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Stop Stress Before It Stops You From Your Workouts!

Last week we discussed stress related back and neck pain that places limitations on your ability to maximize results in the gym. In order to avoid the cycle of stress, pain and weak muscles, Legendary Fitness decided to take a look into the issue.

Last week on Bodybuilding for Baby boomers we discussed stress related back and neck pain that places limitations on your ability to maximize results in the gym.

Self-imposed limitations due to pain, along with range of motion limitations from hard masses of nodules in the upper back and neck caused by stress related muscle tension not only reduces productivity in the gym, but also leads to deconditioned, weaker muscles. In order to avoid the cycle of stress, pain and weak muscles, Legendary Fitness decided to take a look at some popular recommendations for stress reduction.

From the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Massage
  • Warm bath

"Both have been proven to relieve muscle tension and ease joint pain. Remember that better emotional health often equals better physical health."

Baby boomer's response to the Arthritis Foundation recommendations:
These are easy and inexpensive ways to ease stress by simply taking time for you. Moreover, it feels good both physically and emotionally!

From Vitality Magazine - May 2004:

  • Exercise
  • Mind/body activities like yoga and tai chi

Vitality Magazine cites Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American council on Exercise as he refers to numerous studies that demonstrate that exercise relieves stress through the release of endorphins that ease pain and produce a sense of euphoria.

Bryant also discusses the effects of exercise on the neurotransmitters in the brain that increase levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine which are widely accepted mood enhancers. While stress reduction through exercise can occur in as few as three to five sessions per week, Bryant suggests physical activity on a daily basis for consistency in stress reduction. When discussing mind/body activities, Bryant suggests yoga and tai-chi as increased muscle involvement causes the mind to relax.

Baby boomer's response to Vitality Magazine recommendations:
We both agree with the idea of daily physical activity, but in general we recommend that our baby boomer readers exercise four or five days per week. Lifting four to five days per week helps keep metabolisms running high as we fight the natural slowdown due to aging. On off days, we agree with Bryant about the importance of physical activity. Keep in mind, activities like going for a walk during your recovery days will provide the benefits of stress reduction without the catabolic effects of overtraining.

From AARP:

  • Solo exercise: walk, jog, home-exercise videos
  • Frustration releasing aerobics class: kickboxing
  • Training partners: relieves stress of isolation in the gym
  • Competition: tennis or racquetball
  • Exercise with built-in relaxation: yoga, stretching, meditation, martial arts, Tai Chi
  • Realistic training goals: avoid overtraining which can cause additional stress

The AARP suggests involvement in activities that you enjoy in order to stay motivated. They suggest physical exercise five days per week, for a minimum of 30 minutes per session and note that additional activity over the minimum levels as recommended is even better at producing stress reducing results. Lastly, the AARP notes a correlation between physically active people, better nutrition programs and higher levels of self-esteem.

Baby boomers response to AARP recommendations:
AARP provides a variety of physical activities to meet the needs of many people trying to reduce stress through exercise. They take a proactive stance to obstacles with suggestions of going solo or working with a partner, home workouts, aerobics classes and realistic goals. We agree with AARP when noting higher activity levels with higher self-esteem.

Have you ever noticed the physical changes of people under stress? Weight loss, but much more typically, weight gain is characteristic of stress. Undesirable physical changes that occur due to stress related weight gain only complicate and exacerbate stress levels with lower self-esteem.


  • Multi-disciplinary approach
    • Rebuild deconditioned muscles
    • Psychological pain management techniques and biofeedback

Dr. John Sarno, physician and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at New York University coined the term, Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) to refer to back pain that is caused by stress. Dr. Sarno points out that treatment for back pain when the root of the cause is stress will lead to further patient distress.

Stress related pain creates a vicious cycle where the patient places limitations on his/her life due to pain, family members and doctors making suggestions of "take it easy," and the limitations of movement creating deconditioned and weak muscle which leads to more back pain. Type "A" personality types tend to fit the profile of stress related back pain patients.

Here's the theory. "Emotional tension is pushed out of awareness by the mind into the unconscious. This unconscious tension causes changes in the body's nervous system. These changes include construction in blood vessels and reduction of blood flow to the various soft tissues, including muscles, tendon, ligaments, and nerves in the back.

This cause a decrease in oxygen to the area as well as a buildup of biochemical waste products in the muscles. In turn, this results in muscle tension, spasm and back pain experienced by the patient."

Baby boomer's response to recommendations:
Let's be clear. You cannot diagnose stress related back pain on your own. Only an orthopedic doctor that has run the necessary tests to rule out physical causes can make this diagnosis.

With that said, we now wonder how many of our baby boomer friends are needlessly undergoing therapy for back pain, where the cause of the pain is stress-related rather than physical. Or how many boomers have fallen into the cycle of limitation on workouts due to this condition? Your family may be proud of you for backing off on your resistance training program, but have you actually created a bigger problem by deconditioning your muscles?

From Vitality On Demand:

  • At The Start Of The Day
    • Prepare for stress
    • Deep breathing
    • Visualization

  • At Work
    • Short walks
    • Move around the office
    • Stretch

  • General Recommendations
    • Exercise regularly to stay in good condition
    • Watch your weight
    • Use a headset while on the phone

Baby boomer response to Vitality On Demand Recommendations:
Personal experience tells us that movement makes us feel better, while spending the day at a computer creates stress and tension in our neck, traps and shoulders.

Deep breathing techniques are commonly used to chase away stress-related performance anxiety. Getting ready to make a challenging lift in the gym that will set a new personal record? You might want to try a few deep breathes before attempting the lift. We both agree with the idea of short walks and movement around the office.

One of these days, Richard will actually take that short walk! As for the recommendation for stretching… please avoid stretching inactive muscles and follow the movement around the office and/or short walk recommendations for the workplace.


  • Make a plan to deal with stress
  • Allow time for relaxation before bedtime through reading, meditating and hot baths to get adequate sleep

Sleep allows a person to "turn off" the stress noise of the day.

Baby boomers response to WebMD recommendations from Richard and Diane:
We've covered the topic of sleep in prior articles. Sleep is a critical element of success in a baby boomer's exercise routine. Remember, baby boomers, you don't grow muscle during the workout. You grow muscle during the recovery process. So, if you want to grow muscle, you need to get enough sleep.

American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA):

  • Medical acupuncture

The AAMA states that stress is the main reason people suffer from back and neck pain. According to Dr. Schulman, Clinical Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine in surgery at the Weil Medical College of Cornell University states that medical acupuncture loosens muscles and stimulates endorphins which in turn lowers the sensation of pain.

Baby boomers response to AAMA recommendations:
Medical research shows that there are no long lasting effects of acupuncture. At most, patients may see positive results for 24 hours. However, for many suffering from stress related pain, 24 hours of relief is beneficial in terms of breaking through a plateau and/or the simple pleasure of pain reduction for a day.

The difference between medical acupuncture and traditional acupuncture appears to be the medical exam completed by the medical acupuncturist prior to treatment. Once stress related neck and back pain is diagnosed, these baby boomers fail to see the difference between medical and traditional acupuncture. How will you body know if the needle was place by a medical acupuncturist or a traditional acurpuncturist? Perhaps by the size of the medical bill?

  • Team Building retreats for corporate employees
  • Yoga/meditation classes… just don't call it stress reduction!

Corporations are jumping on the bandwagon of incorporating stress reduction techniques into the corporate environment. But, in an interesting twist, yoga classes specifically designed to reduce stress avoid that label when choosing a name for the class. Apparently, those in the workforce do not want to be identified as needing a class for stress reduction.

While studies to date are not showing an increase in productivity in the work force when stress reducing techniques such as yoga are utilized, anecdotal evidence reveals positive results. cites the Stress Reduction Clinic at the university of Massachusetts medical Center in Worcester where researchers concluded that yoga and meditation can relieve stress.

When pushed on the placebo effects the founder of the center, Jon Kabat-Zinn states, "Why not? I'll take transformational change any way it comes."

Baby boomers response to recommendations:
We were both quite pleased to see the acknowledgment of placebo effects with yoga and stress reducing effects due to the dearth of scientific research in this area. In spite of the lack of research, Diane likes to take her Type "A" personality to yoga class to clear her head for an hour or two each week.

Tight hamstrings and hips, coupled with some balance issues force a level of concentration in class where the stressors of daily life must evacuate the mind in order to keep from falling out of a pose. Placebo effect or not, Diane enjoys some stress reduction benefits of yoga. Richard's take on yoga… did anyone happen to read Dave Draper's newsletter last week where he mentions yoga? These two guys are cut from the same cloth!


In closing baby boomers, if you are affected from stress related symptoms, especially the back and neck pain highlighted in this and last week's articles, we urge you to seek answers that will allow you to maintain a full spectrum of exercises in the gym.

We're continually seeking to redefine this aging process through productivity that enhances health, wellness, fitness and quality of life. Avoid stress whenever possible, as it can lead to limitations in your workouts. When it's not possible to avoid stress, try utilizing some of the stress reducing techniques in this article and keep us posted on your progress.

Be sure to check out Diane and Richards site

Train hard, train smart and make it a legendary week!
Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC.
Richard Baldwin, Member. Legendary Physique, LLC.

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Copyright 2004. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.

The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.