STRESS Hormones – Killing Your Kettlebell Workouts?

Stress is a funny thing.

I woke up a week ago last Sunday with a weird rash under my right pec that wrapped around my ribcage. When I looked in the mirror, it was running down the right side of my back.

I didn’t know what it was but I thought it would go away because it was probably just an allergic reaction to something I ate. It didn’t. It got worse. My lovely wife suggested I go to the doc’s, which I ended up doing on Tuesday morning.

Turns out it was the worst case of Shingles the PA had ever seen. She brought in the doc to confer and he just nodded his head in awe.

Here’s a pic.

Shingles = Fun!

Pretty cool, huh?

Apparently Shingles are a physical response to stress, which was weird, because I wasn’t feeling particularly stressed out. Apparently I was wrong. My body was telling me otherwise. And interestingly, the symptoms were there – I just refused to pay attention. (More about that in a bit…)

Which brings me to the point of this post…

The Holiday Season is upon us.

Thanksgiving is 2 weeks from tomorrow. And Christmas is approximately 8 weeks from this coming Sunday. And apart from being a time of joy and fun, it’s also a season of Stress. Lots of stress.

We have to get our Thanksgiving plans finalized and start preparing for the Big Day. Then we have to immediately shift into Christmas mode and go shopping for gifts and go to parties and finalize travel plans and deal with people we may not want to deal with.

Compound all that with 4th Quarter deadlines and you have a recipe for STRESS and potential workout disasters.

I want to show you how you can avoid both, especially the workout disaster part.

Where Stress “Lives”

We talk about it in terms of “feelings” like being “stressed out” or feeling “stressed” but the crazy thing about it is by the time we actually start talking about it, it might just be too late. The nefarious effects of stress have already started in our bodies.

Here’s what I mean –

See, our conscious minds are kind of like the dashboard of your car. It gives us feedback about what’s going on both inside the car and outside the car. The speedometer tells you how fast you’re going (outside the car) and the oil pressure light tells you that you’re low on oil (inside the car). Likewise, the mind receives input from both the inside and outside – “I don’t feel good” and “She’s smiling at me.”

Our subconscious minds can be thought of as the electrical and mechanical systems that control the car – we know they’re there, we just can’t see them running from the outside. This is the part of the car where everything happens. It’s what truly drives the car. Sometimes this can be thought of as intuition – you know when you’ve got a “funny feeling” about something.

What about our body? Well that’s just like the body of the car – the frame, tires, color of the paint, etc.

But our subconscious is where the stress really lives. And when it rears its ugly head it does so through the conscious mind. It shows up in outbursts of anger or irritability, feelings of sadness, desires to overeat, overwhelming feelings of fatigue, or any unusual thoughts or behaviors.

Now What’s This Got To Do With Your
Kettlebell Workouts?

Many of us work out to relieve stress. I’ve been there and done that.

But did you know that sometimes – many times – your workouts can be a contributing factor to the symptoms of stress?

It’s true.

You’re need to workout – although stress relieving in the short term, can actually cause you to sabotage your long term goals.

Again, it’s true.


Because workouts are just another physical stress placed upon the body. And if you’re over-stressed mentally, adding more stress physically, although mentally relieving, is still interpreted by the brain as STRESS.

So what are some symptoms of too much stress?

Well we already quickly covered some of the emotional ones above so let’s cover some physical ones.

– increased belly fat is a classic
– decreased muscularity
– decreased appetite
– increased desire for salty or sweet foods
– increased rashes (shingles anyone?)
– hair loss
– loss of libido and signs of libido
– increased resting heart rate
– increased blood pressure
– increased blood sugar – which leads to –
– increased fat around the midsection in general, including lovehandles
– chronic aches and pains
– fresh injuries
– recurrence of old injuries
– problems sleeping
– memory loss

And those are just some of the cursory physical symptoms of too much stress.

Why Does This Happen?

Two words – Stress Hormones.

Quite simply your stress hormones get out of whack – specifically your adrenaline and cortisol. What follows is a very brief rundown which you need to be aware of because it affects the results you’re getting or not getting, whichever the case may be.

See, when you get stressed out, there’s a part of your brain – your hypothalamus – that sends an alarm signal to your body. In response, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol. (This is called the “fight or flight” response.)

Adrenaline increases blood pressure and signals your body to release extra energy (blood sugar) to overcome the potential threat.

Cortisol also mobilizes blood sugar for energy use, and suppresses the reproductive and digestive systems. On the flip side, insulin is released to deal with the excess blood sugar and to return it the body’s cells for storage.

When you experience too much stress, without relief, including self-inflicted workout stress, your body is placed in a chronic “fight-or-flight” state.

So your sex drive drops and your digestive processes are suppressed and your insulin levels become chronically elevated.

Among other things, this means your body no longer fully digests your food, so it stores it as excess body fat, which is why you see an increase in belly fat and lovehandle fat among other things when you’re over-stressed.

(Remember earlier I said there were symptoms I chose to ignore? One of them was this little deposit of belly fat that seemed like it suddenly appeared overnight and just hung around.)

My point is this – when you find yourself in this state – which believe it or not occurs for many of us this time of year – around the start and through the entire Holiday season – it’s time to change your kettlebell workouts.


Because they can actually be adding to your stressful environment.

The Two Extremes

Now most of us will do one of two things over the Holiday Season in response to the STRESS we’re feeling –

1. Drop the workouts altogether because we just feel like there’s too much to do and not enough time to get it done. Something’s gotta give and it’s gonna be the workouts – plus, I can always start again in the New Year when things settle down.


2. Increase the frequency, intensity or sometimes both (never a good combination – in fact, it’s just the opposite – a recipe for massive disaster) of our workouts – you know, man, I’m feeling really stressed right now I’m going to go do a bunch of Swings – no wait – Snatches – they’re better for busting stress cause I always feel like I get a real good workout from those and that’s what I need right now a real good workout!

Well if neither of those are good options what is?

Well that’s the subject of my next post.

In it I’ll tell you how you should change your kettlebell workouts this Holiday Season so you can –

1. Relieve stress

2.  Make progress

3. Reverse the “over-stressed” process

And I’ll show you one of the best workout templates (which you haven’t seen) that’s scientifically proven to keep you making progress.

And by “progress” I mean it’ll both help you get stronger and leaner, even during periods of high stress and binge eating like the Holiday Season.

In the meantime, feel free to leave your comments below.

25 comments… add one
  • Diana Nov 9, 2011 @ 12:19

    I’m right there with you with the exception of the shingles. Can’t wait for the next post….need the name of that road to travel down next!!

    Thanks and hope the Shingles are healing up-working in the medical field I know they are nasty and can be extremely painful.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:05

      Thanks Diana. Off the anti-virals now and appetite is back with a vengeance!

  • Pamela Nov 9, 2011 @ 12:48

    Well I’m intrigued! Looking forward to the next article.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:06

      Cool, Pamela. I think you’re going to like it. 😉

  • Kent Nov 9, 2011 @ 15:03

    I’ve heard of excellent results from using intravenous Vitamin C to relieve shingles in only a day or two — 100 grams of IV Vit C daily for 3-5 days. You’ll need to find an MD (or maybe a nurse practitioner? Not sure) to administer it. Well worth a web search.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:07

      Kent – yeah, I had actually thought about that myself. I recall Charles Poliquin talking about high doses of Vit C to fight off the effects of a brown recluse spider bite. I’m good now. Been taking 10-20g of Vit C a day in the meantime.

  • Sean Schniederjan Nov 9, 2011 @ 15:27

    Good topic. I’ve been living in a stress boat for a while. I’ve cut down on workouts – especially ones that are designed to beat me up- and that has helped. If I’m turbo stressed I’ll get cluster or migraine headaches that put me out of commission for a half day. Looking forward to what’s next.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:08

      Sean – you are on the right track amigo. Headaches are no good. The next post should help you.

  • John Bair Nov 9, 2011 @ 17:18

    Was great to meet you at HSV. Hope your boy is doing good and you can keep the stress at bay over the Holidays. This is a very good topic, I’ll be sure to share with others. Thanks for the post.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:09

      Thanks John – great to meet you too. Boy is doing very well. My wife just told me he ate a whole banana! Uh-oh… I see a spike in the food bill coming!

  • Kylie Nov 9, 2011 @ 17:50

    Hi Geoff, thanks for the “a-ha! moment”… I just thought I had reached a natural plateau in my training, and was wondering where that little belly pooch came from. Will be very interested in the next article 🙂

    Hope you get better soon.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:09

      You bet Kylie. Plateaus are kinda natural, but should be easy to overcome…

  • TC Nov 9, 2011 @ 21:44

    Great blog Geoff! Looking forward to your next blog post on stress-relieving kb workout.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:09

      Thanks TC.

  • Matt Nov 10, 2011 @ 3:55

    Great response to your shingles and workouts. I’m a physical therapist and treat this condition with dry needling to promote healing. It also has a big impact on your bodys response to stress and training. Have your wife look into getting trained. Good luck with recovery.

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:10

      Thanks Matt. I don’t really like needles, so I’ll probably take a pass. I appreciate the insight though. 🙂

  • Ken Whidden Nov 10, 2011 @ 9:43

    I’ll throw my advice in the ring also, it would certainly help you deal with your own stress by getting adjusted. That chicken pox virus lies dormant near the nerve root until you let your immune system get weakened, in your case, due to stress. The new addition to your family can certainly add to your stress level, just wait until that new baby is a teenager!

    Ken Whidden, DC
    Emerald Coast Chiropractic

    • GEOFFN Nov 10, 2011 @ 16:11

      Ken – hmmmm… may have to go see my chiro. Thanks.

  • don Nov 10, 2011 @ 19:21

    excellent post Geoff! couldn’t have come at a better time.. I was wondering what i’d done wrong.. – my training was going well, i looked and felt great but then I put on 4 pounds right around my middle almost overnight! I got a cold sore as well, and that’s very unusual for me…Stress at work and home had just gone through the roof, and then my belly got fat… I was at wits end till i read your blog, can’t wait for the next one….Thanks Geoff! I still need to drive up and train with you! maybe after the holidays! lol

  • GEOFFN Nov 11, 2011 @ 7:54

    Don – know exactly how you feel! Hang in there… it’ll get better.

  • Ronnie T Nov 11, 2011 @ 10:55

    Thanks Geoff,

    I can definitely relate……Very relevant stuff….Get well dude and a Happy Relaxing Thanksgiving to you and your family……

  • Steve Nov 19, 2011 @ 10:34

    Hope you are recovered from the shingles. I went down that road last year and remember that it was no fun. I’m enjoying (and benefiting from) your Kettlebell Burn. Also thanks for the great video the past couple of days. I did the clean and jerk workout this morning and it was great. Take care of yourself and thanks for providing nothing but great information and motivation. Steve

  • Colin Nov 9, 2013 @ 18:17


    This post is very relevant to me at the moment. I feel though that my stress issues are deeper and less transient. I’m not into navel gazing eastern forms of stress relief…..perhaps you could touch on lifestyle issues and other forms of help available in dealing with deeper stressors..with guys in mind.

    Thank you

  • Teri Nov 12, 2013 @ 13:23

    SO looking forward to the next post. Having fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue/insomnia, I tend to want to work out harder and it’s hard to get it through my head that I need to back off.

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