CPT Fitness NASM CPT Podcast

THE NASM-CPT PODCAST: General Adaptation Syndrome and SAID Principles

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine

Your body is apt at dealing with stress and will make adjustments as needed to cope. General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) allows us to look at the introduction of stress to our system and a spectrum of our body’s ability to deal with it. The levels of the GAS principle are:

The Alarm Reaction stage

  • What the …!!!
  • Increased soreness
  • Questioning choice of exercises and sometimes exercising in general
  • Decreased performance

The Resistance stage

  • “Good stress” aka eustress
  • Getting used to the stress
  • Minimized soreness 
  • Physiologically fine with practiced exercises
  • Increased performance

The Exhaustion / Overtraining stage

  • “Over stressed” aka distressed 
  • Not enough recovery
  • Irritable 
  • Exhausted 
  • Decreased performance

The SAID principle stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands, which means your body (and mind) will adapt to the specific exercises, stresses, and other demands you impose. As long as you don’t go into the exhaustion phase of the GAS you will continue to build resistance to these stresses and adapt. Work from a place of moderate stress where you can find success and build from there! Learn more by listening to this episode of the NASM CPT podcast.

Get 20% off your order now by calling 800-460-6276 or visiting NASM.org, and using the code Podcast 20. 



What you'll learn:

  • The different levels of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
  • What the Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle is

What was mentioned:



Welcome to The NASM-CPT Podcast. My name is Rick Richey, and several years ago, I had gone to physical therapy, and they'd given me a series of exercises to do for my A-D-ductors, my adductors, and I remember after doing those exercises, I was like, "Man, that was more difficult than I thought it was gonna be." It seemed like simple exercise.

Then, over the next week, brother, my adductors were killing me. We didn't do a lot, but clearly, there was weakness in the adductors. I remember going back to PT, and my physical therapist, Pete, I said, "Pete, what's up, man? "Like, I did these exercises and it crushed me! "We can't do that again. "That was so bad." And he looked at me, and he goes, "You know what? "There's only one thing that we can do." And I said, "What?" He said, "Do it again." And I was like, "What? "That doesn't make any sense!" But he had a good point, and the point is based off of what I wanna talk about today.

The General Adaptation Syndrome

I wanna talk about general adaptation syndrome, and clearly in that, I wanna talk about the alarm reaction, which is what my body experienced when I did an exercise I was completely not used to. But I also wanna talk about not just general adaptation syndrome and the other stages that the body goes through, but I wanna talk about the SAID principle as well.

So, these are physiological adaptations that we are looking to get when we exercise. What are we trying to take away? Well, we're trying to take away whatever adaptation we're looking to get, right? That's our general adaptation syndrome. We're looking at several different phases that are gonna get us there.

There's this first phase, and if you've ever been really, recall being new to exercise, and you went in on something, which is what many clients do when they come to work with personal trainers, and personal trainers oftentimes can and do tend to push people, you gotta be careful on that first day of a person that's not been exercising in a while, because we know that this alarm phase, this shock phase that happens when people don't do exercise, is incredibly painful.

That incredibly painful phase now takes that individual who no longer wants to train, and they look at that personal trainer, and they don't just say, "That personal trainer sucks." They look at it and they can often say, "Every personal trainer sucks." And so, it creates a bad view for all trainers because of an experience that this single person had with one trainer.

And so, as a trainer, we need to be acutely aware of where somebody is in their training cycles prior to training them. So, this pre-training, that somebody who's never exercised or it's been a long time, or it's a new muscle that somebody has never really focused on, like for me in that example with my adductors, man, I'm gonna go through that shock phase or the alarm phase in the general adaptation syndrome that was initially proposed by a guy named Hans Selye.

When he proposed it, he said, "Look, you need stress to change." And he was the first to really focus on this. And there's good stress and there's bad stress. The good stress, called eustress, is a stress that your body needs in order to go into this initial change, and your body's gonna beneficially benefit from.

And then there's bad stress, there's stress that leads to either absolute exhaustion, which can lead to some serious implications in performance and some serious implications biomechanically as well, so I've reached that phase when I had an MCL and meniscus tear. That wasn't because I was absolutely tired, it was because I pushed myself to a point where I was not ready to accept the consequences and ended up getting injured.

So, we wanna go through some of these phases of the general adaptation syndrome, and then we're gonna sum it up into the SAID principle, and we'll talk about those.

So, GAS, general adaptation syndrome. This one's really important for us to get. There's this initial alarm phase, and that's gonna happen in the first week or so, week or two, and that alarm phase, it could be painful. We have to be careful how fast we ramp people up into their trainings.

For me, the way I set mine up is, my first session with somebody, I'll spend time talking to them, I'll go through my assessment, and then we'll go through things like foam rolling and stuff like that, and then maybe at the end, we'll do 10 minutes or so of working out before we actually talk for a few more minutes and wrap up the session. And at the end of that, and this might be first session or it might be the comp session that some of you in the corporate gyms may be giving, so you're not spending too much time doing too much exercise because that person could walk away and they could be in a lot of pain. Now, I'm not saying only do 10 minutes of exercise. That's not what I'm trying to get, take away.

What I want the takeaway to be is the amount of care and foresight going into a training situation so that they don't walk away going, "Clearly this trainer doesn't know "where I am in my training cycle." We also don't want them to think that that's how they're supposed to feel. They're not supposed to feel in pain. Is it okay if somebody's sore? Yeah, a little bit.

But if somebody is incapacitated, they're in absolute pain, they've got that DOMS, the delayed onset of muscle soreness, and you know, if your delayed onset of muscle soreness starts the same day of your workout, then that workout's probably pretty intense. That is far more than, my legs are heavy because I did a cycling class. If you're literally getting sore on the same day that you worked out, then that is a shock and alarm response, without a doubt.

Now, at about week three, you're gonna get this adaptation. It's gonna start to happen where that phase moves into the resistance phase, which means you're starting to resist the stresses that you're putting on your body. After repeated versions of resisting that stress, yo, it's no stress anymore. It's no stress.

So, you want to get to the point where your body is adapting to this. That's what we're looking for, we're looking for this resistance phase or this adaptation phase. Personal trainers understand it, but they can use it to manipulate some of the amount of weight that a client uses. They can add weights, they can add sets to it. But we'll get to a point where somebody's gonna plateau.

When you get to that plateau point, and you might be 2 1/2, three months into it, you really could hit a plateau around that time. That's when periodization comes in. That's when you have to start switching that bad boy up.

Now, you can periodize prior to three months, but you're gonna have a place where you start to taper off in how you're elevating if you're doing the same things. But I wanna say this. You do need to do, oftentimes, the same things, because if you don't, then you're never gonna truly adapt to the demands that you're putting on your body. When somebody comes in and they go, "Oh, I love my trainer, he does totally different workouts every single day," then I have to question that to a point as well.

Yes, entertainment, variety is the spice of life. I value that, but if they're not keeping you on a regimen so that you're increasing the amount of weight you're doing, that you're getting better at a particular exercise that's trying to get you better at a particular outcome, then be aware of that, that you don't always wanna change everything up, because you need to get better at some of the things that you're actually working on. And then you start to switch that up.

You create periodization, and the thing is, if you do not periodize, if you do not start changing it up, you could get to the point of that final phase called the exhaustion phase. The exhaustion phase is, well, it's exactly what it sounds like. You start to peter out. You've moved past a plateau, and now you've got not eustress, which is good stress, but you have distress, and it's a stressor that's too much for the system to handle. That can cause injuries, things like stress fractures, muscle strains, joint pain, and let's give credit to this, it can create emotional fatigue as well.

We wanna be very aware that we're not fatiguing emotionally, we're not fatiguing neurologically, and we're also not overly stressing our bones and our joints and our muscles. That's why periodization is valuable, and that's where the NASM-OPT model's incredibly valuable, because it helps to create that.

So, again, going through these different components of it, when you get someone initially starting in the general adaptation syndrome, you're gonna look at this shock or alarm phase. Alarm, alarm, all right? And then you're gonna go into the resistance or adaptation phase. If you stay there for too long, you're going to plateau, which is why you need to go through progressions. Adding a little bit of weight, changing your sets up, changing your reps up, 'cause otherwise, if you don't do that, if you don't periodize, then all you're gonna get is what you already have. I have people all the time that are like, "Oh, man, I've been working out for a long time. I've been working out for 15 years." "Oh, man, that's awesome! "When's the last time you really saw results?" "Like 14 1/2 years ago." To me, that just goes to the point that shows, first of all, when you first start working out, within that first six months you can get incredible results. If you do a very focused six-month program, you can get incredible results. The problem is, so many people get those incredible results, and because they got those over the course of six months, they keep doing it not noticing that they're not getting any more results. They just know that that's what they got results from in the past, and they keep doing it from now until whenever without changing, without periodizing.

This is what I do, and again, when trainers tell me, I ask, "You know, what do you do when you work out, "how do you train?" They go, "Split routine, chest, tris, back, bis, legs, shoulders." "And then what?" And then what? Yes, there's a time and a reason why somebody would do a two body part split over the course of three different workouts and then repeat that. That can be incredibly valuable for some hypertrophy training. But if that's what you've been doing, that's what you do, that's, quote, your thing, come on, that's not gonna get you to where you wanna go. That's gonna take you to the next level, it's going to get you to the next level until it doesn't, and then what? Then that's when you have to really focus on your periodization, and you definitely don't wanna get into this overtraining. How do you know you're overtraining? Well, you're gonna have decreased performance.

If you've been doing something, you've been doing it for a long time, and you're getting worse at it and that's happening over a couple-week period, Then that could be something that's telling you that your body is not just stressed, it is in a distress. You are burning out, here. You increase your heart rate, your blood pressure's increased by doing these things. You notice your body weight is decreasing. You're tired, not sleeping as well, losing some appetite, your muscles are sore, and you're generally just Krabby Patty. Then you may also notice a lack of motivation and a lack of adherence. That's your body, man. That's your body, and it's saying, "You gotta take a break." So, give yourself that break. This is nature's periodization. You are burning out and you don't wanna do it anymore.

The problem is inertia, and you were on a good roll, and then you hit that stop, and sometimes when you hit that burnout, you just stop doing any training at all, and it's hard to get the forward inertia to move again. An object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. If you are at rest right now, you've hit that burnout, find the inertia that's going to help you start to move forward. The hardest part about creating that forward momentum is starting. That's the hard part.

And then, of course, what happens? Well, if you've taken too much time off, guess what? Alarm phase, shock response. I hear you go, "Oh, man, I'm so far gone. "I just don't wanna do it anymore." You know better. Your clients know better, y'all. You're the outside force. You're the trainer, you're the outside force for inertia, unless acted upon by an outside force. Be the forward momentum for people. Be the person that supports that change. Don't hurt them trying to get them to a better place. Help them get to a better place and motivate them and support them to do that.

If people that haven't even, we're not even worrying, listen, let's move beyond the stress response with overtraining. We gotta get people to start training first, and in their minds, that alarm phase is overtraining. Yes, you've hit them a little too hard. Back off of it, apologize. We don't want to have that type of feeling. That was too much, too soon. Let's back you up, let's go a little slow, because the goal of our workouts are whatever their outcomes are.

The goal of the workout should not be to be sore, should rarely ever be on the list, being sore. The goal of it is to help somebody, whatever their goals are. They wanna lose weight, they wanna increase mobility, they wanna increase their functionality, to move, function, have freedom, and that's what my friend Pete McCall always says. Fitness is freedom. You wanna have freedom, and fitness helps to provide that. And trust me, you lose your fitness, you realize the freedoms that you lose.

The SAID Principle

So, how do we help this kind of stress response? Well, what we look at is something very specifically that is a subcategory of the general adaptation syndrome called the SAID principle, S-A-I-D. That stands for specific adaptations to imposed demands, and it states that the body's specifically gonna adapt to the type of demand placed on it.

So, if you lift heavy weights, that person is going to get stronger at lifting heavy weights. If you lift lighter weights, and you lift lighter weights for high repetitions, you're gonna get really good at lifting light weights for high repetitions. If you practice on stabilizing your core, guess what you're gonna get really good at. Stabilizing your core. Until what happens? Well, you gotta be careful that you're not getting into that exhaustion phase.

Now, that's what happens in the power phase, a lot of times. People in sports performance, and they're working at really high levels, working at rapid, rapid speeds, and they're focused on these outcomes, these outcomes, these outcomes. If you think about, look at it in light of a track athlete. They're working at getting faster, but are they decreasing their performance? Is their heart rate higher than it should be? Are they losing weight, are they losing their appetite, they're not sleeping as well? You know, that might be overtraining. That might be overtraining.

Chances are, most CPTs aren't working in that space, necessarily. You may be, and you may be working with somebody you've been training for a long time, and they can definitely fall into this overtraining system because you've been working with them and you coach them and you train them outside of your training sessions, so you put things together for them. And sometimes they go all in and they go too far, and they don't take the breaks, and we have to be careful. We gotta schedule those rest days as well, or those recovery days that aren't pushing their bodies like this and aren't pushing themselves physically, you know, they're not being pushed mechanically, and physiologically, there's some movement that's happening. But man, it's definitely helping in support.

So, in the SAID principle, I want somebody to increase their stabilization and endurance, then that's what that first phase of the NASM-OPT model is. It's gonna help them do that. I wanna increase their strength, whether it's strength endurance, hypertrophy, or their max strength, which is how much they can lift. Then we have specific adaptations to help impose those outcomes.

So, we're gonna impose certain demands in order to reach certain outcomes. It might be these type I muscle fibers versus type II, it's that slow twitch versus fast twitch. But at the end of it all, we're trying to figure it out and directly relate everything back to mechanical, neuro, neuromuscular, and metabolic specificity to a training program. How are you changing mechanically? How are you neuromuscularly adapting to things? How is that motor unit recruitment working? And then metabolically, what phase are you in? Are you starting to work out where initially you're mostly anaerobic when you do these exercises because it's relatively new? And then it becomes more aerobic, and it's less metabolically demanding on your system.

All of these are valuable, and they effectively help to get our clients to achieve their goals, and personal trainers, you gotta constantly evaluate where your clients are. You gotta manipulate the exercise variables. That's why they're called acute variables, not chronic variables. They're acute! They're changeable and they need to be short-term. They're limited to several weeks up to a couple of months before we start completely manipulating and shifting the variables.

Now, any shift in variables is a shift in variables. Your body's gonna create a permutation to any change. We want to get better at stuff and not change it a lot. We want to get better at stuff by changing it a lot. So, as a personal trainer, we find a system to follow. We don't just walk in the door and go, "This was really cool, I did this, thought it was fun. "You should do it." Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with getting people moving. Let's just get people moving, absolutely. But you have the responsibility to get people moving in the best way possible, and if you follow a system, a progressive, systematic approach, you're gonna get people the fun that they want, the entertainment they want, and the outcomes they want without going, "Oh, let's do this today," and just make it up as you go. You have the responsibility as a professional to follow that system.

Whether or not you use NASM's OPT model simply as a model and not dogma, you don't have to go back in and say, "Okay, well, NASM says to do this, we have to do it exactly that way." But we want these specific adaptations, and so, the model will give us an idea of what those imposed demands are.

So, if you want stabilization and endurance, then you're going to do lighter weight at higher repetitions. Why, because those specific adaptations are gonna come from those imposed demands. The specific adaptations are stabilization and endurance. What are the imposed demands? Higher repetition, lighter weights, potentially slower tempo. What about strength training, hypertrophy?

Now you remember, hypertrophy, three sets of 10, right? Well, the variables give you more wiggle room than that, that's for sure, and we know that very technically speaking, you can hypertrophy in multiple different phases. But yes, that is the hypertrophy phase. But you're not limited to that three sets of 10. Max strength, how heavy can you lift? Well, there are a lot of people that do a lot of hypertrophy training, and they're not as strong as max lifters who might be much smaller simply because the people focused on max strength focus on max strength.

When you talk about periodization, when you get into doing things at heavy weights and at max speeds, you've gotta get that periodization in. Otherwise, you're gonna hit that exhaustion phase, and the exhaustion phase can lead to contraindications, and again, those contraindications are nature's periodization. If you don't pump the brakes, nature will do it for you. I hope this was helpful about the general adaptation syndrome and the SAID principle.

This is the NASM-CPT podcast. My name is Rick Richey, rick.richey@nasm.org, or you can hit me up and DM me on Instagram, @dr.rickrichey, and let me know what you thought about the show and if you got things that you want me to focus on or talk about, and maybe I can make that happen. Thanks a lot for listening. I'll holler at you soon.

The Author

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.