Super Compensation

I love the topic of supercompensation and periodization! What I love most about it is that it is scientific proof of the old saying...

"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail"​

Which is so true! With so many unknowns about the human body and the metabolism its nice to know there is one thing that you can plan on and that is that you need to have a plan!

​General Adaptation Syndrome

It seem weird that they would call this theory a syndrome, but I guess it make sense for G.A.S. acronym.​

Anyway, this concept is the foundation for why we workout. Its just a fancy way of saying you workout and breakdown the muscles so they can be rebuilt bigger and stronger (depending on the type of workouts obviously). ​The graph below shows the general idea of the GAS principle.

First thing to point out is that there is a baseline. Obviously everyone starts somewhere right? 

Next thing is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects to the entire concept. The training or, as I like to refer to it as, the stressor. For this example, we will refer to it as training. However, this concept can be applied to bad stressor as well. Yes, stress can be good AND bad (see my article on stress here). 

Immediately after a workout there is a decrease in performance. For example, after you do a hard squat day your leg muscles don't perform as well the day after and often just sitting on the toilet feels like your squatting the world!! This is known as the fatigue phase.

This doesn't last forever (even though sometimes it feels like it does) and your body starts to repair itself and performance begins to go back up towards the baseline. This is known as the recovery phase.

Now this is where it gets interesting! This is called SUPERCOMPENSATION!! Not only does the body repair itself, but it gets BETTER!! Anytime the body gets stressed it basically says "I don't like that" so it gets better in case it ever has to go through that again. (yes, VERY oversimplified). This is why we workout right to get better!

The body is smart. So, like I said in the superscompensation phase the body says I don't want to be that stressed again. So it gets bigger and stronger (depending on the type of training). BUT, like I said the body is smart. So, what happens if it doesn't get stressed like that again? Well, it simply returns to baseline. Having more lean tissue which is metabolically active isn't efficient since its not being used. So the body gets rid of it. 

It should also be noted that the amount of super compensation can vary based on the intensity and the amount of loading applied. If you train too easily you wont stress the body enough to even elicit a change. On the flip side if you train too hard your body wont be able to super compensate and will just heal instead of improve. 

When is the IDEAL time to TRAIN?

This graph shows the different possible scenarios of when you can apply a new training session. keep in mind this doesn't factor intensity into the equation so we are only looking at training frequency. The graph refers to it as a load or loading, this is just a fancy scientific term for training. I like the word load though because it remind you that the is something the loads the system or stresses the system. It reminds you that it can be both a good stress OR a bad stress.

The first picture in the graph above (a) is the same as the one above. It shows what happens if you only apply the load once. you do get supercompensation, however, the body adapts and goes back to the baseline.

The next one shows what happens when the next load is applied too soon and/or too often. This basically means that ​your next workout is done while you are still in the recovery phase. As you can see, this causes you to stay in the recovery phase and never get back up to baseline and definitely never get into super compensation phase. This creates a decrease in performance over the long run. This will lead to over training and injuries!! This should be avoided at all costs and shows the importance of proper recovery.

​The (C) picture shows what happens when the loading or training is done to late and/or too infrequently. Quite simply this just shows that if you wait too long to workout you wont benefit from super compensation and your performance will be stagnant

The last graph shows the optimal loading for when to plan to your next exercise session. This is obviously a perfect scenario and it is impossible to know exactly where the peak of the super compensation curve is in real life. The concept, however, is easy to apply. I typically find that the best way to do this is by trial and error. I'll put up another article that goes over some different planning options and ideas.

The other important ​thing to note about that last graph is that there are two boxes to represent the second load at the top of the super compensation curve. This might seem like a small detail but it is critical to elicit whats called progressive overload of the system. these graphs show a small snippet of time so you have to keep in mind that just applying a load at the right time isn't enough. you must also progressively increase the load so that you are able to stress the system and create another even higher super compensation curve. There are many ways to do this and I will get into that in more detail in another article.

Since the best way to do this is by trial and error the first step is to keep a good exercise log and take really good notes of how you felt during and more importantly after the workout.​ I highly recommend using a fitness and workout planner such as our accountability planner from The Healthy Perspective. It might seem like a bit more detail than you really need to know at this time but as you follow along with the articles it will make sense why you want to track as much of your workout as you possibly can!

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Stay tuned for more on this topic and more ideas and planning schemes!​

Stephen Cummock

I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through NSCA, Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, Level 1 Sports Performance Coach through the USA weightlifting Organization, Level 1 Precision Nutrition Certified, as well as a Corrective Exercise Specialist, Performance Enhancement Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer through NASM. I have over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry and 3 years of experience as an NCAA D1 strength and conditioning coach. I completed my bachelor’s degree from University of Northern Colorado in Exercise Sciences in 2010 and finished my Master’s in Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics in 2012. I have worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from special populations, weight loss, and even up to professional athletes. I have trained and educated people on how to become top notch personal trainers.

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