Why Daily Double Sessions Often Do More Harm Than Good: An Intro to The Stress-Recovery-Adaptation Cycle

The Fitness and Nutrition space has some pretty ridiculous taglines:

Go Hard or Go Home

Eat Clean Train Mean

Train Insane or Stay the Same

Now, if you’re just starting out these might be okay motivators. It’s new and exciting, and you’re starting to see and feel the benefits of changing your eating habits and moving a bit more — maybe even lifting some weights.

The challenge is that while most of the understanding that resistance/strength training is largely beneficial, we don’t necessarily understand why.

As a result, our efforts are often a bit misguided.

You see, strength training, or really any physical training for that matter, taps into the Stress-Recovery-Adaptation Cycle.

Most of us only ever focus on the “stress” component of the cycle and either don’t know about or don’t care about the others.

Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. Recovery and adaption aren’t the most glamorous things in the world so they don’t get as much attention as they should. Everybody likes to talk about all of these revolutionary training methods but recovery methods, for the most part, are pretty much universal across the board.

So, why should you care about the recovery and adaption component to the SRA cycle? Because this is where the change actually happens.

When you’re in the gym, you’re not building muscle — quite the opposite, actually. Resistance training rips, tears, shreds, and breaks down our muscles. Although this may sound pretty gruesome, just know that these are micro-sized rips and tears.

Fun fact: you’re in worse shape when you leave the gym than when you walked in.

You’re not building muscle in the gym, what you’re doing is creating the opportunity, the stimulus for your body to do so.

That’s what the stressor is intended to do. It pushes our body a little bit further than it has gone before (emphasis on little — too much too soon leads to injury, not adaption).

If we remember that the only thing our body cares about is survival, do you really think your body likes this? NO!

This is where the recovery and adaption components come into play.

When presented with a new/different physical stressor or stimulus,— in the case of weight training this might mean more reps or a heavier weight — our body hasn’t seen this before. But now that it has, it wants to make sure that it is prepared for it next time. It has to adapt to the new demands you place on it.

But notice that this isn’t just the stress-adaption cycle.

There is a critical intermediary between the two in the recovery component.

When you damage your muscles in a controlled way (e.g., weightlifting), your body has to heal itself. It has to have an opportunity to recover from the stress placed upon it.

And this isn’t just physical stress. There is an extensive amount of mental stress as well too. Our muscles move because our Central Nervous System (CNS) tells them to do so and anytime we change the stressor, our nervous system has to figure out how to deal with this as well, too.

Like our muscles, our CNS can only withstand a finite amount of “damage” before it shuts down. It, too, needs an opportunity to recover.

What we’re learning is the CNS recovery is just as important if not more so than the physical recovery.

It doesn’t matter how physically strong you think you are, without a properly firing CNS your muscles aren’t going to be able to do much of anything. At least not as well as you’d like them to for all of your persistence and effort. Again, remember that your nervous system tells your muscles what to do.

This is why recovery is so important. It’s the bridge between stress and adaption. Without it, your body won’t adequately adapt to the stressor, and you’ll likely do more harm than good. At the very least, you’ll probably find yourself plateauing more frequently.

A lack of adaption means a lack of progress.

I rarely ever advocate double sessions, meaning more than one training session in a day. This could mean personal training, group training, or even going to the gym in the morning and again in the afternoon.

If I do, it’s usually either sport specific or in a very controlled environment where I’ll provide more guidance around recovery and make sure this is only for a brief period. There has to be a specific need for it. 

For most of us, it’s just not necessary. The longer you spend in the gym, the more fatigued you get and the more prone to injury you are. That, and the more recovery you’ll inevitably need to adapt.

Instead of doing what you want it to do, you’ll most likely be training sub-optimally throughout the rest of the week. Again, if you’re an athlete, you may have the time to recover before your next training session. But for the rest of us with jobs, families, and other commitments, we simply don’t have the means to recovery properly from hours and hours in the gym.

It all comes down to finding that sweet spot where you’re pushing yourself enough to create the opportunity to adapt while creating an environment where your body and mind can recover enough to do so.

Remember too, nothing exists in isolation. The time you spend training is often time away from your friends, family, and loved ones. So, this isn’t just about stress-recovery-adaption, it’s also about the opportunity costs of where you spend you time. If you happen to do yoga with your mom or Crossfit with your dad, great! Either way, make sure you’re taking the true cost into consideration.

Now don’t get me wrong, the occasional double session isn’t likely to do much harm. If you’re feeling good, go for it. But make sure you account for what’s happening once you leave the gym. And don’t think that because this worked well one day that this is something that is sustainable.

If you think you need double sessions in your life, reach out to me and let’s talk this through. At the very least, you deserve some guidance on how to do this in a way that is both safe and effective because there are ways to do so. Different types of training work different parts of the body, different energy systems, and affect our nervous system in different ways.

Go Hard or Go Home evidently has a better ring to it than “Go Hard and then Go Home and Go To Bed After a Nice Meal” but the latter is much more likely to produce the results you want regardless of your goals and ambitions.

Here to help,

Ev