Sunday, September 26, 2010

Training During Periods of Stress - Tom E. Kakonis

Training During Periods of Stress
by Tom E. Kakonis (1959)

Nearly every man, at some time or another in his life, is likely to be subjected to long periods of stress. For the physical culturist, and especially for the weight trainer, such times are particularly trying, for they not only upset the regular schedule he attempts to follow, but they cause his goal, whatever it may be, to recede farther and farther into the dim future. A good deal depends on the way in which he meets these situations: he may simply throw in the towel and quit either in disgust or despair, or he may look on the trying times as a challenge which must be met and overcome by the best means at hand. The latter attitude, naturally, is the only one worth having; without it all the halfhearted, listless training an individual undergoes will prove futile.

First of all, what do we understand by STRESS? Stress may be broken down into two categories: physical and emotional. Physical stress is some abnormal drain on he body and its functions. For example, you may find it necessary some time to put in a great deal of overtime on your job – for several weeks or months without relief. This is stress of a sort. New parents certainly know what we mean by prolonged physical stress, for the abrupt irregularity of their new hours and the lessened time for sleep often contribute to a chronic fatigue. And those of you who are, or ever were in the Armed Forces, especially during basic training, have a vivid conception of what eight or more weeks of stress involves.

But wearying as it may be, physical stress is not the equal of emotional stress, for this includes the physical fatigue plus the added hardship of nerve-jangling mental tensions and incessant, draining worry. What are some typical emotional stresses? Well, perhaps you might experience a lengthy illness in your family, during which time you must of necessity accept additional responsibilities, and these, coupled with your concern for the suffering relative, may contribute to a highly upset condition. Then, you may be called upon at some time to go through a period of adjustment or adaptation to a new way of life, one that is entirely opposed to your attitudes and beliefs, but one which you cannot avoid, and this may adversely affect your mental state. Here the case of military service again comes to mind. For some men the transition from civilian to military life is accomplished only at the cost of great emotional upheaval. Some men, indeed, NEVER adjust. On the lighter side, you may be jilted by your partner or go through a messy divorce, and though six months hence this may not seem so demoralizing, at the time it can appear like an earth-shaking calamity.

But at any rate, the point is clear – stress, whatever its nature or origin, is going to take something out of you; how much depends on you yourself. Let’s assume then, you’ve taken the most optimistic view possible under your own individual circumstances of stress. How can you go about minimizing the weakening effects of these circumstances? There are two areas of your personal life you must examine in light of your new situation: your living habits and your training. Let’s consider the living habits first. You must realize that in most cases these habits are going to be irregular, and this irregularity is bound to be enervating. To combat this you must take advantage of every resource at your disposal. For example, suppose you are getting only four or five hours of sleep a night – what can be done to alleviate the fatigue that is bound to result? Well, for one thing you can attempt – more, you MUST LEARN – to relax at any opportunity that presents itself during the day. Stretch back in your chair frequently, if you have a desk job, and let your body go positively limp, if only for 60 seconds. Try and cut your mind off from the outside world during this time – make it a blank, think of nothing but a deep, black velvety void. You’ll be surprised how difficult this mind clearing process is, but you’ll be pleasantly gratified once you master it. Bob Hoffman, your editor, once wrote that he would sometimes unwind completely in this manner while he sat in his car waiting for a traffic light to change, drifting deep into relaxation and soon falling downward through snowflakes of released tension, oblivious to a chorus of horns honking and abusive hate-filled curses hurled in his direction. Bob was not one to consider the minor inconveniences of others while seeking to enliven his sometimes flagging vitality, or when doing anything else for that matter. Nonetheless, all cynical and sarcastic kidding aside, 60 seconds of deep relaxation, repeated frequently throughout the day at opportune times can work wonders.

If your circumstances permit, you should try to lie down immediately after a meal and relax fully. This is best done by lying on your back on a hard surface, and then “letting go” all over, as though your body were oozing right into the floor. Here too you should try to empty your mind of all thought, let your mind grow as flaccid and relaxed as your body. Five minutes of this will make a real difference in your outlook, both physical and mental, for your body will experience a rest it rarely gets in sleep, and your mind, cleared for a time of all nerve-wracking worries and tensions, will be refreshed and better able to cope with problems.

Next to be considered is the question of diet. Some people look on periods of stress as excuses for orgies of dietary excess – this is especially common is cases of emotional stress. Others, on the contrary, become so jittery and upset they cannot keep much of anything in their stomachs, and as their digestive disturbances increase, so their appetites correspondingly fade. Still others come to rely on stimulants such as coffee, nicotine, and alcohol to keep them going, and they neglect the basic common-sense rules of nutrition to their own long-range detriment. Though each of these instances must be examined separately, each is nonetheless primarily a mental problem.

The first case – that of the individual who eats to satisfy an emotional need – is perhaps the most difficult and may require medical or psychological assistance. But in milder cases it is simply a matter of will power. The would-be glutton must ask himself the questions – is there any good to be gained by compounding my troubles with overeating? Will it help my problems to be continually gorging myself with food? Naturally, such questions permit only one honest answer, and that single answer should be the guide for future table and snack habits.

The second type – the nervously upset individual – must similarly resolve on a new mental approach. The hints on relaxation found in the preceding paragraphs of this article are especially applicable to this type. He must, through the power of his mind, dominate and control his nervous reflexes. And this is a problem that each must meet and overcome by himself – no one can relax for you, you have to do it yourself. There are a few practices, however, that may assist the tense person in loosening up. He may, for example, take a hot tub bath when he feels a jittery spell coming on. There seems to be no exterior device (by exterior we mean non-mental) short of a competent rubdown by a skilled masseur (and who can afford that?) so effective as this hot tub bath in alleviating nervous strain. Another habit the warm drink before retiring – lemonade with a dash of honey, or milk to induce sleep. An old idea perhaps, but one that has perennially proved its worth.

The third type – the individual who relies on stimulants – generally needs only time to convince him of the error of his ways. If he is a practicing health culturist and weight trainer, his use of these stimulants in the past will have been extremely moderate. If now he reverts to their habitual use, he will soon notice the difference it makes in his feeling of wellbeing. The temporary lift will quickly give way to a depression that is mental as well as physical. Many weight trainers, I’m sure, have gone on sprees during which times they have consumed inordinate amounts of stimulants – not alcohol, necessarily, but perhaps stimulants in other forms: coffee, pills, tea, cola beverages, etc. They have felt, no doubt, that the superior condition of their bodies enabled them to throw off the harmful effects of these indulgences. And to a degree, they were correct. But the body can stand only so much abuse, and weight trainers, regardless of their degree of muscular development and/or strength, are not absolved from the laws of nature. The end ‘results’ – though they may take longer to appear in the weight trainer than in the untrained individual – can only be the same: physical and nervous deterioration. Stress periods are no more of an excuse to take up harmful activities than say, normal lay-off periods. In fact they are less! you wouldn’t conclude that because you had trained hard and successfully for six weeks it was time for a week of overindulgence. To nullify your gains in this way would make little if any sense. Why then should you take to the use of devitalizing drugs at a time when your body and mind particularly need all their reserves?

The preceding paragraphs have detailed what NOT to do regarding diet; now we must consider the steps to be taken to insure proper nutrition under these less than ideal circumstances. Those who make a serious study of weight training are certainly familiar with the principal constituents of an adequate diet; it would be repetitious for me to outline them briefly here when there are entire volumes devoted to the subject. Suffice it to say that above average amounts of vitamins and minerals, as obtained through the use of fresh fruits and vegetables; and complete proteins, such as eggs, meat, cheese and milk, are an absolute necessity. Even when pressed for time, these nutrients can be made available through liquid concoctions in rapidly prepared and easily digestible form.

Finally, we come to the subject of the best methods of training during life’s stress periods, and here again the problem is oftentimes if not always an individual one. The routine you follow depends to a large extent on the equipment available, the amount of time at your disposal, and your particular day-to-day frame of mind, mental attitude and temperament. You MUST reconcile yourself to the fact that you will regress some – HOW MUCH – depends to a great part on you. The program that follows is a SUGGESTED one only – you may alter it at your discretion. But you will note that, abbreviated as it is, it includes at least one movement for every major body part. If you change an exercise, you should substitute one that will work directly on the same parts of the body. Look into ways of exercising the entire body with a limited number of exercises, or back to back combinations of same. Suggested repetitions are also included, and for most of the exercises the reps are moderately high. The reason for this is that, as far as work sets are concerned, you should not go over two unless you are feeling especially vigorous – then try three in exercises like squats and the abdominal movement – so you do not need higher repetitions to insure a complete workout. Your energy is low now, you must remember this. Training periods at this time are meant to rejuvenate you, to help you face your problems and stresses with a maximum reserve of physical and emotional strength; so don’t make the mistake of draining yourself with an excessively tough session for now. Moderation is the key here. Both the muscle pumping and high-set, near max routines are not called for during this period of your life. If you are feeling low, cut down to a few sets of one or two movements which include all the major muscle groups of the body simultaneously – clean & press or jerk, repetition snatches, squats and behind the neck jerks, etc. They may help to revive you.

One suggested routine follows.

1.) Warm up – two hands clean and jerk, 12 to 15 reps. This will quickly get the blood circulating and work the whole chain of muscles from your calves to your thighs, torso to arms and shoulders.

2.) Pushups between boxes, feet elevated, 15 repetitions. This is included as a chest exercise because aside from working the chest, triceps and deltoids, it also will affect your core muscles.

3.) Stiff-legged deadlift to shrug-pull or high pull, 10-12 reps. Done correctly, this can be used to work the entire back as well as the glutes and hamstrings.

4.) Clean & press or push press with barbell or dumbells, 10-12 reps.

5.) Barbell curl, leaning against post or wall, 10 reps if you absolutely must. This is the first exercise to cut out if you are feeling fatigued.

6.) Full squats followed by light breathing pullovers, 15 reps. This is the last exercise you should cut out if you are feeling fatigued.

7.) An ab exercise, if you still have sufficient energy in reserve. 20 to 25 reps.

In summary, it should again be mentioned that mental attitude can make all the difference in a stress situation. Try to adopt the long range view. Whatever state you are in at the time is not unique. Others HAVE gone through it and still others WILL go through it and not only survive but come out better for having met it squarely. You can so the same.

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