The nervous system, Recovery and Strength.
Author: Jake Marshall
Have you noticed how all the strongest people you know are chill as hell when not on the platform? This chilled out attitude is a massive advantage when it comes to building strength, mass and an overall good as the quality of life.
It all comes down to our nervous system. Without getting too far into it, we basically have two types of autonomic nervous systems: The Sympathetic division and the Parasympathetic division.
We will start with the phrase “Autonomic nervous system”. This is the nervous system that is pretty much out of your control; its auto. It plays an extremely important part of maintaining adequate function of your bodies internal environment. This is how your cardiac muscle in your heart and smooth muscle in your digestive system, respiratory system, blood vessels, etc.
Now, why do I think this is important enough to write about on this blog? Because the autonomic nervous system is linked to your conscious state; particularly your emotions.
The best example of this is when you find yourself angry, stressed, or scared and what happens? Your heart rate increases rapidly, you sweat, you may feel queasy. This is your ‘fight or flight’ response to stress and congratulations! You’re using your Sympathetic division. What’s happening when this division is activated is so extremely fascinating and complex, but ill try and summarise it as best I can. Basically, your brain experiences a stressor (threat) and will increase heart rate while diverting all appropriate resources (blood) to your muscles and lungs so you can leg it or kill it (Fight or flight). This is what is happening when you exercise. Your heart is pumping to get blood into your muscles, so you can lift or swim or jump or dance or whatever. However, while your body is doing this, it takes all the energy and focus away from systems such as the digestive system that obviously plays a vital role in your internal environment so that you can be happy and healthy.
The Parasympathetic division is active when you are at rest. It slows your heart rate down and enables your body to heal and digest. What some people may be surprised to learn is that this is actually the most important part of any kind of physical training. The rest allows for recovery and your muscles will only grow and adapt during their recovery phase.
These two divisions worked a lot better together when human evolution was at a point where we were only in flight or flight while punching on with a triceratops (I’m no paleontologist but I assume that’s how it went). So, you can imagine now days when we are facing so much stress by just sitting in traffic or in front of a computer that this would have a serious impact on both our digestive health and recovery. You can work out harder than anyone but if you’re always exposing your body to that stress and never giving it the time to relax and recover then how can you expect to see results. It's not just muscle mass that is affected here but if your body is not able to properly metabolize the nutrients from your food then how can all your systems function as efficiently as they should. As both a student, a father, and someone who has a constant need to pick up and try and master everything he sees; I defiantly find myself struggling with this. “I have three assignments due, but we have rugby finals on this weekend, but I need to put 10kg on my bench, but I have to spend more time with my family, oooh my guitar! I have to get better at that, I need to find my dream job now! Etc., etc.” ... This is me and you can see how I sometimes find myself plateauing in regard to my lifts and energy in general. You no doubt have your own stressors that you face every day as well so the main question here is how do we find ways to avoid stress, so our bodies can recover and we can get on track getting results in training? I hate to say it, but there is no one answer for everyone. Some stresses may be avoidable, some unavoidable, some not stressors at all but you may suffer from anxiety and find it near impossible to ever properly relax. Meditation and some other calm, relaxing practices show a lot of promise and may be a great start but its really only you who can take a step back and assess how to destress your life.
My advice that has worked for me: Get rid of some things, anything that really drains you that can go, get it out of your life. I might be clutter in your house, it might be a toxic relationship, it might be a part of yourself that should have been left in high school. No matter what stressors you have, it is important to regulate them and give your entire life a chance to recover.