The Law of Accommodation
By Erik Castiglione
“I spend 90 minutes on the elliptical every day, but I can’t seem to lose any weight. I don’t get it!” Have you ever heard a friend say this, or something similar? Or, maybe you’ve noticed that your runner friend who does the same 4 mile loop every day doesn’t seem to be making in progress in their fitness or weight loss journey. Why is this? It’s due to the Law of Accommodation.
In our post about How We Adapt to Training, we mentioned the body’s tendency to maintain homeostasis – or your equilibrium state. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive and learn to handle whatever we throw at them, because they want to maintain homeostasis for survival. Let’s look at the runner mentioned above. If he/she doesn’t run regularly, the first 4-mile run will likely leave them sore. If they repeat the run a few days after that, it will go a little more smoothly. The more they repeat the run, the easier it becomes. Eventually, the 4-mile run doesn’t even tax them at all.
Why does this happen? Because the body adapts. The runner’s cardiovascular and respiratory system will adapt to handle the metabolic demands of a 4-mile run. Their nervous system will also adapt to help them maintain solid posture and gait, making their running more efficient. In turn, the 4-mile run becomes part of their body’s NEW normal, so continuing to do it the same way again and again no longer disturbs homeostasis. This adaptation is known as the Law of Accommodation. To put it succinctly, constantly repeating the same type of training leads to diminishing returns.
To prevent accommodation, we need to change the stimulus to force a disruption in homeostasis. If we continue with our runner example, we can do this in a variety of ways:
- We could have them run their 4-mile loop at a faster pace
- We could have them run farther than 4 miles
- We could change their route to include more terrain/incline changes
- We could have them break their 4 miles into shorter intervals, done for speed
Each of these changes would provide a new stimulus, forcing their body to adapt once more. And this is just with a single exercise: running. What happens when we have A LOT of movements to choose from? Enter CrossFit.
CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity.” The “constantly varied” part is often conflated with “random.” At CrossFit Relentless, we know better. As shown in the running example, there are several ways we can vary a movement without switching it out for something else. When it comes to lifting, we can chance the number of sets, number of reps in a set, weight prescribed, tempo of lifting, rest periods between sets, etc. Each of these variables can help us prevent the body from accommodating and force it to continue to adapt (i.e. get stronger/fitter). At the same time, by changing the variables rather than the movement itself, we still have a chance to practice our movement patterns and master their technical aspects, which is immensely important for safety. I think we can all agree that it takes longer to master a snatch than it does a burpee, and there are more safety concerns with it as well.
Why should you care? Well, if you can understand the Law of Accommodation, it will give you a little insight into how and why we program the way we do. It will also help you understand why it sucks so much to jump from 75 lbs thrusters to 85 lbs. and eventually 95 lbs. But, if you want to continue to progress in the gym, it’s necessary to make these changes as your abilities improve, and we will continue to coach you to do so. See you in the gym.