F.I.T. Blog

Improve Training Results by Managing Stress


Ben Cagle, NASM, USAT-1

There are 24 hours in a day. During these hours, stress builds up, and can cause wear and tear on your body and mind. Stress can be physical, mental, emotional, environmental, etc. In any given week, those stresses can be consistent or widely variable. It greatly depends on your life! As a person who desires to be fit and healthy, recognizing that this accumulation of stress happens and can affect your training sessions needs to be understood and respected.

How does this relate to your training? Well, many are under the impression that they need to go hard every training session. When considering our daily life stress, we need to realize this is not healthy and/or possible. While there is a time and place for pushing your limits, you should recognize when your life and training stress are or are not balanced, and adjust training sessions accordingly.

In training, you are physically stressing your body and mind. Outside of training, your body and mind are accumulating mental, environmental, and emotional stresses through work, home/family, etc. Factor all stress in when looking at your training plan and progress. There should be a balance that prioritizes recovery and adaptation. When you feel subpar at a training session, take a quick inventory of what has been going on in your life. Make notes in your training log!

How do you recognize and manage this? Here are a couple examples on how to observe stresses and manage your training sessions appropriately:

Hot Summer Days

As the air temperature and humidity increase, the environmental stress placed on your body also increases. Because of this, your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) will increase, you will lose more fluids, and the exact same workout from last week will produce a greater stress on your body in the heat versus “ideal” conditions.

To cope, you may shorten your warm up, as your body will already be warm. More than ever, warming up with intent and purpose, not just to go through the motions, is crucial.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Taking in water more frequently during your workout will also help your body adjust to the increase in stress.

Resting more frequently and/or cutting sets a bit shorter and resting longer will help your body manage its internal temperature.

Heavy Work Stress

You know these days. It’s the days when the emails never stop rolling in, there’s a deadline fast approaching, and/or your work day is extended by many hours. Even if you do not notice or feel it, this wreaks havoc on your body and mind. Mentally, you will be more fatigued going into your training session, and thus, focus and engagement may be lowered.

Some of the same strategies listed under the temperature increase section apply here, too. You may back off on weights used, repetitions or sets completed, or length of training session. Recognize that you are not completely prepared mentally, and plan accordingly with your training session. You may also consider not training that day, depending on the amount of added work stress.

When might you refrain from training? There is no definitive protocol for this. As with most things in life, experience over time will help provide you with the answer. We are all unique individuals who respond to training and daily life stress differently. But, here are a few suggestions on gathering the right info on this:

  • Tap Test: The Tap Test is a great measure of your CNS activity. It is a short 20-second test that measures how fast you can touch a screen with your left and right index finger. The more fatigued you are, the more stress has accumulated in your body, the slower you finger will be, and fewer taps you will accumulate in 10 seconds. For 1-2 weeks, take the test ONCE every day to gather a baseline. After that, take the test once every morning. If your scores are lower than normal, you might be best off having a day of light activity versus a hard training session.
  • Sleep: What are your typical sleep patterns like? Are you sleeping more than usual? Hitting the snooze more than you usually do? Did you wake up before your alarm went off? When your body is recovered, you will wake up. If you wake up before your alarm, chances are that you are good to go. If you are hitting the snooze, you may still be fatigued. Track your sleep!
  • Take Self Inventory: Ask yourself these basic questions. Be honest! Are you feeling energetic? Are you stressed out? Tired from your last training session? Are you moving slower/faster than yesterday? Asking yourself simple questions can give you some clarity into how to approach your training day. Be honest, be mindful, be respectful to yourself and your body.

If you still are not convinced, consider this. If you do not take care of yourself by adjusting training as needed, you may end up injured and/or sick. That might mean you cannot train for a much longer duration! Or worse, an injury could affect your ability to do your job, manage your family, and so on.

Real results and progress stem from taking care of your body and mind. Managing and balancing life and training stress is the biggest component to that!