Understanding stress is the first important step in using it to our advantage.
What is stress?
Stress is a word used in many different situations. In strength and conditioning, stress is required to make a change and adapt to the training, in turn leading to enhanced performance. An early definition of stress by Hans Selye in 1936 described it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. However, since then, stress has been used to define lots of different situations, states and responses.
In our interview, Clare Sadler from Beyond Instinct, Clare highlights a great point – that stress is a creation in our heads about a current situation we are experiencing. Therefore, we have a tremendous opportunity to use that stress, or, as Clare puts it, “mobilise energy” to improve our current situation. We must make sure that we do not confuse pressure with stress.
It seems that we all respond to stress similarly, the difference being how it was caused. Therefore stress responses are highly individual, which in turn means that the way we deal with stress is also very individual. By understanding the triggers of our responses, we can start to develop coping strategies.
Clare highlights a major point around the idea of stress tolerance and how understanding the term can have a massive effect on the outcome. Do we mean the ability to be stressed, feel like crap and yet still perform? Or do we mean to be under stress but not feel that stress?
I agree with Clare’s point that we see stress tolerance as the ability to push through a situation regardless of the emotions we are experiencing. If we link this back to physical training, I see so many people training this way, pushing themselves to the edge, in the hope of building tolerance.
Understanding stress and our emotions was an area that Clare and I spoke about, which is a skill that can, and needs to be, developed. I can recall times when both I and, no doubt, professional athletes have not expressed emotions, leading to significant issues down the road.
However, it’s important to point out that stress is not positive or negative. Clare rephases it as “mobilisation of energy”. It’s more to do with the amount and duration. There’s lots of talk about the idea of 4% more; this is very hard to measure in different environments.
How much stress can you take?
The amount of stress that we can take is individual, yet we can improve it. But the bottom line is that too much stress for too long will affect us and damage our overall health. Understanding stress is the first step in developing better ways to cope, deal and use it to your advantage.
Thanks again to Clare for taking the time to chat, this is the first in our performance series. Next time around, we will be looking at motivation.
If you have not already, you can download my Three Things To Improve Performance here. These are three things that we can add to our training and life to help improve performance. Also, take a look at our four ways to improve stress tolerance here.
Check out Clare at
Have a great day and enjoy your training.
Director and Founder
Selye, H., 1946. The general adaptation syndrome and the diseases of adaptation. The journal of clinical endocrinology, 6(2), pp.117-230.