Stress...a good thing?

Stress...a good thing? 


I'm not talking about the kind of emotional or mental stress that is created by demanding situations in life but I am talking about physical stress that we can exert upon ourselves in the gym. 

I will keep this as simple as possible in order to give you an understanding for how you really need to train in order to see change in performance and body composition.  

If you are not stressing your body physically every time you train, then you are wasting your time.  The stress we put on our body is the single most important part of any training program.    Put simply stress has to be the right amount, which can mean load or speed, and the right kind, which means type of activity or exercise.  All of this must be coupled with just the right amount of recovery. 

Let me paint a picture for you of the most common faults I see when it comes to applying stress in a training program. 

  1. Not enough stress- I think I’m working hard, but I’m really not working hard enough.  I haven’t changed the kettle bell I swing in 6 months, I don’t run any faster, and I am still stuck doing the same variation of the pull up.    
  1. Too Much Stress- I’m going to go all out every time I train and give myself no or very little recovery after I train.  This usually looks like I haven’t made any strides in performance or weight loss, but I work hard every time I’m in the gym.   
  1. Stress, but no consistency – I only show up once in a while, but when I do, I crush it…then I take 2 weeks off.  Usually ends in injury, and limited to no adaptation in the body, and performance increases are stalled. 

The best way to see change your body is based on a theory developed by Dr. Hans Selye in the 1950’s.  His general adaptation syndrome simply states that stress in the human body builds overtime.  This means that stress must be fluid and constantly changing over time.  Stress should come in peaks and valleys. When we  get the timing and amount of stress right, we see the body adapt constantly and change.  

Here is what it looks like. 

  1. Alarm Phase- High amount of stress is applied.  This doesn’t mean that you are going to die, it simply means that high amounts of stress are applied to you depending on what your fitness level is.  The Olympic athlete needs relative intensity that relates to their level of conditioning, as you need relative intensity for where you are at in your journey of wellness.  
  1. Resistance Response – This never happens unless you let your body recover.  It’s the hormonal response to high stress.  The release of human growth hormone and other hormones that help increase performance and weight loss.  Without this phase, you will never get the benefits from all your hard work in the alarm phase. Likewise, if you never reach the actual alarm phase because intensity isn’t high enough, then you won’t get to the resistance phase.  
  1. Super Compensation phase – This phase happens when you return to training after appropriate recovery and you notice change.  Increased performance and increased strength.  Weight loss and energy balance.   

What do I recommend to optimize this theory of adaptation?  It isn’t that simple but let me give you an idea of what I think is effective for most people.  

  1. Choose a training schematic that allows you to feel recovered after you have worked and worked hard.  For some it means that after 3 days of training you need 1 day of rest, for others it means after 5 days of training you need 2 days of rest.  It can vary from person to person and it can also vary from month to month.  This means paying close attention to your readiness and excitement to train.  When you feel tired, sluggish, and not willing to push the limits…you may want to listen to your body and take 24 hours off.  I personally know that I can do 5 days on and 2 days off for 3 weeks and then I need a week where I go 3 days on and 1 day off. 
  1. I think it’s worth tracking how many days in a row you train and how many days you rest and coupling this with how you feel each day.  It can be as simple as a journal that tracks your workouts and how you feel each day. Sleep is key.  If you want to train more and be more effective in your training my biggest tip for you is 8.5 to 9 hours of actual sleep per 24 hours.  This is probably the most important thing for those of you who want to see results.  If you look at the resistance response, this takes place mostly during deep sleep and without 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep you will never recover all the way. This means you will never be able to lose the last few pounds you are looking for without adequate sleep.