Training: The Game of Adaptations

Training requires a lot of hard work. But it is simultaneously more than hard work. Often times, when athletes are first introduced to training, they (and their support system of coaches and parents) are excited to "get to the grind." This is great, but when it comes to training the art and science of the grind are likely something that many look over. Training is not just a game of effort, heavy lifting, and running until you puke. It's a strategically played game based on creating adaptations down to the cellular level.

We've mentioned adaptations in previous articles. We've mentioned planning conditioning around specific characteristics, and how certain physical qualities can be developed through different methods. But to understand training, we need to understand the thought process behind adaptations.

First, we need to understand the three main adaptations that are beneficial to training in order to get faster, stronger, and perform better.

  1. Cellular Adaptations - adaptations that take place at the cellular level. When we train, the cells that make up our organs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments have to adapt to withstand the demands of the sports we play.

  2. Anatomical Adaptations - adaptations that happen throughout a system in the body such as the skeletal system, nervous system, or cardiovascular system.

  3. Psychological Adaptations - adaptations that happen as way of shifting mindset, focus levels, and optimal performance states.

These main adaptations all must be accounted for and thought through. For example, the skeletal system (or musculoskeletal system) must adapt tendon and ligament structure in order to prevent injury when high forces or velocities are placed upon them. This can look like gradually increasing the weight used for weight training exercises, heights of boxes used during jumps, or distances sprinted. These are considered anatomical adaptations, as the muscle and tendon fibers will actually align in the most optimal way for producing and absorbing forces (think quick stop on the field).

Another example of adaptation would be increasing cardiac output, or how much blood your heart can pump out to the body, to increase one's endurance. There are very few people who can wake up one day and run a marathon without training, because the body needs to adapt to the volume of blood needed in the body to provide muscles with oxygen.

Psychological adaptations are a tricky one, because toughness is task specific, and when training for sport we need to be aware of how that training is effecting the mind. This means gradually making training harder, knowing when to put on the brakes, and having conversations about goals. We need to know when to push the body and mind, because pushing too soon in a direction ultimately leads to associations of negative feelings with training and decreases the desire to improve. We also want to make sure that we do push the mind just enough to help increase mental toughness in the long term.

These adaptations are all things that go through the minds of coaches when developing training sessions and training programs for athletes. Adaptations are based around end goals, and training is an adaptation based effort towards achieving them.

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