Article by Jeremy Likness

Have you ever had a cut that 'healed' into a scar? Have you ever found that your hands or feet form calluses from friction - either after running or handling tools or moving heavy furniture? Both of these are examples of the overcompensation principle.
When applied to your health and training, overcompensation can be a powerful tool to maximize your results.

The overcompensation principle is a survival trait built into your DNA. It is the body's way of adapting to stress. The scar is the byproduct of the body's frantic attempts to heal your wound as quickly and effectively as possible. The calluses on your hands are toughened skin, overcompensated to handle the continued onslaught of friction. There are other ways that the body overcompensates that are not so obvious, but understanding these processes is important for success.

While this segment is focused primarily on training, a quick side note about nutrition is in order. Overcompensation even happens with your metabolism based on the foods that you consume! The body is constantly trying to remain in a state of balance. This is called homeostasis. When you consume fewer calories than your body requires, the body responds by slowing your metabolism. This is in an effort to expend less energy and adapt to the lower caloric intake. It is this reason why low calorie diets are doomed to failure ... because they ultimately result in your metabolism slowing and can in fact make it harder to lose fat in the long run.

If you understand overcompensation, you can use it to your advantage. Instead of lowering your calories, you can employ a technique known as zigzagging them. If your goal, for example, is 1800 calories, instead of consuming exactly 1800 calories per day, you would consume 1600 one day and 2000 the next. Your average intake is the same, but by varying your daily intake, you prevent your metabolism from overcompensating and slowing down too much as the result.

In training, you want overcompensation to take place. This is how you will grow and develop stronger, bigger, leaner, faster muscles. Let's look at a few of the ways that your body will overcompensate as they relate to training.


Muscles must be stretched to improve flexibility. If overcompensation did not occur, you would always have the same level of flexibility. Fortunately, when you stretch your muscle, your body overcompensates by increasing the flexibility of this muscle. This is why consistent stretching sessions will improve your overall flexibility, because overcompensation allows the muscles to become increasingly more flexible.

The body is simply adapting to the stress of the muscle being stretched and responding by improving the flexibility to so it can better handle the stretch. Performing stretches in a controlled fashion will create a healthy insurance policy against those unexpected incidents that may force your muscles to stretch, such as a fall or collision.


Whether you are lifting a heavy weight or throwing a fast punch, your muscles are forced to exert power. Strength is really a function of neuromuscular efficiency. In other words, to gain strength, you don't necessarily need to gain muscle size - instead, you must train your body to use your muscle more effectively and efficiently.

Forcing the muscle to handle a heavy load or to accelerate rapidly doesn't just stress your physical systems, but your central nervous system (CNS) as well. The body overcompensates for this by improving the way it coordinates your muscular contractions. It becomes more efficient to expend less energy and subject the tissue to less damage, and the end result is improved strength.

Muscle Mass

Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, occurs as another response to training. When you train for hypertrophy, you essentially damage your muscle fibers. This micro-trauma is what leads to soreness after an intense workout and is also the reason why you must rest between workouts so that the muscle has time to recover. If you recover adequately and supply the appropriate nutrition, the body will overcompensate by increasing the size of the muscle.


One of the most studied effects of overcompensation is related to endurance. I am currently training for a 50-mile (80km) race in 2007. My training right now is about 30 kilometers per week. Each week, however, I slowly increase the distance, and will eventually run well over 100km per week.

It will take me about a year to prepare for the race because I will give my body sufficient time to overcompensate. As I increase the volume of my runs my body will respond in several ways. It will increase the number mitochondria in my cells, little powerhouses that help use oxygen as energy.

It will increase the volume of myoglobin, a protein that helps transport oxygen, available to my muscle cells. As I increase my distance, I'll ultimately run long enough that my body will run out of its preferred source of stored fuel: glycogen (carbohydrate stored within muscle cells). It will have to turn to fat for fuel, and in the process I will become more efficient at both burning fat and utilizing fat as a fuel source, making my long runs more bearable as my body overcompensates to handle the stress.

As you can see, overcompensation is perhaps the most important principles of training. It is the reason why our bodies respond to training. All of the other principles we will discuss relate to overcompensation in one way or another.

In fact, the remaining laws really dictate how to manage your training to continue to take advantage of overcompensation without 'burning out.' It is about learning how to maximize overcompensation without going too far - because the body can only overcompensate so much before it becomes exhausted.

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