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What Happens When You Train 1: Resistance Exercise

Understanding what happens inside us during and after exercise and the benefits we derive from it can help us get motivated to become and remain active. We begin a short blog series on what happens when you train by discussing what happens during and after a workout that focuses on resistance exercise (weight training).

The short answer is: damage and (if you’re doing it right) repair. How this actually happens involves changes to your neurological, endocrine, immune, and metabolic systems.

Related: Why Personal Training?

First, a resistance training session stresses your neurological system by requiring it to fire your muscles in the right ratios at the right times to perform the movement. We call it coordination. By repeating a particular movement well, your nervous system gets better at recruiting more muscle fibers in the right sequences. This nervous adaptation is why you make quick gains when you first start training, return to training, or learn a new movement. The nervous system is also closely involved in the hormonal, immune, and metabolic responses, though these can be described as the nervous system’s subconscious “day job,” as opposed to the conscious attempt to move well (“squeeze the glutes!”).

“Our programming is designed to maximize positive responses across these systems.”

The endocrine system helps respond to external stimuli and return us to homeostasis. That’s a fancy way to say freeze-fight-flight-relax. Essentially, the hormones produced by the endocrine system serve as chemical messengers, directing the body to build (anabolic), tear down (catabolic), or maintain tissues. For resistance training, hormones help tear down damaged tissue (catabolic) and activate the rebuilding (anabolic) process. Generally, the more muscle fibers recruited for an exercise, the greater the endocrine response. Short rest periods, moderate to high volume, and heavier weights also increase endocrine response, maximizing your potential benefit from the work you’ve done.

For example…

The immune system isn’t the first thing you think of as responding to exercise, but it does play an important role, changing the potential interactions of other systems, and maintaining health, so resources can be devoted to responding to the training session. This latter is its most important role, and it is a major reason why rest after a workout is critical.

The metabolic response to resistance training is vital to producing results. This leads to lots of advertising promoting products to support metabolic activation (pre-workout) and protein synthesis (protein powders). Metabolism is the total of all catabolic or anabolic reactions within an organism. To respond positively to a resistance training session, you have to have energy to power the response across all of the systems discussed above. Being properly fueled allows your body to use protein for building, rather than fuel. Likewise, having a good aerobic foundation and ability to burn fat for fuel allows you to produce energy most efficiently, leaving more resources for repairing the damage from your session and building new muscle, creating better neurological connections, and other adaptations we want from your session.

Related: The Slipstream Approach to Training

These responses to exercises are subconscious, but they are what we seek to create when we exercise. Our programming is designed to maximize positive responses across these systems. It is important to ensure you (1) work hard frequently in the gym and then (2) allow these systems time and energy to do their work.

Please contact me at john@crossfitslipstream.com if you have any questions about how our programming can maximize your improvement from your time and effort.

-John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer