When we exercise, a large range of different processes occur within our body. At the muscular level, we cause trauma to the muscle fibres. Within our cells, we cause oxidative stress, producing free radicals that damage cellular structures. We initiate an inflammatory response, stimulated by the release of cytokines such as interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor. All of these sound bad, but the context is important. Too much – either in terms of frequency, intensity, or duration – of these processes is damaging to athletes; it’s known as fatigue. The flip side of this is that these processes, and many others that occur as a result of exercise, allow us to adapt to exercise. This means that exercise adaptation is a constant balancing act between stress, which acts as a stimulus for adaptation, and recovery from this stress, which is where adaptation itself occurs.
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