In western culture, we’re very good at splitting the body up into ‘sections’. This is how hospitals are divided up, and how we think about our bodies in general.
You have the head, the lungs, the heart, the arms, legs, torso, individual muscles within each area of the body. We think of all of these things as being separate to one another. The truth is, they’re all connected. Hurting your ankle could cause you to limp & compensate leading to an imbalance of the hips, eventually manifesting in the lower back. Most people would assume they have a ‘weak lower back’ when in fact it was caused further down the chain. The body is very good at protecting it’s weakened parts, but this sometimes comes at a cost somewhere else.
The same is true of our mental state. It is my experience, and therefore my deeply held belief that the mental state manifests itself sooner or later in the physical plane. Let me explain my thinking, before you call bullshit.
At the end of 2017, my father passed away. It was a sad and ultimately very stressful time for all involved, as you can imagine. But I never stopped training. What I noticed, though, was that throughout this time, and for no immediately obvious reason (my diet and sleep were still pretty good), performing movements properly in the gym became much more of a challenge. It wasn’t that I was getting weaker, in fact I was probably getting stronger – and it wasn’t that I wasn’t training hard, as I used the gym to channel all my negative emotions and aggressions into a force for positivity. No, what I noticed was that my range of movement, mobility and flexibility drastically worsened.
At the time, I simply put it down to ‘not stretching enough’ or ‘needing a massage’ or whatever other superficial explanation satisfied my confusion on that day. However, it’s only since I’ve gone through the ‘grief’ process fully that my body seems to have returned to normal. In fact, my body is probably the most supple, mobile and flexible it’s been in years – and I don’t do anywhere near as much direct work on mobility as I did in the past. What’s the difference?
In my opinion, and this is just an opinion based on largely anecdotal evidence, the stress response from what was the most traumatic experience to date in my life was having a huge impact on the physical capabilities of my body. Consider this excerpt taken directly from the American Physiological Association:
“With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.”
See? The tightening of the fascia (the webbing) that surrounds muscles is not an accident. It’s a physiological response to stress, which can be short or long lived. The consequences of neglecting mental health or failing to correctly manage the stress in your life have long and far reaching consequences.
Maybe you never really considered looking after your health, and never thought that the management of stressors in your life had even the slightest impact on your ability to put on muscle or build a good physique. But let me tell you without a shadow of a doubt in my mind – it absolutely does.
The clients I’ve coached that look after their mental state and pay some mind to giving themselves a break when they’re under a lot of stress get ten times the results that those that disregard the mental affect on training altogether.
Look after yourself. Physically, mentally, socially. Give yourself the respect you deserve to live a good life and develop yourself in every area. We will never avoid stress altogether – that isn’t the goal. But dealing with it, talking about it, and helping each other through times of struggle is beneficial in more ways than you could possibly imagine.
A by product of you looking after your body will be you having a much easier time shaping it to look how you’d like. Trust me on that, I’ve seen it time and time again.
There’s more to physique development than just lifting weights.
PS – I hope you enjoyed that article!
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