How to Spot the Difference: Stress Buster or Stress Booster?

By Hayden Shearman

All across the world, for the past 14 months or so of Covid lockdowns and restrictions and uncertainties, stress levels have been running pretty high. There’s a good chance we’ve all got at least a mild case of chronic stress. So, how can we use running to break up that stress and not just boost it?


  1. Acute is Good. Our bodies have a wonderful short term stress response. We’ve used it in dangerous situations for thousands of years. But when that stress response becomes consistent over time, that’s when it can lead to big problems with our health and running performances. The magic with running is knowing just the right amount of acute (i.e. one-off) training stress to give it in a good ol’ fashioned “stress buster” workout that won’t send the chronic (i.e. ongoing) training stress through the roof. That’s where a workout like this week’s Workout of the Week fartlek session is ideal for adapting the workout to our bodies rather than the other way around.


  1. Recovery is Key. Of course, if you’re going to nail yourself with a “stress buster” workout you need to recover equally as hard. This is where many runners, who use running as a way to deal with the stressors of life, come unstuck because they can often turn to hard sessions and excessive mileage too often. Instead, have some intentional recovery methodologies you can turn to frequently: yoga, ice bath/hot tub, massage, foam rolling etc.


  1. Physical vs Mental. This week’s Workout of the Week is the perfect example of a session that is kind on the mind but tougher on the body. So, when you’re stressed with life and work and family, a fartlek session that doesn’t require massive amounts of critical decision-making moments but instead fills the soul with scenery and freedom is so powerful busting stress.


  1. Track Your Chronic Stress Load: Research tells us that it takes about 3-4 weeks for a muscle to fully adapt to a new training stress. So, a workout you do today will have a long tail where you’re not in optimum fitness and your body is re-building for at least a week (potentially up to 3-4 weeks). Now when you add up everything you did in a week (the two running workouts, the long run, the weights session, the spin class and the easy runs) that’s a lot of fatigue residue that your body is dealing with. And this is where a training diary is absolutely vital for understanding how your accumulated training load is looking.