A day after hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, I started receiving text messages and phone calls from my clients asking me if my gym, CrossFit A-Game, was going to be open. I certainly didn’t mind opening considering how lucky my family and I made out from the storm living near Long Beach Island. But, I was surprised by how many people who had been affected by the storm wanted to come in to get their wod (workout of the day) in. I figured working out would be the last thing that would be on people’s list of things to do after a 100 year storm. One member that didn’t have electricity for four days finally found out we were open and looked forward to the workout as much as his first hot shower in days. I told the guy it wasn’t necessary to workout to get a shower but he wouldn’t hear of it.
This got me thinking that perhaps our people are comfortable to being uncomfortable. In a way, they thrive on stress. Stress is not destroyed homes, damaged businesses leading to unemployment, or worse case losing a loved one, but stress is how we process adverse situations. Stress is the body’s physiological response to its environment. We always hear that exercise relieves stress. Who is to say that you can’t get practice at dealing with stress?
Through CrossFit we look at two aspects, physical and neurological, to develop fitness. People get so caught up with the physical part of working out and either don’t know or are not harnessing enough of the neurological piece of training. The neurological piece of working out, in addition to the hormonal change, is part of the endocrine system in the body. With a neurological and hormonal response during a workout a stress is created, tantamount to the same chemical reactions in the body as a bad day.
The only difference we can expect is the stress created in a workout is controlled and known, whereas, stress created outside the realm of a workout is unpredictable. Think of the athlete that prepares for a sporting event. The athlete does workouts to prepare for the unknown variables that are going to occur on game day. Not only is the body of the athlete tempered by training and practicing, but the mind is prepared to receive the stress. If we apply this to everyday life it is an easier application. We are not all professional athletes like football players, MMA fighters, or sprinters. We don’t have to deal with getting smashed by a linebacker, taking a blow to the head, or running for your life. Most of our stress outside the gym, short of catastrophe, might be dealing with a bad customer, making a car payment on time, or being stuck in traffic. Studies are being run at the University of Southern California to measure the most extreme cases of the central nervous system frying with post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers. These tests are being run to see if PTSD can be “vaccinated” through incremental exposure to battlefield situations in hopes of fortifying the central nervous system. There is no physical harm that will come of our everyday stress but our inability to deal with everyday stress can lead to long term health problems.
The confidence that is created through exercise by looking and feeling better physically should make everyday stress easier to metabolize. If you have the physical ability to run a 5K, a 10K, a marathon or lift your bodyweight for several repetitions then shouldn’t something like getting cut off in traffic seem like a mundane event compared to what you are capable? All of the training that lead up to those accomplishments has tempered the demeanor, increased confidence, and forged the central nervous system to withstand a beating. Our ability to deal with stress is the key to leading a successful life and staying healthy. If you are working out or thinking about working out try and make it worth it. If you can text message between sets, watch television, or carry on a conversation while looking at yourself in the mirror at the local gym you might not be challenging yourself enough for your own good. Your best bet is surround yourself with like minded people and trainers that want to get the most out of their workout and as we say around our gym, “embrace the suck”.
Damian O’Hara is owner of Ares Athletic Club, home of CrossFit-A-Game located in Manahawkin, NJ. He has been training in martial arts for over 15 years and is a black belt in Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as a certified CrossFit Instructor.