Is Stress Secretly Killing Your Gains?
As gym goers, we try so hard to get everything right. Eating the right foods in the correct amounts (gym meals), taking supplements meticulously, mapping out our training, getting enough sleep, weighing ourselves, measuring ourselves and everything else that goes into getting gains. These steps are all taken so that the most muscle and strength can be gained.
The only type of stress that gets talked about when it comes to training is the impact the physical stress of training itself has on our bodies. This is usually discussed in the context of allowing adequate time for our bodies to recovery from one session to the next and avoiding ''overtraining''. But rarely, if ever, is stress in other areas of life discussed and the impacts this has on recovery.
What Is Stress?
Like everything, stress comes from our evolutionary past. When something happens, that is seen as a threat or a challenge in life our body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, to prepare us physically and mentally to overcome whatever this challenge or threat might be. This is also known as the 'flight and fight' response. The release of these hormones causes an increase in our breathing, heart rate, and heightens muscle preparedness and mental alertness.
Our body releases these hormones to help us survive what could be a life-threatening situation. Back in our hunter gather days, this would have been an attack from a predator or maybe an assault from another tribe. These days that is less common (well I hope so) but this response still exists and helps us overcome any life threatening event or challenges modern life might throw our way.
Stress And The Modern World
As mentioned above the stress response served the purpose of keeping us alive during our humble beginnings as hunters and gatherers. While it still does help keep us alive today during times of life and death, stress manifests itself a little differently in the modern world. There are a few different types of stress. Below we will talk about two.
The type of stress that helps deal with situations like getting attacked by a dog in the street or meeting a tight deadline for work is called 'acute stress'. We cope well with acute stress. Our bodies release the hormones, and we prepare ourselves physically and mentally to either run away, fight, or overcome the challenge. Once the stressor is gone, things quickly go back to normal.
The other type of stress is 'chronic stress'. We aren't well-equipped to deal with chronic stress like we are with acute. Chronic stresses are ongoing demands and worries that seem go on forever like problems at work, in our relationships, financial pressures and trouble keeping up with study for school. This type of stress has negative impacts on our mental and physical health, such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, and even weakening the immune system, etc.
So how does stress impact our training?
Stress And Recovery From Training
It's not often thought of as one, but training itself is a stressor - a self-inflicted one. When we train, just like with any other stress, our body releases hormones to help overcome it such as cortisol and adrenalin. We move the weight, finish the workout and then things go back to normal. Training is a form of 'acute stress'.
If training is the only stress we have going on in our lives, our body is extremely good at recovering from it and making adaptations to overcome it such as increasing strength and muscle size. But, there is only so much stress our bodies can handle at any one time. If there is chronic stress in our lives from our jobs, school or relationships, our body is using energy to deal with these and doesn't have enough to adequately adapt and recover from our training.
The bodies inability to recover from exercise when we have chronic stress in our lives was highlighted in a recent study. Participants were divided into two groups: one group who scored low in a perceived stress scale and another who scored high. Both groups performed 6 sets of leg press until failure.
The study showed that those who were in the high-stress group took twice as long to recover from the same workout, than those who were in the low-stress group. The high-stress group also reported that they were more fatigued and had more muscle soreness in the days following the workout.
The results of this study show that chronic stress in other areas of our lives can definitely have a negative impact on our ability to recover from exercise.
Minimising chronic stress in our lives should be our priority regardless of what we want to achieve from our training. But, if we do have chronic stress in our lives we need to take into consideration the impacts that this will have on our recovery.
We could be doing everything right in terms of nutrition, training and sleep - but if work is hard because the boss is a prick or we are having fights with our partners, this can affect our ability to be able to achieve our training goals.
If we want the best chance of achieving getting the most out of our training - or having a good life for that matter, we need to look at minimising sources of stress in our lives. Our bodies and minds will thank us and so will our training.