No one reading this needs me to tell them that the last several months have been stressful for almost every single person on the planet. However, due to that, I want to share something with all of you that has popped up A LOT with so many of the athletes who I am working with:
You’ve heard me say it before: stress is stress, and the body doesn’t care what the source of it is. What I mean by this is that while your brain might be able to differentiate between stress from work and stress imposed by a workout, your body only knows that stress is being imposed on it.
Everyone (yes, everyone, so this means you) has a finite amount of stress that they can handle. I love analogies and metaphors, so I often talk about this concept in terms of something physical, such as a “stress silo” or “stress reserve” or a “stress cup.” No matter the metaphor or analogy used, the concept is the same: there is only so much stress that can be “poured” into someone’s stress cup before that cup is full. If one attempts to exceed the limits of that stress cup, the cup overflows, and a mess ensues.
Over the last 4-5 months, many, many people have found that they are stressed more in their lives as a whole. The uncertainty that we are confronted with daily is extremely stressful for most people (although I would suggest trying to reduce/manage this :) ). Millions of people all over the world are conducting their jobs in a way that they’ve never expected to. Millions of parents were forced to become full-time parents, teachers, daycare providers, AND employees simultaneously every single day. Still countless other millions have not been able to visit their friends or loved ones in many, many months.
Yes, it’s safe to say that all of these things would make even the most laid-back human feel some level of stress. And when this is happening, the best thing we can do for ourselves is this: acknowledge it.
No matter how much we might wish for things to be different, it’s so important to honestly assess how things are. And when we have a higher level of stress in our lives, that means that we have less capacity/bandwidth for other stressors in our lives. For the purposes of this conversation, the main “other” stressor that I am going to address is a training plan/the workouts contained therein, but this principle applies to any “other” stressors.
For many athletes, times like this (when life stressors are high) are not the best times to take on additional training volume, specificity, or intensity. Therefore, one’s overall training plan should be adjusted to accommodate for this. Consistently moving throughout the week and taking time for self-care is incredibly important, but it’s very okay if your training plan doesn’t contain “hard” or “intense” workouts right now. Finding joy in what you do should be the number one goal.
The majority of you reading this participate in sport or do workouts because they add to your life and make you feel good. We want to keep that going for you; we don’t want your training to detract from your life and make it feel worse.
You are not weak if you scale your workouts and training plan to a level that makes sense for your life. I’ll say it again: you are not weak for doing this. It doesn’t mean that you are less of an athlete. Truly, consistently moving and getting workouts in is enough. The benefits of consistent movement and exercise cannot be understated; it’s been proven time and time again to be one of the most effective antidotes to stress (and depression/anxiety).
When stress levels are high, as they are for so many people across the planet right now, we simply cannot take on a ton of extras. This is very okay. Be honest with yourselves about this, accept it, and adjust your expectations of yourself in your workouts/training plan accordingly so you can set yourself up for success. You deserve to feel good each and every time you take time for yourself. So please, do me a solid, and set yourselves up for success! :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.