Goldilocks and General Adaptation Syndrome


Goldilocks and General Adaptation Syndrome

Intensity is easily misunderstood in CrossFit.The mere mention of it can evoke images of injury or discomfort, causing some to hesitate. However, it’s vital to understand that intensity, when approached correctly, is not just beneficial but necessary for improving fitness.

To grasp its significance, let’s delve into Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), consisting of three stages:

Stage 1: Alarm

 This initial stage occurs when the body faces a new or increased level of stress, prompting physiological and psychological responses. For instance, running a longer distance or increasing speed (intensity) can trigger this stage. The key is to experience a greater level of stress than you’ve previously experienced. 

Stage 2: Resistance

During this phase, the body adapts to the stress, which can lead to improvements in various aspects of fitness, such as strength, stamina, work capacity and more depending on the nature of the stimulus. 

Stage 3: Exhaustion

This stage, to be avoided, signifies a state of overtraining or extreme fatigue, hindering performance and potentially leading to injury.

Finding the right balance of intensity is akin to Goldilocks finding the perfect porridge—it varies for each individual based on their training age. Beginners may see gains with relatively modest efforts, while seasoned athletes require more significant challenges to continue progressing.

Intensity is a defining part of CrossFit because most people in the world do not have to worry about over training or The Exhaustion Stage. Most people suffer from a lack of movement and the perils of chronic disease due to sedentarism. In our modern world full of convenience and ease, physiological hard work is often missing. That being said it’s a heck of a product to peddle. “Yeah join our CrossFit gym, it will be the hardest thing you’ve done in a long time and it will push you outside of your comfort zone” What a sales pitch. 

So in one bowl of porridge we have the “this one doesn’t train with enough intensity or volume to produce greater fitness” the other end of the bowl of porridges is the person that comes in 6-7 days a week, and or hits every workout with 90-100% effort/intensity 100% of the time, doesn’t eat carbohydrates, sleeps 3-5 hours and does multiple workouts in a day. They have constant nagging pain or experience psychological distress and they aren’t sure why. Overtraining may be the culprit. Okay so this may be an extreme example of the porridge that is too much. Exhaustion porridge. 

Now last but not least Goldilocks comes to the bowl that is just right. 

This bowl looks different for each person depending on training age. 

When you are in your first 1-2 years of exercise with no history of sports or fitness, you can basically do anything and it is enough of a stimulus to put your body into the Alarm stage and create greater fitness. At an intermediate age 3-5 years you will need to increase load, intensity, volume or all to further stimulate gains. As you grow 6+ years in your fitness journey increasing one of those 3 variables becomes even more important as the rate of adaptation slows even more as you get closet to your genetic potential. 

Keep in mind training age has little to do with chronological age, however after our mid 30s to 40s we start to lose our genetic potential gradually. Don’t despair! If you haven’t ever attempted to pursue a certain outcome (ie running, strength, etc) you still have room to grow! All is not lost and you can still PR well into your 90s as some fine specimens are proving in the endurance and strength world. 

So to summarize the idea is to work hard enough to create change. Most people don’t do this because it is human nature to be comfortable. CrossFit is about being uncomfortable because that is where growth happens. 

Low hanging fruit is fixing your air squat. If you never squat below parallel, if you haven’t ever gotten a strict pull-up in all of your years doing CrossFit, if your pushups look like a floppy fish, you have so much room on the table to use GAS to build a hedge between your current age and your older age. 

If you need a plan or guidance, we have you covered. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill. “never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense”  Keep fighting the good fight, chasing growth and getting outside of your comfort zone. Our lives depend on it.