Updated: Jun 4
The general adaptation syndrome (GAS), developed by Hans Selye, describes how the body adapts to training. It provided a much-needed framework for the training process. When we undergo intense physical activity, our bodies will be subjected to stress. GAS helps athletes and coaches manage stress and fatigue to ensure the best adaptation from training. This was first studied on rats where they were exposed to stressful situations such as starvation, extreme temperatures, or very intense exercise.
When the body is subjected to stress, it enters the alarm phase where the individual's performance capability decreases. However, during the alarm phase, the body starts to adapt to the stress and gradually improves performance. This is the reason why so many people expose themselves to such intense workouts. They want to stress their body, so it enters into an alarm phase, allowing the body to adapt and improve.
When stress is repeated with a well-planned training program, this process is repeated and performance keeps improving. One important thing to note is that the body’s adaptation can only happen during rest. Therefore, the body must be given time to recover after each workout.
This theory provides the answer to why consistency is so important. To keep improving, our body needs to continuously be exposed to stress, and then rest so the body can adapt. This theory also introduces us to two important principles: specificity and progression. If the body keeps being exposed to the same intensity, the body does not need to adapt and improve and can cause stagnation and performance decline in an athlete’s level of adaptation. Therefore each session should be progressive, which provides larger stress on the body than the previous workout. If too much time passes after the first workout, performance will slowly start to deteriorate again. The training adaptation will be specific to the workout that it has been done.
Similarly training at an intensity that is too large or too frequent, which does not allow adequate recovery time, can lead to maladaptations by resulting in the alarm phase lasting longer, and the performance capacity decreasing further, thus reducing consistency. The GAS theory also states that if we train again before achieving full recovery, then our performance capacity will continue to decrease. This state is called over-reaching. However, if we give some time to fully recover, the improvement in performance capacity will be larger. This drastic improvement is called super-compensation.
The GAS theory highlights how important it is to be consistent in our training and recovery. The GAS theory is also an important part of periodization, a plan developed by the coaches and athletes to reach the best possible performance for the most important competition that will be discussed in future blogs.
Thanks for reading, and as always stay fit!
Bompa, T. O., & Buzzichelli, C. (2018). Periodization-: theory and methodology of training. Human kinetics.
Cunanan, A. J., DeWeese, B. H., Wagle, J. P., Carroll, K. M., Sausaman, R., Hornsby, W. G., ... & Stone, M. H. (2018). The general adaptation syndrome: a foundation for the concept of periodization. Sports Medicine, 48(4), 787-797.
Haff, G. G. (2004). Roundtable discussion: Periodization of training—Part 1. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 26(1), 50-69.