Stress Blog 1200×675

Training Stress vs. Life Stress

BY Andrew Simmons

Regardless of its source, your body responds to all stress the same way. Here's how you can train hard no matter what you're going through.

Stress is never an isolated phenomenon—it’s usually the product of the cumulative ups and downs of life. Many of us turn to endurance athletics as an opportunity to distract ourselves from everyday pressure, but what happens when your sport begins to add to that pressure? Here are some ways to get high-quality training during a high-stress day. It is possible to turn frustration and stress into a fruitful outcome!

This is your body on stress

When you become stressed, your blood pressure increases, your breathing rate quickens, and your adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone that regulates the fight or flight response. Your body is essentially preparing to defend itself from a saber-toothed tiger. The body doesn’t see stress with more than one lens, and has just one learned response: heightened panic. But tapping into those survival resources can often cause burnout, fatigue, and decreased performance.

Compartmentalizing stressors

To mitigate that survival response, avoid allowing stress to build over an entire day. You can do this by creating a separate mental space (even just a little) for your workout. Just take five minutes (yes, you have that much time) in your car, in a chair, in the lobby of the gym, or in some corner of your home to take some deep breaths and focus your mind on your training. This will keep the stress of training from adding to the stress of your other responsibilities.

Other tools for better workouts under stress:

  • Power naps A 20-minute mental checkout can refresh you and bring your heart rate down. Remember, this is not a remedy for a chronic lack of sleep.
  • Breathing focus — In a workout or as part of your transition to your workout, focus on taking eight to 12 long, deep belly breaths. This will help you hit reset, lower your heart rate, and help bring your mind back to center.  
  • Guided imagery —  Shifting your focus to training can be hard with your mind clouded with thoughts, projects, and deadlines. Imagery can help refocus your efforts. Picture exactly how the last lap on the track will feel, the big sprint of the workout, or moving smoothly in the water. This has a calming effect that can help narrow your focus.

All of these tools can be used as part of your daily and pre-race strategy for success. You can imagine that these tools combined can be quite powerful as well. Life is full of stressors, but training doesn’t have to be one of them!

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About Andrew Simmons

Andrew Simmons is a USATF Level 2 and TrainingPeaks Level 2 certified coach and the founder/head coach of Lifelong Endurance. Athletes who want to improve their race times in distance running have found major success with his Individual Coaching and Training Plans. Andrew resides in Denver, CO, where he still trains as a competitive amateur. Follow Coach Andrew on Facebook and Twitter.

Visit Andrew Simmons's Coach Profile