STRESS Hormones – Killing Your Kettlebell Workouts?
**********Editor's Note: Today's post is a welcome contribution from my good friend, Master RKC Geoff Neupert.*************
Technology is a funny thing.
I was trying to film a set of Squats during my workout the other day with my “smart” phone. But I couldn't retrieve the video. The phone kept locking up. And with that, my blood pressure started rising. After turning the phone on and off 3 or 4 times, and still not being able to access the video to check my form (I'm rebuilding my squat pattern) I lost my temper and smacked the phone face down on the window ledge in my studio.
The entire screen went blank.
And my blood pressure rose even more.
So I did another set of squats.
Long story short, I broke my “smart” phone and have been using my old flip phone – the one where I can't check my email and all the other things that we just “have” to have.
And you know what?
I feel way less stressed out.
You'd bet it would be the opposite. Technology was supposed to liberate us and make our lives so much easier, so much more productive. Well I've gotta tell you, I've been more productive in the last 4 days without my phone than I was the 2 weeks previously with it.
My flip phone is simple.
Just like the kettlebell.
Which brings me to the point of this post –
Stress affects us all and WAY more than we know or will admit to.
For example, why'd I flip out over my “smart” phone?
Well, I've been sleep deprived for the last 10 months learning how to be a parent with our first child, Michael. And the past month has been hellacious as he was sick and not sleeping – up 3 to 5 times per night which also meant that we got sick and weren't sleeping. And then we had to “sleep train” him. More fun. Less sleep.
(Stop laughing at me all you “veteran” parents – you remember how hard it was!)
And not sleeping is very stressful to your body. (Many of us just refuse to admit it.)
Many of us are chronically sleep deprived. (New scientific studies show that if you get less than 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night, you're considered “sleep deprived.”) Then there's running the kids around to and fro, back and forth from practice to recitals to games and then trying to get them all corralled and the whole family eating at the same time… Or the commute to the office and the traffic and that jerk who cut you off and made you spill your coffee… Not to mention the extra work you have to do to meet those deadlines at the office, and sorting through the late night emails… You know what I mean, right?
Now compound all that with any sort of interpersonal relationship stress you may be having – boss, spouse, parent, etc, and you have a recipe for STRESS and potential workout disasters.
I want to show you how you can avoid both, especially the workout disaster part.
Where Stress “Lives”
We talk about it in terms of “feelings” like being “stressed out” or feeling “stressed” but the crazy thing about it is by the time we actually start talking about it, it might just be too late. The nefarious effects of stress have already started in our bodies.
Here's what I mean –
See, our conscious minds are kind of like the dashboard of your car. It gives us feedback about what's going on both inside the car and outside the car. The speedometer tells you how fast you're going (outside the car) and the oil pressure light tells you that you're low on oil (inside the car). Likewise, the mind receives input from both the inside and outside – “I don't feel good” and “She's smiling at me.”
Our subconscious minds can be thought of as the electrical and mechanical systems that control the car – we know they're there, we just can't see them running from the outside. This is the part of the car where everything happens. It's what truly drives the car. Sometimes this can be thought of as intuition – you know when you've got a “funny feeling” about something.
What about our body? Well that's just like the body of the car – the frame, tires, color of the paint, etc.
But our subconscious is where the stress really lives. And when it rears its ugly head it does so through the conscious mind. It shows up in outbursts of anger or irritability (broken cell phone, anyone?), feelings of sadness, desires to overeat, overwhelming feelings of fatigue, or any unusual thoughts or behaviors.
Now What's This Have To Do With Your Kettlebell Workouts?
Many of us work out to relieve stress. I've been there and done that. I get it.
But did you know that sometimes – many times – your workouts can be a contributing factor to the symptoms of stress?
From a physiological perspective, working out is a negative stressor. It causes short-term “damage” to the body. The results your looking for come from your body's response – or adaptation – to that “damage” – that stress.
You're need to work out – although stress relieving in the short term, can actually cause you to sabotage your long term goals.
Too much working out, or workouts that are too long or too hard place too much stress on your body and you can't recover properly, so you don't get the response you desire – leaner, stronger, whatever.
They end up working against you.
Again, it's true.
So what are some symptoms of too much stress? How would you know if your workouts were working against you?
Well we already quickly covered some of the emotional ones above so let's cover some physical ones.
– increased belly fat is a classic
– decreased muscularity
– decreased appetite
– increased desire for salty or sweet foods
– increased rashes (shingles anyone?)
– hair loss
– loss of libido and signs of libido
– increased resting heart rate
– increased blood pressure
– increased blood sugar – which leads to –
– increased fat around the midsection in general, including lovehandles
– chronic aches and pains
– fresh injuries
– recurrence of old injuries
– problems sleeping
– memory loss
And those are just some of the cursory physical symptoms of too much stress.
Why Does This Happen?
Two words – Stress Hormones.
Quite simply your stress hormones get out of whack – specifically your adrenaline and cortisol. What follows is a very brief rundown which you need to be aware of because it affects the results you're getting or not getting, whichever the case may be.
See, when you get stressed out, there's a part of your brain – your hypothalamus – that sends an alarm signal to your body. In response, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol. (This is called the “fight or flight” state.)
Adrenaline increases blood pressure and signals your body to release extra energy (blood sugar) to overcome the potential threat.
Cortisol also mobilizes blood sugar for energy use, and suppresses the reproductive and digestive systems. On the flip side, insulin is released to deal with the excess blood sugar and to return it the body's cells for storage.
When you experience too much stress, including self-inflicted workout stress, you're body is in a chronic “fight-or-flight” state.
So your sex drive drops and your digestive processes are suppressed and your insulin levels become chronically elevated.
At the minimum, this means your body no longer fully digests your food, so it stores it as excess body fat, which is why you see an increase in belly fat and lovehandle fat among other things when you're over-stressed.
My point is this – when you find yourself in this state – which many of us, if we'll just stop long enough to evaluate our circumstances, have been in so long it just feels “normal” – it's time to change your kettlebell workouts.
Because they are actually be adding to your stressful environment.
Swinging Between Two Extremes
Now most of us will do one of two things –
1. Drop our workouts altogether because we just feel like there's too much to do and not enough time to get it done. Something's gotta give and it's gonna be the workouts – plus, I can always start again next week or next month when things settle down and I get more time…
2. Increase the frequency, intensity or sometimes both (never a good combination – in fact, it's just the opposite – a recipe for Massive Disaster) of our workouts – you know, man, I'm feeling really stressed right now I'm going to go do a bunch of Swings – no wait – Snatches – they're better for busting stress cause I always feel like I get a real good workout from those and that's what I need right now a real good workout!
Well if neither of those are good options what is?
Well that's the subject of my next post.
In it I'll tell you how you should change your kettlebell workouts when your living in “Stress Mode” this so you can –
1. Relieve that stress
2. Still make progress – lots of progress in fact
3. Reverse the “over-stressed” process
And I'll show you one of the best workout templates (which you haven't seen) that's scientifically proven to keep you making progress. And by “progress” I mean it'll both help you get stronger and leaner, even during periods of high stress, like the one you may be living in right now.
By Geoff Neupert, Master RKC, CSCS