When IT Hits The Fan: The Stress Response

TAGS: The Region Barbell Club, stress effects on training, extrovert, introvert, Matt Ladewksi, abdominal distress, rep work, sleep, assistance work, max effort, strength training, Nutrition

Today (January 10, 2016) I kissed my mom goodbye, told her I loved her. Before I walked away she responded back with a hard to understand but distinguishable “I love you.” This is very likely the last time I will see her alive. She was brought home yesterday to finish her remaining days. There is nothing left that can be done for her.

April of 2015 I sat at Northwestern Hospital waiting for my mom to come out from seeing the doctor, not sure what was wrong other than an ingrown toe nail surgery not healing correctly. This was just a few short weeks after my father was admitted into the hospital with congestive heart failure. I had to drive them into Chicago because he was still walking around with a shock vest on his chest. A short while later she was admitted into the hospital in downtown Chicago. This was just beginning of the shit hitting the fan in 2015.

Pnemonia, eschima, being shocked back alive twice, hospital dementia, still not knowing if her small intestine would end up absorbing the nutrients she needs to improve. This is while my father was pretty much living in the hospital with her since they live over 90 minutes away — if the traffic is good. But this story is not about my parents and their physical ailments, my mother's death, my divorce that was unfolding during this time, or trying to run and build my gym (The Region Barbell Club) and online training business. It is about stress.

Matt Ladewski

The Stress Response

The stress response is a pretty cool thing if you are in a life and death situation. The problem is, our stress is rarely immediate and natural like it is out in the wild, except for when you zoom past that cop you missed while you are driving 10 over the speed limit. In our society today, stress is created internally and for most people is chronic. Training is also stress and it is important that there is give and take when more life stress falls into your lap. As training or life stress goes up, the other must be adjusted or controlled. But we are not always so good at that.

Your body is meant for self-preservation. It will physically turn off processes it doesn’t need in those immediate moments of stress. Your body will dilate pupils, inhibit salivation, inhibit digestion, accelerate heartbeat, and help mobilize everything (glucose, fat and amino acids) so it can then be sent to your muscles. Adrenaline is thrown into the mix so you can get away from that lion. Well, that would be the case if your stress was from some big bad animal and not because your boss is a jerk, you hate your job, can’t quit because you need the money, and you fight with your spouse about it.


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In the wild, they don’t stress over bills, jobs, traffic, kids getting into a good school or anything that we as humans chronically worry about on a daily basis. Most of our stress is created on our own. Add on training stress and if not managed properly, you will be burnt out and struggling for progress very quickly. I want to give you a few ideas that I used to help me through the last very stressful nine months. Some of these are specific to training and a few are just ways that helped me manage my stress. Not only was I able to manage it but I dropped a weight class and I hit PR’s in that weight class on both my bench and deadlift. I don’t have all the answers but I want to help you be aware of what is happening during those times you are being repeatedly kicked in the balls.

Training Changes

Max effort is a great way to get strong. It is also a great way to beat the crap out of your CNS. Every week hammering the nervous system with heavy singles was not sustainable for me. I never knew how I would feel mentally but I also knew that with so much stress at one time I would be better off limiting the amount of singles I would take weekly. I picked an exercise that was better off with more reps and did that every other week.

On weeks where I didn’t max out I chose to do an exercise that worked well in the 6-12 rep range. Illegal wide benching was my upper body choice. I chose this for a number of reasons. The reps limited the CNS strain, it helped me add some needed muscle mass, and added more volume. On max effort day when I would not max out I would also add in close grip paused benching to work on staying tight at my chest and hit my triceps.

What this did was create a pseudo 14-day cycle. I am still doing work but keeping the major training stressor to every 14 days.  Other options are a full 14-day cycle or even a 10-day cycle. These have both been written about in the past so I will not talk about those.  For me, being in the gym was an important mental break. Training helped but I had to be smart about it because my recovery was less than normal.


Sample 8-Week Max Effort Plan — Sunday

*Here is a sample of my what heavy bench day looked like through eight weeks.

W1 Floor Press — Work to a hard three and then take a max single.

W2 Illegal Wide Bench — Work to a hard six.

W3 Reverse Band Press — Work to a hard three then take a max single.

W4 Illegal Wide Bench — Work to a hard eight.

W5 Shirt Bench Press — Work to a hard double.

W6 Illegal Wide Bench — Work to a hard 10.

W7 Steep Incline — Work to a hard three then take a max single.

W8 Illegal Wide Bench — Work to a hard 12.


Max effort work is like asking a question of your body. It will give you answers. Some answers are subtle and some glaring. If you are not getting the answers you like you must either do something about it, or ask different questions. Let me explain exactly what I mean.

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If your max effort work is stuck, it might be telling you that you are doing the wrong supplemental and assistance work. Right now my strength is about 80-85% of where I should be. I am five weeks post meet and my reverse light band is 30-50 pounds below where my raw bench was pre-meet. This is due to stress. Knowing this and being frustrated with my numbers during those workouts, I must do exercises I rarely do and do not have indicators. I have added in exercises like Spoto press, Larsen press, or adding in chains to make it a different exercise than I have done in the past. I can’t determine if my performance is good or bad based on past lifts. I just do the work and get out alive.

As you can see, even though I was not taking a heavy single every week I was still getting in some hard muscular work. Doing this helped me to drop down a weight class and avoid cardio, it reduced the heavy singles I was taking and added in more muscular work.

Rep Work and Assistance Work

If you are reading this there is a good chance that the iron is your therapy. Getting into “The Void” gets you away from all the other stress. After reducing the CNS intensive work, I added more muscular and bodybuilding work. This paired along with my nutrition improvements helped me keep my hard earned muscle and even add some as I dropped bodyfat. I took my typical dynamic effort upper body work and split it so I could do more volume for each muscle group. I could spend time with the iron but not kill myself mentally. Often on these two days I could walk out with a pump, tired but feeling better overall. Training more like a bodybuilder helped me survive and actually look better.


Sample Dynamic Effort and Upper Assistance Example

*These are actual examples with weights included.

Dynamic Effort — Wednesday

Speed Bench with Monster Mini Band — 155 pounds 4x5, 175 pounds 5x5

Floor press with 120 Pounds of Chain — Close grip/wide grip for 135x6/6, 185x5/5, 205x4/4

A1 Dumbbell Overhead Press — 50x12, 60x12, 70x10

A2 Front Raise Drop Set — 70/35x15/15, 15/15, 10/20

Upper Assistance — Thursday

A1 Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows — 50 pounds 4x20

A2 DD Pulldowns — 120 x12, 12, 140x12, 12

A3 Dumbbell Pullover (3 sec eccentric) — 50 pounds 4x10

B1 Barbell Drag Curl — 65x15, 75x15, 85x15

B2 Dips — 4x25

C1 Band Curls — 2x8

C2 Ex Curls — 70 pounds 2x12


Most of my assistance work was 10+ reps and I was looking for a pump and to feel better when I left. My GPP levels were pretty good at this time, as they must be if you are going to do large amounts of work.

Nutrition

Depending on where you are in the stress cycle will determine if you want to eat everything in site or if you are hungry at all. I found that during this cycle I was not hungry at all. Ice cream is my go-to junk food and I didn’t even want that. I chose to harness that power and force myself to eat the best food I could. I knew that if I could drop five to seven pounds, I could make the cut to 220 in July. I used the guidelines from Scott Stevenson’s Fortitude Training ebook for my peri-workout nutrition and my recovery and body composition has never been better.


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Over a two month period my body changed with minimal loss in bodyweight. Under 10 pounds of bodyweight was lost but over an inch just around my waist. You can read more about how I started in my article 5 Tips to Come Down A Weight Class. I knew that I was going to be released out into the wild and that I needed an upgrade to my dadbod.

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Sleep

I have always tossed and turned and gotten up once or twice a night.  This was no different but often times there were nights when my brain would not shut off. These are nights where I would write. Use an old school pen and paper, do not sit banging the keys on a computer. I didn’t want more screen time and knew that it would be easier to get back to sleep if I avoided the computer. Writing out my feelings and concerns, or directly writing to the person(s) that were on my mind quickly eased my mind and allowed me to relax. Often times I would just rip up the letters and throw them away the next day but my brain was able to empty those emotional thoughts just swirling around in my head.

Knowing that sleep would be hard to come by, I would try to squeeze in a small nap. Find 15-30 minutes to close your eyes. Even if you don’t fall asleep, just having your eyes closed will refresh you some. This is especially true if you spend most of the day staring at a computer screen. We take in so much through our eyes that just closing them make a huge difference.

Other Helpful Things

Everyone is different and you will need to find what helps you get through these rocky times. Having a lighthouse (friends) that can keep you on the right track through the storm is a big thing. Know how you recharge. If you are an extrovert then you recharge around people. Get out and be around people no matter how you feel at this moment. If you are an introvert, you won’t mind being alone and this is how you recharge. This doesn’t mean 100% of the time you need to follow those patterns but know that is typically how you recharge your battery.

The stress response is an amazing part of our survival mechanism but it is also a gateway to many stress related diseases. It is there to save your life, so telling you to avoid it is wrong. Avoiding chronic stress and keeping it as short as possible is important. I know that when this storm hits you, things will look dark. Making it through the day might be a chore. If suicidal thoughts cross your mind please talk to someone right away. That should not be an option. When you feel overwhelmed and can’t go another step, you can. You are strong(er) than you think.

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