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Strength Training and Mental Fatigue


#1

Been strength training for awhile, all lifts are in the intermediate range with oh press lagging a bit. I am not asking about lifting advice per se, but rather the effects of stress on strength performance.

My mom is terminally ill. It is only a matter of time before she passes on, how much time I don't know. I'm tired all The time, I can't focus on anything, I feel like my joints (esp. my back) are more sensitive to injury, I feel like the energy has been ducked out of me. I love going to the gym but I have been feeling more tired and sore afterwords than usual.

Just wondering if I should back off of training and if the mental stress I've been experiencing has been taxing my body more than I can take .


#2

Truly sorry to hear about your mom, man. Best wishes to you and the family.

Mental stress, especially in this kind of situation, is absolutely a valid stressor that can affect training. Dan John talked a little about it with his Work-Rest-Play-Pray concept, but basically, when things get "out of balance" in one aspect of life, it can definitely carryover to other aspects unless/until you make adjustments.

In this kind of situation, I think it's a perfectly valid choice to flip your training to "stress relief mode" and either train just twice a week on a fully-fleshed out plan or train whenever you can/whenever you want, doing whatever it is that gets the endorphins flowing and gives you a 20-minute or 60-minute break from reality, whether it's 15 sets of benching or leg extension-barbell curl supersets. In the latter case, it's not a major issue and you can get back to a "real" program some other time.

I do think that staying active on a regular basis will be beneficial for you, but in terms of the details, that's way-way minor stuff. If you want to keep fat loss on track, stay on point with nutrition and try to be aware of not using food as stress relief.

There are absolutely some things in life more important than exercising, and taking care of family is one of them.


#3

I was in a very similar situation last year when my father was terminally ill. As a matter of fact, I saw my mother for the first time since my dad's funeral this past week, and the visit had me reflecting on my father's illness and my training. I put my thoughts on this subject down in my log just yesterday.

My suggestion is to listen to your body, same as you would if your mother was not ill, but do not stop training. Back off the intensity if you need to, but keep working. It is not the end of the world if you do not PR in the near future. Everyone is going to deal with these sort of things differently, but continuing to take care of yourself to the best of your abilities will help keep you healthy both physically and mentally.

Lifting gave me strength when my father was dying. Physical strength, mental strength, and emotional strength are all connected and lifting boosted all three. It helped keep my emotions leveled-out enough to continue living my life even as my father was losing his. The exhaustion helped me sleep. It helped take my mind off of the situation and gave me something positive to focus on. It also made my father happy to know that I was improving my health even as his was declining.

To contrast, my brother slid into depression and was an emotional wreck during my father's illness. He drank more, ate more, did not exercise and had emotional breakdowns like clockwork. Those frequent breakdowns and his mental state was very hard on my father. He did not like seeing his oldest son break into sobs at the drop of a hat.

I cannot help but conclude that staying active and taking care of myself was the main reason that I handled the situation better than my brother. I had my moments too, but I kept my shit together in front of my dad until the end. I was the one who stepped up to do some of the more difficult things that needed to be done as my father's health declined severely near the end.

Taking care of yourself will help you be strong. Being strong for your mother, being strong for your family and being strong for yourself is the best thing you can do in this situation. Keep working.

You and your family have my sympathies. Best of luck to you.


#4

Very good advice above.

Just to add, albeit simple and obvious. About ten years ago on a climbing trip my partner and I were discussing life/school/work/hobbies. I try to keep this concept in my mind to keep things realistic.

It is simply that there is an Energy & Time balance in which you can live your life and the multitude of factors that play into it. There is only so much energy and time that you have, it is not endless and there is a finite amount that we each have. Determining how you use it, or are able to use it, is fundamentally the only way you have to deviate these areas in your life. Be it work, school, family, hobbies, or whatever.

This certainly could be discussed in greater detail, but just something to add on. Just keep in mind your priorities and the precious nature of each area in your life. Some things will be there, some things will not. In short, training should be a tool to help you deal with other areas in your life right now, not something that should add stress for you. My opinion of course.

Best regards man.


#5

Thanks, I have been finding that the stress makes it harder for me to go to the gym, not so much actually workout. I decided since I missed yesterday to make it up and go today. I was terribly depressed. Took a long drive in my car. stopped for lunch, took another long drive, ultimately decided I might as well try to do something to help myself after listening to an interview with Richard Branson.

Performed my workout (upper body over head push with antagonistic pull using 5/3/1 plan) followed by my new post lifting cardio routine in an effort to lose weight. Since treadmills and ellipticals really hurt my knees and ankles (yet running on regular ground doesn't), Ive opted to do high intensity short rest period weighted carries. I did 10 sets with ~30 second rest periods of zercher walks at a modest weight.


#6

The energy time balance is important, but going through my own (although not as intense as yours) emotional stress I'll say there where plenty of days I didn't want to train, but whenever I ignored that and trained I felt 100x better after. For me, it's an escape and the best way to fill my body up with endorphins, hormones, and happy juices. I think lifting really saved me from some rotten alternatives, drinking, overeating, and/or letting life grind me to dust. Lifting hasn't solved my problems, but its made them bearable. Sooner or later this shitstorm will end, but I'll be mentally and physically stronger on the other side.

edit: Another thought, journaling, has also helped me a lot lately. I started a blog with no search terms so it is pretty much a private anonymous diary. I didn't want anything on paper because I was somewhat afraid that what I wrote would have my wife in panic and some was just embarrassing. I began with the intension of doing a "gut check" of sorts, but I actually logic-ed my way through some issues.

I heard a quote on the Mark Bell podcast a few months ago, basically, no ever regrets training, but you always regret not training.


#7

For the record, boss talked to me today and recommended that speak with employee services since the quality of my work has noticeably declined. She seemed concerned. Also Yesterday When I tried to lift I had no energy, even though I still made a rep PR on squats (and have been making them weekly since feb). Couldn't finish my 15 minute cardio weighted carry session and didn't do too great on my farmers walks (strength, not cardio focused)

I also lost weight since I went off the sleep meds. Not only did I have to tighten my belt a notch more, but I saw a picture of me from early April and notice a difference in my face.


#8

This might be the cause of a lot of it. You might actually be getting really bad sleep without knowing it.

Why did you go off the sleep meds? (I could have missed it above.)


#9

Gained 30 lbs