Good stress, bad stress. How does it affect how you train?
When we hear about stress, it’s often in a negative light. “I’m so stressed!” “This stress is killing me!” But stress can also be positive. Unless we have some stress we won’t be motivated. We might stay in bed all day.
Scientists call good stress, “eustress.” It’s the beneficial stress that brings out the best in us. For example, have you ever woken up on competition day feeling crummy? But instead of skipping or slouching your way through, you pulled it together and crushed it. That’s eustress–stress that elevates your performance. But, if you’ve suffered from performance anxiety or psyched yourself out before a competition or race, you know how stress can negatively affect performance.
The curse of chronic, everyday stress
Left unaddressed, chronic everyday stress significantly and negatively impacts our nervous systems. It puts our brains in a constant state of high alert. All those negative effects impact how we perform in the gym, on the trail or road. (Our brains don’t compartmentalize.) Need proof? Take a look at Tiger Wood’s on-the-course performance before and after his off-the-course 2009 scandal!
Managing stress–a key to better performance
If you are in a stressful job or consider yourself to be a high-stress person, please read on! If you don’t have much daily stress, good for you! This post may still provide training insights. You could also forward it to a stressed-out workout buddy!
Increased sympathetic tone is one of the effects of chronic stress. It causes increased blood flow to the muscles, increased alertness and cardiac output. If you’re about to go for a tough ride, that sounds great. But if it’s chronic, the parasympathetic nervous system can’t do its job. That can lead to poor digestion and sleep (which leads to fatigue). Both are needed for recovery.
How your brain handles stress
Stress also negatively impacts our brains. According to the Central Governor Theory (Central Theory of Fatigue), it’s not just the lactate buildup in the muscle that limits our performance. It’s also the brain/central nervous system. Our brains ride the brakes, so to speak, since their number one priority is self preservation.
Performance always come second for our brains. That’s why during an an intense workout or while running a marathon, we “hit the wall.” (Our brains go into self-preservation mode which restricts physical output.) The brain doesn’t know how long the stressor (the activity) is going to last. It needs to keep to keep something in the tank–just in case–for survival. When everyday stress already has our brains on high alert, they’ll be reluctant to “unleash the beast” when we add another stressor like high-intensity exercise.
High-intensity training, especially weight training, causes considerable central nervous system strain. So if you’re extremely stressed, it makes sense to alter your training intensity. The strain of activities like high-intensity weight training can lead to central nervous system fatigue and overtraining. That’s when we’re more likely to injure ourselves.
Trying to “push through” doesn’t do our bodies or minds any favors. Remember, you can’t override your brain’s number one priority: self preservation!
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