Stressed out strength athletes take longer to recover post-workout


Strength athletes under long-term psychological stress need more days for their muscles to recover after training than do athletes who are not under stress. Whether you’ve got heavy exams coming up, your company is struggling financially, or you are caring for someone who is seriously ill, chronic psychological stress delays muscle recovery. Sports scientists from the University of Texas at Austin have published hard data in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

Long-term psychological stress is not good for athletes. Stress boosts the production of muscle-damaging hormones and factors such as cortisol and myostatin, and inhibits the production of testosterone. Chronic stress also deregulates the immune system, and as a result you’re more susceptible to disease or illness.

On the basis of our current knowledge you’d expect that psychological stress delays recovery after strength training, but until now there had been no studies that show this conclusively. So Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen decided to examine the effect of chronic psychological stress on post-strength-workout recovery.

Stults-Kolehmainen did an experiment on 9 female and 22 male students, whom he asked about the amount of psychological stress in their lives, using the Perceived Stress Scale.

He then got the students to train their legs using a leg-press machine. They did 6 sets to failure. In the four days after the workout Stults-Kolehmainen measured the amount of maximal isomeric force the students were able to develop on the leg press. That resulted in the figure below.


The students with the least psychological stress [MPPS = 9] were capable after just one day of developing the same maximal isomeric force as they had been before the training. Three days/72 hours later their maximal isomeric force was greater than it had been before they started the training.

The students under the most psychological stress [MPPS = 19] had still not recovered their pre-training maximal isomeric force four days/96 hours afterwards.

“These data provide evidence that stress has an impact on recovery from heavy bouts of training”, the researchers write. “Those reporting high levels of stress take several more days to recover than those reporting less stress.”

“This robust effect likely has practical significance for those facing the dual challenges of chronic mental strain and strenuous exercise, which suggests that those engaging in strenuous strength training should ‘exercise caution when stressed’. Consequently, it may be prudent for such individuals to monitor recovery and prescribe more time for recuperation during periods of inordinate mental stress.”

Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period.


The primary aim of this study was to determine whether chronic mental stress moderates recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations: perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness, in a 4-day period after a bout of strenuous resistance exercise. Undergraduate resistance training students (n = 31; age, 20.26 ± 1.34 years) completed the Perceived Stress Scale and the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire, a measure of life event stress. At a later visit, they performed an acute heavy-resistance exercise protocol (10 repetition maximum [RM] leg press test plus 6 sets: 80-100% of 10RM). Maximal isometric force (MIF), perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness were assessed in approximately 24-hour intervals after exercise. Recovery data were analyzed with hierarchical linear modeling growth curve analysis. Life event stress significantly moderated linear (p = 0.027) and squared (p = 0.031) recovery of MIF. This relationship held even when the model was adjusted for fitness, workload, and training experience. Perceived energy (p = 0.038), fatigue (p = 0.040), and soreness (p = 0.027) all were moderated by life stress. Mean perceived stress modulated linear and squared recovery of MIF (p < 0.001) and energy (p = 0.004) but not fatigue or soreness. In all analyses, higher stress was associated with worse recovery. Stress, whether assessed as life event stress or perceived stress, moderated the recovery trajectories of muscular function and somatic sensations in a 96-hour period after strenuous resistance exercise. Therefore, under conditions of inordinate stress, individuals may need to be more mindful about observing an appropriate length of recovery. PMID: 24343323 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000335 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Source: