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Tommy Rundgren: Stress compromises workouts

Whenever I talk about sports and exercise, I always try to emphasize the ability and importance of listening to one’s own body. Monitoring the body’s stress signals and taking action based on them gives athletes (and the less serious fitness buffs) a really big advantage. I have written before about working out when you are sick and the related risks. If you aren’t well, exercise is not beneficial and just makes things worse.

I’ve always been a relatively diligent person, both in terms of working and working out. For the most part, I think it’s a good trait and has helped me to get things done as effectively as  possible. But sometimes it can be a negative, like the times when you are preoccupied with work-related issues and projects and you should be giving your mind and body a rest.

Last autumn I started working on a project that is completely new to me and something I have no prior experience with. This project is happening in addition to my day job, so time is at a premium. I’m also somewhat of a perfectionist, so I want everything to be done as best as possible. When I was younger, I didn’t stress about much; I was more of the “things will work out just fine” kind of person. But what happens when a man reaches middle-age, and should the increased sensitivity to stress be a concern?

I used to sleep like a log with nothing keeping me from a good night’s sleep. But, somewhere along the way, I’ve developed a bad habit of thinking and planning in the middle of the night. That’s when the “best” ideas seem to emerge and lead to a not-so-well-slept night and a sleep deficit. When does an athlete or physically active person achieve the best recovery? While sleeping, of course. Getting through a planned workout can be challenging when your body and mind are totally working in overdrive and your good night’s sleep is down to just a couple of times a week. It’s a feeling that is very similar to that of total exhaustion, i.e. the workout feels tiring and the recovery is slow. For me, this is a completely new mental process, and internalizing it is clearly taking some time. I have tried to complete my workout routines as planned with the ultimate goal of participating in the European Masters Championships in London, even though I definitely haven’t been at my peak in every workout session. So is it smart to exercise so hard if there are work- and other life-related factors causing stress and compromising the ability to recover? Definitely not, so my own mental process in this matter goes on.

Tommy Rundgren, Masters swimmer