How your Emotions and Hormones impact your workouts
Richard Kelly 1st November 2019
Whether you realise it or not, a lot of your actions and perceptions are based on your current hormone levels. Those hormone levels are dictated in part by your emotions, and those emotions are impacted in part by your hormone levels. This creates a feedback loop, and this feedback loop can affect things as diverse as your energy levels and perceived level of motivation towards a task, to your feelings of contentment and desire.
People don’t like to think of themselves and their present outlook as a symptom of their chemical balance, but the fact remains how motivated you are for your workout today or tomorrow is a direct correlation to your present chemical balance.
Most people are aware that their emotions can be affected by external factors, but there are a number of things that can impact your hormonal state too. Sleep and sunshine have a huge benefit to creating a good hormonal balance. So, equally, does having a good diet and maintaining a regular exercise regime. This list might sound familiar, because when we are talking about optimising from an athletic or intellectual perspective these are the aspects we tend to focus on.
Modern medicine would have it that pills can replace many things but as far back as the Victorian period they were prescribing sunshine and fresh air and a calming environment as a way to recover, and these are all things that would benefit your parasympathetic system and bring your hormonal system back into alignment. Whether we are conscious of it or not we have been manipulating this system for a long time already.
So lets discuss emotions in more detail. Having a sensation of dread and feeling worry or doubt before a workout can causes a big spike in adrenaline and cortisol. This is because the subconscious doesn’t recognise reality from imagination, or future and past from present. Therefore if you anticipate a problem in the future, and worry about it, your subconscious reacts to that, dumping chemicals in preparation for something that hasn’t happened yet and might not happen in the future. When you have concerns about your workout that day your body tends to release adrenaline and cortisol as it switches to flight or fight mode in preparedness and your heart rate spikes prior to exercise.
What’s interesting is that your brain interprets whether it is excited or nervous about that hormonal state. Observance of the brains of people who claim to be nervous and those who claim to be excited show exactly the same areas of the brain lit up, which indicates that their brains are interpreting these signals and telling the conscious brain what that means.
From a gym perspective its why some people are excited and why others are nervous; they are having the same hormonal response but they are interpreting that differently. Over time and experience that response diminishes, as exercise becomes a regular thing. This is also why pre-workout is so popular, as the response is to trigger than flight or fight process.
Chronic stimulation can causes issues such as anxiety, which is effectively having a very sensitive flight or fight mechanism. And this is why exercise appears to benefit this system, as it provides a release for these feelings and a control mechanism, reducing the impact on you.
What we can see here is that this system is very complex and many external factors can influence it. We can also see that they can colour your outlook. Someone who is a natural worrier has more exposure to cortisol and adrenaline, and is probably more likely to need coffee to stimulate them, as they are less sensitive to cortisol than others. That could lead to them choosing to get into riskier situations in order to feel that increased cortisol sensation. Or, it could cause you to avoid risk because you dislike the sensation of raised cortisol levels.
So you can see how these hormonal levels can influence your outlook. It is therefore easy to see that they would influence your workouts. Those people who like the sensation of high risk tend to enjoy high intensity interval training, because it releases adrenaline. Yoga and stretching dial into relaxation and can increase oxytocin and endorphins release. Heavy resistance work can increase insulin release and testosterone, to name but two. What you like to feel boosted during a workout is what you will seek over and over.
But prolonged exposure numbs this response over time.
An adrenaline junkie will get less and less of a boost from a hiit class the more and more they attend, whereas a yogi could struggle with the amount of adrenaline released in their system during the class, and report back that they feel tense and on edge, rather than wired (remember when I said that the brain interprets how that response is felt in the system?).
Because we seek out the hormonal release, we like this tends to cause us to go back to the same well over and over and neglect others. Thus, people into strength don’t do enough flexibility and mobility training, and those who like yoga avoid resistance training and anything intensive.
The solution to this is obvious; seek out those types of training you don’t enjoy and make sure to include them, and accept that you wont get the hormonal release that you do from other aspects of training, but the benefits should come in time. Finding that balance can help you create a more balanced and well rounded hormonal profile, and this, in turn, will stop your hormones from dictating the type of results you achieve.
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