The stress cup
How is it possible that a devoted trainee, who is following a well-proven program to the letter, does not achieve what the program should deliver?
Should the trainee change focus to another type of physical attribute than strength?
Often, when a novice asks for a program, he is asked what his goals are, what he has easy access to, his constraints and various logistic details. Finally, he is given a program to follow. It can be with kettlebells, barbells, bodyweight, a mix of all this or a completely different tool. As long as strength training principles are respected, modalities do not really matter.
The one thing that really matters is that the program fits the goals and logistics possibilities of the trainee, and that it is a proven effective program. Countless people over the decades have followed these programs and proved that they worked, as long as the trainee is consistent.
How is it possible, then, that those programs sometimes do not fully deliver their promises?
Does the trainee follow consistently the program? Yes. Does the trainee eat and rest enough to recover? Yes. Does the trainee adapt according to the stress/recovery cycle? It seems so. But maybe not.
Dr. Hardy represents your stress management ability with a cup. Any source of stress fills a little bit the cup, whether it is the presentation you have to finish for tomorrow’s meeting, or the 5 sets of 5 you just finished.
Programming only takes in account the training stress.
What about the other stress of his life? Does the trainee work in night shift? Does he have personal issue, or a busy schedule at work with an important deadline approaching? Is he moving into a new town? Stress is not only induced by training.
All sources of stress add up and fill the cup.
Recovery empties the cup: proper food, rest, meditation, etc.
If we fill properly the cup with the right amount of stress, we force an adaptation. The size of the cup increases. If we fill too much, it overflows. This is over-training.
This is how we can increase load and volume, and why today’s light training load is the same as last month heavy training. The cup is bigger; the “same” stress fills the cup a bit less. This is also why increasing in load and volume is carefully thought. Too much too fast leads to overfilling the cup and loss of performance.
Good programming should fill the cup enough to induce an adaptation, and not too much to avoid over-training.
But if we do not take in account the other sources of stress, the training stress, that would have been appropriate in normal conditions, will be enough to overfill the cup. We are in over-training territory.
I present this concept to all my students. When we start a session, I ask them about their stress cup. Sometimes, we adapt the program for a session or two. Know when to alter slightly the program and it will always deliver!