T Nation

Workout Program when Chronically Stressed

Hi CT!

I was wondering if I could ask you a question about stress and recovery.

Due to some mental stress issues I have been feeling rundown for awhile and have been holding onto fat around my lower stomach and back. I have taken blood tests and found my cortisol/hormones are out of wack (“adrenal fatigue”). Do you have any tips on the type of workouts I can do that will be less stressful on the body but will keep me in the gym? (Ex. Lower volume, lower intensity, etc.) I have tried the neural charge training but did not have great results. I have noticed that I feel worse the next day based on how high my heart rate gets during the workout.

I understand your time for questions like these is limited and I appreciate anything you can provide. Thanks again!

I’m not CT (obviously) but a few thoughts that hopefully are helpful.

  1. If you’re that chronically stressed, the real solution (though it may be difficult) is getting your life stress DOWN. Any recommended training program is a bandaid solution.

  2. Now would be a good time to dial in the nutrition and sleep. Sleep may be hard depending on how stressed you are.

  3. If your cortisol and hormones are out of whack, the stuff he’s written on “adrenal fatigue” might be helpful. E.g. https://www.t-nation.com/training/question-of-strength-52

  4. (Most directly to your question) In one of the neurotyping podcasts he discussed de-load strategies for neurotyping. For example, if you are a 2A then you should switch your training to be more like a 2B under times of stress.

Thank you for the response !!! I should have said that I have been working on my chronic stressors and am pretty much through the intense stressful time but now I’m just trying to keep training from being too much of a stressor while I am still “recovering”. I have found that even though I’m through my stressful period, I’m so worn down that if I accidentally go overboard with a workout I get pushed back over the edge. I am also definitely going to work on my sleep as well! I know I should be focusing on recovery but I was just wondering if there were any workouts I could try that would keep me in the gym while trying to recover. I will check out the podcast and adrenal fatigue articles you spoke of. Thanks again!!!

You’re welcome. I hear you. Super high stress DESTROYS training. At least in my experience. I also recommend:

  1. Foam rolling before bed to help activate the parasympathetic system.

  2. Daily meditation. Google best free guided meditations, try a few and see what you like. Even 10 minutes a day makes a HUGE difference.

Before I answer your question, let me point out that there is no such thing as “adrenal fatigue”. Your adrenal glands do not get tired or overused. The symptoms are real though.

What happens is that you are constantly producing too much adrenaline. This makes your beta-adrenergic receptors (the receptors with which adrenaline connect to get you motivated, driven, energized, etc.) desensitized. Those receptors start responding less and less to your how adrenaline, making you less focused, less energetic, more negative, etc.

Why is that happening? Likely because of the excess cortisol production.

Cortisol increases the conversion of nor-adrenaline into adrenaline by increasing the enzyme responsible for that conversion (phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase, or PNMT). In other words, cortisol increases adrenaline. Which is good, most of the time. But if cortisol becomes chronically elevated, so does adrenaline. And this can desensitize your receptors.

By the way, the gain in abdominal fat is not directly due to cortisol (although it is the root problem) but rather because of lowered T4 to T3 conversion (leading to a decrease in metabolic rate) and insulin resistance. Both of which will happen when cortisol becomes chronically elevated.

1 Like

Neural charge can actually make things worse in your case. It works by increasing level of the excitory neurotransmitters, including adrenaline. And your problem is producing so much adrenaline that you make your receptors resistant to it.

The main order of business is to lower cortisol, a secondary one is to re-establish adrenergic receptor sensitivity.

Look at things that can raise cortisol during a workout:

  1. Volume
  2. How hard you are pushing each set
  3. Psychological stress (being intimidated or psyched up by a weight/exercise)
  4. Neurological stress (complex workout, new exercises, circuits, alternating movements, etc.)
  5. Training fasted

So right off the bat if you have a cortisol problem you should bring these down. And YES it means essentially training in a suboptimal way. But right now your goal is to fix you. If you can MAINTAIN muscle while doing that, it’s a huge bonus. Don’t try to make gains until you feel better. What you will need to do to stimulate gains will make your problem worse.

This means a low volume of work per session (5-6 sets per muscle and no more than 12 per workout), low effort… leave 2-3 reps in the tank on every rep. Only use exercises you are very comfortable with and don’t train fasted.

Of course, lowering your life stress will be the most important factor.

You can also use some supplements to help out. Glycine post-workout (3-5g) and in the evening will help decrease cortisol and adrenaline.

Magnesium at 500mg (ideally magnesium taurate) at the same times to dislocate the adrenaline from the adrenergic receptors to help resensitize those receptors.

Rhodiola when waking up to balance dopamine, adrenaline and serotonine.

As for nutrition, it’s not time to try to lose the fat. A caloric deficit, especially with low carbs, will increase cortisol levels even more (one of the main functions of cortisol is mobilizing stored energy and elevating blood sugar levels when they are too low).

Honestly, until you are fixed, forget about improving your physique. It sucks to hear but you need to get back to health and a lower stress situation before being able to push hard again.

3 Likes

Thanks a lot for the response!! I really appreciate it.

Thank you for clearing up the adrenal fatigue issue. I have read your writings on the topic and in my original post put adrenal fatigue in quotes because I agree that there is no such thing but people use it as a term to explain their symptoms.

I also appreciate the tips to help with my issue. Do you happen to have any templates or workout articles you wrote that has lower volume that could work in my situation? For example, full body workouts 3 times a week with lower volume per body part (ex. Push exercise 2 working sets, pull exercise 2 working sets, leg exercise 2 working sets).

I have heard that workouts that “make you feel great when you leave” and do not drain you would work best for me but I cannot find a template that seems best.

I am going to specifically work on my outside stressors, sleep, etc. as you advised. I just have found it difficult to find a template that will at least keep me in the gym while I improve these things.

Thanks again I really appreciate it!

Is there a reason you like magnesium taurate over magnesium glycinate?

Google “which magnesium is best thib” for a pretty comprehensive answer. It should be the first search result.

FWIW, I use glycinate on the regular and, especially on an empty stomach, it delivers a very “full” sleep session.

2 Likes

If he is already taking glycine, the magnesium glycinate (magnesium bound to glycine) might be redundant/overdoing it. Taurate is bound to taurine which can increase GABA

1 Like

Coach CT

Hope your doing great I think I am on the same page with the same issues I have huge problems sleeping and stress took its vengeance on me

But I have been battleing it but from what you said Coach the hole just got deeper and deeper and I am eating and training great but my results are shitty from the same symptoms

So concerning the workout can the workout be an Upper lower upper split on non consecutive days with like you said 12-14 Total sets with a lower volume approach in the 8-10 reps and should the workout be straight sets with longer rest periods.

Are alternating sets not welcomed during this phase since you said it’s part of the neurological stress and any complicated moves like the barbell hip thrusts eg.

And for supplements Coach I got Glycine which I find it’s a miracle Amino but I don’t have the magnesium taurate I have Glycinate should I take the magnesium during the day and the Glycine at nigh before sleep .

And does caffeine makes this situation worse should I stop drinking it to recover faster .

Thanks Coach for Clearing things out big time time and thanks for your Time

Hi @jps5296,

It’s been a while since you posted in this thread, so I hope you are doing better. Just wanted to share my two cents on this topic and the discoveries I made for myself in recent times. Some of the issues de describe I’ve been dealing with myself too.

  1. For a couple of years I’ve been doing intermittent fasting. I loved this, because it saved me time in the morning and gave me a boost of energy. But at some point I felt is was backfiring on me. This summer my wife, newborn and I went on a vacation in Italy and stayed in a hotel. Of course there was this huge breakfast buffet, and since it was our vacation trip I thought ‘what the heck’. So I had carb rich breakfast. The thing I noticed immediately that the next day my puffy face was gone. For so long I was holding on to water. Around my waist it was like I dropped 5% of body fat overnight. Another plus side, I had a much more stable energy level throughout the day.

  2. Coffee. I don’t know how much you drink of it, but I’m an addict. I noticed that if I drink to much of it increases tension in my body and I’m grinding my teeth the whole time. A sign of producing too much cortisol and adrenalin. The best thing was to lower the amount to max two cups, balancing it out with some carbs, and indeed adding some magnesium-taurate together with some glycine.

  3. Rest intervals. When reading through some earlier work of Charles Poliquin, I came across the science of rest intervals. I never put much thought to it within my own weightlifting training, just took as much rest as I thought I needed. But since I really calculate the precise amount of rest that I need, I notice far less fatigue. This has been a game changer for me! A while back I did CrossFit on a regular basis, and that did me more harm than good. As would any other HIT work where rest is minimal.

  4. Sleep is also a very important factor. When you are deprived of sleep, your dopamine receptors are down regulated. So you feel less motivated and less amped up to get a good workout done. As a father with a 7 months old kid it can be quite tough to get enough sleep. I’ve been playing around with different supplements to counter the lack of sleep, but none really stand out. I’ve had much more results with the aforementioned points. A lack of sleep is really hard to counter, especially if (like in my case), you need a lot of sleep.

With all that being written… The best thing to do in these kind of cases is not trying to amp up the nervous system even more, but to allow all the dopamine, adrenaline and cortisol receptors to recover. In a deprived/fatigued/burned-out stated you need more and more of it to get you going, which of course is not a thing you want. Hopefully these insights can help you along the way.

Big thanks to coach CT has to be made. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have made these discoveries that quickly, or maybe even not at all. So again, thank you!!!

1 Like