Stress is a part of life. We all have to deal with it from time to time no matter how hard we try to avoid it. It can wreak havoc on almost every aspect of your life unless you're one of the few people who actually thrives on stress and seems to do better with more of it. For the vast majority of people though, this isn't the case. I know it isn't for me.

In the last few years, I've really come to understand just how much stress affects me. I do my best to avoid it, but it always seems to quietly creep back into my life. Even though we can't avoid stress, we most definitely can limit its effects on us. This holds especially true when it comes to strength training.

There are many studies and tons of medical research on how stress affects our bodies, but I really don't want to go into all that. I'm only interested in the end results and how to counteract those. That being said, stress can affect just about every major bodily function, and I don't think many lifters consider how this can interfere with training.

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Stress affects the central nervous system and the endocrine system, which leads to all kinds of bad stuff. It can have an extremely bad effect on sleep and even cause insomnia. This, by itself, can then have a negative effect on the body’s hormone levels, which will most definitely affect your training. As we all know, sleep plays a major role in recovery, and if stress makes you lose sleep, it's slowing your recovery and hence slowing your gains.

Stress can lead to depression and affect a person’s attitude, which can definitely impact training. Stress can have a huge effect on digestion, which very simply translates into the body not getting the nutrients it needs to grow bigger and stronger. Stress can seriously screw up your metabolism and appetite, again interfering with the nutrients your body needs. Stress can cause muscle tension. This is most common through the upper back and neck and can cause headaches and sore muscles. Most importantly though for the lifter, it means that the muscles aren't getting the chance to relax and properly recover. Lifters don't need their muscles flexed all the time. They flex them in training, so outside the gym, they need to recover for the next training session. Stress can also weaken the immune system, which can put a lifter at risk of getting sick and, again, affect training in a very negative way. The list keeps going. These are just a few of the ways that stress can slow or even stop gains for a lifter.


Stress is horrible for the majority of lifters and also an unavoidable part of life. There are two possible ways of dealing with this problem. First, you can avoid whatever stresses you can. Just because stress is part of life doesn't mean that there aren't certain stresses we can avoid. Everyone has a certain amount of control over who and what they allow into their life. For instance, some people seem to breed stress and anxiety. These kind of people always complain about how unlucky they are or that everything bad happens to them. They seem to turn everything into a major deal and feel compelled to bring that into the lives of their friends and family. If these people end up in our lives, it was our choice to let them in, and if they stay in our lives, it was our choice to keep them in our lives. At the very least, it's our choice as to how much we let them in and how much time we spend with them. The same goes for girlfriends or boyfriends. Sure, they may be hot as hell, but when they're bat shit crazy, they'll end up stressing you out. This may seem cold, but if you have goals, you have to make certain sacrifices. If your goals are to push your lifting to the limit, you need to think about it when you let people like this into your life. Honestly, even if you aren't a lifter, why do you want people like this in your life? Who needs that much stress? We all have problems and issues, but friendships and relationships should be symbiotic and beneficial to all parties involved.

There are many other stresses that lifters can avoid. If you don't have a ton of extra money, why take on the stress of paying for a $50,000 truck? Will the truck benefit your lifting or will it stress you out because you now have to make a huge payment while worrying if you'll have enough money left over to buy the large amounts of quality food that you need? Do you need to buy an expensive house and have all the stresses that come along with it or would an apartment be less stressful for your lifting? What kind of job do you have and how much stress does it create? Could you make enough at a less stressful job that would work better with you lifting schedule? Is pumping out a couple kids going to add stress to your life that will affect your lifting? Hell, yes it will! I know that these are all pretty extreme ideas and examples, but you have to decide how serious you are about your lifting. And some of these even hold true for non-lifters because stress affects everyone in negative ways.

Maybe you're a lifter who isn't trying to be the absolute best powerlifter in history, but you want to win a state championship. How important is that goal to you? Is it important enough to buy a somewhat smaller house that is less stressful to afford but still gets you into a home? Is it important enough to not start a relationship with a hot, crazy person? The point here is that your lifting goals may get met in the gym, but everything outside the gym has a major effect on your chances of meeting that goal in the gym. All the choices that you make in your life have an effect on that goal. Even though my examples may seem a bit extreme, I know many athletes who have done similar things in order to achieve greatness in their respective sports. How important is that goal to you, and what are you willing to do to obtain it? Is it worth avoiding as much stress as possible?

The second and most important way to deal with stress is deep inside all of us. We choose how stress affects us whether we know it or not. Again, it's our choice to let things stress us out. This can be difficult for some people to admit, but it's true. It's also easy to allow stress to swallow us up, but we have the ability to avoid this. For example, imagine someone crashes into your only vehicle. You can choose to get completely stressed about it. You can stress about how you'll get to work the next day and whether or not the insurance will cover the damage. You can stress about whether or not your vehicle will be totaled and how much you'll get to buy a new one. There are all kinds of ways that you can let this get to you. In reality, will any of that change the situation? Will it get any better or improve because you're stressing out about it? Will the insurance company give you more money because you’re stressed? No, it won't affect the outcome at all. It will most certainly affect you though and it won't be in a good way.


We need to realize that worrying about it won't change anything. We can make the choice to do what we can to resolve the situation, but worrying does nothing to help it. We can be proactive and talk to the insurance company. We can see if we're eligible for a rental car. We can check bus schedules or try to line up rides with friends to get to work. We can start researching the value of our vehicle to be well informed if need be. But we can only do what we can do. The rest is out of our hands.

As another example, say a loved one dies or gets sick. Again, this will probably sound cold, but there is only so much we can do. Getting stressed out doesn't help anyone. We can feel for that person. We can be there for that person or for the family, but the rest is out of our hands. Say something breaks on your car or your house and you live paycheck to paycheck. It's very easy to stress out under these circumstances, but it will only make matters worse. You can only do what you can do. Try to learn and fix it yourself. Maybe charge it or borrow some money. If possible, call a friend who can help fix it. Some short-term stress is very hard to control because it's hardwired into us like fight or flight. This goes back to the old days of survival and is still how our bodies react. But it's the long-term stress that is most harmful to us and very unproductive for the lifter and it can be controlled. It isn't easy and it can takes years or a lifetime to master, but we do have the capabilities to do so. Most of the time, it's just a matter of realizing the facts and reality of the situation.

I have personal experience with most of the things that I write about. Sometimes it's just stuff that I see other lifters do that annoys me, but most often, I've made similar mistakes as those that I write about. I write about them hoping to help lifters avoid the pitfalls that I've made. This article is a bit of a conundrum because I've been through times when I'm great at dealing with stress and I've been through times when I'm horrible at it. In fact, I chose to write about this subject because it's something I've been struggling with as of late.

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When I was competing at my highest point, I was a master of stress. Almost nothing got to me. One of my worst stresses was money, but during those years, I was like, “Oh well! Charge it up!” or “OK, what can I sell off?” I had modified my entire life around lifting. Anything that had a negative impact on my lifting wasn't allowed in. I didn't have new vehicles. I lived in a cheap apartment close to work. My job was a simple one that allowed flexibility for my lifting schedule. Most of the people I allowed around me where lifters or at least understood what I was trying to accomplish. So I avoided as much stress as possible, but such is life. It always creeps in somehow. Like I said though, at this point, I was awesome at letting it go.

Lately, I've been looking back to this time because stress has been getting to me. I realized that I had a hard, set goal with my lifting in those days, and I continuously reminded myself of that. It was one master goal and I lived it every minute of every day. If a problem arose and I could feel myself getting stressed, I simply reminded myself of my goal. I asked myself if getting stressed was helping or hurting that goal. It obviously was hurting it and affecting my gains, so it was easy to shut it off. There wasn't any way that I was going to let stress interfere with me reaching my goals.

Flash forward to the present. Lately, I've been letting stress play too much of a role in my life. I've worked very hard over the past few years to reduce the stress in my life, especially after learning that stress is a major trigger for my bipolar episodes. I spent three years working as much as possible to get out of debt and in a livable financial state, which has been a great help. However, because lifting doesn't play a major role in my life anymore, a window has been left open to allow more normal life stresses in like owning a home, catching up on hobbies that I had put off for years due to powerlifting, really focusing on improving my mental health and sleep, trying to spend more time with my niece and nephew and actually thinking about my financial well-being and the possibility of retiring someday. It's all what I call regular life stuff and I had avoided it for so long with my powerlifting. Even though my life is more normal now, I still love training and I don't want stress affecting that. I don’t really want stress affecting me at all. It doesn't do anyone any good. So why was I so good at dealing with stress back then and not so good at it now?


I think for me it's all about having a hard, set goal. Over the last few years, I've had goals. I always seem to have some sort of goal in my life, but these weren't hard, set goals. They were more loose, general goals, maybe like guidelines to a goal. I knew that I needed to get my debt paid and that meant working a lot while keeping my budget to the basics. So my goal was that I was going to get out of debt. My next and most important goal was to do the best I could to get my bipolar and narcolepsy under control. Again, this was kind of an open goal because at the time, I really didn’t know for sure how I was going to do that. It was a huge learning process with a lot of trial and error. I also knew that my other goal of getting out of debt would conflict with this goal. On top of that, I knew that my lifting would suffer from trying to meet both of those goals. I guess it was kind of a hail Mary of goals over the last few years. I was going to just throw the ball as hard and as far as I could and hope I came down with it in the end zone (yes, I was playing football with myself).

Luckily, it has all worked out, but I know that it's time to start pinpointing my goals and really focusing on them. What are my goals for improving my disorders? How will I achieve these goals? What are my financial goals and how will I achieve those? What are my training goals and how will I achieve them? How will I encompass all these goals into one goal while achieving them all? To be honest, this is a bit daunting, and I fully admit that giving your whole life to one goal is way easier than balancing many goals. It's something that I'll learn though. Having these goals and continually reminding myself of these goals will help me in many ways. Most importantly, it helps me realize the things that are helping me achieve them and the things that are hindering me from achieving them. This will most certainly help give me the focus I need to again master stress in all aspects of my life, including my lifting, which may not be the number one thing anymore but still ranks very high in my life. There are still things that I want to achieve in lifting and I can't allow stress to affect that.

The effects of stress on lifters are enormous and extremely negative. Stress can very easily slow or even stop gains. It's something that all strength athletes need to be aware of and learn to control. Controlling it is a bit of an individual thing. For me, it has a lot to do with knowing my goals and always being aware of my goals. I can either let stress wreck my goals or I can control myself enough so that it doesn't negatively affect me. I suppose you could say it's about having the right motivation to control my stress. I also try to avoid it as much as I can by being cognitive enough to realize what things will end up being stressful and deciding if they are worth letting into my life.

Stress can be a tough thing to deal with and control. It will always find a way into your life and it can never be completely avoided. Stress can make you feel powerless, like there isn't anything you can do, but this isn't the case. We all have the power inside of us to control stress. We have the power to not let it negatively affect us. We have the power to never let it slow our gains in training. It's simply a matter of learning and practicing it just like we do in the gym.