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Blog The Threshold


The Threshold

  • by QCKB
  • November 22, 2013

Man up . . .

or, something like that. I believe the new saying is “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” I think that is a pretty stupid saying honestly.

What this quote specifically refers to is the “uncomfortable” feeling you get when you workout and your body starts to say that this is not a feeling it likes. Your body is being stressed. More often than not your body is right, and this is one of the reasons I hate this “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” quote.  You’re body is trying to tell you something in the form of an internal alarm and I guess you’re supposed to ignore that feeling according to this statement.

When you operate under stress, the motor skills of performance are affected by an increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, dilated pupils (visual processing) and a dump of adrenaline into the body. This is activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

diagram1This sympathetic activation is actually THE response your body has to stress. Simply explained, the physiology of stress is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (Harvard Health.) You may have also heard sayings such as, “survival stress mode” or the “fight or flight response.

As we near our maximum heart rate (MHR) an immediate correlation to decreased performance will be noted. For some, it is critical to learn to mitigate this response; people such as those in the military, police officers, firefighters, professional athletes, etc. These individuals often times operate at times of high stress and will need to be able to adapt quickly.

If you wish to be any of the individuals above you will need to learn to operate on that level. However, for most people, this is not a level in which they wish or need to operate. That does not mean that when stressing the body under physical conditions that they do not need to learn to operate safely and effectively during sympathetic nervous system activation. Pushing past that initial “uncomfortable” feeling though does have far reaching benefits.

While mentally we may be able to tell the difference between running into a burning building and recognizing stress from such an activity as the high intensity workouts that have exploded in popularity, the body cannot!

Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is maintaining a healthy mind. Focusing on cognitive function, utilizing fine motor skills, and learning to operate under this stress, will help you push past your “plateau” or “your sticking point” in these workouts where your body says to stop.

Performing high intensity workouts are great a couple times a week. Often times I look around the gym and see people who stop working out during these intense sessions. That’s great. You’re listening to your body’s internal alarm and that is a lot of what being physically and mentally fit is all about, being more in tune with your body.

stop-signThe problem arises when people are unable or unwilling to move past that spot where they get stuck or the body says, “stop.” They have not learned to operate under stress. Again I will state there is a difference between operating under stress in a physical, stressful career as stated above and operating under stress during a high intensity workout.

People will often pause their high intensity workouts well before they reach their MHR. While the participant may stop short of MHR they have already taken steps (hopefully) to ensure their success in being able to operate under stress. The initial steps in any program should be around learning competent motor skills, reestablishing proper movement patterns, proper breathing techniques, and a few other things. These are the first steps in learning to operate under stress. Mentally they have not put these pieces together in order to optimally perform during the workout.

The management of the “fight or flight” reflex is crucial in the progression of participants in any high intensity workout. Often times, operating under a low intensity, high load program can cause a similar response. Therefore, management of this feeling is key!

The number one thing I teach to help people ultimately be able to move past their uncomfortable feeling is the confidence in the required movement. Form is essential. If the focus is on form people can often times look past the increased breathing, elevated heart rate, number of reps, etc. to approach their MHR and slowly build towards effectively operating under stress. This is exactly what recruits are taught. They are taught the same drill over and over again so that when the time comes to utilize those skills under stressful conditions, they have trained that pattern so many times it has now become instinctive. This is exactly what should be done to all new participants in any physical program. Drill the skills; focus on form to the point that it becomes second nature, instinctive! The movements are not forced but learned over time.

There is no “zero to hero” program that will help anyone become confident and or capable of being able to operate under due stress without feeling the “fight or flight” response. (Actually some people are born without fear but that is something like .02565% of the population and not relevant to the discussion at hand or relevant to most lay people.)

The key is to build the steps one-by-one by focusing on form, proper movement patterns, breathing techniques, stamina and more to eventually be able to operate that movement under activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This is exactly what the military, police force, fire department and other high stress professions do with individuals new to those professions. The ability to operate those movements under stress becomes instinctive over time by drilling the same skill over and over.

In order to move past that uncomfortable feeling in a high intensity workout be confident in your skills. If you are not, it might be time to revisit some basic drills in some training so that you are confident. Again, this is exactly what the above professions do on a regular basis- train!

On a side note, this ability to operate under stress goes in line with one of my favorite quotes: “Fit people are harder to kill.” As you condition your body to operate under stress in high intensity workouts you will also condition your mind and body to be able to perform in the real world during stressful situations. Ya know- in case shit happens!


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