Rest and Stress in Strength Training

Author: Abby Resek

A couple months ago, while I was getting treated for an ongoing case of tendinitis, someone suggested to me that carrying stress was probably making it worse, and that I should just ‘go with the flow’ more. 

I think he was mostly kidding, and he was certainly right about the stress, but still – maybe one of the least helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received. So, before I start giving any advice or sharing any personal experiences regarding stress, let me say that I know: it is NOT that easy. 

I think most of us know from our own lives that stress can take many different forms, some good, some bad, some complicated, some self-inflicted, some unavoidable. For the past four years, I balanced jobs and internships and school, and I like to think I did a pretty good job of it. I worked hard, I produced some things I’m really proud of during school, and I held it together for the various jobs or internships I was working at during that time. But, now that I’ve graduated, I truly feel the weight of everything I was carrying during that time. All types of stress, good and bad. 

In a word, it was a lot, and I wasn’t getting enough rest. Sleep, days off, mental rest, you name it – I was missing it. And now that I am getting more of that rest, and my day-to-day life has a more sustainable amount of stress, I realize how much that was affecting me. 

Despite everything I had on my plate, there were areas in my life that I felt weren’t going well enough. Namely, my own strength training: despite how much time I was putting into it (and time was not something I had an abundance of), I wasn’t getting better. And that was frustrating. 

My natural response was to work harder – to train more often, try harder, etc. I was neglecting rest, over-training, and wearing myself down, and the more I did it, the more tired I got, and the more frustrated — a vicious cycle was born.

Then, just last week, about 6 months after finishing school, I hit a deadlift personal best. Twice. In the same day. And the biggest difference between now and then is that now, I’m doing less. 

Training fewer times a week. Spending less time under stress. My increased work hours are offset by the absence of schoolwork and tutoring. Instead, I’m sleeping more, I have a regular weekend, I have opportunities for rest and I’ve been able to take them. 

Truth be told, I’ll probably always carry more stress than maybe ‘necessary’. I have trouble turning my brain off, I create things for myself to worry about – and, of course, I have real responsibilities that cause unavoidable stress. Expecting myself to live a stress-free life is unreasonable, and not something I’d want even if it were possible. 

But what I can get better at is forgiving myself when I can’t do everything. Because no one can do everything. I can learn to recognize when stress in one area of my life is affecting another, and either try to mitigate that, or just be kinder to myself about it. My body handled an amazing amount of stress, and now that I’ve had time to rest and recover, I’ve been able to push myself in other ways again. 

Again, I can’t (and won’t) ever tell you just to not be stressed. But I do know a couple of things that have helped me (or would have helped):

–       Take the rest, in whatever form you need. Overtraining can set you back, and even though it feels like doing nothing, resting is in fact doing something really, really good for you

–       Be patient with yourself. It took me 6 months to start getting past my stress-induced plateau, and I’m still not totally over it. I’ll certainly be experiencing more setbacks and plateaus in my future, and that’s okay too 

–       Try to recognize when stress is a factor. If I had been able to admit to myself that stress was preventing me from getting stronger, maybe I could have reframed the way I thought about my strength training. I could have told myself that training a couple times a week was enough, and stepped away from trying to get ‘better’ for a while

I think the expression “you’re your own worst critic” is usually right; we tend to expect a lot of ourselves. And we usually do put ourselves through a lot, and at the end of the day that’s probably a good thing. But, if and when you get the chance, take a step back and remind yourself that you can’t do everything. Take the rest – you deserve it. 

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash


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