Reset Your Default to Force Adaptation

Resetting your defaults will yield success and drive insanity out the door.

“Looks familiar, doesn’t it? We’ve been here before, you and I, remember? I do. I think of nothing else.”

– Agent Smith (Matrix – Revolutions)

You’ve dedicated yourself to a training regimen. You’ve spent countless hours, days and years to forcibly change your physique. Then inevitability kicked in and you hit the wall. We’ve all been there before but we can do something about it.

“Looks familiar, doesn’t it? We’ve been here before, you and I, remember? I do. I think of nothing else.”

– Agent Smith (Matrix – Revolutions)

You’ve dedicated yourself to a training regimen. You’ve spent countless hours, days and years to forcibly change your physique. Then inevitability kicked in and you hit the wall. We’ve all been there before but we can do something about it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger explains it best in his BluePrint series. “I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to come into the gym at 5 am, go to the bench press, then do some push-ups, then some dips, then go do some chest press and finish with some pullovers. I know that routine—you can’t fool me. I’ve already adapted to that.” The problem idea here is adaptation.

The beautifully made machinery that is the human body is the ultimate adaptation machine and therefore its default setting becomes your worst nightmare. There is a bright side to this, so let’s get started.

What Is Adaptation?

The concept of the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands) is the preciseness to which our bodies can react and improve upon the response to an external stimulus. A common example is skin pigmentation in response to sun exposure.

The skin cells (melanocytes) which deposit color (melanin) are very specific in that only the areas exposed to the sunlight will “find a need” to increase melanin production in response to increased exposure. This can become permanent in the case of environment. Another example of this is eyesight.

Eyesight is popularly analogous to the camera in that in order to let in more light, one widens the lens, analogous to dilated eyes whereas restricting light requires a narrowing of the lens. Furthermore, distance and depth of field are analogous to zooming in and out on a camera.

This process is referred to as accommodation. Accommodation is typically the temporary result of the conflict between looking at a close or near object. In lifting, your muscles can both adapt and accommodate. This is the fundamental difference as to why your default may be causing you to regress, or plateau, instead of growing.

Muscle Accommodation Principles

During a workout, your muscles must respond to the imposed demands. However, shortly after exercise (an hour or two later), depending on the workout intensity, it may seem as if you never worked out at all (absence of the pump).

During the workout, it’s best to think of the work you put in like water and your muscles as a balloon or a stretchy reservoir with a valve. The more work you put in the more the balloon stretches and as you decrease intensity the balloon starts to return to its normal size. However, muscle can maintain its shape well after a workout if:

  • Nutrition needs are met
  • Versatility in exercise choice and tonnage forces delayed adaptation
  • External stimuli and or assistance devices are implemented

Nutrition Defaults

We typically fall into the category of underfeeding or overfeeding. Very few of us consistently hit what is termed as “ maintenance calories.” Maintenance refers to the macronutrients (fats, protein, and carbohydrates) needed to sustain our present physique.

For instance, Mrs. Morris might be used to eating 1900 calories per day but based on her total daily energy expenditure (TDEE – also measured in kilocalories, unit of energy) she may need to be consuming closer to 3000 calories to maintain her workload and her body.

This becomes troublesome for Mrs. Morris because during her training period, she may want to implement two protein shakes in addition to her training once a week. The human body is so intelligent that, instead of demanding the body to obtain more calories on a regular basis, it will instead treat the two protein shakes as a simple surplus and allow the body to accommodate only for that day within the week returning to normal on the others days; maintaining homeostasis.

If we train under these conditions the body will not reset its caloric default, instead, it will call on the homeostatic powers of leptin, insulin, ghrelin, and a slew of helpful hormones to trick the body into satiation. However, what if we’re overfeeding? Glad you asked!

Say we have Mr. Sanchez, who is overweight and eats approximately 5000 calories per day. He decides to follow the latest trend on the renown ketogenic diet and sees remarkable results in the first month. Problem: despite the body adapting by breaking down fat through a process called lipolysis, the body also will begin to increase ketone bodies.

Like any process within the human body, there is always a level of catabolism and anabolism, oxidation and reduction. Ketone bodies provide energy during starvation periods, therefore, they are good but too much however, can cause Mr. Sanchez to become insensitive to insulin due to low circulating insulin levels while on this diet.

Another problem: insulin-like growth factor 1 which controls growth hormone levels, and ultimately muscle growth, is affected. The default for Mr. Sanchez with obesity and diabetes may be the reasoning for not changing his body composition despite his time in the gym. Therefore, despite his diet change, after three months he may complain of irritability, inability to maintain consistent weight loss, etc.

But there is good news! We can change our eating habits as we grow in our fitness journey. Customization is the spice of life. Learning to adapt your meals to your current goals and future goals is the ideal plan of action.

Following yo-yo diets and fads isn’t a recipe to fix a broken default button. Consult a registered dietician, health coach, gastroenterologist, and endocrinologist for example to find a very fitting plan. Resetting this default will be for the long term.

Intensity and Innovation Default

Intensity is the degree to which the respiratory, cardiovascular, and neuromuscular systems must work in order to respond effectively to a given stimulus. As a gym goer your goal is to stay on the linear progression train as long as humanly possible, such that you’re continuously increasing weight lifted which will ultimately increase tonnage, increasing neuromuscular efficiency (how well your neurons fire to stimulate your muscles) in addition to an increase in recovery time (reducing fatigue), and an increase in the efficiency of circulation and your breathing.

However, in order to prolong the adaptation process, powerlifters, for instance, include the principle of the deload week (season). This provides the body a moments reprieve (Kingdom Hearts pun not intended) in order to surpass a previous goal weight

In addition, deloads can be transitioned into different forms of training such as moving from power to strength to endurance. Perhaps changing the level of intensity and tonnage (weight x reps x sets) will provide a needed reset. Become innovative and seek a new high!

Innovation defaults typically occur due to a lack of self-knowledge. I don’t mean isolating yourself to find zen, I’m referring to how your body reacts to particular exercises. The default in this regard is a big trap to fall into because social media has in some way made the case for cookie cutter workouts and everyone has fallen victim. (Beating the dead horse here…but still.)

Your neuromuscular system will adapt and your musculoskeletal system will accommodate when you (for example) try to implement a different rep scheme in an attempt to “confuse” the muscle. I guarantee you, the only thing you’re confusing is yourself.

For example, push-ups (as basic as they may be might be) can add the complexity you need to a routine and by implementing different types of push-ups (such as Aztec push-ups or Hindu push-ups) you may get the change you need. In my own training, I haven’t done push-ups much, however, I can teach others how to do them.

My triceps simply do not get nearly as stimulated from push-ups as they do from dips or the Tate press. In order for you to reset this kind of default, find exercises that work and cycle out others that simply do not. Your physique and your endorphins will thank you.

As mentioned above, choose new things to implement. External stimuli are no different. There are many fads out there that claim to work and people are making millions suckering us out of money based on facts we never took the time to research ourselves.

The Waist Trainer

Believe it or not, the weightlifting belt can be used as a waist trainer. Before I get an inbox flooded with messages about research evidence. I got this tip from Mr. Olympia Men’s Physique Brandon Hendrickson and Starting Strength coach Michael Wolf.

The weightlifting belt is typically seen as a crutch in order to lift more weight. It is nothing further from the truth. In reality, the purpose of the belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure through the provision of a rigid surface. This becomes important in lifting more weight as it reduces disc compression and provides an easier “bracing“ mechanism.

During my training, it makes me more cognizant to breathe out and into the belt. Over time it trimmed my waist. As a men’s physique competitor myself it helps me in many ways: I can lift more weight, lift safer, and have a slimmer waist. The caveat, however, lies in the ability to use the accessory breathing muscles, namely the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis.

During breathing, most people are on autopilot. Most of us aren’t aware that the diaphragm is one of the muscles involved, as well as the intercostals and core muscles. Forced exhalation which is done during a sneeze or hard cough taxes these muscles indirectly.

However, during ab training, or even back training, this can be capitalized to make these muscles lean-machines. Go figure! I suggest that only the intermediate to advanced lifter attempt this technique, as it has room for abuse.

Blood Flow Restriction Bands

Blood flow restriction training isn’t new. In fact, it’s as old as the tourniquet. The goal is not to make this an actual tourniquet by cutting off arterial circulation, it’s to temporarily impede venous return i.e. restricting blood flow away from the working muscles.

Jessica my stretch coach presented me a gift of these a month ago and since then my training has been phenomenal and training without them is often subpar.

A Change In Your Grip

Woo! So, learning how exercises target your intended muscles groups is vastly important but if I told you that your grip plays an important role as well, would you believe me? Websites that sell fitness gear have tons of different barbells with different grips and machines have different attachments.

This is for the sake of attacking muscles at different angles of stress. A common idea is working your muscles in the direction they “run” (i.e. the lats are curved so a curved bar tends to accentuate the lats more than a straight bar in some cases). A fitted barbell may have closer grips to isolate the triceps better than the pecs. Utilizing FATGrips, for instance, may provide a useful resource in your training, as well.

Resetting your defaults will yield success and drive insanity out the door. I’m certain that implementing new strategies and making them work for you will improve you for the better. Keep on lifting my friends!