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       Phases of Adaptation / 調適階段

To understand the need for a systematic, organized training program one must know how long term adaptation is formed in our body. In the development of functional adaptation, which is the adaptation of physiological, psychological and motor requirements for a specific sport, we can clearly see three positive phases.

The first phase is that of immediate adaptation related to full mobilization of all functional reserves of the body in response to given workout load. This is basically the effect of a single workout or race in which you use whatever functions you have to perform. Although psychologically gratifying at the time, this is a short - term effect of training, which does not have any significant lasting effects on improvement. Athletes in this phase should always be considered "recreational" because their training pattern, which is sporadic at best, will never bring long lasting improvement in overall results. Even tough some changes are observed but none of them are significant structural or functional changes of the body to secure new level of athletic shape. Sometimes changes may occur but due to lack of progressive and timely application of the next loads temporary gains disappear.

In the second phase of basic adaptation, as a result of applied planned increases in training loads, the body responds with structural and functional changes in the body and groups of tissues directly related to the specific workloads. In other words, with systematic properly planned workouts, an athlete's body begins to develop and change. By the end of this phase we see hypertrophy of the organs and an increase in efficiency of the specific work.

The athlete begins to take shape through changes in the body specific to their sport e.g. cyclist will see enlargement of heart muscle, legs muscles developed etc. Psychologically, they are gaining confidence through noticeable changes in measurable tasks. They are beginning to accomplish goals and solidify mental training techniques, which help them perform up to their potential. This is perhaps the most important time for an athlete and coach because much of the work must be done without expectation of immediate results. Training is still dominated by development of general and basic characteristics with growing gradually specialized amount of work. In this phase, the athlete often has mixed results. They may have a spectacular race or game, followed by a dismal showing, but are unlikely to be able to consistently repeat high level performances over a long period of time. Athletes who are unguided often get discouraged and misinterpret these results as meaning that they are making mistakes in their training. A good coach can encourage the athlete through these times by focussing on specific tasks and concentrating on daily development. It is critical that the athlete has complete faith in the coach and that both parties have faith in the path of development they have chosen. Unfortunately, some talented athletes never move beyond this phase, because of improper training, psychological or physical limitations or all of the above.

In the final phase of achieving stable long term adaptation (the elite level athlete), the body is exposed to a well organized progressive and specialized training process which secures long term changes. In this phase, the athlete's body moves from structural and functional changes specific to applied workloads, to a new level of whole body functioning. This whole body functioning creates reserves, which secure a new "operating system" and the stabilization of energy and motor structures. In this phase, an athlete is able to perform anytime within couple percentage points of their maximum capacity.

Most athletes work for years or even decades to get to this phase, often facing countless disappointments along the way, but sometimes with relative ease. In this phase, the coach is more of a consultant, occasionally reminding the athlete of details or helping with tests or technique. The athlete is completely developed and basically enjoying the fruits of their labor. But this phase does not last forever. Even the best athletes are not unbeatable, and there are continually new athletes moving into this phase. Just as peaking in the annual cycle is limited, so physiological and psychological characteristics cannot be rebuilt indefinitely. In other words, the life of the athlete has limits. In fact, the amount of time an athlete spends at the top is usually significantly less than the amount of time it took them to get there.

Achieving this level of adaptation does not guarantee high level results, but brings the
basic shape of the athlete to the level from which properly executed physical and mental peaking allow them to reach top level needed to win. In some cases level of this adaptation due to insufficient development of the basic structural and functional changes like e.g. aerobic capacity, strength, speed and etc. is not high enough to even with good peaking reach the level of performance to be contender for the top place. It is also may reflect genetically limitations. In this situation athletes may produce solid results time after time enough to be in elite competition but not enough to challenge the top players. Some coaches, especially in smaller countries where pool of the athletes is small sometimes attempt rebuilding long term adaptation to higher level. Most of the time extreme overloads of specialized or even general abilities. The most of ten is done with older athletes who have nothing too loose by experimenting. For example older athlete who reached plateau in endurance sports by developing general strength to higher level influence possibility to improve speed. In the same time extreme overload of general aerobic endurance can change foundation profile of specialized endurance. With new basic structural and functional changes of speed and aerobic capacity specialized training may rebuild long term adaptation to higher level with ability to carry higher average speed over the distance bring athlete to contender's level of race speed giving him a shot at the top.

As I mentioned, there are three positive phases of functional adaptation. There is also fourth phase of adaptation, which is undesirable.
This phase is a result of irrational training programs with too much work volume, insufficient recovery times, excessively long breaks between training cycles, and other improper applications of training principles. It is sometimes accompanied by bad nutrition or other abuses to the body although these are not necessary to experience negative results. The effects include weakening of the components of the functional system and long term structural damages. This usually leads to injury, illness and eventually even psychological breakdown in the form of depression, loss of confidence or other disorders.

Athletes who end up in this phase are typically thought of as "overtrained" or "burned out", although the complexity of the phase encompasses a much broader range of problems. In many cases, the problems start very early in the development of the athlete when, as I mentioned earlier, the athlete is subjected to too much or too intensive training. The consequences of these actions often do not manifest themselves in physical conditions until much later in life. I guess you could compare this to other abuses of the body such as smoking and lung disease. Usually by the time the athlete is in this phase there is very little that can be done to reverse the process. I often see older endurance athletes who have been working hard for years, hoping that this will be the year they break through. They struggle through injuries and illnesses, determined that this will be the year they break through. It is a terribly frustrating dilemma for everyone involved and it underscores the importance of following the proper principle of development. There is no reason that any athlete should have to face this situation.

                                                                                                                     Copyright 1999 Sport is Life, January, 2000