The Principle of Overload

There is a principle in fitness training that is essential to experience any type of improvement in performance.  It’s called the principle of overload and here’s how it works.  Our bodies get really good at performing the demands we place on it.  If you ask your body to run 2 miles every other day, your body will get really good at that.  If you ask your body to do 60 push-ups and 60 sit-ups every day, your body will get really good at that.

What about at work?  If you tell your body to walk around the store room and move a few boxes, your body will get really good at that.  But what if those boxes got heavier?  You’d struggle!  Or what if you were asked to move 30% faster?  You’d struggle!

This is where the principle of overload comes in.  When you overload your system (i.e. your body) you systematically break down your muscles so that they grow back stronger.  This is the only way to improve performance, by breaking down muscle fibers.

I experienced a perfect example of this on my 12 mile run this morning.  I’m training for a half marathon in Middleton at the end of the month.  Training has gone well so far, but my longest run was last week and it was only 8.75 miles.  To jump to 12 miles was ambitious, but I know my body and it’s abilities.  Typical distance training calls for small increases in “long runs” once per week.  To go from 8.75 to 9.5 or even 10 would have been very comfortable.  But that additional two miles was excessive overload today.

And I felt it.  My route was three 4-mile loops, and on the third loop I was halfway through when it hit me.  I knew it was coming, but knowing the principles of overload and progression made the feeling even more pronounced.  I had entered a mileage where my body was completely stress because it hadn’t been there before (during this particular training session).

Of course this brings up another topic – the fight.  What do you do when you are at a place you’ve never been before, but you need to make it to the finish line?  Another post for another day.

Back to overload.  This morning’s run was excessive overload but it was a controlled situation and it was a place I’ve been before, albeit one year ago.  Still, the overload is necessary for improved performance.  (I’ll have to remind my legs throughout the day that this is for their good.)

So what about you?  Training, work, personal, spiritual.  If the principle of overload says that you must exert greater than normal stress on a system to grow it stronger, how are you doing that?

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

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