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Spinning® and Stress

Stress is often overwhelming mental and emotional pressure with resulting consequences to well-being. Though stress is common, what is toxic to one person may not be to another. In the early 20th century, endocrinologist Hans Selye provided evidence that there is both good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress) as there are both good and bad triggers and responses. An instructor who becomes anxious before her class, a participant who feels the pressure building before a challenging ride or a competitor who must manage his pre-race jitters can all benefit if they use that heightened sense of anticipation to sharpen their focus and give edge to their performance. Those same individuals might experience distress if they allow angst to consume them, to disarm their creativity, to deplete their energy or to blur their focus.

Frequently acknowledged are the negative aspects of stress, which can result in fatigue, depression, anxiety, anger and poor lifestyle choices that can lead to health risks. Stress has been shown to affect sleep patterns, sexual function, memory, allergies, skin, hair loss, gums, heart disease, stroke, immune system, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, ulcers, eating problems, diabetes and muscle and joint pains. As Spinning instructors and athletes, we guard against overtraining and watch carefully for its symptoms. It is our task to identify stress, note our reactions to it and then address it.

As with many aspects of health and fitness, habit becomes a key concept. Stress prevention or reduction becomes a safe and effective habit including daily exercise, a healthy diet, appropriate rest, deliberate relaxation and some time to simply have fun.

There are diverse ways to utilize exercise to cope with stress. Each of us is unique and each of us responds differently to varying stimuli. Some prefer to “let off steam,” which can be done by participating in an interval training ride on a Spinner®. Short bouts of exertion (up to 92% MHR) followed by deliberate recovery (cooling down to 65% MHR) might be just the thing to combat stress. Concentrating on the fluctuating challenge and honoring the recovery keeps one’s mind focused on the task at hand as well as the management of mind over body.

At times, attending a class with friends provides a distraction to the stressor and frees the mind to approach the cause of the stress with insight and resourcefulness. Sharing one’s burdens with others in a social setting or peeling back the carefully maintained exterior of superficial well-being can be enough to expose weakness in the stressor while providing an hour’s escape from concern.

For some troubled by stress, it is the quiet approach that works best. I remember a time when we were dealing with the passing of a family member. Lacking sleep, focus and energy, I excused myself from the company in our home and retreated to my Spinner. In a darkened room with meditative music on my iPod, I rode for an entire hour in the Recovery Energy Zone™ (50–65% MHR). Once I had established awareness of my heart rate range and found a consistent cadence and resistance level, I closed my eyes and surrendered to the rhythm of the pedal strokes. Except for occasional form checks, I hushed my busy thoughts and floated on the current of my ride. I returned to the task at hand with renewed energy, vision and compassion.

The mind-body connection is a foundational principle of Spinning practice. Use of the Recovery Energy Zone, or other moving meditation, generates relaxation. The Spinning Instructor Manual states that “relaxation is both a goal and a fundamental principle of the Spinning program. By relaxing the body while performing, we maximize energy utilization and function more efficiently.” Stress debilitates; relaxation frees and empowers.

The Endurance Energy Zone provides yet another form of stress relief. A byproduct of working in this zone is the continuous movement factor, which exercises mental discipline while increasing blood flow, the use of oxygen and adaptation to the psychological and physiological steady state of training. Consequences of perseverance in this zone (while maintaining 65–75% MHR) include self-awareness, self-worth and satisfaction. Setting and reaching goals is empowering and empowerment is a key weapon in the warfare against distress.

Defining stress is an individual phenomenon. Death, divorce, career, moving, children and finances universally stress us. Planning for apparently good things can also be stressful: trips, parties and holidays are infamous examples.
Eustress adds excitement to life and fuels our enthusiasm. I have a sign hanging in my office that states: “If not for stress, I’d have no energy at all.” 

Reviewed by
Haley Perlus, Ph.D., Sport and Exercise Psychology


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