T Nation

Can High Stress Cause You to Get Weaker?


I've been having so much trouble in the gym for a few weeks now. every now and then i will have a good session, but only in relation to my bench press or OHP. My squats are getting weaker, and weight that felt okay weeks ago i cannot do now. Deadlifts are starting to feel the same too.

I'm also just not as mentally present in the gym, feeling intimidated by weights easier than i used to.
Pretty sure my diet is on point calorie and protein wise. It isn't all that healthy right now, but the numbers are there.
My routine is madcows 5x5. doing my second cycle. having dropped the weight it feels just as hard.
Had a deload not too long ago too. entire week off.

My stress from life is at an all time high though. Family issues and work and career related ones. I'm wondering if i have been really stressed and just kind of not noticing it and ignoring it. Could high stress cause my Gym game to suffer a lot?

All advice is appreciated!


I ain’t nearly as experienced as the other guys on the thread here but I would say yes, stress is a huge factor to take into account and it could very well be affecting your progress in the gym. When was the last time you took a deload? It might be a good idea to work one in right about now. Have you been getting enough sleep? I find that my performance drops quite a fair bit when I’m having my crunch periods(exam week, etc). Good luck and I hope you figure out what’s holding you back.


Stress can be a killer in many respects. It is easy to say but difficult in practice, but to the extent you can focus only on those things over which you have control the better off you will be. Also, I have found for me that trying to confront or address as quickly as possible those things which are causing me stress the better and quicker I can move forward. Sometimes the gym can provide a break from the stress but most of the time it is rearing its head in the background so deal with the issues now and move on. best of luck!


I definitely think it can impact training. Especially indirectly. A lot of people, when stressed, won’t eat properly and that goes for both quality and quantity. I’ve always avoided stress as much as I could and I tend to postpone relatively important stuff I need to do, 90% of the time get around 8 hours of sleep, then always 9-10, if not sometimes 11-12 hours of sleep on the weekends. I think it’s important to keep stress at bay and I do, I think it helps my lifting.


Absolutely is has an effect on performance. Exactly what that effect is and the extent of the effect depends on the individual.


Your body processes different stressors via similar pathways. Stress from outside of training will diminish your ability to recover from training stress because everyone has a limited, individual recovery capacity. After even a few weeks of this deficit in recovery, your strength will be noticeably diminished. Deload by whichever methods you’d normally do so (I personally prefer a 30% reduction in training weights for a week) for as long as it takes to let your recovery catch-up.


Absolutely. I just went through a super stressful time related to a rental property I own. My squat went in the toilet. I was failing on weights that I hadn’t failed with for years. I just dropped the weight to ride out the stressful event because it will pass. Lifting for a long time will allow you to see that every trough will have a peak at some point.


It definitly can.

Saying that, using the gym as a solice and consciously taking out all your frustration on the weights can lead to some fantastic workouts.


I wouldn’t stress about it (lol)!

Seriously though, I don’t think you’re likely to lose much strength long term as long as the cause of the stress isn’t anything horrendous. If it’s just temporary issues, try a less progression-oriented program than 5x5, maybe some CAT training or a variation of the lifts (lifting from pins is always nice, or perhaps some overhead pressing in place of bench, etc.) so you don’t worry about the weight you’re lifting and can just go until you feel like you’ve maxed out your effort (rather than weight per se).

When you finally have a chance to relax a bit and push for more quantitative progress you should find you’ve actually gained strength - you just couldn’t demonstrate it under high-stress conditions.


Also, I’d like to add that daily maxing has cured me of lifting-related stress for the most part - just work as hard as you can every time you lift and progress will come, there’s no need to worry if performance drops for a while.