Life happens. And sometimes, the stress that comes with it threatens to derail your training. But don’t worry, there are plenty of strategies for controlling stress that can help your general well-being and keep your training on track. Here are some tips for managing life stress.

Key Takeaways

  • Stress is a physiological response to internal or external stimuli
  • Small amount of stress, like training, can be helpful, but too much can affect your performance on the bike.
  • Everyone is different so find a stress management strategy that works for you.

What is Life Stress?

Stress is a physiological response to stimuli. Simply put, it’s our response to life happening, consciously or unconsciously. The type, timing, and intensity of the stimuli have a wide range of effects on the body, and the autonomic nervous system plays a central role. Too much life stress can hamper your training.

The autonomic nervous system is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for shifting your body’s resources for fight or flight by releasing a cascade of hormones that dilates blood vessels, increases heart rate, and raises blood pressure. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system controls your rest and digest response. A key to reducing stress is activating your parasympathetic nervous system.

Ways to Reduce Stress

Reducing life stress can be difficult, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Not only will it promote general well-being, but it will sustain your ability to keep your training on track. 

Make Your Training Convenient
Training is hard, but you can make it easier by removing any barriers that keep you from the bike. This can be as simple as leaving your bike set up on the trainer. Another helpful tip is to prepare your kit and water bottles the night before. That way, you won’t have to stress about whether your equipment is ready to go. 

Schedule Your Workouts
Always feeling like you don’t have time can be a constant drain. Effectively managing your time will ensure you are making time for your priorities. One of the best ways to do this is by scheduling a regular workout time. Not only will this aid in preparing for the workout, but it allows you to block off time for other priorities as well. 

Set Realistic Goals
Setting attainable outcome and process goals help provide perspective when life happens. An outcome goal is a result you’d like to accomplish, while a process goal is all about how you’ll get there. The best you can do is be realistic about the number of hours you can commit to training and how much training your body can recover from, then make a solid game plan with that information in mind.

Get Enough Quality Sleep
Sleep is vitally important for all aspects of life. It influences your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Lack of sleep does little to reduce stress and will only hamper your fitness progress. Try to get at least eight hours of quality sleep. For more on sleep, check out Sleep and Endurance Training.  

Eat a Healthy Diet
Food is more emotional than we often realize. When the body is craving the nutrition it needs, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. Eating helps switch your body to the more relaxing rest and digest state. Aside from activating your parasympathetic nervous system, eating quality foods will only serve to increase your performance on the bike. 

Communicate with Others
Relationships can be a source of both stress and relief. That said, regular communication with your family can help ensure that everyone is on the same page. Aside from sharing your struggles and success, share your goals and progress. This will aid you in building a network of support. 

Breathing and Relaxation
Taking just a few minutes a day to decompress can do wonder for battling stress. Two techniques that you may find helpful are deep breathing and progressive relaxation. Spend a few minutes taking a deep breath in through the nose and releasing it slowly out the mouth. At the same time, begin relaxing the muscles in your fingers and feet. Then relax your arms and legs. Finally, fully relax your neck and shoulders. Go a step further and put your phone on do not disturb and enjoy some time relaxing.

Reframe the Situation
Life happens, and sometimes it goes your way. But sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t worry because this happens to everyone. Try to reframe the situation in terms of the things you can control and learn from. Often, its the process, not the outcome, that we have the most influence over. So instead of worrying about situations beyond our control, plan and improve the things that you can. This is an optimistic view and one that can lead to growth. 

Find What Works for You

People react to stress differently, and dealing with stress will vary from person to person. You may find that you need to reduce your training load with a break from high-intensity or training altogether until life situations calm down a bit. What’s important is that you find something that works for you. Reducing life stress will not only contribute to a healthier lifestyle but will also help your training. Leave a note in the comment section about the ways that you reduce stress.


For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.



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Jesse Fortson

Jesse Fortson lost over 145 pounds with TrainerRoad's help. He uses his experience as a teacher and race mechanic to get faster for crits, gravel, and marathon XCO races.