How does stress affect your workout?

How does stress affect your workout

It’s hard to avoid being stressed and the bad news is that it may even be impacting your workout. So how does stress affect your workout? David Wiener, training specialist for fitness app Freeletics, tells us how – and it’s given us an extra incentive to stay zen…

Exercise can be an incredible stress reliever for many as it boosts endorphins and releases those feel-good hormones, which will help you forget all about your day-to-day stresses. But, what happens when you‘re too stressed to even think about hitting the gym? Too much stress can end up sabotaging your workout before you‘ve even tied up your trainers. Here are the signs that stress is affecting your workout…


When you‘re coping with a big life event, or you‘re ‘so behind’ at work, it becomes the only thing you can focus on. What suffers most? That evening run you had planned is sacrificed for more time at the office or winding down on the sofa. Stress has the annoying ability to distract your mind and overwhelm your body, not to mention making you a lot less likely to stick to your training regime. Apart from skewing your motivation, you‘ll have a hard time reaching your fitness goals when your mind is elsewhere. When stress makes your training become another thing on your To-Do list, the quality of your workout will suffer as you‘ll sacrifice technique in favour of getting it done and dusted as soon as possible.

To overcome this, remember that stress is all in the mind, and it’s only as big as you allow it to become. While it may be difficult to push your worries to the side, thinking about it won‘t make it go away – and it certainly won‘t make it any better. Exercise combine with other stress management techniques, such as meditation can really help to calm you down and keep you focused and motivated.


how stress affects exercise

It‘s normal to feel a bit sore after a workout, but when you‘re stressed, the effects are multiplied, as your muscles are stressed too. The mental demands of stress steal valuable resources from your body and leave you feeling more run down and groggy than usual. When this is combined with a tough workout, it‘ll leave you with nothing left in the tank.

Unless you want to risk injuring yourself, it‘s important to give your muscles and your mind time to recover following a strenuous workout. This means taking regular rest days and mixing up your style of training to maximise its effectiveness.


Chronic stress hurts your ability to regulate the hormone cortisol, which influences your metabolism, immunity, sleep rhythms and blood pressure. Un-regulated cortisol levels will leave you feeling run-down, tired, and more subject to gaining weight, as well as making you crave more sugary and fatty food.

Lack of sleep coupled with stress is a total killer when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. And even worse when your goal is to lose weight. Sleep is essential in helping you restore your muscles after training and feeling refreshed and energised the next day. You can regulate your cortisol levels by turning in early at night and getting a proper sleep.


Research suggests that exercising when you’re experiencing stress can increase your risk of injury, and this could be for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you’re overly stressed it’s likely you’re not focusing properly on your workout or technique, and your wavering attention could be the cause of an injury. Secondly, when you’re stressed you experience increased muscles tension, and this too could set you on the road to an injury or make any existing aches and pains worse.


how stress affects exercise

Stress affects the part of your brain which deals with both short- and long-term memory, as well as working memory, which is what you use when you’re processing multiple pieces of information at once.

This can make even the simplest of tasks more difficult and means that you’ll mentally and physically fatigue more quickly which will impact on your workout.


Cortisol, or the stress hormone as it is known, is far higher when you’re experiencing stress, and high levels of cortisol encourages insulin production which could result in sugar cravings. It can also slow down your metabolism, which isn’t good news if weight loss is your goal.

Increased levels of cortisol can also make it difficult to lose body fat, especially in the abdomen areas.


While stress can be bad for your training, there is also a plus side: stress can also motivate you. A slight increase in cortisol from moderate stress has proven to have a positive impact on performance. The one upside to knowing how to weather tough times is that you have experience performing under pressure. This results in more confidence so, rather than seeing stress as a barrier to your success, try viewing it as an obstacle you‘ve overcome in the past and that you‘ll no doubt succeed at again. It‘s all about your state of mind and if you use stress to fire up your workout, you‘ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Liked this article on how does stress affect your workout? Read this article on how to “find your stress to rest ratio”

By Charlotte

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What are the benefits of strength training?

Strength training can improve muscle mass, bone density, metabolism, and overall physical function, as well as reduce the risk of injury and chronic disease.

How often should I exercise?

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week.

What should I eat before and after a workout?

Before a workout, aim for a balanced meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein to provide energy and support muscle function. After a workout, prioritize protein and carbohydrates to aid in muscle recovery and replenish energy stores.

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