T Nation

Life Stress/ Recovery

OK I have seen this mentioned recently, I think it was by CW, but in the past by just about every coach and contributor on this site.

The past 2 weeks or so I have been smacked in the face with this fact. Life stress and its effect on physical training and recovery.

While stating my personal experience, here as that is all I can do, I am looking for others experience with this and general thoughts, etc…

So over the last few years things have been less than relaxing in my life, between grad school all the issue’s that come along with that (monetary,study, sleep, University politics, etc), usual everyday life stresses, my mothers multiple battles with cancer etc…

Despite all this I have been able to recover fairly well at most times even while many of my everyday recovery issues were sub par, like sleep, which I have had problems with for well over a year now. But have seemingly been able to keep just enough under control as to still recover and make progress.

On to the past week. This is when I hit a wall. While nutrition was as good or better than ever, rest was OK, etc. I had a life stressor hit me harder than previous times. The news of my moms latest battle. This one just seemed to effect me more than the past few due to I had been VERY hands on in the situation, helping her advance and we had been making some major strides. Them BLAM it was seemingly all shot to shit by news of more of the same cancer in her brain. Just gave an instant feeling of failure, that everyhting we had been battling was all for not (NOT TRUE BUT AT THE MOMENT IT SURE FELT THAT WAY)Add that on to the fact I had made the decison to return to Grad school 1300 miles away, with the agreement she was right behind me coming in a few weeks for extended visits so we could continue are work. That got shot down.

Anyway with this added stressors that have NOTHING at all directly to do with muscle growth, stimulation, etc… My workouts started to suffer a bit however. Not progressing in most cases and regression in a few. That and even with the lighter or same volume being used, DOMS became a MAJOR factor. Lasting days after a session. This has not been a factor in some time for me having trained with LOTS of frequency.

Anyway just found it interesting that seemingly unrelated stresses can and do have a huge impact on physical training. How does one know when he/she needs to back off? Many times these life stresses have led to a greater aggression/release in the gym, but this time I regressed even with a diet that was better than the past. Could it just be a case of hitting the life stressor limit this time or something???

Just thought this might bring up some interesting conversations.

Good news is with the latest hurdle climbed in the case with my mom, have had a huge weight lifted for a bit tell we tackle the next. This led to a pretty damn good w/o just a few hrs ago, even though I was still a bit worn out from the LONG road trip.

So if you have any interesting thoughts, experiences, facts to share lets hear em’


I know exactly how you feel. My mother was diagnosed with grade 5 cancer 7 months ago, 3 weeks ago she died. It is very had to recover from your training when you have a life stress of that magnitude. I’m also in grad school.

I switched my training to 2 days per week to allow adequate rest time and used 2 GPP sessions a week to help with recovery from the training sessions. I also used various forms of restoration techniques to aid my recover ability. I slept a minimum of 8 hours a night and my diet was flawless. I put over 175lbs on my total(I’m a powerlifter), that may not sound like a lot but when you consider that I only trained 2 days a week it truly is a phenomenal number.

Very nice contribution Boss, and I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve been in a similar boat for the past year or so, and often have wondered the same thing. Honestly I just instinctively cut back my trianing in a similar manner to what Boss has described 2x’s a week training. I don’t know how much it will help but I use rhodiola rosea and ps to help with the cortisol/stress and find that it does help me to an extent (I feel I can handle things more level headedly). As for DOMS, I hear ya phil! WTF, I’d like a solution to this one myself as when I’m really stressed I get some serious DOMS. Surge does help to an extent though.

First off, your not alone. I feel like a copy cat saying this, but I am also a grad student and dealing with my mom’s two failed back opts. and now bi-weekly trips to the Clevenland Clinic for pain mgt. I train as a BB and have found that I have to limit what I do in the gym. I cut gym time down from an hour to hour and a half to 45 minutes. I know thats a common sense thing that most people do any way, but I’m a gym rat who would train 7 days a week, twice a day if I could. I also have sleep issues and am always stressed about work, school, family, fiance, money,… I have found two things that work for me. 1) I don’t lift more that 3 days without a day off, and 2) even if you can’t fall asleep, make yourself lay down without any distractions for 20 minuets whenever you can during the day. Some days I get a little nap, and others I just get a little quiet time. Either way Its a little relaxation.

Thanks all for your response, sharing your experiences, and my regaurds for your losses and battles.

Yes it is a very weird situation we deal with hear. The thing I really found weird was I had recently toned down my training from a 6 on 1 off program to a three day split. Then this hit and even with the fewer days was excperiencing much less recovery.

Just amazing how things can move across the board and effect other areas.

I imagine it is yet another one of those individual areas, as everything else and wed just need to listen to ourselves.

Thanks again,

Hey Phill,
during a difficult period with a few hours of sleep it is certainly better to adopt a 2Xweek program. You know there are many good 2Xweek routines by Mc Roberts, Kubik and other authors. You know that magazine for people that have problem to put on mass …
My 2nd child was born at the 7th month so for 2 weeks I had to go to the hospital with my wife.
For 1 or 2 months I couldn’t go to the gym. Whenever possible (30 minutes 2 or 3Xweek when the child was sleeping) I “invented” routines at home using only a couple of loadable dumbbells: Floor presses, rows, shoulder presses, farmer’s walk, one arm db clean and press (see Dan John’s article) etc.

Hi Phill,

A 2x per week workout you might consider is CT’s “Part Time Beast”. I have just completed the first cycle of 2 weeks and would highly recommend it if you can’t work out more often or want to cut back on training for a while to allow more rest. It is still a really intense program but the extra recovery time compensates for this.

I hope things start looking up soon for you.


Hey Phil,

I will not go into details about the exact stress which caused me to find myself in a similar situation as you, I will tell you what worked for me. I simply took a week off. During that week, the only exercise I did was walking every day. My caloric intake for the week was at or slightly above maintenance levels. I also took 3mg of melatonin 30 mins before bed. I shot for 10 hours of sleep a night, usually achieving it. As crazy as it may sound, I also found it beneficial and relaxing to go in a tanning bed for that week, as it was winter in the Northeast. Made me feel relaxed and refreshed.

Previous to the week off, I was getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night tops and my strentgh decreased. After that week, although the cause of my stress was still present, my training improved dramatically and that alone was a great stress reliever. This is just what worked for me.

I hope your mom is doing better. From what I have read in previous threads, she is a great person. You have also been one of the best contributors to this site. I am always interested in what you post and the advice you give. Stay strong and hopefully everything will work its way out.

this brings out the point that you need to train as hard as you can when the time is right in order to take advantage of that situation. Life’s stresses are inevitable: emotional, mental, and physical, and that is when you need to back off a bit to allow your body to relax.

It is important to have goals so that you always have something to work for. If no goals are established then there is no real stimulus for will power to take over. sometimes it helps to think of your training as another job that you need to do which also has the benefit as being a good stress releaser.

laters pk

Hey all thanks.

Hopefully I am not the only one whom will/can benefit from this thread, and thanks for all your thoughts and wishes for myself and my mother. She is doing good she is at home now. Has some new problems to work through but that was expected with anyone woking on your brain. Nothing we cant get through.

Back on topic. My last w/o on saturday following driving back here and post surgery was much better. Then had a pretty damn good one today. I think it was a matter of moving, mom, getting a plethora of things in order all stacked on my plate at once just loaded up.

Just interesting, all these things that compound to make or break ones progress.

I am loving this three day split and it is a quite a drop in volume to what I am used and now that my plate has been unloaded some I think things will progress again. We’ll see.

But yes I am in agreement that you just have to listen to your self and layoff when needed. I did for about 4 days only throwing in one light w/o. and tried to get caught up somewhat on sleep.

Sleep is still seemingly my last issue that is left over and has been a prob for some time. I am about to the point of seeing someone about it. Tried about everything. But hey I gotta say I feel 500% better than I did and the progression has came back. :slight_smile:

Plan on another 5 weeks of this 3 a day total body program and then I will be doing a strength based program that is catching my interest.

But thanks eh’ Lets keep this sucka going, possibly we will help a few ppl, with similar probs.

Thanks again for all your comments, stories, personal situations, and ways in which you solved them.

Sometimes it helps to put this stuff down in type, and try and practice what we preach. That can be tough sometimes.