Stress is one of the biggest obstacles to people not achieving their goals, but still remains one of the biggest things people aren’t addressing.
What is stress?
Stress can be anything that disrupts our body’s state of balance. Stress isn’t necessarily negative, it’s all about the circumstance and the dose. A small amount of stress can be positive, it can keep us focused and alert, but too much stress can harm not only our performance but also our health.
It all depends on what kind of stress it is, what our current stress tolerance is, and how we view it.
Fight or Flight
The stress response is a normal, vital physiological response. The stress response can often be referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response, a useful analogy when we think about the actions of the body during this time. We see blood flow increase to the extremities, away from non essential functions such as digestion, heart rate increases, as does blood pressure combined with many more physiological responses.. As you can see, this response is extremely useful in certain circumstances, but not something we want ‘switched on’ all of the time. In small infrequent bouts (acutely) stress is fine, and we can easily return back to a normal state of being, but when chronic (consistent) this can negatively impact our health, performance and results.
Too Much Stress
The cumulative total sum of all the different sources of stress you are currently experiencing, can be referred to as your allostatic load. You can view your allostatic load like a bucket of water, with all of the stressors in your life being drops of water into your bucket. The bigger the stress, the bigger the drop, the quicker your bucket fills. Whether that is financial, work deadlines, relationship stress, even too much exercise can be stressful. Too much stress, or too much water in your bucket without a release tap, and we start to experience the negative consequences of stress, on the way we feel, our health, and our gym performance.
As we come back to how stress can impact your goals, this is multifactorial as stress has a huge impact on people’s nutrition, but also performance. From a performance standpoint stress can impact your strength gains. A study examined the effect of stressful life events on strength gains after 12 weeks of resistance training, and found that the low stress participants experienced a significantly greater increase in bench and squat strength gains than the higher stress participants. As you can see from the graphic below, not only did the low stress group experience a greater increase in strength, they also experienced more muscle growth as well. Although the differences weren’t huge, 12 weeks is a relatively short time frame. So there may be a more significant change longer term, particularly when you combine the common impacts of stress on other areas such as nutrition, which will also drastically impact results.
The conclusion from the researchers was that a high life stress may lessen a person’s ability to adapt to weight training.
We know that stress is unavoidable, but what we can do is look at how we can manage stress, what we can do to mitigate stress, how we react to stress, and our recovery outside of training. In order to maximise our response to training, and our results.
Strength Gains after Resistance Training: The Effects of Stressful, Negative Life Events
Bartholomew, John B;
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 4 – p 1215-1221