Stress During Training: A Power Boost and a Balancing Act
Normally when we think of stress we think of it as a negative; the kind of stress that can be draining, that can really drag your mood down and is in no way a pleasant experience. However, stress is also an important factor in fitness training and can often have a positive impact on your performance. In the following article, you can learn how to transform stress into a power boost, and how to use it in a healthy way.
The Power Boost
What is “stress” anyway? It is said to be the effect of extreme strain or pressure on your body or mind. What sparks it can include everything from the temperature outside (particularly extremes of hot or cold), to psychological stress (high-pressure moments at work, pressure to succeed during competition) and illnesses for which our bodies require extra energy to cope with and overcome. As most of you are already well aware, training can often put the body under a lot of strain – after all, you work hard trying to push your limits or to surpass them.
In principle, it’s irrelevant what kind of stress your body is under, the core reaction remains the same. When you’re under stress, your blood pressure increases, your heartrate rises and your body increases the production of the adrenaline and cortisol hormones. This physical reaction acts as a short term power boost which can increase your performance to a level that you may not otherwise achieve.
Stress is therefore not entirely bad. You could also assume that you have achieved a large majority of your sporting accomplishments while under stress. If this were not the case, you may not have pushed yourself so far.
First Stress, Then Regeneration
Would it be good to be under stress all the time? After all, more power for training is exactly what you want. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. When under stress, your body is excessively strained. If you are permanently under stress, it will have a long-term negative impact on your training and your general health – this is, of course, something to avoid.
It is therefore important to reduce your training stress to a healthy level and give your body some time to recover. Additionally, it helps if you keep a few things in mind:
A healthy diet is very important for the body’s ability to recover, and so too is a good night’s sleep. Whether on a walk or swimming in a lake, getting out in nature is a tried and tested way to reduce stress. When we are outdoors in direct sunlight, our body produces vitamin D, which, in turn, strengthens it. It builds up our immune system and makes us less vulnerable to negative stress – this way, our body can regenerate even more efficiently. This was already common knowledge in the ‘60s, especially amongst Russian bodybuilders who were known to incorporate long walks on the beach into their training routine. So make sure to add a relaxing outdoor activity into your routine.
For the regeneration process, it’s best to be in a low-stimulus environment: the fewer distractions the more you can relax. If you’re used to the heat, saunas can be a good place for doing this – just make sure to keep it at a reasonable heat setting. Otherwise, the sauna can lead to a stress-inducing situation rather than a stress-reducing one.
Listen to Your Body!
How can you tell if you’re under too much stress? In principle, there are a number of tell-tale signs, most of which can be told by listening to your body. If your body has been under too much strain, you can check your pulse with a regular heartrate monitor machine as soon as you wake up and preferably before undertaking any physical activities. This can also be done with most fitness trackers and you can even set some to do this automatically. If your resting pulse is above average, this may be a sign of a lack of regeneration.
Also, with just one glance at your Workout Log, you’ll be able to quickly tell a lot about your stress levels. For example: two possible indications of insufficient regeneration are, if the quality or duration of your sleep lowers, or if your training performance declines within the same workout period. The same applies if your RPE rating increases from exercise to exercise, even if you haven’t packed on any more weight.
If you notice several of these signs at the same time, this may indicate that your stress level is too high. In this case, do not hesitate to lower the intensity of your workout. Regeneration is more important than exercising hard; if you don’t get enough rest, you can neither increase your skills nor build muscles – and this would mean the end of you as a strength athlete.