What do you think of when you think of stress?
Paying the monthly bills, final exams coming up, getting that job you wanted. These are all forms of stress that can have a profound impact on our lives.
Our body does not know the difference between physical, mental, or emotional stress. All the body wants is homeostasis and that is the sole focus of the response you will experience.
When you are stressing out because you are on a crowded highway and are late for work, your body is being flooded with different hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This response is not abnormal, however, it is not ideal to be in this state for a long time. Heart rate and blood pressure will increase while immune function will decrease. Overall health will plummet if too much time is spent in this state. We know that this kind of stress is not optimal for our health.
Is all stress created equal? Well, kind of. The human body does not care if you are stressed about an upcoming test or because you performed physical work. The response will be the same: get back to homeostasis.
I should clarify that stress is a great thing. It is how we grow and perform our best.
Ever heard an athlete say that the moment they are not nervous (stress) before a game is when they know they should call it quits? Nerves keep us on our toes and hyper aware of our situation. If I am in a high stakes sporting event, I want to be as sharp as I can be.
From a training perspective, stress is how you change the physiology of the body. Want to gain more muscle or get stronger? The amount of volume you lift and the weight “stresses” the body enough to persuade the nervous system to signal the body to recruit more muscle fibers (motor unit recruitment) to survive the demands (stress) of your life. Gaining more muscle and strength is your body’s way of adapting to stress to get back to homeostasis.
As you can see, the prescription given in a well thought out strength-training plan is simply stress management. We want to keep in mind the dosage or volume of this stress. Too much volume/dosage to the same muscles can leave us sore for weeks. Or worse, injure the soft or connective tissue in the body. Too much volume/dosage on highly neurological activities like heavy lifting (1rm) or maximum velocity sprinting can cause us to experience over-training symptoms like excessive fatigue and decreased immune function.
But are all exercises equal in the stress they provide? Let’s compare some similar exercises:
What kind of stress do I want to give at a specific time of year? In the offseason, I may want to stress the legs and nervous system maximally to promote growth and strength adaptations. Once the season nears we must keep in mind the “stress” occurring to the same regions of the body while playing the sport itself.
For example, an offensive lineman will experience massive amounts of forces (stress) to the spine with every collision experienced in a game or practice. Since their job is to essentially collide with other massive human beings, 50+ times in a game, we should limit the stress to the spine during in-season training and prepare them for these stresses during offseason training.
The same can be said for a baseball player. Stresses on the spine are through the roof during any violent rotational action like swinging a bat or throwing a ball. Choosing the right exercise at the right time of year is crucial to preparing athletes for the demands of the sport and limiting too much stress when playing said sport.
In conclusion, stress is good and bad. Too little and you will lose many traits that make a great athlete. Too much and you will surely be performing at a suboptimal state. Neither one of these scenarios are good for athletic performance, which is why a knowledgeable training professional that can manage and balance all the stresses in one’s life is a vital asset to the success of the athlete.