When it comes to stress, there are two major categories into which it can be categorized: (There are two major stress categories:)
Eustress – good/beneficial stress, and
Distress – bad/harmful stress
The difference between a good or bad stress often has more to do with the context than with the stressor itself.
Unfortunately, as CrossFit athletes we often have a tendency to think “more is better” and to put more emphasis on applying the stress (training) than we do on removing it (rest/recovery); as a result, we end up training in a constantly fatigued state. We forget (or are hesitant) to take time off for fear of “falling behind,” and in doing so, we risk turning our training from a source of eustress to a source of distress, thus damaging our progress along the way. Essentially, rather than training ourselves to be resistant to fatigue, we are simply training fatigued — a distinction to which I never paid much attention until I heard James Fitzgerald (OPT) mention it in an interview. Since hearing that interview, that idea has become lodged in my brain; while the difference may sound minor in writing, in reality I think it is more important than many of us realize.
Stress and Progressive Overload
The exact amount of stress that can be applied before it transitions from good (eustress) to bad (distress) can vary significantly between individuals based on a number of factors such as:
- genetics (some athletes simply handle more volume/higher intensities better)
- predisposition to being “high stress”
- athletic experience and training
- presence of external stressors (work, relationships, etc), etc.
And even within the same athlete, the optimum level of stress can change in relation to factors like:
- how much sleep an athlete is getting
- their nutrition
- what is going on outside of training
- menstrual cycle (this one is just for the ladies)
Which is why it’s so important that we monitor our training/progress, schedule regular rest/recovery days, and be conscious of any extended dips in performance.