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Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Sĩ Jinger Gottschall

stress
stress

The first variable to evaluate for these frustrated individuals is quality energy intake. If they are consuming an appropriate, balanced mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat through raw foods, the next variable to evaluate may not be as obvious… STRESS.

Stress, either physical or mental, influences the body’s internal communication system which is regulated through hormones. These messengers send information through the blood and affect multiple processes that influence fat and muscle mass. Our body is constantly balancing hormone release based upon our daily actions and reactions.

One of the primary stress hormones is cortisol. In terms of function, cortisol can help control blood sugar, regulate metabolism and reduce inflammation. Thus, short term elevation of cortisol has positive effects such as building and repairing muscle. Long term elevation has negative effects such as intense fatigue and joint pain.

Acute stress causes a quick release of cortisol which stimulates the use of carbohydrates and fat while maintaining your blood sugar. The end result of this process is an accurate control of appetite where you eat the proper amount to refuel with a concurrent increase in metabolism. Chronic stress causes a steady release of cortisol and an imbalance in hormone regulation. In response, there is an inaccurate control of appetite which can lead to eating too much with a decrease in metabolism.

How does exercise influence this relationship? Physical activity is one form of stress. The ideal Les Mills exercise routine of 3-4 cardio classes per week (BODYATTACK™, BODYCOMBAT™, BODYSTEP™, BODYJAM™, SH’BAM™, RPM™), 2-3 strength (BODYPUMP™, BODYBALANCE™/BODYFLOW®, CXWORX™, LES MILLS BARRE™), and 1-2 high intensity (LES MILLS GRIT™, LES MILLS SPRINT™) can initiate the maintenance of an ideal bodyweight through multiple bursts of cortisol. However, is it possible that there could be too much of a good thing? Too many classes and too much cortisol? YES!

More often than not, we discuss how to encourage a regular exercise routine as the majority of the global population is not active. Yet, the less common scenario of over activity is also worth examining. If a member is taking back to back classes, day after day, and week after week, it is likely that their cortisol levels will remain elevated due to the prolonged stress cycle of excessive exercise without proper recovery.

Eventually this cycle develops into a condition called overreaching with indications such as unhealthy food cravings, negative mood, and reduced sleep. Together, these symptoms can cause weight gain. In the most extreme scenario, overreaching can transition into overtraining with detrimental consequences to metabolism that are difficult to reverse. A simple, steadfast rule for everyone that will help avoid these outcomes is to plan at least one full day off of exercise per week. Two sleep cycles without classes, (including BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW) is optimal in order to promote recovery.

As an Instructor these strategies can be difficult to implement, particularly if teaching Les Mills classes is a significant part of your financial wellbeing. If this is the case and you complete over the recommended physical activity guidelines from above, track heart rate during a typical week of activity with a Polar chest transmitter. Evaluate your total exercise time above 90% heart rate max. If you are in this zone over 10% of your total exercise time, consider ways to reduce high intensity. For example, if you instruct GRIT or SPRINT multiple times per week, make a conscious effort to spend more time floor coaching, especially when your participants are familiar with the programs. Or during vigorous intensity cardio programs such as BODYATTACK or BODYSTEP, spend a few additional repetitions on lower intensity options.

When analyzing your own goals, as well as speaking to your members or clients about lack of progress, if you can rule out nutrition, consider stress. In addition to physiological stress from over exercising, individuals may be experiencing extended psychological stress from their personal or professional lives. Stress is a complex issue. Understanding how we can educate others on how to use group fitness as a positive physical stress to reduce the negative mental stress will naturally assist in improving health, including fat loss and muscle gain.