In the upcoming TSTM blog posts, we are going to present a whole new way of understanding training, performance, conditioning, health and fitness.  We are going to look at our body’s inherent job of maintaining homeostasis. We will also talk about the human body's energy equation concept (something I’m learning from Joel Jamieson's BioForce Certified Conditioning Coaches Course), in terms of the body's ability to produce energy and expend energy. 

We continually placing our bodies under high levels of stress (sympathetic nervous system) - just about everything we do in our daily lives has an impact on our energy equation and our metabolism. Just sitting at your desk and thinking can use over 700calories, the brain requires a lot of energy to think. Physical activity is a hugely energy intensive stressors as the muscles, and the brain, are needed to coordinate movement and meet the demands of the training session/competition. 

When we eat poorly (cut calories, don’t eat enough quality nutrient-dense foods), we affect our metabolism and force our body to tap into reserve energy stores (lean muscle mass breakdown, fat metabolism, down-regulation of certain hormones (like you reproductive hormones)) to maintain energy balance in the body. 

The concept of “move more and eat less” is not only flawed, but it also has serious negative impacts on the energy equation, strength, power, metabolism, health, wellness and longevity. Overtraining and under-recovery impacts the human body's energy equation due to large amounts of time spent in a sympathetic nervous system  ("fight or flight” - energy expenditure) state and very little time spent in a parasympathetic nervous system ("rest and recover” - energy production) state. Poor quality sleep also impacts our brain function and performance.

After your workout/competition, you need to be able to switch from sympathetic (energy expenditure) to the parasympathetic (energy production) to improve training adaptation and recovery.

After your workout/competition, you need to be able to switch from sympathetic (energy expenditure) to the parasympathetic (energy production) to improve training adaptation and recovery.

Homeostasis - The central body's drive to regulate and maintain a variety of body functions within particular ranges, so you stay alive.   Everything from blood pressure, body temperature, blood sugar levels, and blood pH levels must be kept within a specific range so that your brain and vital organs can function correctly.  If any of these vital parameters end up outside of the specific ranges, the whole system can quickly fall apart, shut down, and possibly die.

Your body needs a certain amount of energy for biological functions, to survive and to stay healthy.  This is what most of us know a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR).  To make sure things run smoothly the body relies on a vastly complex and interconnected web of sensors.  These sensors provide a constant stream of information to the brain to help us manage everything from hormone levels, neurotransmitters, blood sugar levels, body temperature, and oxygen levels. All of these systems must work together to deliver the energy required by the cells and vital organs to function and survive.  Everything must stay within a specific range so that your metabolism can produce the energy your body requires to perform and stay alive.

Stress - in the biological term, stress is defined as the disruption of homeostasis, and thus a stressor is anything that can cause a disruption.

Even mental stress is a stressor that places a considerable demand on our energy stores. Mental stress has the same physical impact as physical stress because it triggers the same stress response.  This may seem a little surprising, but it's true, the major hormone response to mental stress is exactly the same as the major hormone response to physical stress. 

Stress Response - is the body's coordinated effort to maintain homeostasis in the face of the stressors we encounter, and it's entirely vital to our survival.  Studies have confirmed that our bodies rapidly increase certain hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help mobilise energy to where it is needed (fight or flight response).

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The stress response and the hormone release has the ability to fuck up a lot of other hormones in your body. High levels of stress can cause insulin resistance and lead to diabetes.   Yes, adding too much high-intensity training (physical stress) into your lifestyle can be very unhealthy, the opposite of what most people think.

No matter the source of the stress, the body's stress response follows the same path:

  • Regardless of the actual stressor, the pattern of the stress response remains largely the same.  This means that whether we run, lift weights, do aerobic work, compete at sport, depriving ourselves of sleep, expose ourselves to extreme hot or cold temperatures; we see the same hormone rise and the same sympathetic nervous system response to deal with the stressor, regardless of what it is.

  • When we expose ourselves to the same stressors over-and-over again, we get the same response: “non-specific stress response.” This is also known as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) to describe the three stages of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion that the body goes through when faced with repeated stress.  If you don't take enough rest days in your training week you are not helping your body recover, you are simply adding more layers of stress on top of the existing stress.

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Understanding how the stress response impacts training and recovery is important to maximise your results from training.  Your goal in the gym should be to execute minimal effort for maximum return, not to "work harder" and train until you fatigued.  Adaptation is about balancing the energy equation and making sure the body has the energy needed to train, recover, survive and reproduce.  Using tools like Heart Rate Variable (HRV) can help us monitor the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and our bodies' readiness to train. We will talk more about HRV in future posts.

Your health and wellness primarily dictate your fitness and performance. Illness and disease are at polar opposite ends of the continuum to health and performance, and the typical denomination that pushes us to either end of the continuum is stress.  

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On one side of the continuum we use stress in the form of training to develop our body and mind into a machine capable of extraordinary physical accomplishments.  On the other side we expose ourselves to stress in the forms of lack of sleep, mental anxiety, poor nutrition, alcohol and other drugs, and eventually, we can end up sick, diseased, broken down, or even dead.

Hopefully, you now understand that the difference between each end of the continuum has nothing to do with the type of stress applied to the body, the amount and the frequency of stress are just as important, if not more important.   Even too much of a “good stress" like training can have harmful effects on your health if there is an imbalance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activities in life.  Remodelling lean muscle tissue to be bigger, stronger, and more efficient requires a significant amount of energy. The more stress you place on the body, the more energy required to recover from that stress, and the more time you need to spend in a parasympathetic state.  Going back to the gym before you recover is pointless and can actually lower the adaptation response from training. Yes, it can increaase your body fat percentage and lower your strength. 

For example, chronic overtraining (constantly in a state of sympathetic nervous system activation) can be just as bad, if not worse, for you than doing no training at all.  People who overtrain and continuously beat themselves up over weeks/months/years in the name of “health and fitness” often end up in poor health later in life with chronic illness and aching joints.

We need to learn to manage the amount of stress we place on our body, as well as our body's ability to handle stress. Professional athletes can handle higher levels of physical stress than those of us who have a typical 9-5 job.  Athletes do not have the same levels of daily mental stress placed on their bodies.  How you handle stress plays a significant role in whether you end up achieving your goals (sports performance, strength, speed, power, fat loss, improved health, etc.), or you moving further away from your goals.

Understanding what is happening on the inside of your body is far more critical than what is happening on the outside.  Which end of the continuum are you shooting for?  What price are you willing to pay to achieve your goals? Is it even possible to achieve your goals with you current energy dequasion?  Is more stress better (physical or mental)? Is more training better?  We must learn to listen to the whispers, the messages that our body is trying to share with us, before we start hearing the screams (dysfunction and disease).

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No matter the source of the stress, the body's stress response follows the same path:

  • Regardless of the actual stressor, the pattern of the stress response remains largely the same.  This means that whether we run, lift weights, do aerobic work, compete at sport, deprive ourselves of sleep, expose ourselves to extreme hot or cold temperatures; we see the same hormone rise and the same sympathetic nervous system response to deal with the stressor, regardless of what it is.

  • When we expose ourselves to the same stressors over-and-over again, we get the same response: “non-specific stress response.” This is also known as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) to describe the three stages of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion that the body goes through when faced with repeated stress.  If you don't take enough rest days in your training week you are not helping your body recover, you are simply adding more layers of stress on top of the existing stress.