The Effect of Stress on Training

The Effect of Stress on your Training.

Stress and training go hand in hand. For some, training is a way to let go of their stress. For others, training and not hitting your weights for the current day increases your current stress levels. Which ever case you may be, you are ahead of the game by being in the gym and training! As life rolls on, you are guaranteed to have a bad day in the gym. To understand why days like this occur, you need to understand stress and the affect it can have on a workout. If you are like me and are still learning how different types of stress affect your training, it is a frustrating, yet exciting processlittle_kid_with_stress.jpg.


The Effect of Stress on Your Training

Take a look at this example: You walk into the gym fired up to lift. The right songs are playing. You feel good warming up; you hit your warm up weights. But when it comes to the heavier sets, everything comes crashing down around you. Suddenly pulling 465 feels more like 545. So you stop dead lifting and move to bench. While benching, 275 feels more like 345. At this point you’ve had enough, cut your losses, and use the caffeine from the coffee you drank before the workout to write a blog post sharing your experience with your followers, hoping to save them from making the same mistake you have just made.failed-lift.jpg

OK, so maybe you aren’t in the exact same boat right now, but you’ve been here.

Forms of Stress

Stress is all over the place. Stress can be defined as anything that has a positive or negative impact on your life. It can be in the form of your previous or current training cycle, a job change, baseball or softball games the day before, relationships, money, lack of sleep, your diet, upcoming events, any sort of activity you did the day/days before, long drives, your current health... you get the point.

In order to optimize your training you should be aware of all the different forms of stress in your life. When you can do this, you can then optimize your training. Now if only this was an easy process.

Managing Your Precious Ecosystem

The best way I’ve heard the role of stress described was by the strength and conditioning coach Patrick Ward ( He first describes the job of a strength coach as an ecosystem manager. As the ecosystem manager, you are responsible for identifying stressors, making sure everything is working in harmony. Sometimes taking away a stressor will cause the ecosystem to fail - for example if the Colorado River dried up, the Grand Canyon with all it's wildlife would be in major distress. On the other hand, too much of one stressor can reek major havoc - if the Colorado River flooded, this would cause your ecosystem to enter a state of overtraining.


A smart strength and conditioning coach will work with you to identify different stressors, and adjust your days workout based on these factors. No, strength coaches don’t have special stress goggles, but they are there to work with you on different ways to measure your current ability to train. Instead of goggles we have hands. Grip strength is the easiest way to assess your readiness to train. Charlie Weingroff showed me how he uses Rolling Thunder (an that stresses your grip strength) to assess his preparedness to train. The harder the given weight feels the less prepared you are to train. There are also apps, and watches that measure your recovery and preparedness using heart rate variability (more on this to come in the upcoming weeks)

Recognizing Current Stress Levels in Yourself and Athletes

When you are in beast mode or feeling fatigued, the first spot your body shows it is in your hands. By simply seeing how a certain weight feels in your hand, you can get an idea how your workout will go. I personally like shaking the hands of my athletes as soon as I see them so I can take a quick glimpse into their readiness to train. Based on the hand shake, I can adjust the loads and training volume to accommodate the levels of stress.cartoon_handshake.jpg

Examples of Stress Impacting Training

Here are 2 quick stories…Just last week a client crushed 200 for 3 sets of 3 on bench. For the previous 6 weeks we didn’t touch anything higher than 185. However, I was able to tell from the start that this was a strong day and we had a lifetime best workout. He actually had a solid night of sleep the night before.

The next involves a pitcher I work with. His mom was filling me in on his current season, telling me he was in some sort of a funk. So I looked at her and asked what was going on in his social life. Turns out he was stressing over going to prom. The added stress has a direct impact as a pitcher. It wasn’t until prom was over that he found his groove again, and is now starting to dominate once again.

Knowing the effect of stress, you’d think a strength and conditioning coach wouldn’t get frustrated with his training. NOT TRUE. We are human, and pride ourselves on our strength. Often times our pride gets in the way, leaving us just as frustrated, if not more, as the next guy regardless of how much you know. If anything it leaves us even more frustrated!

Accomodating Your Stress Levels

In closing, a bad day at the gym is often times the result of your body still being in a state of recovery. This state is a result of the stressors you’ve been dealing with over the previous days, weeks, or even built up over the months. When stress get the best of you cut your loss and see what has changed. I guarantee you will find a new stress that hasn’t been accounted for.

To eliminate this from happening, find a way to test your strength before your workout. Find a weight that will be a challenge to lift, but something you should be able to handle on any good day. If you crush it, you know you can push the envelope a little more that day. It’s amazing what your hands can tell you. When you see the weight feels like a bear, adjust your training, increase the your mobility and foam rolling work on that day, lower your training intensity, and don't let it get to your head!

3 Quick Ways to Measure Stress, Recap.

1. Measuring your grip strength. Find a heavy dummbell and lift it. If it feels heavier then normal you are in for a long day!

2. Tell your athlete to shake your hand. Keep in mind any changes in grip strength from day to day.

3. Heart Rate Variability. Buy a garmin or download an app that measures heart rate variability.

Enjoy your new trick and go get stronger!