Pritchard: The missing piece of training (column)
January 7, 2019
It is well known that training elicits physiological stress, varying tremendously depending on the intensity and load. When stress is introduced, the body enters a stage of alarm, followed by resistance and without proper recovery, exhaustion. Trainers and coaches quantify workload via tonnage of weight lifted over a microcycle, average heart rate, total stress score, heart rate variability and a host of other methods. While these methods provide a peek into how the body is responding numerically, they cannot paint the entire picture.
Stress is stress, no matter the form. Dr. Hans Selye discovered this many years ago, teaching us that everything we encounter in life is a stressor. Obviously certain things cause eustress (a more positive type) and others cause distress (a more negative type). Unfortunately, many athletes and individuals only believe their body is affected by what they do in the gym or on the trail.
This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact exercise only provides a small percentage of the overall stress humans encounter. From the food we eat, the relationships we have and the air we breathe to the jobs we have, we are under constant stress. Each and every single one of these factors will affect stress to a varying degree. This explains why a sleepless night can wreak havoc on work/school performance in most individuals. Our motivation, attitude and willingness to train or exercise go hand in hand with overall stress levels.
Unless you are a Buddhist monk living free of technology and the modern world, you will likely be exposed to a great deal of daily stress.
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I do not preach stress elimination because certain doses are necessary: Rather I preach stress management. Recently I had athletes finishing school finals, adding to their already tremendous student-athlete workload. I let them know that a certain amount of training could provide stress relief, but if they were completely overwhelmed, they should handle the tasks weighing them down the most, first.
Humans' ability to handle stress is like a cup being filled with water: You can continue to fill it for so long but eventually it will spill over and become a mess. Certain signs and symptoms of being overstressed may be depressed immune function, mood changes, appetite changes and personality changes to name a few.
What to do
As I previously mentioned, I stress (pun intended) stress management to clients and athletes. We cannot eliminate stress, nor should we try, but we can keep its effects at bay by implementing techniques such as meditation, advanced planning, setting aside personal time or time with friends/family, dialing in nutrition, sleeping enough, reading books, listening to enjoyable music or podcasts; the list goes on and on.
Self-care modalities such as foam rolling, ice baths and massage will help mitigate the physiological effects of training stress, but it is crucial to address the mental as well with the previously mentioned methods. Overall, ensure that you view stress through a broad lens and leave nothing unaccounted for.
Thanks for reading as always, and happy new year.
Jimmy Pritchard has a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or email@example.com.
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