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Is Stress Making You Weak?

Article written by Marshall White for

Lately I have been going through some very stressful things in my life personally. Through it all I have tried to make sure I still kept my gym schedule, my eating schedule and my sleeping schedule. I have done a very good job at maintaining these schedules and have only been out of whack a few times. Even though I have maintained them well I have noticed a slight decrease in my performance on certain days. What I would like to write about is how ones personal life can affect their athletic performance and strength and what you can do to better manage that stress.

For many years I refused to believe that anything stressful in my “regular life” could affect what I do in the gym. I figured that if I was stressed out and I had a bad day, week , or month in the gym that I must be mentally weak and the only thing for me to do was to train harder in order to overcome this weakness. This is when I started figuring out that your body has a physiological response to stress. Your cortisol levels go up, your central nervous system takes longer to recover and on a more superficial level, your eating and sleeping can be negatively affected. My first step in overcoming personal life stress affecting me as an athlete was to admit that stress can affect my strength and performance negatively. My second step was to look for ways to overcome these stresses. Here are just a few tips that I have found to work for me in managing the impact stress can have on my training.

DO NOT stop training!!! Most people’s workouts are more of a stress relief than a cause of stress. It’s completely understandable if you are so stressed you don’t even think you can get out of bed to go to the gym and you stay home, but do not let this become a habit. To the best of your ability try to stick to a training schedule. Even if all you do is go into your box and jump rope, stick to your routine and try to make it in every day you can. This will improve your mood, provide some mental clarity and because you put in work you will eat and sleep better. Next, if at all possible reduce your exposure to the stressors prior to training. If you have a big work meeting in the evening try to catch your workout in the morning or early afternoon. Again, this will put you in a better place mentally to train as well as handle the stress later in the day.

Another good thing to do is to try and minimize other smaller stresses in your life so that things don’t “pile up”. Maybe hire someone to mow your yard if work is really stressful right now. If your domestic life is rocky maybe try only watching funny movies or tv programs for a while so that there is some levity in the household. Focus your energy on the big stressors and your training and minimize and manage the small ones so that you can get back to a regular lower stress life. Finally, make sure you stick to eating cleaner foods and getting good quality sleep. It’s very common for people when stressed out to want to eat junk food and sleep all day. A little junk food is ok, and a nap here and there is also ok, but try to the best of your ability to stick to your regular schedule. Taking too many naps will keep you up at night and the quality of your sleep will reduced, and introducing a lot of junk food to your diet will make you feel lethargic and possibly add an element of depression. During high stress times I rid my house of all junk food and I have even incorporated a sound machine to help me sleep better.

The biggest key to minimizing the impact stress has on your training is to recognize it for what it is. Recognize that you are stressed but that it is also temporary, things will get easier. Take this time to do something fun you may not often do in the gym, or spend some time on just getting your clean and jerk up. Stick to a routine but have fun with it and use your workouts as a stress reliever. Working out, training, exercising, lifting, whatever you want to call it should enhance our lives not make them harder so incorporate these suggestions next time things get stressful and I’m positive you’ll be better off for it.

10 thoughts on “Is Stress Making You Weak?

  1. I really appreciate this article. It’s very timely. I haven’t trained since Dec 1st because of the stress and depression in my life. I have been eating shitty, laying around, feeling sorry for myself. I keep thinking I will just start all over on January 1st but my life isn’t going to magically change on that day. Time to get it into gear now. Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, it really put some things in perspective for me. I’m under a lot of stress these days at work and at home, and I have literally done everything you wrote about (stop training, start eating junkfood, napping and loosing sleep and so on) without even realicing I have done so because of the stress.
    This will pass! I just have to work my self out of it, letting go of some of the pressure to preform 100% on every area of my life, including strength training.
    Thanks again for this eye opener!

  3. Thank you so much for this. In my job it is a stressful time of year and the past couple days have brought some personal stress (which is evening out) so I really needed this kind of advice.

  4. Great article at great time for me .. my training is suffering greatly and I’m losing weight and size. I have continued to train but so I am following that part of advice .. look forward to seeing you at LBEB seminar in Australia

  5. My injuries and health problems have been piling up like crazy this year. It all started with my marriage seperation, totally down hill from there….heart problems at 33, back injury, double knee injuries, torn hip socket, shoulder injury, and elbow injury….worst year ever!

  6. Eating too much junk food can harm your health. According to some studies, schools are thinking of eliminating junk foods from their canteens to protect the health of their students. I think this should apply to all; stores should also lessen their junk food stocks to prevent people from having health problems.

  7. Ugh, I needed this. Sometimes I get so anxious or depressed about work and adult stuff that I just crawl in bed at the end of the day instead of heading to train. At the time I’d rather sleep than work out…but in reality, I felt shitty until the next time I lift. Thanks for this!

  8. Honestly articles like this only stress me out worse than I am at this particular moment

  9. I love this article!!! I have gone through the wringer stress wise lately (divorce, unexpectedly single parent to two kids under six, sole income earner, sick kid, long bout with pneumonia, broken hand, INSERT {cry a river} – but through it all – I have kept my not-as-fit-as-I-would-like ass in the gym… even when dragging because of pneumonia – I would make myself hit the box and would scale the WOD or strength work for diminished capacity… My box is cool though- they have let me bring my kids (who sit in upside 24″ boxes) to lifting sessions and otherwise make it possible for me to keep on keeping on… the result- even with being hella deconditioned- I am competing in the open and pulling PRs with heavier weights (I am eyeballing my first 300lb pull) … and you know what- working out while crazily stressed was the best thing I could have done- ever! …

  10. Great great piece! People are so stressed on a regular basis in our modern world that they don’t even realize all the negative consequences of having high levels of cortisol in their bloodstreams day in and day out.

    Keep up the great work!

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