Adaptation Through 'Stimulus & Response'
The fine line between therapy and training
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change".
- Charles Darwin
Unlike biological tissues, why does an inert object not get stronger in response to a load being placed upon it? Many reasons for sure, but in this context, it is because of its’ inert nature. It is not living, therefore it has no ability to receive or perceive a stimulus, no reparative systems, and no adaptability.
All aspects of the human body are genetically encoded to be able to perceive and respond to external stimuli. It is the means through which we adapt to our environment, and survive as living beings. This reparative response allows the body to heal and/or improve its’ functional abilities.
The word ‘adapt’ does not imply either beneficial or injurious, it simply implies the ability to change to fit a different situation. Therefore, it is the change that can be either beneficial or injurious. I.e. a broken bone is a negative adaptation to the stress of bone loading; whereas the ability to heal the bone to its’ original (or greater) strength would be the positive, beneficial adaptation. One step back to take two steps forward. At times, the adaptation is not a physical manifestation, but an adaptation of functional ability. These same principles often, but not always apply to the fields of both therapy and strength & conditioning.
Theoretically, we could go on the premise that therapy is a system of various externally applied and managed stimuli, that attempts to elicit a reparative response by a bodily tissue or function which had been theretofore compromised (i.e. injured tissue or lost ability), and in turn, restoring functional capacities to the patient . Similarly we could describe the S&C field as one that manages the application of stimuli onto an otherwise functionally competent, healthy tissue in order to elicit a reparative response. The end goal of this latter stimulus is to improve the competence of the target tissue (i.e. strength), thereby improving functional capacity, ability and athleticism of the client/athlete. In consideration of this, S&C stimuli should not be applied to incompetent tissues, or in situations of dysfunctional abilities. However, in a somewhat contrary manner, often times it is both applicable and recommended to use 'stimulus & response' therapeutic interventions either prior to, or concommitant with S&C training.
The clear distinction between therapy and training, in this light, is the original condition or functional ability of the target body. The purpose of applying the chosen stimulus, therefore, hinges on the present state of the target tissues/abilitites. Variables in methodology of applying such stimuli are appropriately determined and carefully controlled by the professional who is attempting to bring on the desired adaptation, be they a therapist or a trainer.
Beyond these theoretical distinctions, other more practical and legal differences exist, including the rights to apply a therapy ‘stimulus’ for the purpose of inducing healing being limited to those professionals who are appropriately educated and licensed. Likewise, the application of S&C stimuli is not based on licensure, but should certainly be based on education, understanding and experience.
It is relatively simple; identify the state of the tissue, choose the appropriate stimulus(i) to apply, and titrate the intensity, volume and frequency of the application. The 'magic' of adaptation truly lies not in the methods of stimulus application, but in the encoded reparative ability that is awoken by these methods. And this point, should not be understated; in order for beneficial, positive adaptation to occur, one’s body must be physiologically healthy and have a robust reparative capacity. This philosophy holds true for all athletes and non-athletes alike, with each cohort having their own, unique combination of factors that influence the adaptation process. The best intended and laid therapeutic and training stimuli are completely lost if applied to a unhealthy, poorly responsive body.
Comprehensive sports therapy and sports performance training necessitates that all factors be considered, monitored, managed and applied, with respect to the current scientific knowledge of all relative matters.
"Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimiliation."
- Mahatma Gandhi