Stress and Training


Basic Understanding of TRAINING AND Stress:

If you or your athletes are not being physically stressed from training, you are wasting your time.  Stress is the essential factor that must be a constant in your training or your athletes’ training in order for you/them to maximize your strength potential.  Stress and the body’s mechanisms to cope with stress are amazing things and any, and everything the human body encounters causes stress.  The idea of stress as an all-encompassing stimulus was first presented as the General Adaption Syndrome (GAS) by Dr. Hans Selye in the 1950s.

By definition, GAS is the manifestation of stress in the human body as it builds over time.  What this means is that stress isn’t a single, isolated event.  It must be thought of as fluid stimulus that the human body must constantly deal with. The human body does not like change, which is why it does not like stress.  Stress is the signal to the body that something needs to change, something needs to adapt to reduce the amount of stress exerted by that stressor on the body if it were to come across that stress again.  If the stressor is large enough, it triggers adaptation.  The brain will, through hormonal response, signal the body to adapt to that stressor if the stimuli is great enough.

3 Stages of GAS:

Selye broke down GAS into three stages; alarm reaction (workout), resistance (recovery), and exhaustion (severe overtraining).

Alarm reaction (workout): This is your “fight or flight” response.  It is a strong training stimuli that is immediate, or acute, that leads to the degradation of muscle tissue and energy substrates.  These increased demands trigger endocrine responses by releasing stress hormones in the body (cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and human growth hormone).

Resistance (recovery): This stage begins after the workout and the body’s attempt to return to homeostasis, repairing the damage from the workout through an insulin response and this is referred to as the anabolic stage (muscle building).

Exhaustion (severe overtraining): This stage is defined by very high levels of stress for you or your athletes.  This is also referred to as burnout, overload, or adrenal fatigue. In this stage, the body’s endocrine system literally begins to shut down and decreased sports performance will occur.

When you put the 3 stages of GAS together, you will find that there are three possible outcomes from training.  1) If you do not train hard enough, you are will only produce low grade stress that produces a mild alarm reaction.  This does not result in any positive adaptations because the training stimuli or workloads were not stressful enough on the body to elicit a hormonal response. 2) Long bouts of high stress applied over months or years without sufficient time to recover.  Here training is so stressful and so frequent that the body does not have time to repair the damage and rebuild before the next workout. Here you are pushing your body further and further down the cliff until you fall into the canyon.  This is classified as extreme overtraining which consists of extreme mental, neural, and adrenal fatigue.  3) Short bouts of exposure to high grade stress applied over weeks to months that produces an alarm reaction response, signaling a massive, catabolic hormonal response.  This forces the body into the resistance stage, where it begins to rebuild the damaged tissue and refill metabolic stores.  Here, you push yourself ½ down the canyon, you give yourself adequate recovery time, and your physiological systems begins to rebuild and climb back up out of the canyon.


Where most of you or coaches fall short is your fear of overtraining.  When most of you think of overtraining, you are thinking about the most severe form, outlined previous that results in adrenal, physical, and neural fatigue. A more mild type of overtraining, known as overreaching, will produce drastic improvements over time.

Overreaching is characterized by training to the point of severe fatigue that begins to result in performance decrements and overtraining symptoms. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.  Exposure to these high stressors, when given adequate time to recover after, can lead to delayed effects, resulting in adaptions and resynthesis of damaged muscle tissues to levels far beyond their previous state.  This is known as supercompensation.

Overreaching will force your body to adapt to higher levels of stress than normally obtained by less stressful alarm/reaction cycles.  As a result of overreaching, your body and its physiological mechanisms go into overdrive to rebuild bigger and stronger than before.  Your body wants to make sure it can handle the that level of stress again, in order not only survive but to thrive.

Clearly, you must not overtrain yourself or your athletes to the point of severe overtraining causing adrenal, physical, and neural fatigue.  However, from time to time you must have overreaching periods to fully maximize your strength gains in training blocks.  This is why knowing your body or knowing your athlete is so important.  You do not want to throw yourself off the cliff or your athletes off the cliff.  However, you do want to tie a rope around your feet and throw yourself off reaching ½ down the canyon before you start to pull yourself up.  Once you have climbed out you will be stronger, you will be more powerful, and you will be bigger.

Best time to overreach:    

There are three times when overreaching can be very beneficial.  The first and probably the beneficial time to overreach is during your peaking phase of a meet or right before your peaking phase.  Overreach and then when tapering leading up to a meet where your body will have adequate time to heal, will result in your body supercompensating.  Then, you will hit the platform stronger than you would have otherwise.  The second-best time to plan overreaching into your program is before a planned deload.  This is for the same reasons as above.  When you have week of reduce volume and intensity you will give your body adequate time to heal and repair.  Finally, the third best time to plan overreaching into your program is before you go on a vacation or planned time away from the gym.  Again, this is for the same reasons as above.


You need to being stressing your body while you train.  You need to apply greater and greater stresses overtime with periodic times of overreaching to spur significant changes and performance improvements.  Understanding how stress impacts your performance is critical.  You should be asking, “How much stress do I need to maximize performance while minimizing the chances of severe overtraining?”  Or, in other words where is the magic balance point on the teeter totter between overreaching and overtraining.  In essence, there should never be anything “fun” about a workout where you are sitting there singing “Kumbaya” and discussing the new Starbucks drink.  Sure workouts can be fun in nature as in competitive, rowdy, and energized.  However, most workouts should end with your body feeling like you’re trying to kill it.  As long as you have planned deloads or times of less stressful workouts where you give adequate time for your body to heal and repair, you should not run into overtraining issues.  Keep in mind the stronger you are, the more fatigue and stress you are causing your body and the more frequent deloads you should have planned to allow recover and adaptions while preventing severe overtraining.  In conclusion, you should be stressing your body from week to week with more stress applied overtime.  You should have periods of overreaching built into your programs to maximize performance gains.  And you should have periods of less stressful training to fully recover and adapt.

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