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Accommodation

No this isn’t an article on how to find yourself somewhere new to live! So what does this have to do with training? Accommodation is a biological principle that states there will be a decrease in response to a continued stimulus. Again, what does this have to do with training I hear you ask. Actually, it has quite a lot to do with training.

Read it again – a decrease in response to a continued stimulus. What this means is that training becomes inefficient when the the same exercises or the same type of training load is used for a period of time. Simply varying sets and reps is not enough. What can happen when you continually perform the same exercises in the same manner is the body actually becomes smarter and it always wants to make things easier. Both intermuscular and intramuscular coordination improve and we get stronger and maybe bigger, this is a good thing, right? Yes and no.

Before I explain, let me expand on both of the terms I just mentioned. Intermuscular coordination refers to various muscle groups working together during an exercise. Take a bench press for example, primarily working your chest, front delts and triceps (with help from a few others but for ease we’ll concentrate on these 3), if we can get these muscle groups to work together more efficiently we will lift more weight. Intramuscular coordination refers to the motor units (a motor unit is basically a motoneuron or nerve and the muscle fibres it controls) within a muscle group firing in a more synchronised way, again producing more force and potentially lifting more weight.

As you can see improving both inter and intramuscular coordination can make you stronger but the increase in weight may not translate to increases in hypertrophy. In the short term, maybe, but the longer we stick to the same exercise we become more efficient and we get stronger by simply becoming better at a movement and muscle size might actually decrease! The more advanced someone is in terms of training the more often an exercise will have to change due to accommodation.

However, responses to training are highly specific, meaning if we want to be big and strong we have to train for that purpose. This is why I can’t understand the trend for longer and longer sessions of cardio amongst bodybuilders. You can’t train like an endurance athlete on one hand and expect to be getting bigger and stronger on the other, who wants to look like a marathon runner (no offence!)? Cardio will need to be addressed in a future article before I go on a rant! Back to the point – specificity. Training must be variable to avoid accommodation but at the same time stable to meet the need for specificity. Is this a contradiction? On the face of it maybe but we can make training both variable and specific.

There are two ways to vary a training program:

Change the load.
Change the exercise.

 

Changing the load can also mean the rep range, speed or rest period which is pretty self explanatory. Changing the exercise might seem pretty obvious. What if squatting is a good exercise and works for you? Well, I say go ahead and squat then! But what about accommodation? Simply, change the movement. Not for a completely different exercise but vary the way you perform a movement.

Again, take the squat for example. If the squat works for you and you like to keep it in your training program just altering rep range, weight and/or where you place the squat in your routine may help for a while but if the way you perform the squat stays the same accommodation can still take place. Another option and maybe the better option is to change the way you squat. Deep squats, parallel squats, above parallel squats, box squats to different heights, vary the width of your stance, etc, etc. There are numerous different ways to perform any exercise and even a slight change is enough to avoid accommodation.

So, I’ve taken a few hundred words to tell you variety is a good thing to bring into your training. Yes, variety is good but what I am trying to get across is that you don’t have to completely change your whole workout every time you change. If you have a particular style of training that works for you then go ahead and get as much out of it as you can but make some small changes every time you train and that is enough to avoid accommodation.

Train hard but above all train smart!

Mike Gelsei BSc.