The human body has an amazing ability to deal with stress – both physical and psychological. In fact, the more you are exposed to a particular stressor, the better your body is able to manage it.

For physical stress, this response is called the repeated bouts effect - the more you repeat something the less it will affect you.

The Repeated Bouts Effect happens all the time:

  • The more coffee you drink, the more you require to experience a surge of caffeine.
  • Decreasing calories initially leads to weight loss, but eventually will become the new normal and no further weight loss occurs.
  • Thirty minutes of cardio will facilitate a drop weight until your body gets accustomed and you must increase the duration to see a similar effect.
  • Riding a bike at first will feel unstable, but with practice it can be performed with ease.

This effect is the reason that training needs to be varied – the same workout cannot be repeated long term expecting long term results.

Think about your first squat workout. How sore were your legs? With enthusiasm, you repeated the same workout again, believing it to be effective. To your disappointment, the same workout resulted in little to no soreness the second time around.

Workouts need to be programed and include progressive overload to see changes in the long term. As you increase your workout age (the amount of time you have been exercising), your body will better adapt to stressors and allow you to work more, work harder, and recover easier.

The repeated bouts effect also explains plateaus. Hitting a plateau does not mean your workout is ineffective, it worked perfectly. In fact, your body has a new normal, and to continue making progress you need to add more stressors.

Side note: The repeated bouts effect can work for or against you. If your body can adapt to any stressor, this will include the adaptations that come from sedentary lifestyles. Sitting all day will only make you good at sitting, which means playing a pickup game of touch football will likely result in an injury. Move regularly and your body will be better at moving.

How this affects you:

  1. If you want to continue making progress, you need variety. Running thirty minutes three times per week will enough only initially.
  2. Your body has the ability to learn movement skills, but only with practice. If you do not attempt to learn a movement pattern you never will.
  3. If you have a specific goal in mind, running a marathon for example, you can build your body up to it by proper programing.
  4. The repeated bouts effect applies to all aspects of life. Continued behavior begets more of that same behavior. If you regularly eat pizza after work, you will only crave pizza. The initial change to something smarter will initially leave you with cravings but overtime will become a new normal.

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