What You’ll Read In This 3-Part Article
This is PART 3 of a 3-Part Article.
The intent in this article is to primarily understand stress in the context of training and exercise, and the two-way affects with mental stress. It will help you understand what is physical stress, why stress is good, how to take advantage of it, the consequences of not allowing adequate recovery, and tips on minimising chronic physical and mental stress.
PART 1 – What Is…
Importance Of Stress, What Are Stressors, How Our Body Responds & Intro Into G.A.S.
- Stress IS Life – Embrace acute stress & minimise chronic stress
- What Are Stressors – General kinds of stressors & types of Physical Stressors
- Understanding How Your Body Responds To Stress – Explaining Fight or Flight response, the significance of Hormone shifts & the beauty of the Adaptation Response
- General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) – An introduction
- What is it and the Three Phases
- A Sunbathing example
- The sum of all stressors dictates the response
- Forms & purpose of Adaptation
- The Reality That You Body Is Constantly Dealing With Stress
- Zooming Out – Seeing the bigger picture of overall life stress/stressors
PART 2 – Practical How-To – Build A Solid Foundation
Minimising Chronic Background Stress & Is your Fitness suffering from too much Exercise?
- Are You Helping Or Hurting Yourself With All The Extra Stress We Add?
- 8 Tools To Help Break Chronic Background Stress – Proven techniques & activities
- Exercise, But Not Layering on More Chronic Stress
- Parasympathetic Activities & Mindfulness
- Health Promoting Foods & Cold Showers
- Muscle Relaxation & Sleep
- Is Your Fitness Suffering From Too Much Exercise? – Is this even possible?
PART 3 – Practical How-To – Training Timing & Handling Exhaustion
Intro Into Supercompsation, Importance of Training Timing & Dealing With Exhaustion
- Supercompensation – The Art Of Using Stress For Gains
- Physical Progress Is All About Timing
- The Goldilocks Principle training response
- Different types of positive & negative compounding Supercompensation
- More often does not equals better
- How long to wait between different types of training sessions
- Identifying If You Are Overtrained, Fatigued Or Suffering From GAS Exhaustion
- Practical Guidance For Dealing With Fatigue & Exhaustion
- Getting Back On The Horse, But Doing Things Differently – How to approach a return to your goals in an optimal and healthy way
The Art Of Using Stress For Gains
As per Wikipedia – Supercompensation is the post training period during which the trained function/parameter has a higher performance capacity than it did prior to the training period.
Remember that GAS curve in PART 1, where in the Resistance Phase the body attempts to return to homeostasis and in addition adapt to handle said stressor at a higher dose in the future?
As you can see above, Supercompensation is the period of time post-workout once you body has recovered, where it super compensates and adapts. Within that window of time your fitness level has improved specific to the training you were doing.
But as you can see, there is a period of time after workout where you are significantly weaker. That’s because you’ve depleted your bodies resources and it’s in repair mode. Think about bicep curls – you can only do so much in one session before you arms get weaker and weaker. It’s odd, but going to the gym actually weakens us – in the moment.
Furthermore, you can see that the positive improvement in fitness only lasts so long, before it eventually returns to your baseline of fitness prior to the stressor of training occurred. Think about it, if you trained only once a year you wouldn’t expect to hang on to any benefits. Same with training frequency, if you don’t use it, you lose it – in time.
The body is always trying to return to the minimal baseline in order to efficiently handle your day-to-day demands. If training is no longer a demand, your body will regress and get rid of calorie-expensive tissue such as muscles.
So… It’s All About Timing To Make Progress
Pictures can paint a thousands words. As you see above, adaptation is a function of training intensity/volume. Overreach too far and the fatigue and recovery time negates the adaptation. Likewise, too little and the adaptation will be minimal. So, working just outside your comfort zone / capability in what we call Progressive Overload within Strength Training is the ideal, where recovery time is minimised whilst gains are maximised.
Compounding Supercompensation – For Better, Or Worse
OK, so we have an improved fitness level after a certain time from the initial training stimulus. Yay! However, if you want to keep that adaptation, you’re going to need to train again pretty soon, but not too soon. And herein lies the beauty (and the curse) of training – get your timing right and you build on your improved fitness AGAIN! And again. And Again.
Get your timing wrong consistently, and you compound the losses, digging yourself deeper and deeper into fatigue and whole body distress. See below graphs that describe (a) Positive, (b) Negative and (c) Null Supercompensation.
Of course, we’d all like to shoot for (a) Positive Supercompensation, where every workout or training session is perfectly timed at the point of maximum adaptation from the last session. Well, you say of course, but that is not often how people train.
Too often people find themselves in situation (b) or (c) or more commonly a mash-up of all three. They nail their timing and recovery for a period of time (a – positive), followed by too long a break (i.e. fall off the wagon – c – null) where they return to their baseline, and then smashing it again but with too high frequency, in an effort to make up for lost time. Leaving them in (b) negative supercompensation – i.e. fatigue and whole system exhaustion.
More Often Does Not Equal Better
As you can, training more often is not necessarily the key to progress. Rest and recovery is often undervalued, which leads to too many instances of Negative or Null Compensation. If you don’t allow your body to recover adequately whilst minimising background stress levels, followed by a well-timed subsequent session where you push for some progressive overload, you can find yourself spinning your wheels, or worse, getting ill from fatigue and chronic physical stressors.
And by adequate Rest and Recovery, it’s not just time away from your gym or sport. It’s all of the tools listed in PART 2 to limit chronic background stress and increase your bodies resources to recover from stressors. I would prioritise a healthy diet, adequate calories and quality sleep with some form of mindfulness to give you 80%+ benefit.
How Long To Wait Between Training Sessions?
That’s a great question, and it’s kinda complicated. It’c complicated because it depends on the energy systems, muscle groups used and level of intensity of the workout to determine when to train again for that system/muscle group or even your body as a whole.
Luckily, the graph goes a long way to help break down the answer dependant on what kind of training you are doing:
Hopefully this makes sense. For example, if you are doing intensive aerobic (CV) work, you’d need to allow 30 hours for optimal recover and improvement. If you’re doing short HIIT workouts, its about 40 hours for optimal adaptation. For Strength Training or Competition Sports, you’re looking at 2 days to perform as effectively as before, or 3 days if you want to maximise strength/power adaptation.
Identifying If You’re Overtrained, Fatigued & In GAS Exhaustion Phase (i.e. Chronic Stress)
As you would expect, symptoms of chronic exhaustion through physical stressors are very similar to mental stress. Stress can have a profound impact on the quality and longevity of your life, outlook and bodily function.
So, if you experience several/all of these symptoms, it’s time to reflect on how much physical and mental stress you may be unknowingly under. And remember GAS is a general whole system stress, so it could be GI distress through the food you eat, temperatures you endure or lack of sleep you have, and not just the exercise you do or the mental weight of life itself.
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Anxiety and agitation
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
Simplify, Declutter, Recover & Get Parasympathetic
For me, when I catch myself with some of the above symptoms, and I’m being honest with myself, it’s time to focus on some proper R&R.
Read through the Tools to Help Break The Chronic Background Stress section in PART 2 above again and give as many a go as you can. Really focus on helping your body replenish it’s resources and fully recover from fatigue.
As hard as it may sound, you may need to dial back the training for a while. This could be as simple as a Deload week where you reduce the number of days and train at 50% of normal weight/intensity. Or within that week perhaps you don’t step in the gym at all, and instead get your movement and exercise in the form of nature walks, fun outdoor games and getting busy with your hands out in the garden. Maybe you need more than a week to Deload, and your level of activity contrast will depend on how you feel before, and after a few days.
I would also look at what’s on your plate (metaphorically and literally), in your home or around you. Are you over stimulating yourself with too much news and social media? Are you mindlessly increasing your to-do list because it feels productive? Have you picked up obligations at work and with friends which are unnecessary and counter productive for you personally? Is your mind too busy with the bombardment of information and disorder? Is your desk, room or house messy and adding to the stress? These are all things you can address to simplify and declutter.
Then, Get Back On The Horse! Just Do Things Differently
Once you feel you’ve bounced back and raring to go, get yourself back in the gym/studio/pitch and get ready for greater performance both mentally and physically! Just remember, if you train too hard too frequently, you’ll find yourself back in the same situation. Instead of training being a release and a way to make you better, it can slowly wear you down again, making you less fit and potentially even ill.
But you won’t do that now! 😄 If you want to maximise every workout for performance and health benefits, make sure you respect training frequency, get adequate rest and recovery and remember that fatigue and exhaustion is the sum of all stressors of your life, so look at the bigger picture of your life.
So, go make a big impact on the world and those you care for, whilst caring for number one – yourself! #BeYourBest.
GO BACK TO PART 2 👈 PART 2 of Chronic Exercise & Life Fatigue – Are You GAS’d Out, Not Making Progress Or Stressed?
GO BACK TO PART 1 👈 PART 1 of Chronic Exercise & Life Fatigue – Are You GAS’d Out, Not Making Progress Or Stressed?
Follow this and other topic areas in our longer-form Articles series as they unfold. Comment if you have questions or ideas.