It would be thoroughly irresponsible to take an untrained individual, put them underneath a 500-pound bar and tell them to do their thing.

It would be irresponsible, because their “thing” in this situation would be to explode their spine into a million little pieces.

Obviously, there are thousands and thousands of people out there who wouldn’t need a wheel chair after putting 500 pounds on their back. The point is, putting a 500-pound bar on an untrained individual would clearly introduce too much stress.

This example elucidates the premise behind this article:

  • Moderate stress is good, extreme stress is bad, no stress is bad
  • Intermittent stress is good, non-stop stress is bad
  • Embracing moderate stress will help you avoid an extremely stressful or chaotic event

Appropriate Exercise Stress

As just mentioned, your body only grows and becomes stronger in stressful situations. However, too much stress (i.e. 500-pound squats) can lead to injury. Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle absent of stress leads to disease and sickness.

Lifting weights is an example of extreme stress, outside of the norm (compared to the rest of the day), on the body.

It’s not unusual for advanced trainees to lift 20,000+ pounds of volume (reps x sets x weight) in a single training session.

This is still extreme (relative to the rest of the day) and isn’t something even an advanced lifter would do 3-4 times per day (i.e. 60,000 to 80,000 pounds of volume).

This short bout of stress done 3-5 times per week leads to growth and increased strength and capabilities.

The converse of this more extreme stress doesn’t mean a pairing with zero stress for the rest of the day or week is appropriate. Rather this type of training should be paired with leisure activity such as extra walking or hiking.

For example, my lifting 5-6x per week is paired with a minimum of 10ish deliberate miles of walking per week.

The goal for appropriate stress for exercise should be as follows

  • A small amount of your time should be spent on the extreme outside the norm range (i.e. running for 30-60 minutes 3-4 times per week (i.e. 1-3% of your life)
  • A larger portion of your time should be spend doing leisure activity such as walking, hiking, light jogs, recreational sports (i.e. 3 hours per day 5 days per week- still only around 10% of your life).
  • A minimal amount of time should be spent doing sedentary activity (unless of you are reading)

Appropriate Intellectual Stress

This might be unique for everyone but I’m of the same belief that you cannot spent extreme amount of time in extreme intellectual or even work pursuit.  Too much time in this zone and you’ll get burnt out.

Similarly, too much time without stimulation can make you dull and rather boring (no offense).

For me it’s nice to switch intellectual modes (my own interest learning skills, and school); for example, my time could be spent

  • Reading research -i.e. usually only one paper per day (i.e. 4% of my life)
  • Taking an audio Spanish lesson – i.e. 30 minutes 3-5 times per week (i.e. 1% of my life)
  • School work- i.e. 1-2 hours per day (6% of my life)

On the extreme no stress (bad) side would be watching Netflix for 4-5 hours per day (aka my winter break).

Again, a decent amount of your time can then be spent in more moderate intellectual pursuits such as sharing Star Wars theories.

Appropriate Weight Loss Stress

In this case either extreme (starving and stuffed) isn’t a good place to be. To be clear though, I don’t consider a state of being stuffed as being stressful, in fact it is the opposite of stress.

If your goal is weight loss you should actually be closer to the lower end of moderate stress most of time.

You should feel low levels of hunger most of the time. Recognize that this isn’t a bad thing. I once told a client to use this as a feedback mechanism to know that you are in a caloric deficit.

She hadn’t thought of hunger as anything more than an unpleasant feeling that needed to be eliminated. Once it was reframed as a useful feedback tool it lost that stigma.

Whenever I need to drop weight for a meet, or just because I spent too much time in the “stuffed” zone I use low levels of hunger as a feedback mechanism. If I am a little hungry most of the time (again, not starving) I am doing well.

Appropriate Relationship Stress

One should not hope for relationships devoid of conflict just as one should not stay in a relationship with endless fights. One shouldn’t expect a relationship where they are happy with the person all the time, just as they shouldn’t stay in a relationship when they are only happy being with the person for a small percent of the time.

For people who constantly avoid low levels of conflict in a relationship, a single fight could easily rock a poor foundation, destabilize that relationship, and necessitate the purchase of a more comfortable couch.

A good metaphor is controlled burning, where controlled fires are lit to prevent large out of control fires. If a relationship is build on comfort and the avoidance of conflict (i.e. no controlled fires) a fight, which might be considered normal for some relationships, could turn into a forest fire.

Embrace the Stress

In all of the other areas I mentioned, lack of moderate stress for long periods of time would mean that if change was to occur, regular levels of stress would be perceived as more difficult than actually is.

In weight training, low levels of stress for one person (i.e. 200 pound bench press) might be considered extreme stress for another.

For someone who hasn’t expanded their mind in years, reading a single research paper or book could come across as a different language whereas mental resources might not be drained for a person who stresses their mind on a daily basis.

A caloric deficit for someone who consistently monitors their weight likely isn’t challenging; however, for someone who is constantly in a caloric surplus, (comfort) feeling hunger might be extremely uncomfortable.

A fight could lead to a week of silence or to a quick resolution of the real issue depending on the amount of time spent in stressful relationship zones.