Training Strategies

How to Train When You’re Dealing With Stress

stress sign

Even under the best of circumstances, you’re going to undergo periods of time when you’re dealing with stress. That’s life. There’s no avoiding it. Weddings, funerals, job changes, moving, children, and countless other instances are going to stress you out to some degree. While some stressors might not cause you to notice a big difference, others might make you want to pull out your hair. It’s important to realize that while some of these stressors might come and go, if you don’t adjust your training during these times, you might end up doing more harm than good.

We’ve all heard about how much damage stress can do. It leads to heart attacks, strokes, stomach ulcers, digestive troubles, and other issues. However, not all stress is bad. When we train hard, we are putting our body through stress. We recover from the stress we undergo and we get stronger, bigger, or leaner. This is the basic principle of exercising. It’s how we get our bodies to adapt. Eventually, we either get used to the stressors we impose on our body, or the stressors get to the point where we are unable to recover, and we have to change up our routine to avoid getting rundown. If we have a lot of other stressors in our lives, the demands imposed by exercise are going to take a toll a whole lot quicker.

Stress can be broken down into two categories, acute, and chronic. Acute stress would be if you got into a fender bender on the way into work. Chronic stress would be if you’re stuck in a job where your boss constantly berates you, but you need the job to pay your bills.  Both suck, but one is over and done with relatively quickly, while the other is the one that can really cause some damage if left unchecked. Ideally, you’d be able to just leave, but that isn’t really an option in every case. These times of stress are often the ones that make you want to work out the most, since the physical exertion can make you feel better mentally, but you need to train intelligently in order to get the most out of it.

Here are a few ways to train hard during periods of chronic stress:

  1. Back off your one rep max a bit. When you train closer to your one rep max, your CNS takes a beating. Doing that continually under the best of circumstances will wear you out quickly, but doing it under times of chronic stress is a great way to get yourself injured. This is one of the reasons I love the 531 program. The intensity is kept relatively low, and there are regular deloads in order to mitigate any cumulative stress on your body. You can still make impressive gains with this submaximal loading, and you don’t get beaten up the same way that high intensity training will do.
  2. Keep training sessions relatively short. Not counting the warmup and cooldown, I like to make sure training sessions are kept to an hour or even a little less. Cortisol can quickly build up after this time frame, and the last thing you want when you’re trying to make gains is a flood of this stress hormone. You’re already getting more cortisol than you want when you’re stressing about life, you don’t need to add anything to it.
  3. Spend a good chunk of time doing things that relax you. Take a long walk every day. Pet a dog, preferably a nice one. Spend time with your significant other. Have sex. Go have some fun. Life will steamroll you if you don’t step away from the stressors and have some damn fun. Trust me on this one.
  4. meditateLearn to meditate. Some people will prefer to do this while seated or laying down. Some will prefer to listen to music and some will prefer as much silence as possible. If the idea of just being still and focusing on breathing doesn’t appeal to you, then take up yoga or Tai Chi. Personally, I prefer Tai Chi. If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot. I always feel amazing after 10-15 minutes of Tai Chi practice. It also makes a fantastic cooldown as it promotes healing and helps blunt the effects of cortisol.

If your life is stressful, train accordingly. Balance hard training with rejuvenating activities, and keep your volume and intensity in check. Try to de-stress as much as possible, but use relaxation techniques when you can’t change your circumstances. Above all else, pay attention to what your body is telling you, and be prepared to take your fitness to the next level.

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