There has only been one time I’ve seen someone actually cry in a training session.
There was probably more but, well people like to hide this stuff, which is really the whole point of this article.
I’ve had clients bang heads on boxing bags because they can’t concentrate and are trying to ‘snap out of it’.
Stress is a thing.
It’s not a real thing because a situation is just a situation.
Situation A might stress me out hugely but barely register on your stress-o-meter.
Situation B might be your worst nightmare but be fun for me!
However, there is no doubt that stress is THE single biggest reason for food relationship problems, obesity, personal relationship problems, anxiety, depression, inability to train hard enough and consistently enough to see results…
…the list goes on and on.
Last week, we talked about your ‘Stress Bucket’ and how once your personal limit is reached, any number of ‘symptoms’ can appear.
We should also remember that constant stress and the hormonal reactions that come with it, make it virtually impossible to have a lean, muscular/defined physique.
IT. WON’T. HAPPEN.
Unfortunately, your hormones could not care less if you don’t like being a stone overweight.
They are there to react according to the stresses and strains you put on your brain and body.
They don’t care that you’re trying hard in the gym – in fact, if you’re trying too hard, it will just make things worse!
So how do we go about managing this so that we can be engaged enough with hard training and nutrition to see lean muscle grow and unwanted body fat be banished to the depths of hell forever?
1) Manage Your Six Key Environments
Whether you like it or not, you are ALWAYS in and around six key environments all of which can carry significant stress-based responses.
Your job is to ‘audit’ these environments and either do all you can to reduce the ‘threats’ they pose to your brain, accept the situation and no longer allow it to spark a fire in your brain or walk away and remove the threat.
Inner environment: Your thoughts / feelings /self-talk
Outer environment: Your naked self and how you feel about your body
Projected environment: How you carry yourself and ‘accessorise’ with clothes, cars, tattoos etc
Home environment: How things/people affect you at home
Work environment: How things/people affect you at work
3rd space environment: How things/people affect you in other environments you may find yourself in such as your sports team, knitting club, music class etc
This can be a difficult but MASSIVELY rewarding task which I do with all of my online clients.
Because a fish doesn’t understand the concept of the water it swims in.
Change the dirty water though and the fish will thrive.
2) Heart Rate Variability
I love these systems.
There’s quite bit of science behind them but what you need to know is that it measures alterations in the ‘spaces’ between heartbeats to assess the current status of your nervous system.
The system then uses a traffic light system to tell you whether you are ready to train hard, advised to back off slightly or advised to not train at all to recover.
Whilst the HRV can’t tell you exactly what is causing your nervous system to be pushed into the parasympathetic or ‘rest and recovery’ branch of your nervous system, it enables you to manage how much exercise stress you add to your stress bucket on any given day.
So many times I feel okay to train but the HRV system advises otherwise. 24-48 hours later I will be hit by abnormal fatigue or a cold/flu etc.
We can’t optimise our lives with our own minds which are affected/infected by so much external stimuli and (mis)information.
3) Morning Pulse Rate
If you don’t want to invest in a Heart Rate Variability system, simply taking your morning pulse rate can give you some clues.
When your system is being over-taxed from all angles, you will find your morning heart rate will change by 6-7 beats per minute indicating that you should back off from hard training until you can recover and reset.
It’s important that you set a base heart rate during a week when you aren’t under much stress and your nervous system will be closer to a ‘natural’, relaxed state.
4) Training Blocks
Beginners largely just need to get in some high quality, safe, regular exercise.
The more advanced, athletes and sports people I work with need to crank things up.
However, cranking things up can mean that the stress bucket approaches the tipping point.
At best, results will grind to a halt leading to frustration.
At worst we can see regression in performance and a greater risk of injuries.
There are numerous ways to ‘periodise’ your training, but I like to work in 4 week training blocks.
Week 1 is low volume and treated as an active ‘deload/reload’ week.
Week 2 is high volume.
Week 3 is a step back to medium volume.
Week 4 is very high volume and the crescendo of the training block.
(NB What each level means is relative to the individual)
We don’t simply ‘go harder’ every week. That can work with beginners or with people using ‘chemical enhancement’ but for Average Joe and people who train hard, it is impossible to just keep going harder and harder every session.
Even if you’re more of a recreational lifter, you will benefit from having someone alter your training in such a way.
5) Recovery Workouts
Do we have to stop and just do nothing when we’ve gone over the edge and aren’t ready to crush a workout?
I like to use recovery workouts with clients as required.
These workouts can be anything from:
- Sled pulls
- Movement circuits using bodyweight only and focusing on the stretch/mobility aspect
- Turkish get ups for high reps
- Sub-maximal intervals
The key is to work and engage with some exercise but walk out feeling better than you walked in.
Such workouts keep people ‘tuned’ in rather than hiding from their gym bag for 2 weeks then going back feeling like they’ve never picked up a dumbbell.
6) Meditation / Breath Work
The modern approach to stress is to wait until we’re at breaking point and there is a forest fire raging before we run away for a 2 week holiday or hit levels of anxiety that force us to just hideaway.
I prefer to carry a fire extinguisher around and put out small fires before they spread!
Deep breathing which can be done anywhere is a huge help.
I recommend Box Breathing which involves a 4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, 4 second hole.
Repeat this circuit for 5-10 minutes and it will put the brakes on fight or flight reactions and the uncontrollable surge of stress hormones like cortisol.
Done just before (or even in) bed can do wonders for sleep but it can be more useful to use through the day so things never get out of hand.
7) Eliminate Stressful Food
The weird thing about the ‘nice’ food that we reach for in terms of stress, is that is can be the very food that causes digestive upset and the knock on effects on the brain.
Our digestive systems are intrinsically linked to our brains.
First, the vagus nerve connect our bowels to our brains and so when there is upset in one, the other is affected.
Second 80% of serotonin production occurs in our gut.
Serotonin is the calming hormone so if production is disrupted, we can expect anxiety to increase.
Eat a healthy diet 95% of the time and you can expect to see improvements in brain function and anxiety as well as a more comfortable digestive tract.
8) Positive Journaling
Sometimes I coach people who are so down on themselves, it’s like watching someone put boxing gloves on each morning and beat the crap out of themself.
A key step can be the use of positive journaling – keeping a diary but ONLY writing the good things that have happened.
You may have to literally force your brain to switch modes after years of constantly being on the hunt for every reason why your life sucks.
Positive journaling causes us to put a different pair of glasses on enabling us to pay less attention to negativity around us and to take firm and positive actions to change our Environments (see above) in ways that make life more enjoyable!
Stress responses come with lower intensity and less frequency helping you to train harder and eat cleaner!
9) Congruent Actions
Just today I received an email from a client on the other side of the planet.
She’s feeling very enlightened from just the first phase of coaching which is the establishment of personal values.
Like a business, when you don’t have strong, clear, meaningful values, it is easy to get distracted and pulled off course from you’re really meant to be doing.
The problem comes when you live your life based on reactions to what everyone else is doing on Facebook and Instagram and whatever demands people throw at you on a daily basis at home and at work.
We all have personal values but most people act in totally incongruent ways.
“I’m a lover of the open, adventurous life. Once I’ve sat in an air conditioning office for 10 years, working on corporate projects I couldn’t give a **** about, I’ll probably go travelling and hike around the world.”
We could create any number of incongruent live situations like this!
The point is that if your daily actions aren’t aligned with your personal values, you are ALWAYS going to feel miserable, except for the times engaged in your personal distraction methods like social media, alcohol, drugs, food etc.
The best thing about nailing down three personal values?
It literally makes a lot of stressful stuff fall away from your life because you realise you’re spending most of your life on stuff you really don’t care about.
It opens up mental space, reduces the constant cog-turning in your mind and frees up physical time to spend on the things you love and on getting your training done whether it’s 3, 6 or 15 hours a week!
10) Check Your Record
Nearly all of the best things and worst things that ever happened to me came out of the blue!
The best things came when I created ‘space’ and let opportunity knock.
The worst things just come out of nowhere.
There is little point worrying about either but you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are living in a permanent state of unease and stress, there is MUCH more chance of bad things happening because your home life, work life and everything else life are under so much strain and ready to break.
Maybe it’s time to stop stepping in front of a train every day.
Amazing results in your fitness are on the other side of not filling your stress bucket to the brim, watching it spill everywhere, running away and then coming back to do it all again!
Message me if you want any help with this – it’s a great feeling!