The only constants of physical health are that people need to be consistent in their efforts, they need to put in the work and sometimes they might even need to push a little bit.
But you, dear SOFLETE reader, are cut from a different cloth. You know what you want to do with your physical vessel before you shuffle off this mortal coil, and you know you’re not going to be able to do that without putting in the reps and trading some pain for all those gains.
But what if you didn’t actually hard charge and try to push as much as possible?
Therein lies the rub and it is my duty to convince you that you’re actually going to be able to slay more dragons by pressing the easy button rather than committing yourself to taking the long way around.
For you to understand what I’m saying, we first have to take a step into the classroom and to deepen our understanding of stress.
Most people understand stress as something to be avoided.
“Stress is bad,” they say. “Don’t deal with too much stress or you’ll snap,” they say.
But when folks begin to deepen their understanding and realize that there can be such a thing as “good stress” is when they start to frame recovery protocols as such. But to truly understand stress you have to take it a step further, to recognize the core of the idea of stress.
Stress can only be defined by the response to a stimulus, not by the stimulus itself. A tough day at work isn’t defined as stress. Rather, your reaction to the tough day is the stress.
Read that again, pause, and internalize it.
What that means is that one person’s bad stress can be another’s good stress. Still with me? Good. Because if you’re with me, the picture will start to appear for you that there is no easy or good way to define good and bad stress based on the stimulus. It all depends on the person and the context.
Hans Selye, the clean-shaven, mild-mannered endocrinologist who is considered the godfather of our modern understanding of stress, split the definition of stress into two different types: eustress and distress.
The best way to define these two types of stress is to categorize eustress as stress that the body is able to easily overcome and adapt to, whereas distress is stress that the body is either unable to adapt to or adaptable to only with great difficulty.
Contrary to popular understanding, all stress responses are not the same and the response to the same stressor can vary based on the person and the context. One person’s tempo run is another person’s recovery run. One person’s one-rep max is another person’s restorative rep work.
Now, to get back to the lede we’ve so buried.
Most of you hard chargers are consistently training in the distress zone. You’re pushing reps to failure, working beyond the point where you can maintain ideal speed, alignment, breathing, and so on. All this does is objectively ramp up the need for recovery.
Don’t take my word for it though.
Cal Dietz, head of Strength and Conditioning at the University of Minnesota, spent some time testing athletes and empirically determining how much pushing into distress affected recovery demands. The result is basically a straight line: keep things under 1-2% drop-off in velocity, and you can train twenty-four hours later. Push to 2-4% and you need forty-eight hours, 5-6% requires seventy-two hours.
Keeping your training out of distress and in eustress allows you to keep training with more frequency and ultimately more total volume. All you have to do to stay in eustress is to keep an eye on those baseline performance parameters - speed, breathing, alignment. As soon as anything shifts, stop the set or the session entirely.
In other words, keep it easy.
Think of it this way. You’re probably smart enough not to try to hit your deadlift max every training day and hope it will somehow move up. But if you’re a hard charger that’s probably exactly what you’re doing if you look at the sum total of your training session as a stressor. You’re consistently pushing too hard and you likely have the injuries and issues to show for it.
So if training in a eustress zone is so much better, why do the two types of stress matter to you?
Eventually, you’re going to find yourself taking on doses of distress. Whether it be in training, play or competition, you’re going to push beyond what’s comfortably within your limits. In fact, if your sport or job requirements push you into distress it would behoove you to purposely, occasionally train in distress. But how to dose that is going to have to be another article.
The important thing is that by knowing that any stressor can be eustress or distress, with a little bit of self-experimentation you can hone your own ideal training and recovery protocols. Once you understand that, you might find that an easy run or light deadlift session can be just as restorative as massage, sauna, breathing work or whatever your favorite modality is.
Keeping your finger on the easy button doesn’t mean you don’t need consistency and dedication in your training. You can still charge hard and constantly push yourself to new heights. But my experience training everyone from cancer patients to athletes on the world stage shows me that you can accomplish much more over the long term when you press the easy button.
David Dellanave is a lifter, coach, and owner of The Movement Minneapolis in the Twin Cities. He implements biofeedback techniques, teaching his clients, ranging from athletes to general population, to truly understand what their bodies are telling them. He writes articles to make you stronger, look better naked, and definitely deadlift more at http://www.dellanave.com/. He holds several world records, including one in the Jefferson deadlift, and his alter ego, Dellanavich from Dellanavia, has a penchant for coaching classes wearing a weightlifting singlet and speaking with a (terrible) Eastern European accent.