Author Archives: Kiara Johnson

The Human Adaptation to Exercise

human evolutionHave you been training for a while and ever noticed a plateau in your performance? There is definitely science behind constantly improving your performance. Exercise training is an adaptive process. The body will adapt to the stress of exercise with increased fitness if the stress is above minimum threshold intensity. Therefore you cannot just go for a 20 min job 3 times a week for a few months and expect to see an improvement. In order to improve you will need to increase the duration or the intensity of exercise to keep ‘stressing’ your body. To ensure this is effective, we must consider factors involved in the adaptation of muscle to stress and deconditioning. These factors include progressive overload, specificity, adaptation, individuality, adaptation and reversibility.

The purpose of training is to stress the body so it improves its capacity to exercise. Physical training is beneficial only as long as it forces the body to adapt to the stress of physical effort. If the stress is not sufficient to overload the body, then no adaptation occurs.

PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD: should be used when prescribing exercise so as the body adapts, the intensity can be increased to obtain improvements in performance. The variables that contribute to overload during exercise training are intensity, frequency and duration.

SPECIFICITY : derived from the body being able to adapt specifically to demands imposed on it and becomes extremely important when prescribing resistance-training programs

ADAPTATION: Significant improvements in performance occur when the appropriate exercises are introduced into a training program. Physical fitness is generally a reflection of the level of training. When a client works hard, their fitness increases. However, when that training ceases, fitness begins to deteriorate.

INDIVIDUALITY: There is nothing more important in designing resistance-training programs than taking into account the goals, needs, preferences and strengths/weaknesses of the client. As every client is individual in every way, they will react differently to the same program designed for another individual, therefore, you cannot write generic programs for specific goals and expect that all clients you give this to will achieve the same results.

REVERSIBILITY: Ending your exercise program will cause your body to revert back to pre-training state over a period of time. Therefore keep up the training!

When undertaking an exercise program you must continue to overload the training variables (i.e. intensity, duration and frequency) in order for your body to adapt to the training and thus cause an improvement in performance. in summary make sure you keep up the exercise because if you stop training you will quickly revert back to your pre-training state!

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Test yourself and your fitness

fitness testFitness testing is really important when undertaking a fitness program as it gives an idea of your base fitness. This base fitness then allows an exercise instructor to provide feedback on your progress or the success of a training program.

The idea of performing fitness testing prior to undertaking an exercise program is to identify an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. This enables an exercise program to be developed specifically for that individual. It gives an overall fitness assessment to determine areas requiring improvement.  It identifies specific attributes that an individual may possess so that these can be developed to suit a particular sport or recreational activity.

Fitness testing is required to:

  • individually tailor an exercise program
  • give an overall fitness assessment
  • determine areas requiring improvement
  • serve as a baseline for goal setting
  • provide feedback on an individual’s progress or the success of a training program.

There are many fitness tests which can be untaken, these would be chosen based on what you want to achieve. It is important to test a number of fitness components in order to get an overall view of physical fitness. The following are the most common tests for different fitness components:

Body Composition: height, weight, BMI, skin folds

Cardiovascular: 20 m shuttle run, Queen’s College Step Test

Strength: 1 RM test, 7- Stage sit up test

Muscular Endurance: 1 minute push-up, squat and sit up tests

Flexibility: sit and reach test

Before undertaking a fitness program it is important you get a base level of your physical fitness, this can be achieved through fitness testing. It is important that a range of fitness components is tested in order to get an idea of overall fitness. Fitness testing allows strengths and weaknesses to be identified in order for an individualised program to be written.

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Injury Prevention Strategies


Whenever you watch sport on TV you will see at least a hand full of athletes getting injured ranging from a sprained ankle, corked thigh, hamstring strain and the list goes on! These are known as soft tissue injuries which can be mostly prevented. Soft tissue injuries involve sprains (over stretching of ligaments), strains (over stretching of muscles) and bruising. Soft tissue injuries can be largely prevented through an adequate warm up prior to commencing activity and a cool-down post-exercise.

The warm up is so called because it involves warming up and preparing specific joints and the body generally, for the extra stress of strenuous physical activity.

The warm-up has three components:

  1. Low intensity rhythmic activities to gradually increase circulation and increase muscle and body temperature e.g. running a number of slow, relax laps of the oval
  2. The ‘stretch’ to increase range of movement e.g. knee lifts and butt kicks
  3. The ‘specific game’ related activity where athletes mimic movements to be performed in the game e.g. kicking drills and shots at goal. 

When planning the first part of a warm-up session to increase muscle and body temperature it is important to consider a number of factors such as the duration and intensity of exercise as a warm up will defer amongst sports, for example a football game versus running a 100 m sprint. It is also important to consider the environmental factors as a longer warm up will be required in cooler weather.

Cooling down is a gradual decrease in activity level lasting between 5 – 10 minutes and is important in preventing pooling of the blood in the limbs that can lead to fainting or dizziness. Following exercise, cooling down and stretching improves the recovery of the muscles, heart and other tissues through the removal of waste products.

Stretching is also an important component in an athlete’s training schedule as it decreases the risk of injury by lengthening the muscle and tendon tissue. Research shows that stretching is most beneficial in injury prevention when performed post exercise (i.e. during the cool- down) as the muscles are completely warmed up.

In conclusion in order to decrease the risk of a soft tissue injury during exercise it is important to undertake a 10-15 minute warm up in order to prepare the body for exercise and a 5-10 minute cool-down to slowly bring the body back to its pre-exercise state. Stretching is also an important part of decreasing the risk of injury, this is the most beneficial when performed post-exercise.

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Nutrition for Recovery: Post-Exercise

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Last week we spoke about what to eat prior to exercise, this week we will focus on what things to eat after exercise.

Post-exercise nutrition is important for the body to adapt to stresses of exercise and recover for next session. The three main aims for post-exercise nutrition are:

  1. Glycogen replenishment (CHO)
  2. Muscle repair and growth (protein)
  3. Fluid and electrolyte replacement


Glycogen Replenishment

  • CHO most important fuel source
  • Amount required depends on exercise duration and intensity
  • First 30 minutes post exercise is most important for refuelling
  • High GI foods initially
  • Low to moderate GI for rest of the day

CHO amounts

  • Low intensity sessions < 60 minutes
  • 30-50g CHO for first 0-2 hours
  • 5-7g/kg CHO for the day
  • High intensity sessions > 60 minutes
  • 50g CHO per hour for first 0-2 hours
  • 7-10g/kg for the day

Suggested post-exercise snacks (containing 50 g CHO)

  • jam or honey sandwich
  • 2 cups of cereal or 6 Vitabrits with milk
  • 2-3 muesli bars
  • baked beans on 2 slices of toast
  • 2 crumpets with jam or honey
  • 1 large fruit scone or scroll with jam
  • salad sandwich and a piece of fruit
  • 700-800ml sports drink

Muscle repair and growth (protein)

  • Protein for muscle repair and to stimulate muscle growth
  • Consume in small amounts
  • eggs on toast
  • nuts sprinkled on cereal
  • yogurt
  • protein bars (watch calorie content)

Fluid and electrolyte replacement

  • Drink 150% of fluid lost during exercise i.e. 1kg body weight loss = 1L loss
  • Replace electrolytes after excessive sweating. Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are they best for achieving this
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine post exercise

It is extremely important to consume the proper foods and drinks post exercise. The first 30 minutes is the most crucial time to restore your glycogen (CHO) stores which have been depleted. If you do not replenish your glycogen stores then you will be low on energy for the next couple of days. Another important part of post- exercise nutrition is to re hydrate. During exercise you can lose up to 2 kg of fluid, this fluid contains important electrolytes which help the body function properly, so it is important that you replace what is lost during sweat. So after a hard training session or competitions make sure you consume a meal high in CHO and protein and drink lots of fluid.

Pre-Exercise Nutrition to help you train at your best.

pre exercise nutrition

Nutrition for Recovery: Pre-Exercise

Last week we spoke about different recovery strategies to use after hard training sessions. The next couple of weeks will focus on nutritional strategies for pre and post exercise. This week we will focus on what to eat prior to exercise.

Your last big meal should be consumed around 3-4 hours prior to exercise. This meal should be high in carbohydrate and low in fat and fiber to allow digestion. But just remember this will also be affected by individual differences. Some people may even fine that this is too close or not close enough.

Examples include:

  • crumpets with jam/ honey
  • baked beans on toast
  • breakfast cereal with milk
  • bread roll with meat filling
  • fruit salad with yoghurt
  • pasta or rice with low-fat sauce (tomato, vegetables, lean meat)

1-2 hours prior to exercise:

  • liquid meal
  • milk shake/ fruit smoothie
  • Sports/cereal bars
  • breakfast cereal with milk
  • fruit-flavoured yoghurt
  • fruit

If you are feeling a little hungry less than an hour prior to exercise some ideals snacks are:

  • sports drink/cordial
  • carbohydrate gel
  • sports bars
  • jelly lollies

The most important thing to realise about pre-exercise nutrition is to experiment to see what works for you. Pre-exercise nutrition is highly individualised as different people handle different foods. For example some people cannot stomach milk in the hours leading up to exercise so they should avoid cereals, milk shakes and smoothies. It is important to practice your pre-exercise nutrition during training and not on competition day.

Recovery Strategies to get you back up and firing

The last couple of weeks we have spoken about different training methods for cardiovascular and resistance training. Now it’s time to discuss some recovery strategies to revive that sore body!

Recovery techniques have become increasingly popular over the years. The AIS spent millions of dollars on their recovery centre which opened in 2005. The centre contains plunge pools, hot spas, showers, whirl pools and the list goes on. So what things can you do without having access to these world class facilities? Here are some strategies you can do at home:

1. Compression Garments

used during training, competition and injury.

The benefits include:

  • Decrease muscle soreness
  • Reduce swelling
  • Promote recovery of force
  • Increase blood flow
  • Decrease blood lactate levels
  • Increase venous return

2. Stretching

used post exercise.

The benefits include:

  • For recovery the primary purpose is to relax the muscle
  • May increase range of motion
  • May decrease risk of injury

3. Active Recovery

light exercise i.e. light jogging or cycling following competition.

The benefits include:

  • Increased blood flow = removal muscle byproducts (lactic acid)*

*More effective at lowering blood lactate than massage

  • Reduces muscle soreness/stiffness

4. Remedial Massage

used post exercise

  • Increased blood flow = removal muscle byproducts (lactic acid)*
  • *More effective at lowering blood lactate than passive rest
  • Reduces muscle soreness/stiffness
  • Psychological benefits

5. Contrast Therapy

going from cold (1 min) to hot (30 sec) and repeating this cycle 3 -4 times post exercise.

  • Increased blood flow and removal of byproducts
  • Stimulates CNS (Neural System)
  • Decreases swelling
  • Reduces muscle soreness/stiffness
  • Increases range of motion

These are the main recovery techniques used in elite sport and can be used by anyone who has had a hard training session. You can use a combination of these techniques but the best way to determine which one works for you is to experiment!