Tip: Trigger Homeostatic Disruption, Sometimes

Here's a lesson we can learn from CrossFit, with caution.

Novel, Unexpected Training Threats

If you've ever watched a legit CrossFit workout, you might have noticed that it's a bit different from what you're used to doing. You probably never do more than 5 reps on deadlifts, or 2-3 reps per set if you're doing Olympic lifts.

As everyone knows, "low reps are for bulk and high reps are for tone." Okay, couldn't help myself with that one (sorry), but you probably do buy into the idea that the "sweet spot" for gains is roughly between 8-12 reps per set. Or, if you're trying to improve strength, you probably do between 1-5 reps per set. In addition, you probably lift during some workouts and do cardio on others. And you know what? Science more or less agrees with you on all this.

Thing is, CrossFit hasn't really gotten wind of these ideas as of yet, so they do things a little differently. So if you wander into a CrossFit box just as they're about to start a WOD, you might see people doing one of the following:

The Filthy 50

  • 50 box jumps to a 24-inch box
  • 50 jumping pull-ups
  • 50 kettlebell swings
  • 50 walking lunge steps
  • 50 knees to elbows
  • 50 push presses with 45 pounds
  • 50 back extensions
  • 50 wallballs with a 20-pound ball
  • 50 burpees
  • 50 jump rope double-unders


  • One-mile run
  • 100 pull-ups
  • 200 push-ups
  • 300 bodyweight squats
  • One-mile run

King Kong

  • Three rounds of:
  • 455-pound deadlift
  • 2 muscle-ups
  • 3 squat cleans with 250 pounds
  • 4 handstand push-ups

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that you haven't done anything that even remotely resembles workouts like this. After all, at least at a quick glance, they seem to violate every known training principle ever conceived.

But as whacked as these workouts seem (and maybe are), they do offer a unique advantage: They impose threatening demands on the body that trigger homeostatic disruption.

CrossFit Workout

What is Homeostatic Disruption?

That's when your body is literally threatened by the extreme novelty of a workout and begins to increase both muscle size and strength levels to protect itself against similar threats in the future.

At the core of this premise is the idea that novelty is a key feature of effective training, particularly for muscular hypertrophy. Think about it: If you needed to be sore tomorrow, what would you do today to create that soreness? Would you do something familiar, or something very unfamiliar?

Further, the more experienced you become, the more it is that novel training sessions grow in importance. After all, as a beginner, everything you do in the gym is novel, right? And of course you grow like a weed no matter what you do. Later on however, it becomes harder and harder to "shock" your system, even if you work hard, because the exercises you do are familiar, and you've already adapted to them.

So, consider (carefully) scaring the shit out of your body with novel, unexpected training challenges.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook