Stress Beating Workouts

Workout Plans

I believe in the power of positive thinking. There should be no room in our lives for either negative thoughts or negative people. However, we also need to live in the here and now, and right at this moment in time life can be pretty tough and stressful. We are living in startling times – record property declines, record stock market falls, rapidly rising unemployment, and the only growth business is in debt consolidation! The news is full of doom and gloom, and it has been drilled into us that nobody is immune from the financial and moral catastrophe that is the credit crunch. It should then come as no surprise that stress related illnesses and all of their knock on effects on our personal and professional lives are being seen more and more often, and that people are seeking ways to vent their frustrations and ease their troubles. The gym has long been popularly perceived as the place to come to let off steam and many a personal trainer will tell you that a hard workout will help alleviate stress, but perception and reality are not always the most intimate of bedfellows and it behooves us to take a closer examination of stress, what it actually means to the body, and how we can alleviate it both sensibly and healthily.

Stress and your Workouts

First of all let us be clear that stress is not the total evil that we often mistake it for. It is best regarded as a sympathetic nervous system response to mental or physical challenges. Our bodies use cortisol for injury repair, energy production, and even memory support. Without stress we are nothing more than catatonic vegetables! In fact, we need a certain stress to force our bodies to positively adapt to a given stimulus such as weight training.
Consequently, a workout should provide a healthy individual, with a clear “unstressed” mind and body, what the father of Adaptation Theory, Hans Selye, called eustress (optimal, positive stress). He stated that stress should be seen as an inverted “U” curve of eustress running into distress (negative stress).
So far so good for those of you who like to blow off steam by pounding the iron. Where things start to get tricky however is when you relentlessly pile one stress after another. Stress has a culmative impact upon the body – too much mental and physical stress can both combine to send us the wrong side of the curve into “distress” and the consequent raised cortisol and adrenalin levels and all the negative health implications with which they are associated.

This means that contrary to the misconception that high intensity workouts will ease stress, the prescription for dealing with an overly stressful life is not to increase it with stressful, overly intense workouts in the gym. Not what you expected a personal training gym rat like me to write.

Although some hard work can be done we must balance out the sympathetic nervous system stress with parasympathetic work such as meditation and yoga.

How to Really Workout to Beat Stress


The “ultimate stress busting workout” for the average man would be 2 days per week of resistance and interval exercise and 2 days per week of a low intensity activity such as stretching, walking, or leisurely swimming.


Your workout by workout breakdown would look something like this:

Day 1 – Strength/Sympathetic
Group paired exercises together. For example A1 and A2 should be performed as a superset, in an A1 – A2, A1 – A2 fashion.
A 1: Flat Dumbell Press – 5 sets of 5 reps, rest 90 seconds and then go to A2.
A2: Bench Dumbell Rows (resting chest on a 60 degree incline bench) – 5 sets of 5 reps, rest 90 seconds and then go to A1
B1: Push Ups – 3 sets of 12 reps. If you are strong enough then perform the negative component (lowering) of the exercise with a 5 second tempo. Rest 75 seconds and then go to B2.
B2: Pull Ups – 3 sets of 8 reps. If you are strong enough then perform the negative component (lowering) of the exercise with a 5 second tempo. Rest 75 seconds and then go to B1.
C1: Abdominal Crunches – 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest 75 seconds between sets. Add weight if 12 reps are easy.

Day 2 – Recovery/Parasympathetic
Ideal exercise would be to go for a long walk (60 minutes) in the great outdoors. You can replicate this by strolling on a treadmill or taking it fairly easy on a stationary bike.

Day 3 – Circuit/Sympathetic
Four circuits of the following:
20 Burpees / 20 Squat Thrusts / 20 Sit Ups / 20 Push Ups
Rest 2 minutes between circuits and when you can finish this workout in under 20 minutes add 2 more reps to each exercise and continue to progress in that manner each time you achieve under the 20 minute mark.

Day 4 – Recovery/Parasympathetic
45-60 minutes of Yoga or meditation. If you can’t get to a Yoga class there are scores of great Yoga DVDs available.

Day 5 – Strength/Sympathetic
Group paired exercises together. For example A1 and A2 should be performed as a superset, in an A1 – A2, A1 – A2 fashion.
A 1: Front Foot Elevated Dumbell Split Squats – 5 sets of 5 reps, rest 90 seconds and then go to A2.
A2: Dumbell Deadlifts – 5 sets of 5 reps, rest 90 seconds and then go to A1
B1: Weighted Overhead Swings – 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest 75 seconds and then go to B2.
B2: Dumbell Squats – 3 sets of 15 reps. Rest 75 seconds and then go to B1.
C1: Abdominal Planks – 3 sets of 60 second isometric holds. Rest 75 seconds between sets.

Day 6 – Recovery/Parasympathetic
Ideal exercise would be to go for a long walk (60 minutes) in the great outdoors. You can replicate this by strolling on a treadmill or taking it fairly easy on a stationary bike.

Day 7 – Complete Rest
It’s the Sabbath, have a proper rest!

Conclusion


Although we are taught that hard work will see us achieve all our goals, in the case of your body it is definitely more apt to work smarter, not harder. Heed this advice in these challenging times and your energy levels and overall body composition will thank you for it. 


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