Understanding the Training Process: Stress, Recovery, Adaptation

Understanding the Training Process: Stress, Recovery, Adaptation

While often workouts written by top-level Strength & Conditioning Coaches may look simple on paper, this is actually not the case. There are many variables that need to be taken into account to make sure the program will be effective and have a balance of pushing hard enough to make performance changes, while respecting the rest needed to allow the body to recover. Managing this relationship is known as the “Stress, Recovery & Adaptation Response.” In this article we will cover what the “Stress, Recovery & Adaptation Response” is, its subcomponents and factors to consider when training.

Stress, Recovery & Adaptation Response - An Overview        

Stress, Recovery & Adaptation (SRA) is how Strength & Conditioning Coaches and Sport Scientists explain your body's response to training. The process of training elicits a stress response from the body, then if given the appropriate amount of recovery, a positive adaptation occurs and the body has a new heightened functional level/state. Every quality we train (Speed, Power, Strength, Conditioning, etc.) has a unique SRA Curve. Knowing what these SRA Curves are for each quality will allow you to better program your training to optimize results. Ignoring these SRA curves may lead to overtraining, diminished returns from the training process and potential overuse injuries.

Stress level chart

Understanding Stress

Anytime you’re doing a workout you’re eliciting a stress response. This response is a vital input needed to challenge the body and acquire the adaptation wanted. In more scientific terms, a training session imposes eustress (positive stress), which disturbs the body's homeostasis, which is the first part of the process needed to raise or increase a performance quality.      

Recovering From Stress

After a stress (training session) is imposed on the body, we need a sufficient amount of recovery to net a positive adaptation. Shortened recovery periods can lead to incomplete recovery from the session(s) and if the cycle is sustained for a longer period of time it can lead to athlete's plateauing. The cumulative fatigue from insufficient recovery will also mask any potential performance gains. For each quality trained there is a specific recovery timeline to allow for optimal adaptation and respecting these timelines will put athletes in the best position to be successful (make big performance gains). Many coaches are good at imposing stress in the form of programming intense/hard training sessions, but less of them truly appreciate these recovery timelines to facilitate optimal adaptation.

The Positive Outcome - Adaptation

If the stress and recovery processes are managed appropriately the outcome will be a net positive gain in the desired performance quality. This positive adaptation means a raised ability level of the specific quality to produce higher outputs or resist fatigue more effectively. Although the adaptations made from session-to-session may be minimal, the accumulation of sessions respecting the stress/recovery process over the course of a training cycle will lead to tangible/quantifiable improvements in performance.

Woman with mask sitting

Specific SRA Curves

As I stated earlier, each quality you train has a specific SRA Curve. These are based off the energy systems used to train a specific quality. These SRA Curves are listed below:

  • Anaerobic Alactic: 48-72hr Recovery Period
  • Anaerobic Lactic: 24-48hr Recovery Period
  • Aerobic: 12-24hr Recovery Period

These SRA Curves demonstrate the fact that trying to do too many high intensity workouts too will often lead to insufficient recovery and a lack of return on investment for the work but in.  


“Hard work isn’t always meaningful and meaningful work isn’t always hard.”

-Erik Jernstrom

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