Genefer Archer explains how stress affects training and how to combat it.
We all know that juggling a busy lifestyle with a training regime can be difficult. But in times of increased stress, we are hugely affected physiologically. For example, if you aren’t sleeping well, eating properly, or simply feeling overwhelmed by pressures at work or in your personal life, you will need to adapt your usual training load and intensity to allow for this.
Give Yourself a Break
Don’t make the mistake of forcing yourself to keep to your usual level of training. If you are mentally tired you will feel much heavier and fatigue more easily. Acute psychological stress has been shown to negatively affect your immune system, increasing your vulnerability to infections and illness. In this weakened state, it becomes even more important to ease up on high volume and intensity exercises, which can further weaken your immune system while you recover after your sessions.
Listen to Your Heart
So how do you tell if your body is struggling and know when to ease off the training? Take your resting heart rate while lying in bed - when you are most at ease and relaxed. Find an average over several days when you are feeling well, and you should get a good idea of what your average resting heart rate is.
If you find that your resting heart rate is slightly raised, this can be an indicator of either over training, incomplete recovery, impending illness, or raised stress levels. Experts say that 10 beats per minute higher than your usual RHR should be a good indicator that all isn’t right and to kick back for a while.
Work it Out
However, stress is certainly not an excuse to hit the sofa with the kettle chips! Personally I have found that continuing to train, but at a reduced intensity, can help battle stress – serving as an outlet for pressure. Research also shows that aerobic exercise has positive effects on well-being (Norris, Carroll and Cochrane, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2002) so your evening jog or morning swim may help you feel more relaxed and better able to cope with the rest of your day.
The best advice for trying to combat stress is to listen to your body when you are deciding whether or not to hit the gym. If you are feeling weak and in need of an early night, skipping a workout or two won’t mess up your whole routine. And if you do train, try to keep the intensity below 80% of your maximum – those really hard-core workouts are only for when you are feeling top notch.
Gen's Quick Tips
By Genefer Archer
Gen is an MSc exercise scientist and personal trainer with The Body Professionals, based in SW London. She tries to mix what the top geeks in sports science think with her own experience. www.geneferarcher.co.uk
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