your training and stress explained Part 2

March 25, 2021

In part 1 we discussed the adaptation process to physical training and how it’s unique to the individual and it’s dynamic because it can constantly be changing based on the backdrop of the athletes current overall state. We also pointed out that if you are serious about your training goals any increase in the accuracy of your training prescription and any decrease in inappropriate training is worth fighting for. Just because we don’t have a quantifiable assessment standard to make these things perfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing our very best to give you the best training possible for you.

In this part we will discuss strategies for dealing with stressors outside of the gym, both instant and chronic sources. And also discuss strategies for developing routines to turn off the factors outside of the gym from having negative impacts on your training.

Stress doesn’t necessarily mean something bad is happening, training itself is a stress we need to place on ourselves in order for a response to happen. Having zero stress is unrealistic and also wouldn’t be helpful. But we all have different resilience to stress, and what is just right for one person could be way too much or too little for another. We all have our own “Stress Buckets” that we want to make sure we keep track of, so we know when we can handle more and when we are approaching our limit and we need to get rid of some stress before something “breaks.” Your Stress Bucket includes all types of stress (physical, mental, emotional, etc), so training programs can’t come before the athlete. The program needs to be right for the athlete and the current status.

A simple subjective way of keeping track of stress could be using a Perceived Stress Score, where you rate your stress levels 1-10. Similar to the Rating of Perceived Exertion score we use to monitor how difficult a workout or exercise is. A more objective way could be to use your Resting Heart Rate (if it is higher on a given day stress levels could be up) or using Heart Rate recovery (if it’s taking longer than normal for heart rate to recover between bouts of exercise stress levels could be up). A more consistent way may be to use your daily Heart Rate Variability score that can tell you how the total stress load is affecting your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for helping you recover from stress (a higher hrv generally means more recovered). All these methods give an athlete and coach some information that can lead to a more accurate training prescription.

Stress is a healthy reaction that is meant to be uncomfortable. It’s nature’s way of telling you that something is wrong and that you need to act to put it right. Stress can manifest itself in many ways such as aggression, impatience, depression, anxiety, and so on. These are symptoms of stress… Recognizing these are symptoms that are a result of some stressors is the first step to removing stress. Again, if the stress is something that you realize isn’t a helpful stress.

When we are outside of the gym we want to be recovering, or in a parasympathetic dominant state. Being stressed out all the time isn’t going to help us improve and adapt.

Here are a few strategies we can use outside of the gym to help lower and deal with life's day to day stressors. Once you recognize the symptom of stress, you identify what the stressor is and remember you always have the choice of reacting to the stressor, or dealing with the stressor. Have a well rehearsed plan for anytime you get the feeling of an instant stressor. As soon as you feel it coming on, hit the pause button so you can recognize the emotion and slow down your thinking. Try to distance yourself from the situation if possible and recognize it’s an emotion you don’t want. It also helps, once you do this, to step back and look at the big picture and ask how this situation and the emotions that go with it are affecting you in the big picture. Most of the time we give too much of our energy and attention to things that just don’t matter that much.

Whenever we deal with a stressful situation we need to be aware there are things we can control and things we can’t. Recognize this and deal with it by using the AMP strategy- 1. Accept, 2. Move On, 3. Plan. Having a plan is important for really moving on or the issue will be an issue again in the future.

Some common things that lead to us being instantly stressed are perceptions and beliefs that we are holding onto and seeing as a threat. This leads to our Sympathetic Nervous System being dominant, which again is a problem because that’s the opposite of what we want when we are trying to rest and recover. Some common perceptions and beliefs are we don’t make decisions well, we try to keep everything in our world the same, or having unrealistic expectations of things. Try catching yourself any time you are falling into this way of thinking, and remember what it is doing to your progress.

So far we talked about dealing with a stressful situation in day to day life. But another, equally as common form of stress, is stress that is constant and we have just learned to live with. We’ve accepted it as the new normal. This is called chronic stress, and it often leads to depressive illness or anxiety.

Chronic stress can come in different ways. Sometimes we learn destructive beliefs like seeing ourselves as less than others. Or we develop an entitled view of the way things should be, or the way other people should act. Having conflicting driving forces can be a source of chronic stress, like the single mother who wants to support her family, be there for them, and also take care of herself. Developing expectations and perceptions of both other people and ourselves can lead to chronic stress.

To Prevent Chronic Stress Use your time sensibly, be assertive, have realistic expectations, Take responsibility for what you are responsible for and nothing else, address problems as they occur, spend times on things that will ‘fill up your cup’, recognize a potential problem, recognize your limit, seek appropriate help early, and talk out stressful situations with others. Catch yourself when worrying, it’s an unhelpful emotion, the same as beating yourself up and guilt, it’s a worthless and damaging bad habit.

These are just a few common sources of instant and chronic stress. There are countless other things that could be added to the list, I just wanted to talk about some common sources so we could recognize them and relate them to the damage they do to our training progress.

Knowing how constantly being stressed negatively affects training outcomes, hopefully you will put a priority on keeping the stress levels low outside of the gym. But it’s inevitable that we will all have times when stress is higher than others for any number of reasons. 3 strategies to deal with higher stress levels to optimize your training are:

*I didn’t include things like nutrition, sleep, and hydration. Hopefully these are obvious, and if these are NOT dialed in they would be where I would start!

#1. Develop a Pre-Workout Routine

When you are dealing with stress of any kind it helps to have a reliable consistent process when going into your training. This could be listening to music on the drive to the gym, giving yourself a couple minutes to clear your mind when you get there, writing the work to be done out in your training log, and always starting your workout with the same movement routine to signal to your body and mind to prepare for the upcoming session.

This can help transfer you from one state to another, the key is that it should be automatic and consistent. Developing an autopilot so you can go from one mental state to another, putting all the other things on the backburner when it’s time to train.

#2. Have a Daily Meditation or Mindfulness Practice

The best athletes are able to go from sympathetic dominance to parasympathetic dominance better than the rest, one way to control this is through breathing and relaxation techniques. To get good at being able to relax, you need to practice it.

Just like anything else you want to get good at, you need to practice and practice consistently. If you are using Heart Rate tracking or HRV you will be able to track just how effective your practice is and if you’re getting better!

#3. Have a Coach you communicate with to adjust your training

There will be days that more intense training just isn’t a good idea, even if that was what the plan called for… There will also be times when a competitor has to compete even though everything isn’t ideal. But having a coach that is on the same page as you and wants what’s best for you, will give you guidance to help make decisions on how you are going to get the most out of every day.

Humans are complex and dynamic, a training plan should not be rigid. If you are serious about your training goals you need to train in a way that meets you where you are at. We can’t make this perfect, but any increase in optimal training is worth fighting for!