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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Stress & training

Today I am going to talk about some factors that are often overlooked in training.  You know how you can be going along nicely, all those gains are coming like clockwork & that new PR seems just around the corner, then suddenly WHAM! the gains dry up, the strength goes down & you are like a shadow of yourself just a week ago?  There are obviously a multitude of reasons for this to occur, but I would like to talk about one.
I would like to talk about stress.  Stress is a misunderstood term in many ways.  When you train you are in fact causing stress, every action or inaction results in a 'stress load' & each human has a unique 'stress threshold' which they cannot rise above, or can only do so briefly & with dire consequences.
Below I am going to use a really oversimplified example to get the idea across, so do not take this as literal, but as a means to get the idea lodged in your head.
First off with stress the body does not appear to differentiate between physical & mental stress, it appears to be lumped under one 'stress' banner.  This means that worry about a debt can be as hard on the body as say a serious deadlift session.  Secondly you have a set upper limit to the amount of stress you can recover from, if you go above that you will then cause serious repercussions to both your physical & mental well being.
So, let's move on to our hypothetical trainer called Bob.  Bob training 3 days a weeks pretty heavy & has made some decent gains, his job is ok, his relationship is ok & so is his life in general.  You could say if you had to draw it out the stress in his life would look something like:
His total stress is such that he can hit it hard in the gym & still recover really well.  Remember things like lack of sleep & partying can be stress (these can be piled into 'Life Stress'), but Bob doesn't party hard very often & is generally ok with his sleeping.  So, Bob trains, he makes gains slowly, but fairly steadily, obviously there are ups & downs, but generally Bob is doing ok.
Unfortunately Bob is in for a bit of bad news.  Bobs wife suddenly announces she is leaving him.  Bobs is shocked, he didn't expect this!  Suddenly, the 'Relationship stress' is through the roof!  If Bob tries to continue with his usual routine he may for a while be able to push through, but more than likely something will give!  He knows he has to continue with his job, possibly his 'Life stress' will go up as some things they shared, Bob now has to do.  The only thing that can really give is the training, so Bob's new stress pie chart could look something like:
Notice in this example Bob now has much less capacity to hit it in the gym. We used the simplified version where his work stress remained the same & so did his life stress, just to make this simple idea to understand, but obviously everything changes.  If you think about it this pie chart actually changes everyday.  There is also some spare capacity built-in to the system as you are not working with 100% of your maximum stress load everyday, but you get the idea - if stress increases in one area, it can adversely effect another area.  So, sometimes, during times of crisis (high stress) it is not only ok to back-off, but fairly vital.  You can create a basic, abbreviated routine using a couple of compound movements & work just on those.  I would not suggest quitting training, but modify them to suit times of stress.  If you have an exam, or a vital deadline, then working out out quickly can be a double bonus as you'll have more time to get the vital thing done.  If it's a death in the family or a divorce then you could find that you have little option other than backing off as the strength may be well down.
Remember higher stress also affects sleeping, eating & focus, so your training can be hit badly from multiple effects & it can seem that you fade to nothing in a week or so.  You just have to remember that this is just a temporary thing, you have not 'lost' that strength in one week, you have just put that capacity into recovery from another issue.  Once you are back on track you can regain & supersede that strength, but you have to give yourself time to get past the present issue.  Take things slowly, try to hold onto what strength you can, but do not 'stress it' (that will make things worse), it is better to crush 75% of your previous best & still be a winner in the gym, than fail at 90% & feel that extra stress of failure.  Lightening &/or shortening your routine will keep most of your strength during stressful periods & keep you ready to hit new highs when circumstances change.
Hopefully you can refer back to this the next time you hit a stressful patch in your life, or if you have friends who are going through this, then help them sort out their training, reassure them that this is not a permanent situation & advise them on ways they can survive & still come out with their training intact ready to fore fill new, exciting goals.
Finally there are ways you can lower stress.  Taking walks in nature, meditation, massage (not deep tissue), relaxing hobbies, sometimes reading, you know the sort of thing that calms you down & relaxes you, or find some new things that may lower that overall stress.  Lowering overall stress will aid your training goals, so take the time to discover a few ways you can ditch the stress & those gains will come in leaps & bounds!
So let's stay calm out there :-)


Anonymous said...

he old saying "you are what you eat" is true. Poor nutrition leads to stress. This component reviews basic nutrition and the importance of a healthy diet for maximum productivity.

Vegan Bodybuilding said...

Too true, poor nutritional choices are another factor that could affect your overall 'stress load'. It's certainly another factor to consider.