How Stress Affects Lean Muscle Development

How Stress Affects Lean Muscle Development

Many of us today experience a ton of stress. We live in a high-powered, anxiety-ridden
world, and there’s often no escaping causes of stress.
We may even be aware of problems caused by stress. These might include stomach
problems, headaches, and persistent stiffness and soreness. However, the dangers of stress
can run even deeper.
Stress can also affect your workout and fitness routine, causing you to lose muscle and gain
fat (yes, the reason you’re not losing weight and gaining can be stress-related!). Today, we’ll
take a few minutes to discuss how to identify symptoms of stress, how stress affects muscle
development, and most importantly of all, how to de-stress.


The Effects of Stress
In a nutshell, the physical symptoms of stress are caused by our body’s “fight or flight”
response. When our bodies perceive a threat to our wellbeing, our adrenaline kicks in and
gets us ready for action.
This was a very useful reaction when the average human spent time fighting off wild animals
and a horde of other dangers. This “fight or flight” response even occasionally saves lives
today. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone!
But for most of us, this response does more harm than good. When we’re stressed, our lives
are usually not in danger. The powerful hormones and built-in instincts that flood our bodies
tense our muscles, getting us ready to face whatever might come our way. You might
recognize this feeling. Is this how you feel every day at work? If so, you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, muscle tension is only the tip of the iceberg.
Constant muscle tension causes serious problems over time. Aside from stiffness and pain,
it saps energy. Your whole body is on high alert, and this will quickly take its toll. This can
affect all areas of your life. Your work, your sleep, your relaxing time, and the quality and
quantity of your workout will all suffer.

How “Fight or Flight” Responses Affect Lean Muscle
Development
Some of us will, at one time, have experienced a “fight or flight” moment. The hairs on the
back of your neck stand up, your muscles tense, and adrenaline floods through your body,
preparing you to face whatever is coming your way – or flee.
The reason we feel this way is because of a surge of chemicals, hormones, and ingrained
instincts coursing through our body. Naturally, this all physically affects our bodies.
You might think that your day-to-day stress doesn’t affect you this way. Unfortunately, you’d
be wrong.
The sharp, electric feeling of adrenaline rushing through your body can quickly become
muted. Our bodies adjust to the feeling of stress and its results until it almost becomes the norm. In fact, many people don’t quite realize just how stressed there are – until it goes away.
Prolonged stress seriously impacts lean muscle development. A stressed body tends to
hang onto fat, and it gets worse. The chemicals and hormones our “fight or flight” response
produces inhibit lean muscle development. Here are just a few examples:
● Cortisol
Cortisol can either aid fat loss or inhibit it. This is a crucial hormone that needs to be
balanced. High levels of cortisol will negatively impact your progress in building lean muscle.
The more stressed you are, the more cortisol your body will produce.
● Prolonged Muscle Tension
You may not even realize that your muscles are tense until you fully relax. However, this can
cause damage to lean muscle over time. Tiny tears may form in muscle tissue, which aside
from causing pain, will limit your workouts. If you push past your limits, you may even cause
serious injury to yourself.
● Muscle Weakness
This is another problem caused by prolonged muscle tension. Muscle weakness presents as
fatigue, tiredness, or heavy and rubbery muscles. This means you can’t workout as much as
you’d like, and combined with the weight gain that stress often causes, can have a bad effect
on your body and your overall health.
● Hormone Imbalances
Our bodies work on a carefully balanced cocktail of chemicals and hormones. When properly
managed, these hormones work together to create the optimal conditions to build lean
muscle and shed fat. Keeping these hormones balanced is never easy. It requires perfectly
measured portions of rest, exercise, sleep, and of course, a balanced diet. Throwing stress
into the mix causes chaos.


If your body believes that it is in danger, the last thing it wants to do is shed fat. Building
muscle is simply not a priority, and unbalanced hormones or blocked pituitary glands mean
that your body is not able to continue building muscle.
At least, not until the threat is passed. Unfortunately, if you’re not able to deal with your
stress, your body will believe that the threat is ongoing.


Managing and Reducing Stress
If you deal with ongoing stress, it will affect so much more than your muscle development.
Stress can cause long-term problems such as damage to the immune system, heart
problems, stomach problems, and much more. In the short term, you can expect back and
neck pain, stiffness, headaches, a racing heart, and of course, weight gain and decreasing
muscle mass.


Identify Causes of Stress
You may be able to immediately identify causes of stress in your life. If possible, remove
those issues, or perhaps you can come up with a work-around. For example, lateness or
poor preparation for some event may cause you stress. In which case, setting aside a little
time to get organized can exponentially reduce your stress.

Remember, stress in one seemingly unconnected area of your life can affect another. Your
fitness and muscle development can suffer because of stress at work.
Of course, simply removing causes of stress or working around them is sometimes not an
option. Then it’s time to look at other treatments: managing stress.


Managing Stress
Some popular stress management ideas include:
● Meditation or mindfulness
● Treatment for anxiety (anxiety causes high levels of stress)
● Plenty of rest
● Decreasing your workload (if possible)
● Massages (for muscle tension, and this can also help combat muscle weakness)
● Good posture
Find what works for you and make it part of your regular routine. Stress is a common
problem, but it doesn’t need to be. We’re all individuals, so each of us handles stress
differently. It’s important to keep a close eye on yourself and your own workout routine, to
find out what works best for you. That way, you won’t jeopardize precious lean muscle or
your health.