Anatomical Adaptation Cycle for Fitness Training

Updated on March 28, 2018
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Mahmoud Elboraey, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with a Bachelor's Degree in Athletic Training and Sports Science.

Regardless of your goals, all beginners - and those who have not exercised for six months or longer - should go through an Anatomical Adaptation cycle before being exposed to a more vigorous workout. The purpose of such a cycle is to gently and progressively prepare the various body systems (cardiovascular, muscular and skeletal) for the future challenges of a progressive overload program.

Typically, an anatomical adaptation program should last for 3 to 4 weeks. However, for fit people who are returning to exercise, one to two weeks might suffice.

Goals of an anatomical adaptation program:

  • Stimulating the cardiovascular system and improving blood circulation.
  • Enhancing neuromuscular communication between major muscles and the nervous system.
  • Improving muscular recruitment.
  • Recruiting various stabilizing muscles to ensure future joint stability, especially stabilizers of the core.
  • Restoring shortened muscles to their normal length and flexibility.
  • Enhancing kinaesthetic awareness.
  • Laying a safe foundation for good posture and proper biomechanics.
  • Lubricating the joints and restoring them to their normal ROM (Range Of Motion).

The structure of an anatomical adaptation program:

The anatomical adaptation phase should consist of one micro-cycle (one week) that is repeated for the duration of the mesocycle (three to four weeks) or different micro-cycles that stimulate the body systems in different ways.

The program for this phase should contain the following components:

Training System
Frequency
Intensity
Duration
Cardiovascular Training
3-5 days
40-60% of HRR
20-60 mins.
Muscular Training
2-3 days
50-70% RM
30-45 mins.
Flexibility Training
most days
Point of gentle tension
5-10 mins.
Based on American College of Sports Medicine guidelines

I. The cardiovascular training segment:

At least three days of the microcycle should be dedicated entirely to cardiovascular training. The last 5 or 10 minutes could be used for flexibility training. On muscular training days, a 15 to 20-minute cardiovascular segment should be incorporated.

The duration should start at 20 to 30 minutes and progressively increase to reach 45 to 60 minutes towards the end of the adaptation phase.

Intensity should start low (around 40% HRR) and gradually increase to reach 60% HRR towards the end of the mesocycle.

The structure of cardiovascular training unit should be as follows:

  1. Rhythmic limbering of the back “cat stretch”.
  2. An initial warm-up of 5 to 10 mins, at an intensity lower than the targeted one for the day.
  3. Light stretches for all the major muscle groups of the body (calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip-flexors, latissimus dorsi, upper-back, chest, upper-traps, and arms).
  4. 3 to 6 five-to-ten-minute segments of progressive overload on various cardiovascular machines.
  5. A 5 to 10-minute gradual cool-down during which the intensity is gradually brought down to a resting state.
  6. Deep stretches for all the major muscle groups of the body (Same as number 3 above in addition to a deep stretch of the deep muscles of the back)

II. The muscular training segment:

  • All major muscles of the body should be exercised a minimum of twice per week during this phase. This could be achieved through 2 to 3 total-body workouts per week or 4 to 6 split-programs* per week.
  • The load should start around 50 to 60% RM and progressively increase to reach 70% RM towards the end of the phase.
  • Recommended volume for this phase is one set of 15 to 20 repetitions for each exercise
  • It is recommended to include a minimum of 10 exercises targeting the major muscle groups of the body.
  • Establishing and maintaining balanced strength between opposing muscle groups should be kept in mind.
  • It is preferable at this stage to use multi-joint exercises.

* Different methods of splitting muscular workouts will be explained in another article.

The structure of the Muscular Training workout should be as follows:

  1. Rhythmic limbering of the back “cat stretch”.
  2. Warm-up for 5 to 10 minutes, either on a cardiovascular machine or by rhythmically limbering.
  3. Light stretches for all the major muscle groups of the body (calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip-flexors, latissimus dorsi, upper-back, chest, upper-traps, and arms).
  4. Perform 10 to 15 exercises for the major muscle groups, one set, 15 to 20 reps with minimal or no rest in between.
  5. Deep stretches for all the major muscle groups of the body (Same as number 3 above in addition to a deep stretch of the deep muscles of the back).*

* If you choose to incorporate some cardio on the muscular training day, it should either be placed right before the final deep stretches or interspersed between muscular exercises (interval training).

Sample Full Body Workout for Anatomical Adaptation Phase

Exercise
Sets
Reps
Rest
Leg Press
1-3
8-10
1-2 min
Bench Press
1-3
8-10
1-2 min
Leg curl
1-3
8-10
1-2 min
Seated Row
1-3
8-10
1-2 min
Calf Raises
1-3
8-10
1-2 min
Shoulder Press
1-3
8-10
1-2 min
Bicep Curls
0-1
10-15
-
Abs Crunches
1-2
8-15
1-2 min
Triceps Push-Down
0-1
10-15
-
You don't have to do all exercises listed above but at least do the first 6 exercises. You can use any other alternative exercises but stick to the basic and multijoint exercises.

III. The flexibility training segment:

  1. Flexibility exercises should be performed on most days of the week. They are best done at the end of a workout session so that the muscles are sufficiently warm.
  2. All the major muscle groups of the body should be included in this segment (deep back muscles, calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip-flexors, latissimus dorsi, upper-back, chest, upper-traps, and arms).
  3. Deep static stretches should be held for 10 to 30 seconds each.
  4. Breathe deeply (inhale and exhale) throughout the duration of the static stretches. (Though you will notice that stretches can be taken further during exhalation).
  5. Stretches should only be taken to the point of gentle tension or “comfortably uncomfortable” not to the point of pain.

Deep stretches at the end of a workout can have the following benefits:

  • Reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Reducing risk of injury through restoring normal muscle length and joint ROM
  • Promoting relaxation

When is it time to move to the next cycle?

When you start feeling signs of being comfortable at the higher end of your training zones for this phase, it is time to move on to the next cycle. Depending on your level of fitness and previous training experience, this could take anywhere from one to four weeks. With very de-conditioned, sedentary individuals, this could take up to eight weeks.

Best of luck!

© 2016 Mahmoud Elboraey

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