There is a foundational principle in fitness, exercise, and training which helps guide the optimal structure and goals of all exercise prescription.
This is the SAID Principle; Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Very simply what this means is that the capacity of our body to move, do work, and execute tasks is directly related to the demands, or practices, we regularly subject ourselves to. Sort of like, ‘use it or lose it,’ but there is a little more to it than that.
Our bodies adapt and become more efficient in direct proportion to the stressors placed upon them. For example, if we spend time and effort swimming laps in the pool, we become more efficient and proficient with that stroke, and we improve our cardiovascular capacity in relation to how hard we push ourselves in the pool. Similarly, if we train our large muscle groups in the gym for power and explosiveness, while also refining techniques for shot-put, our body will adapt, and improve our capacity to ‘put the shot.’ However, the training that the swimmer does will not cross over to improve their shot putting, nor will the shot-putter become a more proficient swimmer through heavy weight lifting and shot put technique refinement. That is to say, we improve our capacity for specific activity by training specifically for that activity. This is a fairly straight forward concept, but too often this may be ignored by personal trainers, fitness enthusiasts and coaches. In order to either enhance performance or meet physical goals, we need to tailor our training activity with this SAID Principle in mind.
So how might this principle inform and guide the physical exercise and wellness training of those of us in mid-life such that we may meet our goals to prepare for and partake in robust longevity? Most of us are not competitive shot putters, and not all of us feel we can meet all of our physical training goals solely though swimming. Further, many mature adults are not going to the gym as training for a specific sport, or for maximizing strength, speed, or endurance activity, nor for body building or physique competitions. They want to feel good, be capable and fit outside of the gym, and feel pleased with their physical health and appearance. Hence, our training programs must be developed in consideration of such goals.
For me, and the vast majority of my clients, these goals include a strong, injury free body capable of regular exercise, maintaining some degree of sport participation throughout life, and being prepared for spontaneous, fun, physical activity. And it means doing so efficiently and effectively; life is too short to spend too much time at the gym (MED). It means being ready, willing and able to take on projects around the home, help friends and neighbours when asked to move some furniture or stack some firewood, and it means being able to play, tumble and run around with our children and grandchildren. It also means having a physique which we control, and are comfortable with, which is able to withstand and/or recover quickly from injury, accidents or disease.
So, if these are the goals or outcomes we hope to realize for many, many years to come, what are the activities that support specific adaptations to our bodies and then help us to achieve these? What can we do in the gym which fully supports an active, long, healthy life? Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns, our training programs ideally will emphasize specific exercises and practices designed to meet the requirements noted above including: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) the most efficient and effective cardiovascular training protocol designed, not only to engage cardiovascular performance, but to also increase metabolism well beyond the length of the actual exercise; Functional Strength Training, which emphasizes the transfer of the gains made from resistance training in the gym to the most often repeated and required strength movements in the ‘real world’ (remember, Muscle is Medicine – MisM); and 15/8/4 Varied Pace Pyramid Sets for resistance training which emphasize eccentric, concentric, and powerful isotonic muscle contractions to help prepare or adapt our strength training for a wide range of reasonable demands expected as part of this robust lifestyle (contractions).
One of the reasons that I’m a fan of these foundational components of exercise regimes for mature adults is that the body is always trying to get better at exactly what we practice. Think about that for a moment. We can only expect our body to be able to perform the skills or meet the demands which we actually prepare it for. It is both obvious and prescriptive. Practicing the skills and training our body in ways which mimic how we want to move and act in the real world is a gloriously simple and focused approach for all of us to remember. If we practice a considered variety of exercise designed to support our active lifestyles outside of the gym, the SAID Principle tells us that we will be as ready, willing, and able to engage in a lifestyle defined by robust longevity for many years to come.
Until next time…
Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
*Disclaimer: The information provided and discussed in this column is based on my personal experience, studies of physical and health education and my expertise as a lifelong fitness and health professional. Any recommendations made about fitness, training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided through this column, should be discussed with your physician or other health-care professional.