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Stress in the Gym

Joe Fleming explains how stress hinders progress in the gym and what you can do about it.

These days, most adults (and many kids and teenagers, frankly) are walking around in a state of chronic stress. Between working long hours and being constantly plugged into social media, cortisol levels are high, and people are in fight-or-flight state more often than not.

Stress has a negative effect on several aspects of one's health, from increasing your risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer to impeding your cognitive abilities and hindering your ability to focus and be productive at work.

Chronic, long-term stress can also make it harder for you to lose weight and see results from your workouts.

This may seem like a trivial issue compared to the other negative effects of stress but remember that exercise is a key player in reducing body fat. Why does this matter? Well, being overweight or obese also increases your risk of developing many of the illnesses brought on by stress.

Limiting your stress helps you control multiple variables when it comes to preventing disease -- why would not you take advantage of that?

Read on to learn more about the detrimental effects stress can have on your workouts and gym progress, as well as some tips on how you can combat stress and improve your health and performance in and out of the gym.

Your Body on Stress

When you sense danger -- either real or imagined -- your body kicks into "fight-or-flight" mode to protect you from the perceived threat. In this state, a series of hormones are released, including cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

When these hormones are released, a number of systems throughout the body are affected and people tend to experience the following symptoms:

  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Decreased immune system function
  • Increased inflammation
  • Tense muscles
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Slowed digestion

Signs of Chronic Stress

In a healthy person who is not struggling with chronic stress, the symptoms mentioned above (increased heart rate, increased blood sugar, etc.) do not have a lasting effect on the body. When the danger has passed, everything returns to normal and the person can carry on as normal.

However, in chronically stressed people, these symptoms persist, and the body cannot function properly. This is when signs of illness start to present themselves, and people who are struggling with chronic stress often begin to exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Isolation or loneliness
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive issues (diarrhoea, constipation, etc.)
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Chest pain or a rapid heart rate
  • Low libido
  • Frequent illness
  • Insomnia or chronic fatigue
  • Development of nervous habits (nail biting, pulling out hair, etc.)

How Stress Impacts Workout Performance

As you can see, chronic stress wreaks havoc on a number of systems throughout the body. But, how do these changes affect one's ability to exercise and see results?

Exercise, itself, can simultaneously be a stress reliever and a source of stress. In a healthy person, the temporary stress that exercise induces is a good thing, as it trains the body to be more resilient and responsive. On the other hand, a chronically stressed person will likely not experience the stress-relieving benefits of exercise.

Listed below are some of the specific ways that stress can negatively impact your workout performance:

  • Impairs working memory and processing speed, which causes you to fatigue more quickly both physically and mentally
  • Hinders concentration and focus, which affects your ability to make mind-muscle connections and increases your risk of injury
  • Impairs motor coordination which impedes performance, increases injury risk, and slows tissue repair post-workout (meaning you will be sorer after exercising and having a harder time building muscle)
  • Causes your body to hold onto fat and hinders your ability to lose weight
  • Reduces sleep quality, which also increases the likelihood of weight gain and hinders muscle recovery
  • Reduces motivation to exercise in the first place

How to Reduce Stress

Clearly, stress can negatively affect your workouts in a variety of ways. While many people feel that the chronic stress of their life is inevitable, it certainly does not have to be that way. By reducing your stress, you can improve your physical and mental health and start to see improvements in your workouts.

Some of the best ways to reduce chronic stress include:

Lighten Up Your Workouts

Being completely sedentary will not do you any favours when it comes to reducing stress, but you also should not be pushing yourself too hard in the gym.

Consider switching up your high-intensity cardio or circuit-training sessions for slow resistance training or restorative practices like yoga.

Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a stimulant, and, if you are already in a chronically stressed state, increasing your heart rate and stress levels with a stimulant is not a good idea.

If you are in the habit of drinking several cups of coffee, caffeinated tea, or energy drinks during the day, slowly reduce your intake to give your body a break.

Take a Hot-Cold Shower

Alternating between hot and cold temperatures, usually in the shower or bath, has been shown to work wonders for people struggling with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.

To utilize alternating temperatures as therapy, simply alternate between hot and cold water in the shower. Start with the water at a comfortable temperature, then slowly cool it down over a five-minute period to a point that you can sustain for 2-3 minutes. Continue alternating for the duration of your shower.

Socialize

Spending time with friends and family, especially outdoors, can be incredibly beneficial for people who are feeling chronically stressed.

Research shows that women, in particular, can benefit from spending more time socializing, as it releases a hormone called oxytocin, which is a natural stress reliever and promotes feelings of closeness and belonging.

Final Thoughts

Chronic stress can be a major hindrance to your gym performance and overall physical and mental health. Keep these tips in mind to start reducing your stress and improving your quality of life.


Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FLEMING, J. (2018) Stress in the Gym [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article353.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. With a goal to inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.

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