How to Stop Day-to-Day Stress From Slowing Down Performance

Last week, I talked about how we often overlook life stress when we make training plans. Bad days and tough times can profoundly influence our physical wellbeing but go unaccounted for. We don’t log hard days at the office like ten-mile runs but they can be just as fatiguing and affect our training just as much.
In this week’s column, I wanted cover how to cope with life stress and adjust training accordingly.

As a coach, I ask my athletes for details about their day-to-day lives when we make a training plan. If an athlete has a busy day or week, the training load should adapt appropriately so we’re not overdoing it.
I encourage athletes to move workouts around to fit their needs. Having the flexibility to structure training around life events allows the body to handle the physical stress better. Since performance is directly related to the body’s ability to adapt and recover, this is crucial to consider when training.

To make training more productive and to avoid over-training from life stress, pay attention to how your body responds to the workload. Do you look forward to your long runs or dread them? Do key workouts leave you sore and aching or loose and limber? How long does it take to bounce back from an interval session? Does a particular speed session feel impossible after a long, stressful day at work?

These qualitative signs are all part of your body’s natural feedback system and indicate how well your body is responding to the training load coupled with life stress.

Here are three ways to make your running more productive in times of stress.

Account For Your Total Stress Load

Training logs and journals are great tools but we sometimes are too limited in how we approach them. Use them to record the total experience of training. Write down not only metrics like mileage and pace, but also whether running feels fun and playful or like a chore. The degree to which you enjoy training is a crucial indicator of how well it’s working for you.

Also make a note of other life stressors taking up your time and energy, and how these may be impacting the quality of your training and recovery. If you have more life stress than usual, you may need to train less.

Invest in Recovery

Are you genuinely resting on your recovery days? To effectively heal and build fitness, you need to de-activate the stress response that famously gears your body up to either fight or take flight.  In the stress response’s place, you need to turn on on the relaxation response. And you don’t just need to turn it off in your muscles, but in your brain as well.

Sitting on the couch and watching TV may not be enough to really relax. Think of non-running, relaxing activities that let you forget your worries, problems, and fears while building confidence, trust and ease. Schedule these activities into your week; they are equally as important as your training runs.

View Your Training Plan as a Guideline, Not a Prescription

Measure the success of your training by how well it fits into your life and supports your health. The best training plans are never fixed. They’re fluid. They adapt to changes in fluctuating energy, time, stress levels and whatever else life throws your way.