Eustress and Distress

June 22, 2008

The following is one of the most important guidelines when in comes to exercise. So important, in fact, that it applies to every workout you will every do.It is the concept of distress and eustress. Distress is negative stress such as being sick or going through a painful breakup. Eustress is positive ‘stress’ such as accomplishing a goal, being particularly excited about something, or being in a loving relationship. Distress and eustress can come from all parts of your life. Your job, diet, relationships, etc…can all add to your total stress level (positive or negative). Exercise is actually a mix of distress and eustress – but the most immediate effect of a reasonable demanding workout is distress. Each time you plan a workout routine, or begin a workout session, you need to take into account your overall stress level. For example, if you do not have to work very many hours, have access to a great diet, are in a wonderful loving relationship, and are getting plenty of rest every night, you may be able to handle a workout routine consisting of 2 workouts a day – five days a week. If you have a physically demanding job, at which you work long hours, and are going through a ‘tough time’ personally, then the best routine for you may consist of only two workouts a week.

This concept is very important and easily illustrated in the following real life situations.

Situation #1 When I was a junior in college, around the beginning of the year, I had a somewhat demanding workout regimen – I lifted weight and ran 5-6 days a week – and I did all these at a high intensity. I was getting good results, I wasn’t huge, but I was really cut. Unfortunately I also had a demanding school load and I was right on the brink of over training (a lot of distress). Then it happened – I had a dose of personal stress, and it was enough to throw me over the edge. I became sick and had almost zero energy for a couple weeks to a month.

Situation #2 I was studying abroad in Spain. Classes were short and easy. Everyday life was fun and relaxing; I also had good nutrition. I had a good supply of eustress. I lived near gym and trained consistently 4-5 days a week. The training was great; I made gains, and never felt over trained or exhausted.

Situation #3 After leaving Spain, I moved back to San Diego. In San Diego I began training very hard. Life was not the stressful outside of training – but the exercises I was doing were very hard on my body and was not giving myself enough rest. I eventually injured my shoulder. My shoulder joint basically had much more distress then eustress (in the form of giving the muscle a break and chance to heal).

Situation #4 (The current situation) I have a very busy, yet somewhat irregular work schedule. Because of the irregularity, some weeks are harder then others. Because of this, and my experience with over training, I know that some weeks I can perform five to six workouts and some I can only perform two. My results are good so far. I have avoided overtraining, but am still making gains. All in all, I am very happy.

So, before your next workout or before planning your workout schedule, take some time to think about the sources of both distress and eustress in your life and how they may affect your available energy for exercise.

This article was featured in the weight managment and fitness forum carnival.

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