We are all familiar with stress. In fact, this emotion is a part of life. Common examples include dealing with morning traffic, feeling pressured to complete a time-sensitive project and enduring domestic relationship problems.
However, very few are aware of the physical toll that stress can have upon the body. This is particularly the case for those who lead healthy lifestyles or who are dedicated to meeting specific fitness goals.
You might also be surprised to learn that there are two types of stress: chronic and acute. Chronic stressors are present throughout our daily lives and they tend to add up over time. Acute forms of stress (such as a death or a divorce) are known for their relatively short durations and yet, the damage is just as worrying. This is why learning how to better manage stress is one of the key components to creating a productive workout regimen. Let’s first take a look at the chemical components of stress before moving on to examine some expert recommendations.
Stress and Cortisol: A Dangerous Cycle
Our bodies produce a number of hormones and these can often depend upon our mental outlook. So-called “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin and epinephrine are the results of a rewarding workout (such as the famous “runner’s high”). However, negative hormones can stop us in our tracks.
A substance known as cortisol is particularly worrying. Cortisol has been linked to several health risks including:
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Decreased bone density (especially in older individuals)
- Higher levels of bad cholesterol
- Weight gain around the midsection
- An increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
This is why it is obviously important to manage our stress in order to minimise the effects of cortisol. Common techniques include meditating, self-hypnosis, guided breathing exercises, and (thankfully) sex.
However, this is only one component of a much larger equation. Let’s now take a look at how we can reduce levels of physiological stress in order to maximise our gains in the gym.
Less is More
Most of us experience feelings of burnout from time to time. In technical terms, this normally results from an overload of physiological stress. This is also a very common mistake to make as a novice. After all, pushing ourselves to the limit (and slightly beyond) has been touted by some of the most well-known fitness personalities in the world. This mentality can nonetheless come at a price; particularly if our bodies are not provided with an adequate time to heal (once again referring back to the notion of chronic stress outlined earlier).
To put it simply, less is more in terms of long-term gains and remaining free from common injuries. The main issue here is that everyone is different in regards to issues such as intensity and training volume. This is why our proprietary fitness app can be employed in order to create a tailor-made routine around your specific needs. It is also wise to point out that how our bodies respond to training will depend upon other factors such as age, bodyweight, cardiovascular health, and overall experience.
All About Intensity (to a Point)
There is nothing wrong with training hard. After all, this is one of the best ways to break through personal plateaus and to shock our muscles into growth. This is why there are countless YouTube videos depicting individuals performing their one-rep max or enduring a gruelling two-hour cardio routine. However, we rarely see their condition the day immediately after such sessions. This is due to the fact that the body requires a significant amount of time to recuperate. In fact, even the experts agree that such high-intensity training sessions should be limited to two or three times every week. They also state that a minimum of 24 hours is required before training the same body part.
The main issue here is developing a balance between intensity and results. For example, there is nothing wrong with scheduling intense sessions on Tuesday and Thursday while devoting Monday, Wednesday and Friday to lighter routines. This is also when a bit of intuition comes into play, as everyone is different. It should likewise be pointed out that while lowering your levels of physiological stress may appear to be counterproductive, the long-term benefits cannot be denied.
We can now see that there is a clear link between stress and exercise gains. Those who are able to manage their physical and emotional stress will naturally come out on top. This also involves ancillary concerns such as obtaining the proper amount of sleep every night and eating a healthy diet. Nonetheless, time and patience will both be required if you hope to take your current training goals to the next level and well beyond.