Stress: there is no doubt this word has a negative connotation. But, what if I told you that stress is a good thing, in terms of exercise?
When I refer to stress in exercise I am referring to adding load (weights), resistance or adding something to an exercise that may cause it to be more difficult. Adding stress in the proper way can actually help improve strength as well improve muscular strength and endurance. Keep in mind, there are several factors that determine how much stress should be added to an exercise, if any should be added at all. Some of these include fitness level, injury history and individual goals.
Fitness level is very important when determining the load and/or stress that should be added to an exercise. An individual who has great cardiovascular health but has never done strength training before, shouldn’t start off adding heavy weight on a reverse lunge. Before progressing, an individual should be able to do the exercise in good form without added weight. In a reverse lunge, you can progress someone by starting with a body weight reverse lunge, then add weight with dumbbells, a barbell or weight vest, and then progress even further by having the individual perform the lunge with an unstable factor – such as a Bosu ball or on a slide board.
It is important that an individual can master the movement with one stress factor before adding any more to the exercise. Adding stress to exercise proportional to fitness level is beneficial for anyone, but it is especially beneficial for older adults; adding resistance to training in older adults can result it 25-100 percent more strength gain through muscle hypertrophy and could presumably increase motor unit recruitment.
Knowing an individual’s injury history and other potential risk factors is important when deciding which type of stress should be added to the exercise. For example, if an individual has a history of lower back pain, it is important to protect the lumbar spine. An individual with that history should not be doing a back squat with a heavy load on the barbell. Instead, it is important to find a different way to add stress to the exercise without affecting to the lumbar spine; it can be added to the exercise with the use of resistance bands or having the individual perform the exercise at a slow tempo.
An individual’s goals will also determine the type and amount of stress they may need added to an exercise. If an individual wants to increase their strength and add lean muscle, then adding a load to an exercise will be most beneficial. If an individual’s goal is to improve stability or improve strength at the end ranges of motions, adding resistance or having the individual perform the exercise with unstable factors will be beneficial. Stress can even be added to those wanting to improve cardiovascular fitness – this could be as simple as adding incline or hills to walks and runs or adding a weight vest.
Stress in exercise is a good thing, as long as it is done properly by assessing the individual’s fitness level, taking into account injury history and the specific goals the individual has. So in terms of exercise, let’s bring on the stress!