Not too long ago I came across a Mike Boyle article where Mike talked about breathing, and the importance he puts on breathing, both with his professional athletes as well as his general clients. Sure I had heard of breathing and the importance it has on exercise, but I wanted to know more. With a little searching I came across the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI). PRI sets forth its own curriculum and certifies strength and conditioning coaches and physical therapist across the country. If you look at the material it can be overwhelming, I needed more help and insight. On their site I came across Andrew Hauser. Andrew is the Director of Player Health and Performance for the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball. Fortunately for me he was willing to answer a few questions I had about PRI, and what all the curriculum would entail. At the end of it I asked him just a general question, “what is one piece of advice you would give me, one thing that I should know and understand?” He said “understand STRESS. Know how it applies to your athletes and clients.” Understand stress? I went to school in Atlanta and sat in that traffic day after day of course I know about stress! I took Andrew’s advice and have spent some time looking into stress and what it does to our bodies, both in the training realm and outside of it, enter Dr. Chris Hardy. Dr. Hardy served in the US Army and US Navy. He originally began thinking about stress when training up and coming military, and how every form of stress might have been affecting their physical well- being. Along with earning his doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine, he also Co-authored the book Strong Medicine. Dr. Hardy has helped me lay new ground work for how I will train, how I will train others, and how I view training as only a small part of stress to the body.
As a trainer, coach, or Instagram professional selfie taker, your first and main goal with any client should be to DO NO HARM. If a person is hurt or injured, it becomes quite hard for them to train properly. As a trainer this phrase becomes easier said than done. With TV shows, high intensity workout popularity, and huge caloric deficit diet commercials, often extreme becomes the norm and science/ reasoning gets tossed to the back burner. People get mad when they don’t get their butt kicked day after day in the gym. For some strange reason that is far beyond my thinking, some people look at getting hurt in the gym as a badge of honor and hard work. Rather it is chronic or acute, injuries that happen in the gym should be far and few between.
What is a Stressor or Something that causes stress?
This can be anything that causes the stress response. Working out, sitting in traffic, being late, your boss yelling you, or a getting attacked by a giant clown while running through a never ending corn maze. Stress to the body can come in many different forms. It can also come internally. Things like diseases can obviously cause stress to the body.
But don’t we need stress to adapt and get better?
Yes, we do need stress but not too much or too little. Acute stress or short term stress is usually not the issue. View acute stress as something that can come and go, such as you lifting weights, or when the person on the elevator with you takes the elevator up one floor when they clearly could have used the stairs (don’t ever be that person.) Chronic stress however is not good. Chronic stress can change the structure of the brain, and can change the way a person thinks. Chronic stress can affect training, and it can effect a person’s ability to recover from training!
Wait stress can affect my workout?? Tell me more!
Within the autonomic nervous system, we have to different systems, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system is our “fight or flight” system while the parasympathetic system aids in recovery. Below is a simple chart from Dr. Hardy to make it easier.
If we are in a constant state of stress, the sympathetic nervous system will constantly be turned on. Why is this bad? Look above! Heart rate will be high and you will have dilated airways amongst other things. If our body is in this constant state of stress it is counterproductive and can do more harm to our body. People that are under chronic stress will respond to training differently. Why? The main reason is they won’t be able to recover from that workout, which in turn lead to overtraining. The Parasympathetic system won’t ever be turned on and the body will be in constant stress mode all day.
Piecing it together
Below is another picture developed by Dr. Hardy and how he evaluates stress in a cup.
View stress as things we put in a cup, and remember stress comes in MANY DIFFERENT forms. If you continue to add stress to one part of your life you will become over-stressed, or be put into a state on chronic stress. It Is important to evaluate your stress and program your training sessions accordingly. If you are a mom and your kid has been up all night with an ear infection, you didn’t eat a good breakfast, and your boss calls an unexpected meeting that runs 30 minutes over, should you really go into the gym and perform a super intense workout? Chronic stress and an overflowing cup can cause drastic changes to the body, such as weight gain/ loss. We must find the healthy median of stress we can handle, not enough stress and too much stress.
Below is a continuum for all to look it, rather you train at a gym, play video games, are a professional athlete, or you just like me enough to read my articles.
In my opinion I see many people who fall into two of these categories too often. Undertraining, these are the people who come the gym 1x a week and talk more then they workout, then wonder where the results are hiding. Then you have the over-trainer. This is the person who gives it there all. Comes to the gym 2x a day, eats 500 calories, lives, breathes and eats in the squat rack, but just like the under trainer, can’t find the results they desire.
How do we spot too much stress?
Are you fatigued more than usual? Is your resting heart rate too high? Are you irritable? Are you working your butt off and seeing no results? These could all be signs of chronic stress. If you want lose body fat and gain muscle you cannot be in constant state of stress!
Stress can change
Remember in college when we use to drink all night, get up and go to class or practice? But drinking is a poor diet choice, so how do the college kids do it? That is one of the few stressors they may have. They have no job, mommy and daddy’s money, no kids, an easy class schedule and they wake up at noon. Dream schedule! So all though drinking isn’t great for the body, there are very few other stressors. You take that same person and same situation at the age of 35 and you add a job, kids carpool, the wife yelling at you to get up, the in-laws starring at you during dinner, and then a super high intense workout, your stress is on overflow.
How to change stress
Remember in training when we add one stress we must take one away, we can’t just keep adding and adding, something has to give. You know what stresses you out, but it’s up to you to fix it, and take something away. Is it a job, a spouse, a car, a bad trainer, the list could go on and on, but you must decide what needs to stay and what needs to leave.
Learn how to evaluate your stress. Listen to your body. If you feel terrible, if you feel worn out and beat down don’t go do a workout and continue to add stress to yourself. Stress comes in many different forms but our bodies can only take so much. Stress could be affecting you more then you know, and could be a reason why you are not getting results in the gym. Think about filling a cup, and what would be in your cup. Is it too much, is it not enough?
Brett Cummins, CSCS, USAW, CSAC, CSAS, CFSC
Trainer at Forge- RX
Image Source: Dr. Chris Hardy