Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome – Secrets of Transformation

Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome

Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome will help you understand why you never make any progress at the gym. Have you been working out for years but see no visible difference in your body?

Understanding Dr. Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome is an excellent start to succeeding in achieving your fitness goals, whether they are for:

  • weight loss,
  • body recomposition, or
  • improving athletic performance

Hans Selye 1936 Definition of Stress

In 1936, Selye, the “father of stress research,” defined stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand, whether it is caused by, or results in pleasant or unpleasant conditions.”

Selye general adaptation
Selye’s general adaptation syndrome In 1936 – Image Credit: ²

Hans held a doctorate in organic chemistry and was a researcher at the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University in Montreal. While doing hormonal experiments on rats, he observed that they all exhibited the same responses to cold, drugs, or surgery:

  • swelling of the adrenal glands,
  • atrophy of the thymus,
  • gastric and duodenal ulcers¹

As a result of similar observations with patients, Hans formulated the three stages of the general adaptation syndrome (GAS)

Three Stages of Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome

Dr. Hans Selye’s stress triad of the General Adaptation Syndrome response includes three stages:

  • Alarm Reaction
  • Resistance Development
  • Exhaustion

Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, referred to the body’s response to stress as the general adaptation syndrome.

Alarm Reaction Stage

The Initial reaction to stressful situations is similar to the “fight or flight” response to danger or some perceived threat. In this alarm reaction stage, there is a physiological response, such as;

  • increased oxygen and blood supply to the necessary areas of the body
  • heart rate increases
  • elevated blood pressure

Note that there is an alarm stage whether the stress is harmful, such as news or an event which is ‘distressing,’ or positive stress, which is known as ‘eustress.’

In the realm of body transformation, you need to keep the stress to your body within the framework of ‘eustress.’ Eustress means that your training should challenge your body to adapt, but it should not exhaust you.

If you leave the gym with injuries or can barely walk, you should check out the NASM OPT model as a roadmap to help you achieve your fitness goals.

Resistance Stage

In the Resistance Stage, your body or mind will attempt to resist or adjust to the stress just imposed. From a training point of view, this is where you can make your most significant progress.

Because this stage of Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome is also known as Resistance Development, this phase is when your body will adapt to the new challenge of added weight (or load), shorter rest intervals, or increased repetitions.

By applying new stressors, your physiological response is to attempt to adjust by increasing your strength and coordination.

As a result, it is in the Resistance Development stage when your body grows in its ability to handle new weight amounts or any other variable presented to it.

From a mental stress point of view, this is also the point where you learn to manage stress by accepting the situation, or you could slide further into a depression.

One of the more famous quotes of Hans Selye is – “It is not the stressful events that kill you, it is your reaction to it.” On the contrary, Hans said you should welcome stress because you can become stronger by it.

And that rings very true in the fitness transformation arena, without resistance exercises like squats, deadlifts, and pushups, how will you ever dramatically change your body?

Exhaustion Stage

Exhaustion is the phase that you or a personal trainer must avoid. The exhaustion stage occurs when you cannot adapt to the new stress levels, and they transform into chronic stress. 

In the fitness arena, overtraining or inadequate rest can result in injuries such as sprains, strains, and worse of any part of your body.

For example, overtraining or improper training can even lead to tennis elbow from a seemingly unassociated exercise like the deadlift.

Without proper rest and recovery, you are wearing down your nervous system, immune system, and elevating your stress hormones unnecessarily.

If you do not have time to sleep, rest, and recover from training, you don’t have time to workout.

From the mind angle, chronic stress can lead to depression, which is one of the world’s number one killers, besides obesity. Depression is debilitating and is a primary cause of suicide.

Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome – Final Thoughts

Hans Selye’s GAS holds the secrets of transformation, from fat to fit, or from depression to life. Learn how to adapt to stress, and you can get stronger in your body and mind.

What’s Next

Learn about one powerful exercise that can dramatically change your body and your mind.

I didn’t discover the remarkable deadlift until I was 55.

I’d hate for you to wait that long.

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