Would you rather feel overwhelmed by circumstances or challenged but in control? How about being able to kick more ass in the gym without destroying your body? With simple, effective workouts that build mental skills, you can train yourself to feel in control and challenged rather than at the mercy of heavy weights and stress.
First, some quick, oversimplified definitions of stress:
Eustress is positive stress. It’s the feeling of being challenged but in control. Distress is negative stress. It’s stress that creates fear and anxiety because you feel a lack of control. Distress tells you that you don’t have the skills or resources to deal with the situation that you’re in.
Eustress-training workouts are designed to improve your sense of control so that you feel challenged instead of anxious. They also train you to do a lot of quality work without making your body feel like it was lit on fire and put out with a pitchfork. The results: You’re able to push yourself harder with less demand on your body; your shift in mindset trains you to take on challenges rather than avoid them, and you improve your skill at your chosen exercises.
I learned about eustress training from Craig Weller and Jonathan Pope of Building the Elite and their book Building the Elite. They’re a dynamic duo who prep candidates for special operations selection courses. My work with a Tier 1 tactical unit, as well as with backcountry hunters, drew me to them as a resource. I guinea-pigged myself through their eustress-training workouts and saw nearly immediate results. Then I started programming the workouts for my clients. I’ve seen so much positive return that I felt compelled to share the eustress-training gospel.
Guidelines for All Eustress-Training Workouts
Focus on staying calm and relaxed throughout the entire workout.
Keep your heart under about 150 beats per minute.
While resting between sets, your heart rate should drop to under 130 beats per minute.
All reps must be completed with good form.
Keep moving. Rest only enough to meet all of the above guidelines.
What To Focus On
It’s easy to say, “Stay calm.” Doing it is another matter.
When starting a eustress workout, first, focus on your breathing. Keep it slow, controlled, and only through your nose. This prevents shallow, panicked breathing and also helps to keep your mind in the moment.
Relax your face. This helps you keep your mind calm.
Don’t avoid the discomfort; acknowledge it. Trying to avoid it is likely to send you into a tailspin of anxiety based on your avoidance. Recognize the discomfort, but ask yourself whether it’s relevant to your completing the exercise. You have to finish the work; the discomfort is just part of it.
Handle yourself with positive self-talk. Remind yourself that “you got this.” It’ll go a lot farther than calling yourself names if the workout seems harder than you expected.
Double-Kettlebell Front Squat and Bent-Over Row Breath Ladders
You’ll complete four sets of each exercise. One set equals five reps, take three breaths, three reps, take three breaths, two reps. You must hold on to the weights for the entire set.
In gym nomenclature, it looks like this:
Kettlebell Front Squats: 4 x 5-3-2
Rest four minutes.
Bent-Over Row: 4 x 5-3-2
Timed Dead Lifts and Kettlebell Overhead Presses
Pick a dead-lift variation that you’re skilled at and do your sets over a 10-minute period. The weight should be at about a 7 rating of perceived exertion (RPE), which means that you should have about three to five reps left in the tank at the end of each set. Each set is one to three reps. As you improve, you can increase the weight to an 8 RPE, which means you’ll have two to three reps left in the tank at the end of each set. You can also progress by increasing the amount of time.
Rest for a few minutes, and then follow the same exact process with kettlebell overhead presses.
Circuit these four exercises, completing three reps of each per set.
- Rear Foot Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
Keep Your Head and Kick More Ass
Do more work with better recovery. Improve your overall fitness. Build mental skills that help you take on bigger challenges. Eustress training is an effective tool for helping you accomplish all of those things. You’ll keep your head and kick more ass.
Read Next: Inside the Fitness Cult of Gym Jones