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Talk about stress and its effects on training performance is thrown around a lot. Some people may take it into account, and some people may say that it's all bullshit with no bearing on anything. However, both sides have some truth to them.

For some reference and science about the subject, take a look at this presentation from Natalia Verkhoshansky about general adaptation syndrome (GAS) and its applications for training. For those of you who hate to read things with big words, I'll give you a basic rundown. This isn't close to what it says in its entirety and I implore you to view the link, but here's my most basic interpretation.

General adaptation syndrome (GAS) is a concept proposed by physiologist Hans Selye. It purports that stress is the common variable in all adaptive reactions in the body. Basically, Hans stated that the body doesn't differentiate between stressors and all stressors throw you out of whack (disrupts homeostasis). Adaptation occurs when the body compensates for this stress and develops a new level of fitness, tolerance or whatever area it may apply to. If the stress is too great, adaptation can't occur and performance will drop, injury will occur and, in some cases, the death will occur. This is all true in theory, although his model didn't detail loading, the different levels of stress, specificity or the optimal levels needed to produce favorable adaptations in the desired areas (which is what is applicable to sports training).

This concept was further refined to be directed more toward a sports training setting through Garkavi's research. Garkavi examined the body’s reaction to specific stimuli and how it applies to the adaptations that come from the stresses that are favorable to the task at hand. This model also accounted for differing levels that produce the desired effects. There is more to the research than just this. This is just a very basic explanation.

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There are many ways this can influence your training including your loading parameters, your exercise selection, your mental state and how you perceive stress that is both directly related to training and so on. To break it down, here's a look at each:

Stress in Relation to Frequency, Intensity, Volume and Exercise Selection

Training with differing volumes, intensities, frequencies, new exercises and so on will have an effect on homeostasis. Changing any of these variables will have an effect on how your body adapts. So let's say that you've been training with a setup that is fairly customary to western lifters. You're only performing each lift once a week. You then decide to increase your frequency and perform each lift twice a week. You'll definitely disrupt the steadiness of what has become the norm, and you have to expect a slight decrease in performance initially until your body adapts. This is when most people say, "I'm overtrained. This is too much work." However, we need to realize that fatigue masks fitness only temporarily if you program this correctly. If you are able to get this in check, you can expect your body to adapt and, in time, the favorable training effects will be realized.


Conversely, let's say that you just kept accumulating frequency without giving yourself a chance to adapt. Instead of gradually increasing this over time, you just kept adding another day and then an additional workout each day. Then you increased the volume and increased the intensity. You won't give yourself the time to actually become acclimated to any of the variables. Again, fatigue masks fitness, and if you just keep running yourself into the ground, you won't see any positive results. There has to be time to adapt. After the disturbances to homeostasis, you have to lay off a bit to allow the effects of supercompensation to kick in.

Stress in Relation to Other Issues

We know that all stress disrupts homeostasis, which, in turn, disrupts the body's ability to recover. This will ultimately affect the ability to adapt. Changes in lifestyle, work schedule, sleep schedule, diet and so on will disrupt what has been established as the current state and can affect training. This is a very individual thing, but it can be something to consider when programming and monitoring progress.

Let's say that someone was either independently wealthy or unemployed but still had enough money to live the incredibly impractical lifestyle of sleeping 10 hours a day and eating 6–9 perfectly designed meals in terms of macronutrients. This person had nothing to worry about in his life but training. This is what is established as his normal state. Then, all of a sudden, fantasy camp ends and this person has to get a real job, work 40–70 hours a week, pay bills, sleep only 4–6 hours at best a night, take care of a family, eat when he has time and so on. All these added stressors will take a crap on his old ideal normal state. Due to this, he might find that his training takes a shit of its own. This person can either give up on all of his obligations and eliminate all the stressors or decide to maybe alter his training to account for the added stressors. For most of us who aren't somehow funding our weightlifting habits by lifting weights for a living, we'll need to alter the training. This might mean decreasing volume, frequency, intensity or some combination of all of them. By doing this, it allows the total amount of stress to be lessened. Now, we won't go beyond our ability to recover.

Save Some for Later

I'll go on a rant for a second here. Something I've always hated about powerlifting is the idiocy of screaming and jumping around like a moron, snorting ammonia, slapping and all the other related behaviors that many lifters choose to do. This really isn't limited to powerlifting, as I also can't stand watching athletes in other sports engage in shit like jumping around like an idiot during pregame warm ups or the Under Armour commercial-influenced chanting and posturing. This is bad enough at competitions, meets and games, but I really can't stand it in training or practice. As if looking like a moron isn't bad enough, all this can actually have a negative effect on your training.

When you do all of the above, you're actually causing physiological responses. Just like everything mentioned earlier both training and non-training related, this is a stressor. Unless this nonsense mentioned is your normal behavior (and if it is, you're probably a raving lunatic),you're disrupting homeostasis. When this happens, you'll dip further into your adaptive reserves than you need to. Because of this, you'll affect your body's ability to recover. This is why when people talk about the Bulgarians and their maximal approach every day, they always say that if you choose to do a program like this, don't go nuts and do any of the moronic things to get fired up. If you're inclined to do these things, do it at a meet. This is where the idea of training maxes and competition maxes comes in. A training max won't need any arousal to lift and can be done under any conditions. A competition max will have some level of emotional arousal that can't be duplicated, at least not with any regularity.

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It's All in Your Head

Finally, let's talk about how you actually perceive stress. The mind can have a very strong effect on how we feel and on our performance. It can either be an empowering tool at your disposal or it can ultimately become your downfall. This isn't some bullshit "believe and become" or other T-shirt slogan. I honestly don't think that you can tell yourself something enough times over that it will actually happen. I would like to believe that I will make billions of dollars from writing this blog, but that isn't realistic. Just like if you believe you can be an Olympic gold medal sprinter, but you're already 50 years old and slow as shit, it probably isn't in the cards.

It probably is my naturally pessimistic nature, but I actually believe the mind can have a larger effect on negative perception of stress than positive. I don't necessarily believe in miracles, and I don't think that you can wish yourself into something that you aren't at least somewhat predisposed to being even with very competent programming. There are some things that are highly governed by having the right genetic predispositions because the training effect is marginal on these qualities and selection really determines the end outcome. However, I think you can absolutely perceive things to be a larger problem than they really are. You see it all the time with athletes having a shitty day. They start to say that it was because they missed a meal, did too much, did too little, had 20 minutes fewer hours of sleep the night before, had to work 20 minutes more or whatever other excuse they can throw out there. Because of this, they cause themselves more anxiety, which can cause more physiological responses that will take away from their ability to recover. In turn, this will eventually lead to issues with adaptation.

When I decided to increase my frequency and volume, I convinced myself that I was going to have an open mind and try to objectively look at how I responded. I told myself that I wasn't going to allow myself to believe that I would become overtrained and I would look to see what happened and take it as it came. So far I haven't had any problems. Is it because of this? Probably not because I'd like to think that I'm at least somewhat competent with my programming. However, I would've had a much greater chance of negative results if I would've went into this and said, "Man, this is way too much work. There is no way that I can keep up with it. This shit won't work." I won't say that this is 100 percent related to stress or adaptation, but I think that there's at least some correlation.

When it comes to this, you can either choose to look at things with an objective view or you can give yourself an aneurysm over something that probably wasn't that big of a deal in the first place. Stress is something that has to be accounted for, but you'll have to pick your battles wisely. There are certain variables that you can account for and others that are out of your hands. In the end, you need to find what works for your situation. That may sound like a shitty solution, but in reality, it's the only absolute because every individual has different stressors.

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