How Do You Lift When Life Brings the Stress?

Ok folks, life is getting real. Looking for how you all approach the gym in times like this. Bad things happen, Does intensity help you heal mentally, or do you back off?

My mother passed away 6 weeks ago (hospice care, was not a shock but still exceptionally painful). I’m 45, married with 4 kids and self-sufficient. We knew she was in bad shape, we knew this was coming, and we weren’t dependant on her for anything financially.

I took a couple weeks off work, only lifted for a couple days during that time. I spent most of that time to care for the family and myself. Work is now pulling overtime and I’m the plant manager here, so it’s fast paced and fairly intense. Thankfully, this is a good place to work. I have excellent coworkers and work for a genuinely honorable business owner.

But between work and family (and other family issues beyond what I’m able to discuss here) , my mind has taken a beating. If I slow down with life, the problems pile up.

I cannot tell if I need to slow down with the gym to maybe once a week, or ramp it back up.

I’m not a competitive lifter nor what anyone would consider a true intermediate, but my tendency in the gym is to ride the line between appropriate and excessive intensity. I lift usually 3-4 days per week (PPL). Usually a good intense session feels like damn good therapy to me. Good solitude with my own thoughts too.

But I’m struggling hard with the motivation right now.Lately, I get off work and sit in the parking lot trying to talk myself into going in. Sometimes I go home instead, sometimes I don’t.

Some days I feel like a gym monster. Strong, with mountains of reserve, and feel great the day after. Other days I can hardly get past the warmup. I cannot see a pattern. I only know what kind of day it will be when I get started.

I’m struggling to get a real workout more than twice a week right now.

I’m eating fine, getting a consistent 7-8 hr sleep, and drinking a lot of water, and staying MOSTLY away from sugar and simple starches. No gear, only using creatine, taurine, D3/K2 and Olmesartin for BP. BP stays normal-ish.

When life gets like this, what do y’all do? Do you need the intensity/frequency in the gym to help heal? Or do you cut back for a while?

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It’s clear you’re a dedicated lifter whose gotten into the habit of working hard. This tells me you’re not at risk of falling off the wagon permanently if you take time off or reduce training frequency.

Maybe it’d be best if you planned a very intentional deload. Replace some of your workouts with something you’re needing more: time with your family, time walking out in nature, anything that’s going to give you energy instead of drain you mentally.

Sitting in a parking lot trying to talk yourself into something is another form of stress you don’t need.

So don’t. If you’re really wanting to be in the gym as many days a week as you were, maybe you could just do mobility sessions where all you do is a warm-up and some stretching. Then go home. Don’t guilt yourself into more. If you happen to feel like doing something else, go for it.

Twice a week is a total win when things get rough!

You’ve been so on top of your fitness for so long that this disturbance in your workouts has thrown you off a little, but don’t be fooled. You’ve got it under control. Just allow yourself to ease up for a season and you’ll make a huge comeback when you’re ready.

I scale back to a couple workouts a week (or just mobility sessions) and do more walking.

Keep up with those problems but don’t let exercise become one of them. It should be therapeutic as you mentioned. I don’t know your real name, but I did pray for you. Hope things get easier.


I’m probably the last person on earth that should be giving any type of life advice, but…

I’m usually able to maintain my lifting when life gets crazy. A lot of times when I don’t feel like going, I just remind myself of my “why”. As cliché as that term is, reminding myself of my specific reason for going helps me; I have a very compelling reason for wanting get as strong as possible. I also motivate myself during these times by reminding myself how hard it is to build all that strength back up after I lose it. I don’t know if lifting is “therapy” for me or not, but my wife is 100% convinced that it is. That’s why she’s not upset that I spend so much time doing it.

That being said, there are no rules or laws that say you have to go to the gym all the time. If it helps and you want to do it, then go. If it stresses you out even more to try and talk yourself into it, then just skip it. The weights will always be there when you do feel like it.

I don’t know if this answers your question, but hang in there, man. Things will get better.


I will always lift even if the zombie apocalypse comes because I need it

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I always train first thing in the morning, upon waking. You can’t skip the thing you do first. And then it’s done and the rest of my day is so much better by comparison.

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Have you considered changing your training modality? Get into a completely different style of training where the numbers don’t matter right now. This could be changing all your exercises, getting into more performance-based stuff, or maybe just moving into different planes of motion. Try to think of something that will attract you to the gym. Don’t stress over the days you can’t get in. I believe any form of training can be healthy escapism. Doing something new means you’ll progress super fast and that can be the motivation to make you want to keep going.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t make it. Don’t feel bad if you’re inconsistent. You do whatever feels best for you in the moment. The iron will always be waiting there for you when you want it.


I’m a person of habit so stress can affect my blood pressure, sleep, appetite or how much i have fun training but it doesn’t affect how my life goes the way it goes. The quality of things gets affected, but i have never skipped more than a day or two of eating, a night or two of sleep, and exactly the same - a session or two of training. Unless you don’t have legs or arms anymore, there isnt really a reason to change your daily plans too much. Move stuff around, adapt and keep doin what you do.

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The more in a good place I am, the more my training is very goal oriented and generally intense, when I’ve really not been in such a good place it becomes much more about maintaining the lifting habit feeling soothed by all those lovely endorphins.

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Cdep89 Actually yes. The week she passed, I did a couple days of very light weight 50-100 rep sets on upper body stuff and did a less-crazy version on leg day that was about the same approach. It was different enough and it felt great.

The couple week after, I switched to a 2 day split. Then went back to PPL.

Mostly did all that just because it was different enough that it was fun and I needed to focus on it. It was quite helpful.

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Replying so i can remember to come read this thread when i get the chance.
Im definitely in some stressful places right now.

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If training is a stress reducer for you, which I think you mentioned, maybe upping your frequency would actually help.

I like @cdep89’s suggestion to do different things. Pick sessions for which you don’t have a “bar” or expectation.

If you work 5-6 days a week, and those are high-stress days, it may actually help to go to the gym each of those days. Only go for half an hour at a time, though, and only do what you “want” vs what you should do.

One kind of fun thing is to just get 100 reps total on a bodypart however you want: 1 set of 100 or 100 sets of 1. You can use whatever equipment and as many exercises as you want. Go pure bro split, take your brain out of it, and get in and out in half an hour.

I find, for myself, when I let stress get me way out of the gym (which I sometimes do), I end up being resentful of those responsibilities. When those responsibilities include my employees and my family, that’s not a good recipe to reduce my stress.


I’m sure we are all wired differently but lifting for me is an escape. It’s 1.5 hours of time with my weights and a few gym buddies who are very topical relationships in the grand scheme, and conversation stays light.

I lift heavy so I can’t afford to let my mind wander while I focus on moving the weight, and between sets I’m helping spot or just talking shit.

Recovery is the hard part if I’m going through a stressful patch. I personally take extra care to hit the recovery bullet points and don’t sweat it if progress does slow a little.

Sleep is the worst for me. A quiet bed is when all the thoughts I’ve worked to control start coming out. I try to lay down early to give time to work through them. If there’s something I can control I’ll process for a solution, write it down and push it out of mind until I can act. Otherwise they eventually lose their sting and I go to sleep.

Sorry you’re going through a patch. Just remember it will end.


I like the idea of keeping as much as possible to your schedule but modifying the workouts to be simple. One approach to doing this would be the Dan John One lift a day program, you just do one exercise per session, it literally cant be any more simple. That program has 5 training days a week but you could easily modify it to suit 3-4 days a week.

Whether it is this or another program, find yourself some simple programs that you like and keep them in the kit bag. When times get stressful or work or family needs a little more attention then just switch in one of your go to options. Its really just life giving you block periodisation. When work and life stress is low, go hard and heavy in the gym. When the reverse happens switch to something a little less intense.


Do you have any equipment at home, or do you go to a gym?

Another Dan John suggestion could be Easy Strength. It’s frequent but the workouts are really short.

Alternatively you could just let life dictate when you crush some weights, and on the days you’re just not feeling it knock out some bodyweight work for 15-20 minutes.

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I’ve got a decent amount of experience lifting under stress.

Life takes priority. This is a hobby, not a necessity. That being said, I still lift. I find that making that time helps me mentally, just going in and pushing hard makes me feel like I’ve still got some semblance of consistency during hectic times. Allows me to ignore everything else and kind of have my “me time”.

That being said, stress will definitely take it out of you. Enjoy the process, don’t get caught up in numbers. You may not hit a PR, your body may not be at 100%, but you can still push, you can still grow physically and mentally if you put the work in.

Best of luck, and condolences for the situation you find yourself in


I back off. Completely. When my brother died last year, and this year after having undergone a divorce. So far I still haven’t stepped foot in the gym. Been about 2 months, And quite frankly I don’t care.

I know I’m probably going to come from straight out of the left field saying this, but as much as any coach, competitor, or scholar would have any of us to believe, your mind doesn’t respond how your muscles do. Neither do your emotions. Your mental health doesn’t give a damn about intensity, volume, frequency, time under tension, percentages, active rest, etc. If we are to view it as this exclusive thing in and of itself.

The weights will be around whether you’re there to pick them up or not. And I’m not saying do what I do, or what other people do. I’m saying do whatever YOU do. However that looks like. The moment you notice that upward tick, stay there till you stabilize.


I’m really sorry to hear about your mom passing and all the stuff you’re dealing with. Hitting the gym to deal with it all is a solid plan, but given the situation, it’s cool to take a step back and think about it. If those hardcore workouts have been your go-to for handling stress, maybe think about keeping them around, even if you gotta do them a bit less often. And on those days when things feel rough, toss in some lighter exercises or relaxation stuff to give yourself a break. No right or wrong here. Just listen to what your body and mind are saying.

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Totally agree with everyone here!

After reading through this thread I see that there is some really great advice in here for you to consider.

I don’t think there is much merit in trying to hammer out an intense workout if your mind just isn’t into it. At times like that I ask myself…For what?…if no good answers are there I don’t do it. Based on what you had said it seems likely to me that in time that intensity will come back on its own, but for now there may be no reason to force yourself to do it.

I would add only that something as simple as taking a walk outside with your spouse, or even doing a ruck by yourself may be a good way to get in some activity and also let your mind work through some things.

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Keep up with those problems but don’t let exercise become one of them. It should be therapeutic as you mentioned. I don’t know your real name, but I did pray for you. Hope things get easier.

I genuinely appreciate the advice prayers Dani!

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