What is Strength Training Part 2: The Ill Effects of Stress



In part one of my “What is Strength Training?” series; I discussed a bare bones plan for the beginner to get started on a strength training regimen.

The obvious question at this point would be: how long should you keep training at this low intensity. My answer would be – a month. To some a month may seem like a long time, to others it may not seem long enough. Time is relative really, based on how patient or impatient you are. Most strength training programs are broken down into month to month increments. A month is a well-defined measure. A month is more defined than let’s say, for example:  changing your programming based on how your body feels, or increasing weight or reps because the current weight is getting light or the current rep scheme is feeling too easy. Plus due to our calendar driven psyche it’s easier to wrap our heads around days, weeks, and months.

Before we move further down the path of time spent on training and programming, let’s go back to another subject, mentioned in part one – stress. This warrants further discussion as it will be a major factor in determining the success of your training.

When the body is subjected to stress, several things occur:

  1. Adrenaline levels jump up causing tension in the muscles, which increases reflexive response and protects us from injury.
  2. Increased production of stress hormones: adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol. This causes and increase in heart rate and blood pressure as well as blood vessel dilate to accommodate the increase in blood flow.
  3. Breathing rate increase, sometimes to the point of hyperventilating. This is a result of the cardiovascular systems increased need for oxygen resulting from the increased heart rate.
  4. The nervous system starts all the processes listed above by initiating the “fight or flight” response which is created by the (SNS) sympathetic nervous system.


This response is one of the last vestiges of our basic, animal instincts, inherited from our ancient ancestors as an automated response to threats as a means of preserving the species. Without it the human race would have become extinct a long time ago. Sometimes you may wonder if some of us were born without it, as seems to be demonstrated by the YouTube video of that guy jumping off the second floor of a building with his only a skateboard. That my friend would be a concept labeled as “Death of the dumbest” which is the opposite of another concept known as “Survival of the fittest”.


  1. Next on the stress ladder is the effect on the digestive system. Basically, during stress, the digestive system wants to shut down so the body can send more blood to the brain and extremity’s. Guess what happens if you have a belly full of food during a stress response? Well, since the body wants to divert energy to more importance functions, the digestive system will try and get rid of that food, quickly, either by use of one exit or another. I’ll let you use your imagination in determining what those exits are.


These responses to stress can be a good thing. If we didn’t have this automatic response we would be unable to handle any stressful event and we would go into shock and most likely die. But too much stress or chronic stress can be very bad and especially bad for building strength and muscle.


You may be wondering why I’m focusing so much on stress. You don’t care about stress. You just want to get big and strong. I get it but bear with me because managing stress correctly can help you get big and strong and the better you manage stress the faster you will get big and strong. Did you notice that I threw the word faster in there? Don’t be deceived. By faster, I meant a couple of years versus several years. Getting strong still takes a while but you can speed up the process.


How can stress thwart building strength and muscle?


Let’s go back to the common stressors I listed in part one:


  1. Money – it’s rare that you run into someone who doesn’t stress out about money nowadays. Money is on just about everyone’s mind. I, myself, do not know anyone that doesn’t think about money. Money funds just about every aspect of life: buying groceries to eat, buying fuel for our vehicles, mortgage payments to have a roof over our heads, a car payment so we can get back and forth to work so we can make more money, taxes (a whole stressor unto itself), medical insurance (don’t get me started), children, learning i.e. college tuition, trade school, certifications, etc., retirement, aging parents…. actually money seems to be the main stressor to which all of the other stressors I listed are related. I’m getting stressed right now just thinking about it!
  2. Mental stressors- These would include, but are not limited to, money and everything else related to it: marriage, relationships, work, school, children, etc.; these are all pretty common stressors that most everyone deals with so I don’t feel a need to go into detail about them. All mental stressors can eventually manifest themselves with physical symptoms, if they are not mitigated.
  3. Physical stressors – A physical injury can occur as a result of chronic (repetitive event) or instantaneous (single, traumatic event) exposure to a physical stressor. In my opinion running a marathon is a chronic physical stressor and that’s why I will always strive to avoid it. On the other hand, getting hit by a Mack truck is an example of an instantaneous physical stressor and I strive to avoid that also.


Injuries causes by chronic stressors are most often referred to overuse injuries. Examples of overuse injuries would include:


  1. Tennis elbow
  2. Tendonitis
  3. Carpet tunnel
  4. Runners knee

Injuries caused by instantaneous physical stresses are most often referred to as acute injuries. Examples of acute injuries would include:

  1. Fractures
  2. Sprains
  3. Strains
  4. Dislocations

Okay now we know how stress can affect the body and the mind. How does stress affect performance in the weight room?

One could assume that the list of injuries would obviously effect perform in strength training but it goes much deeper than that.

Stay tune to my blog as I delve further into the minutiae of stress and strength training in my next article.

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