What is stress? Stress is the bodies reaction to any changes, mentally, emotionally or physically; that requires a response from the body, followed by an adjustment to bring our body to a balanced state (we refer to this many times as homeostasis). Stress is a normal part of life, and we experience it from our environment, our body, our thoughts. For example, work deadline, cold or hot temperature, running 2 miles or lifting weights. All of these examples are stressors, and there are two types of stress, eustress, and distress. Eustress is a more positive stress that we experience while distress is negative stress. Dis- comes from the Latin meaning of apart or away having a negative or reversing force; EU- means good pleasant or true, and stress is a pressure of tensions exerted on an object. Our bodies react to every input that we receive, with stress our bodies do not differentiate stresses, to some degree, and the body copes with all of these stressors in a very similar way.
When experiencing stress, the body has one goal in mind, to make you stronger for the next time you experience similar stress in life. We each have a “breaking point” when stress is too much for us to handle, this is when we see the negative side effects like depression, addiction, overtraining and being tired all the time. However, when we experience stress that we find a way to handle and take proper recovery and coping responses, we grow. Stress a lot of times is looked at as something bad, but really if we never experienced any stress we would probably die physically and metaphorically. Our bodies nor our minds would experience a growth at all. As our bodies register the stressor input, a number of chemicals are released, we make decisions based on our emotions and it leads to a result. That results becomes our learning experience. All of this can relate back to how we train. This can be explained by knowing about the General Adaptation Syndrome and the Impulse Response model.
General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), is about an 80-year-old concept that still applies today. This is a really great way to explain how our body responds to stress (especially in the gym). We start off at a base-line, and then at some-point, our body experiences a stressor. At this point, our body enters into the alarm reaction phase, where we actually move below the baseline as we are experiencing stress. In order for us to survive, our body needs to make changes, so that when we experience stress we are better prepared for the next experience. So we move into a resistance phase as our boy response is above baseline and we get stronger. This is the phase that happens in-between training sessions or life experiences. There is a final phase, and that phase is the exhaustive phase, this is where you don’t want to be. This occurs when all the cumulative stress from life becomes too much to handle, for the body, instead of getting stronger you get weaker. You will see your performance dip, be more exhausted through the day and maybe experience some signs of depression. GAS only looks at a single input to the system, where the impulse response model offers two outcomes to stress, deals primarily with fitness-related desires.
The I-R model looks at fitness and fatigue, and your performance from workout to workout will be the difference between the two. First fitness building, while minimizing the fatigue component. If you are able to control your fatigue, you can maintain high levels of fitness performance from workout to workout. This includes things like eating the right amount of food and quality of food, how much sleep you are getting, and one of the most underutilized tools meditation. Second, mainly for competitors, is peaking for meets. The big mistakes that are made in leading up to an event are the fear of doing too much and not performing well when it comes time perform. So these athletes tend to not do enough and their performance the day of a meet will be sub-par. I had this experience first hand as I trained for a deadlifting competition, and backed my training off some, the day of the event I did not hit the number on the platform that I should have. Leading to a third-place position rather than a first-place position. However, there is the other side of the coin, the athletes that want to perform and do their best and end up training too hard leading up to the event, leading to being over fatigued and not able to perform. What does all this mean?
When we lift weights and our body responds to It, it is harder to maintain the gains you have reached vs getting them to begin with (newbie gains). It is important to find a good training volume where you are still getting the desired results, and not doing too much that you have more fatigue than needed or doing too little that you are barely able to maintain what you have built. If you remember when you started training, you loved the drastic changes from week to week. As time went on the changes were a little less noticeable. This is because after each bout of exercise our body is getting stronger and stronger, there comes a point when those gains will start to plateau. This is the point when all this and knowing about different training methods becomes important. There is a lot of research that has shown lifting between 60%-85% of your one-rep max, just shy of failure is a great way to minimize fatigue, while still applying enough stress to drive the desired results. This is why periodization is important because you want to base your training off an end goal. For instance, powerlifting, you may start off in a hypertrophy phase where you will be doing 60%-75% of your one-rep max for sets of 12–15 reps. While trying to increase the volume each weak. As a muscle grows bigger you are growing stronger. Next phase you would focus more on your strength, where you may change your percent to 75%-90% and have a lower rep range from 4–8 reps. The last phase is called a peaking phase where you would train with 90%-100% of your one-rep max to prepare you for the platform. Each sport is different and requires different periodization protocols.
In conclusion, it is important to know your limits and realize what your body is saying. When you begin to feel you are overreaching, it is alright to step back, back off some of the volume, up some calories, try some yoga, and get some sleep. Do this for a week or two, and then get back at it. If you start to overtrain you are looking at an injury that could set you back more than a couple of weeks, this makes you have to start all over again, nobody wants that. Train smart, train hard!