of a detail, I like to fine tune it once I have written the basic outline of the program, such as the rough split, the exercises I’ll be using and the approximate volumes and intensities.
I then try and visualise the SRA curves for each exercise, based on the volume and intensity it is being performed. Because I’m trying to program for maximal performance and the subsequent adaptation to occur, I then may have to move some exercises around or shift some volume to another day, in order to minimise SRA curves impacting on one another.
To examine the interplay or SRA curves a bit more, let’s use a common “push-pull-legs with emphasis” split. What this typically looks like is something like this:
- Push (horizontal emphasis)
- Pull (vertical emphasis)
- Legs (squat emphasis)
- Push (vertical emphasis)
- Pull (horizontal emphasis)
- Legs (hinge emphasis)
Now, this style of programming already has SRA considerations incorporated into it (like virtually all programming does, to some degree).
However, it still falls short in some other SRA aspects.
To highlight the considerations so far for example, the “Pushing” musculature is being trained twice a week, which is the minimum frequency as discussed above. The first session is a harder session for horizontal pushing, which taxes the lower-chest and disrupts its fibres to a larger degree and only minimally disrupts the vertical pushing muscles (upper chest and anterior delt), so they can be recovered and trained to a harder degree on the upcoming Push-day, which is a vertical push focus, which also allows for the lower-chest to continue healing in preparation for the upcoming horizontal Push-day.
This style of programming minimises the impact of muscle complexes that perform similar tasks from impacting on each other, and has quite distinct phases of stimulating something hard, then allowing for it to rest and recover, before stimulating it again but a much more gently, which then really allows for recovery and adaptation to take place before the process of stimulating it hard again and repeating the cycle.
This style of programming is rather solid from many perspectives and having biased sessions, some of which are harder and easier for a muscle group or a movement, as opposed to having two sessions of equal difficulty, is a great way to manage both overload and fatigue management (while also satisfying the SRA principle).
It is no accident that this is a very popular split, but is it perfect?
It is good, don’t get me wrong. But unfortunately, if you really want to take your programming to the next level, unfortunately you’ll likely need to go beyond the constraints of some kind of generic split.
Using a Push-Pull-Legs, an Upper-Lower or any other split you are familiar with is a great starting point, but to get the most from any program, you’ll need to then modify it further so that aligns more effectively with your own personal needs and enhances the application of the training principles.
So where does the Push-Pull-Legs with emphasis break down?
For example, on the second pull day (horizontal focus) bent-over barbell rows might be the main movement of the day, which is sweet, because they are a great exercises for building the rowing musculature.
So what’s the problem?
While bent-over rows might be great for back development, they also require intense isometric contractions in the spinal erectors and hamstrings while in deep hip flexion in order to hold proper position and maintain form. This can quickly become an issue when it’s time to train legs the next day, especially when it’s Hinge-Emphasis.
Hinge-Emphasis typically means deadlifts variants are the staple movement of the day, all of which require the hamstrings and erectors to be fresh and recovered if they are to be performed efficiently and effectively.
Ok, that fine. We can just switch the order of the pull days, which solves that problem, right?
Well, not necessarily.
If we switch the order of the Pull-Days, now we are doing bent-over rows before our Squat-Emphasis Leg Day. Our main movement on that day is likely to be something like a front squat or a high-bar back squat, both of which require sufficient erector and upper back strength…
So the rows the day prior, are going to mess with that as well.
Not to mention if we did it that way, now our Vertical-Push emphasis day is the day before our Vertical-Pull emphasis day, which messes with the SRA curve of the clavicular head of the pec (upper chest), which is worked in both vertical pushing and pulling movements.
Yep… Little know fact is that the upper-pec is required to produce force in vertical pulling movements, like pull-ups and pull-downs!
By this stage you’re probably thinking:
“God damn, I’m never going to perfect my program. Everything always messes with something else!”
And if you do think that, then congratulations, you now comprehend the complexities and inherent trade-off calculations of intelligent program design.
You have graduated from Bro-status and can now claim “Evidence-Based” in your insta bio!
That was a joke by the way.
The reality is, there is no perfect program. All programs have a number of things they do well, and things they do less well. Some programs have very little they do well and some have heaps.
By learning the principles and conceptualising how each of them interact with one another, you can start to comprehend what makes a good, great or horrible program.
And for now, that’s SRA.
I had planned to try and wrap up this training principles series with this article, but SRA required a few more words than I first imagined (I should have known, that was silly of me).
3,000 words… Well done if you’ve made it this far!
The final piece of this series will be the next one, which will cover variation and it’s interaction with all the all the other principles, which will lead into a discussion of how to program effectively and then string effective programs together in a logical manner in order to effectively periodise your training over time.
If you want the best results from your training, you need to think well beyond your split, or current training-block. Programming and periodisation are like writing a story. Sure, anyone can make up a few characters (exercises) and string a decent paragraph (program) together with them, but the best storywriters create dynamic interplay between the characters and make the paragraphs link-up and flow on sequentially in an interrelated manner in order to form chapters. They then link chapter upon chapter together, until finally they have created a book that has attention to detail from the shortest sentence, to the longest chapter, all of which contain highs, lows, character development and everything else in between.
That is where programming and periodisation really shine.
So tune in next time, to learn how to become the next Jacked K. Rowling or Swole-phen King!