Using Strength Training to Crush Stress
Even though stress is an emotional state, it carries with it a raft of physiological symptoms. You know that awful feeling of sweating, dry mouth, muscle tightness and pains, a racing heart rate, high blood pressure, headaches and diarrhoea to name but a few of the symptoms.
Could strength training be a tool to break the cycle?
Strength training itself is a type of “stress” and that might lead you to think it’s best not to add strength training to your schedule if you are experiencing stress.
Strength training, if properly planned, is designed to apply a specific stress to the body so that the body will adapt to BETTER COPE with future stresses. A study by Strickland et al supports this showing that when strength training is performed regularly for 6 weeks or more symptoms of stress and anxiety are decreased.
Whilst strength training increases levels of the “stress hormones” cortisol and adrenaline , this is only temporary, as they are necessary to break down tissues so that the remodelling process can begin. It’s important to know, these hormones reduce back to normal levels when you finish exercising.
The key to managing how training stress is acting on you, is to get the total amount of training to a level that helps you optimally adapt to the training, but not so high that you can’t properly recover or handle the volume.
We go to great lengths to ensure this is the case by designing programs that are progressive. Here’s some real life stats from one of our clients who is currently gaining muscle (effectively!)
You’ll notice the total volume increase gradually week after week.
If you notice you might be suffering from stress, a properly managed training program will help you to remain healthy and also to better cope with stress in the long term.
Where the message gets confused is where people consider that lifting is a “cure” for stress, depression and anxiety.
Strength training can alleviate symptoms of the above but the research suggests symptoms will return if you take a training break; so for those of you reading this with clinical levels of depression and anxiety, including strength training as part of your treatment is a great idea, but it’s not the sole answer to improving mental health.
Strickland, J. C., & Smith, M. A. (2014). The anxiolytic effects of resistance exercise. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 753.
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