Strap in and grab a cup of something warm, because I’m going to educate you on the basic ways that training improves your performance and physique. You’ll have some little lessons and insights that improve your results in the next 3-5 minutes of reading…
Getting Results with Exercise: The SAM Model (and what it means for you)
The basic way that the body works with exercise is a 3-step process:
- Stress your body with stimuli such as training
- Give your body the nutrients and rest it requires to recover
- Your body prepares for future stresses by overcompensating just a little
For example, when you lift weights, you stress the body, give it time to recover, and it comes back with some surplus strength just in case you have to do it again. The result is bigger, stronger muscles.
This is the basics of the stress-adaptation-model (SAM). This is important for your own training because it’s a good example of the 3 keys that you need for the best results: good training, effective recovery, and a progressive overload of your capabilities.
Train hard and smart, prioritise over-doing your recovery, and make sure that your general trend of volume/hard work is consistent and upwards!
Physiological Adaptations: Tissue change
This is the first kind of change you’re going to need to know – and the kind that most people are here for. It’s how muscles get bigger and stronger, but also how things like cardiovascular benefits occur.
The idea is that tissues themselves are stressed during the training process. Muscles are the obvious ones, but this also occurs in the tendons, ligaments, and the bones. Regular, slowly-progressive loading brings significant benefits by strengthening these tissues over time.
The recovery of these tissues is based on other kinds of nutrients than your standard proteins. For example, tendons are heavily dependent on collagen and leucine, and they share these demands with ligaments. Bones, obviously, depend on mineral intake.
This is the kind of work that you’re going to be doing with the weight itself and the volume you do. These trigger mechanical tension in these tissues, which is key for strength and muscle gains – bringing in the bigger, stronger muscle fibres.
Equally, lots of hard work produces chemical change in the muscle. This is the kind of thing you experience when you get the ‘burn’ in the muscles from sustained exercise. This is one of the drivers of muscular gains, though it does require a minimum weight/intensity.
The point here is that the combination of the two seem to be optimal for gains in both the muscles and tendons. Lower-rep, heavy training produces more strength and forces tendon remodelling, while lighter weights for more reps produce more chemical change and help tendons recover/grow.
The obvious lesson here is that your training needs to strike a balance between the two. There’s no point only doing 20-rep sets or only doing 2-rep sets. The best results come from working well along the whole spectrum, strengthening each rep-range and getting all the tissue changes you can!
With my own ART 12-week transformation program, I like to work through the whole range and develop from higher-rep to lower-rep over time. The balance is key to keep the tendons strong while promoting recovery and allowing your body to hit that crucial long-term progression!
You can look at higher-rep training as preparation for the body, mid-range is for building strength and size (6-10 reps), and lower-reps are for power or testing your strength.
Neurological/Behavioural adaptations: Practice and control
Tissue change is cool but one of the key areas where people overlook their own development is in the practice and control of exercise. It’s not just about strength and size; it’s about learning to move and control your body more effectively.
This is where things like flexibility, some aspects of strength and power, and long-term independent movement come from. It’s also key for getting better as an athlete or preparing yourself for a longer, healthier, happier life.
For example, the lunge is great for strengthening the muscles and tendons, but one of my favourite benefits is control of the hips, knees, and core. The studies are clear that proper recruitment and control are key for flexibility, strength, and muscular health.
This is one of the very fundamentals of good exercise and it’s easy to overlook. There’s a difference between a well-controlled set of squats and one where you’re just burning through the reps.
The best results come from the best movement quality and you can’t overlook the importance of proper movement and technique. This is why I use video demonstrations in the ART 12-week transformation program – and diligent technical work with my London personal training clients.
Reducing injury risk comes from strength, controlled movement, and taking your time.
You need to make sure that every rep of every exercise is performed with care and concern for how you’re moving. Equally, the best exercises for your training programs are the ones that demand you build strength and control/movement quality at the same time.
This is why I love using fundamental exercises, as well as those that involve rotating or using a single leg/arm. They develop concern for how you’re moving, and they punish poor movement quality!
If you’re not bothered by how well you’re exercising, why are you even training? Combining a good rep-range with your best effort in the technique is how you get stronger, and improve your aesthetics, faster and with a better end-result!
How can you use this info in your own training?
So, what are the take-away lessons?
The obvious one is that you should be concerned with producing tissue change as well as improving technique consistently over time. Here are a few simple ones you can take away for your own training:
Now you know the 3 steps, you can focus on the SAM as a guideline. Train, recovery, progress – make sure each of these steps is locked in.
Next time you stall or plateau with your progress, take an honest look at each of these steps and look at what you might be able to do to improve. Better habits mean better results.
- Watch your rep ranges and keep it diverse
If you’re stuck in a single rep range for all your exercises then you’re probably missing out. Vary your exercises and rep ranges to ensure you’re working the whole range – it’ll bring better results and keep your joints healthy.
- Over-do your recovery, not your training
Want to make better progress? Put that energy into your recovery, not just your training: commit to better sleep, nutrition, hydration, and other recovery like active relaxation.
You get better when you’re recovering and improving your tissue change – so give your body the nutrients and environment it needs. Training is more stress and that’s rarely the answer for a beginner or intermediate!
- Push, patiently and consistently
Progressing in the long-term should be a smooth upward trajectory. You need to progress on purpose, but without burning yourself out or over-doing it.
The progress that is best is the consistent, marching progress of a few kilos here and there – or an additional rep/set. Accumulating is how better physique and performance changes happen!
Stay behind your absolute maximum effort, but not far. The best approach is near-failure, not to failure!
- Practice technique, use warm-ups well
You can’t ever stop paying attention to your technique. Everything you do should be deliberate and you should come into every workout with an idea of how you’re going to practice better today.
This starts with your warm-up, which is a chance to get movement practice in without any real challenge, and should persist in everything you do. Whether it’s better lunges or cycling with consistent pressure on the pedals, the best progress comes from doing it better all the time.
If you wanna improve your physique and performance then you should try and understand it better. Knowledge is power when you know how to apply it – and that’s what this article has been all about.
Understand how your body works and try to take advantage of it. You can work better in every session if you bring a deliberate-practice mindset and you know how to apply yourself.
Tissue change is the result of good programming, while improved technique and control come from how you execute every single rep. Adaptations and improvement are best when you combine the two and bring you’re a-game to training!
Apply these lessons and let us know how it went – or come chat to us if you want to understand more, or just need help with your own fitness journey.