Well, it’s a very important concept related to adaptation. And it can mean the difference between progressing safely with an exercise program and suffering debilitating injury.
If, every time we picked up a barbell, our bodies instantly accommodated that stress by getting stronger and maintained that strength in a general way for a long period of time, foundational training would not really be all that necessary. But that’s not how it works.
Our body adapts to what its used to doing. And whether that is walking, splitting wood, or carrying a child around all day, our bodies will try and adapt to become more efficient at that activity. When we suddenly change what we are doing, our bodies will undergo stress as it tries to adapt to the change. There are some changes that take place immediately such as increased heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature, but the long-term changes that result from applied stress are the ones that we need to be careful with.
When beginning a resistance training program, you need to think about what your body has to do in order to accommodate the stress you are applying to it. You may actually have the strength to lift quite a bit of weight; human beings are quite a bit stronger than they think they are. However, your tendons and bones may not be ready to support it. And you may not have the cardiovascular capacity, metabolic adaptations, or muscular endurance to sustain the effort. Lastly, it takes quite a bit of neural coordination to recruit as many muscle fibers as needed to lift appreciable weight with enough coordination to avoid hurting yourself.
So, it sounds like its hard to push yourself beyond your limits, right? Unfortunately, no.
Its actually quite easy to do more than your muscles can handle within a single training session and not feel the repercussions until a few hours or days later. In fact, its possible to do more than your tendons and bones can handle in multiple training sessions and not feel the repercussions until several weeks or months later when you realize you have a stress fracture or tear in a tendon or ligament.
|Shoulder SLAP tear: See the V-shaped split? Not supposed to be here.|
The problem with injuries are that they are not always acute. A lot of injuries occur with microscopic wear and tear over long periods of time.
The Foundational Training period’s purpose is to diminish the risk of injuries by allowing your body time to adapt to the forces generated by more intense exercise. Tendons and ligaments get stronger, muscles get more coordinated with the nervous system, blood volume increases, metabolic enzymes adjust to raise your aerobic capacity (basically how intensely you can work out before you get winded).
So, should you go from the couch straight to bootcamp? No. Simply walking, jogging, bodyweight exercises, light weights, and even *gasp* doing some work on the weight machine circuits at the gym would be a good way to build some foundational strength and conditioning before participating in a high intensity workout program.
Foundational strength and conditioning doesn’t take that long to develop, 3-6 weeks is adequate for some, however, extremely deconditioned individuals may need as long as 3-6 months. Having the patience to stick with a foundational period of training and slowly make adjustments in intensity and volume can mean the difference between being strong and healthy or weak and injured.
If you “shock” your body, don’t be surprised if it shocks you back.