Column: Systemic stress, and how it leads to overall fitness |

Column: Systemic stress, and how it leads to overall fitness

Ryan Richards
Make It Count

Fitness is acquired through stress, response and adaptation, and this process begins through the accumulation of a systemic stress.

When a trainee exercises, her physiological state gets disrupted from stress in the form of running, lifting weights, climbing a mountain or holding a yoga pose. After the stress is accumulated, her body responds to the stress by utilizing as many resources as possible to bring the system back into equilibrium. If the stress is adequate enough, and the recovery process including diet and sleep are maintained, then the human body adapts to a heightened level of fitness. The process is repeated over again increasing fitness levels over the previous baseline.

The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands or SAID principle goes a step further; an organism specifically adapts to the imposed demands on the system. In other words, human beings are capable within the context of their specific stresses they have adapted to, and their environment. Strong lifters specifically increase their strength because they adapt to the demands of lifting heavy weights. Great yoga practitioners gain understanding through repetitive exposure to the movements within their practice. This is precisely why great marathon runners aren’t necessarily great cyclists, and great swimmers aren’t always good runners. Triathletes must practice all three events to excel.


When the elite martial artist Colin McGregor fell to Floyd Mayweather in a contested boxing match a few weeks ago, this was not surprising at all. Floyd Mayweather is specifically great at boxing. Colin McGregor is a much better all-around fighter; had the fight been contested in a street, or in a mixed martial arts arena, the outcome would have likely gone the other way around. Greatness comes through exhaustive, repetitive exposure to specific stimuli in life.

As we approach the autumn months in the Vail Valley, many of our youth are entering into fall sports. Adults are considering ski conditioning programs. The cyclocross and hunting seasons are upon us, as well. Take time to consider your sport, and prepare wisely.

Because of the specific nature of physical adaptation, it has been my longest standing opinion that we should train generally, and practice specifically. The movement pattern; the muscle activation sequence; the precise balancing skills required for the execution of a ski turn isn’t replicated well in a controlled gym environment. The diverse nature of running a specific play on a third down in a football game is complicated. With regards to sports that require many different qualities, general fitness is desirable. In narrow focused sports such as rock climbing, it’s crystal clear on how a climber should train.


The accumulation and intensification of many different exercises planned accordingly is a great starting point for general preparedness for sports that require many different fitness outcomes. Through stress, response and adaptation, many fitness qualities such as strength, power, endurance and speed can be acquired. However, if a sport only requires strength and power such as shot putting, then it’s a waste of time to practice distance running. As an athlete approaches their full potential, it’s important to minimize the training volume inside of the gym. Too much training intensity and volume can ultimately rob an athlete of finite resources that could be better spent practicing the specific sport they’re talented at.

Stay tuned, in the next few weeks I will discuss how to most effectively train generally for most activities we enjoy in the mountains. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards is a fitness personality who has been keeping the Vail Valley in shape for over a decade. He is a master trainer at the Sonnenalp Club, and an online coach at Call him at 970-401-0720.

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