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Adaptations to training

Danny O'Dell explains how to plan your strength training program.

If an exercise routine is correctly planned and properly adhered to, then improvements in physical strength will result as the body adapts to the load. Exercise is one method of making the body accustom itself to handle the imposed training loads. For adaptation to take place, the following must be given strict attention during both the planning stages and the implementation of the plan afterwards(Zatsiorsky 1995)[1].

  • The stimulus magnitude more commonly referred to as overload
  • Accommodation
  • Specificity
  • Individualization

The stimulus magnitude

The correct amount of stimulus or overload brings about positive changes in the athlete's physical state. This load must be greater than what the body is usually accustomed to for a positive change to take place. There are two ways to manage the adaptation process. One is to increase the intensity or volume, and the second is to select different exercises.

Training loads are divided into the following categories:

  • Stimulating - the magnitude of the load is above the neutral level which allows positive physical changes to take place
  • Retaining - also known as the neutral zone as the body is just maintaining its present condition
  • Detraining - too much of a good thing causes a deterioration in performance, the functional capabilities of the athlete, or both the performance and functional abilities

Accommodation to training

Accommodation to training is the second part of the adaptation process. If the same load and the same set of exercises are consistently used time after time, the body soon adapts and then stops making progress.

"This is a manifestation of the biological law of accommodation, often considered a general law of biology". According to this law, the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. Thus, accommodation is the decrease in response of your body to a continuous stimulus. In training, the stimulus is physical exercise."(Zatsiorsky 1995)[1]

Inefficiency occurs due to the accommodation law if standard exercises and training loads are used over long periods. Training stimulus MUST vary to be beneficial.

This training stimulus must be as specific as possible to the sport or activity one is training for in both muscular coordination and physiological demands. A high transfer of training results when using specific exercises during the training session.

However, these two requirements (the same standard exercises and training loads) present problems for the elite athlete. The training has to be variable to avoid accommodation and yet stable enough to satisfy the demands of specificity.

To avoid the staleness that accompanies accommodation, qualitative and quantitative alterations are made to the plan. Quantitative changes are those changes made to the training loads. Qualitative differentiation results in the selection of different yet specific exercises. Elite athletes require broad qualitative changes to their programs to remain on top of their sport.

Specificity of training

The specificity of training is the holy grail of all sports coaches. Without specificity, the sessions are a waste of effort and time. Almost every coach and athlete know that resistance training increases muscle mass and strength and that endurance training provides positive changes in aerobic capabilities.

Described another way, specificity means a transfer of training effect to the sport or activity being trained for in the first place. But why is this transfer so important? Because of the positive results on the playing field, that's why.

Standard deviations of measurement indicate the crossover effect of properly designed specificity training regimens to be dependent upon movement velocity, joint angle, and production of force amongst others. These must mimic the sport's conditions in the areas previously mentioned.

Individualization of training

Everyone is different, and the same training program will not work for everyone. It is ludicrous to set up a professional, college, or experienced athletes' routine for a novice strength athlete. Yet it is done in countless High Schools worldwide every single day.

If the coaches would take the underlying principles of the program and make the necessary modifications to fit their athletes, then positive adaptive progressions would be the result. These principles should be creatively applied, not blindly applied straight across the board, but correctly applied.

Average routines are for ordinary people and not for those with training experience. These individuals need special treatment in their program design. Routines are best made with the result always kept at the forefront. The athletes need to be kept in the forefront and the two meshed together, so the sum is greater than either part. The synergy of action, the transference of training, hard work, and fun all combine to produce a positive training effect on the athlete.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2004) Adaptations to training. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 11 / April), p. 8-9


  1. ZATSIORSKY, V.M. (1995) Science and Practice of Strength Training, Human Kinetics

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • O'DELL, D. (2004) Adaptations to training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Danny O`Dell is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of several training manuals including The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training, and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living a healthy fitness lifestyle.