Is stress killing your next run?

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or elite athlete, we’re all putting in hours of training hoping to achieve a personal best or win that coveted event. Haven’t you also found that you often spend more time thinking about training and competing than we do about recovery? There are definitely times when I do that too! But why is that kind of thinking potentially killing my next run?

Sport science breaks training and competition down into two areas: ‘load’ (when you are training or competing) and ‘recovery’ (when you are resting). Load conditions put our bodies under stress; the good kind of stress that makes us stronger and faster. However, it is during recovery that those gains are made. In a recent podcast (The CGN Podcast E5: The Science of Sport and Exercise – on Spotify, iTunes, and Google) sports performance scientist and good friend, Dr. Shaun Owen, confirms that our state of mind during recovery has an impact on our physical recovery. Feeling stressed during recovery – worrying about your next work deadline or school assignment, worrying about your next race or match, worrying about whether you are resting enough or too much, and yes even worrying about what you are eating – is not good for you or your body. Stress has a negative impact on our physiological recovery, and therefore negatively impacts on our ability to perform during training and competition. Shaun reminds us that your body doesn’t know the difference between physiological stress and psychological stress; it reacts to all stressors in the same way shifting you out of ‘recovery mode’ into ‘load mode’.

We can take the idea of load and recovery from sports science to the psychology of sports performance. When we think about the mental skills training we often tend to focus on the psychological aspects that influence performance under load conditions – while we train, and at the event – and not as much about the psychological aspects that impact recovery. Imagine you’re midstream in training for a big race, and you’re also stressing about an important project that is going off the rails. Your body is experiencing both of these as load conditions and the stress is going to impact on your recovery, and have a knock-on effect that impacts on your training and ultimately your race performance.

Thankfully, some techniques such as mindful meditation help to both reduce stress and promote recovery, but also improve your performance on the day.

Let’s make sure stress doesn’t kill your next run. Find strategies to manage everyday stress, especially in recovery. It is just as important to your performance as your training and competition programme.

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