Saturday, April 7, 2012

Flexibility and the Stress Monkey

If you’re anything like me, stress is a daily fact of life. I used to feel I was immune to it. I would put my head down and barrel through it like a first world tank through a third world thatched hut. Case in point, I received an academic excellence award in USAF engine maintenance school while my oldest child was in laying in a NICU several hundred miles away, having been born nearly three months premature. (He’s a fine, healthy, almost ten year old today.)  

By comparison, I’m a blubbering wreck now. Ten years have not improved my capacity to “just leave it at work”. When I get really stressed I lose sleep, sometimes I forget to eat. My mental focus dissolves into staring at a wall for much of the evening or worse, the T.V. or internet. One thing is certain, I need to redevelop those coping skills (or possibly just the youthful ignorance) that I used to have. But that’s only incidental to what I’m writing about today.

Stress kills performance. The physical effects of mental stress are well documented. So how do you improve in the gym with a crushing load of work related stress on your shoulders? I think I may have an answer.

First, you have to consider the impact of stress on your ability to recover from and adapt to your workouts. This is the time when less and even less than that really are more. Now is the time to go low volume. Now is the time to keep it stone-axe simple.

In the book Easy Strength we are presented with a resource that helps greatly in balancing strength training with the demands of sport specific training that all athletes face. Go read it if you haven’t already. Understand this folks; if you don’t make money competing, your life is the sport. Consider that while I get to the second part.

The other key is flexibility. No, not touching your toes. We’re talking about flexibility in the sense that you can work your training into your life. If getting to the gym for a two hour workout adds stress to an already ulcer-ific day then it simply won’t work long term. Either you will break or, more likely, you’ll quit. This is where many of the principles and ideas in Easy Strength come into play for the everyday athlete. Coach Stevo sums it up nicely here. Of the many programs, workouts and ideas presented in the text, the 40 Day Workout (Even Easier Strength) seems to apply itself especially well to this idea.

I’ve bent Rule 10 into a pretzel with this program and still had good results. I’ve done the program as written and had good results. I’ve split it into two workouts a day and, you guessed it, good results. That’s the kind of flexibility the stress monkey needs. 

The only problem with this program is that the majority of people will see it as far too little when in reality, it’s just enough. This is the kind of program that 20 year old guys look at and ask, “When do you work your arms?” I’ve seen it happen. Let me just say this, if you can find a way to bench and do pull ups without using your arms, I’ll find you a program with nothing but skull crushers and curls two days a week.

So this is my review, I’ve finished two rounds of 40 days. Like the man says, I’ve set PR’s every few days after about day 20 both times. To the point that adding five pounds on 5-3-2 days or ten pounds on Singles day is almost a given. All of this under a load of crushing stress similar to situations that have made me physically ill in the past. Add the right diet (in my case keto) and body composition improves. I threw in easy runs as suggested by Pavel in the book and improved my 1.5 mile run time reasonably while improving my strength significantly, something that isn’t supposed to happen. Hey, my old all time record in the power clean is now an easy set of five and on top of that it's an easy double in the clean and jerk. After my first round of 40 days I was able to deadlift 405 for a double even though I had never pulled anything heavier than 375 in my life and nothing heavier than 350 in the last six months. That’s progress my friends. 

Don’t write this off as too little and certainly don’t write it off as something that only applies to athletes. Especially if you live with stress. This is a book and a program worth everyone’s consideration.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up. I started following this program for much the same reason. Stress was beating me down and my workouts beat me down further. I got to where all of my non-lifting time was spent moving around like an old man (and me only 41!). Today marks day 17 of my first round but I can already tell that this program will be a keeper.