June 25th, Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better.
It’s getting better all the time .” OR NOT?
The following statement is the stimulus for writing a post to share this story with my readers.
Three weeks after starting a new physical fitness training program at the CentraState Hospital Fitness Center I can no longer complete the workout that I sailed through on the first day of the program! I am now weaker than I was 3 weeks ago. How can this be?
The story that I’m about to tell is designed for an adult reader to hear and consider when he or she begins a physical training program after a period of time with limited activity.
Forty years ago, when I started teaching at North Hunterdon High School, I met a guy named Bob McGivney. Bob was very interested in physical fitness. He was a coach of swimming, baseball, wrestling and football, and a strength trainer. He was to become the most successful girls distance running coach in the history of New Jersey. At that time he developed at North Huntingdon a physical training lab with some updated modern training equipment that he acquired through a Federal physical fitness program. The Fitness Lab became a physical education curriculum selection and was used by sports teams for “lifting” as we called it in those days. I used to stop in the lab after school to work out, and Bob and I became friends. Since I was a new track coach, we talked a lot about physical fitness and training. He asked me once why my runners were not coming to the Fitness Lab for strength training. I didn’t have a good answer at the time. The outcome of that conversation is a story for another post which will follow soon.
On the subject at hand, it came to past that Bob told me about a problem he was having with one of his fitness programs. You see Bob was way ahead of the curve on the topic of adult fitness in the early 1970s. He had developed a program for adults to train 2 to 3 nights a week in his Fitness Lab at North Hunterdon. It was a very popular program and rather innovative for that era. The problem he was having with the adult program was that an unusually high number of adults who were highly motivated at first were dropping out of the program after about 3 weeks for unexplained reasons. After some consideration it occurred to me that we could understand this problem using basic knowledge that we both new about the subject of athletic training. Below is a brief tutorial.
A basic tenet of all athletic training is that any workout breaks down muscles, and the muscles will be rebuilt by the body during a period of recovery. The rebuilt muscle will be stronger than the original muscle. The athlete becomes stronger by continuing this cycle. Below is a visual that I have often used with my athletes to explain this phenomenon of stress and recovery.
The key to the visual is that the base line is the state of the muscle at the beginning of the training cycle. The S represents the stress placed on the muscle through the workout to break it down, and the R is the period of recovery to allow the muscle to rebuild stronger than before the original stress. The ideal outcome is an incline from left to right on the chart.
We concluded that since the adults in the program had been inactive for a period of time the breakdown or stress phase was having a more dramatic effect upon the muscle. This made it necessary for the body to have a longer recovery period to fully rebuild. Many of these motivated adults were having the same reaction as I am having at this moment. The body was not fully recovered when they placed another stress on the muscles. The result was they never got back to the Baseline, and their strength level was gradually being lowered not raised. The illustration below shows how this can occur using the same visual concepts as above.
After realizing this, Bob and I developed a program for the adults which included a one-week recovery after every five workouts. During the recovery week the only activity was gentle stretching and walking. The dropout rate declined considerably and the program was able to continue successfully.
My conclusion: an adult who is beginning a fitness training program after a period of inactivity needs to build into his or her program extended periods of recovery during the first few months of the program to avoid unnecessary soreness, fatigue and potential discouragement.
Application of this concept to coaching distance runners over the past 40 years, I believe, has helped me to avoid losing some very talented athletes and avoid injury for all of the athletes I trained.
This is a report of a personal experience and not an effort to offer professional health or advice to anyone. I hope you enjoyed the story.
Yes, I took another day off today. LOL