| | | Unlocking Stress: Training Smarter AND Harder

Author / Matthew Zanis

Ever feel like you’ve been totally beat? No drive, wanting to just say “f*ck it” and stay home, or just walk your dog and call it a workout? Quite often, when you consistently train hard, you will have days when hitting the gym sounds like the worst idea ever. And trust me, your athletes will feel like that too. But, is that to be expected? Or, is there a way for you to train “smarter AND harder” without feeling like crap?

In order for us to improve the performance of our athletes, while keeping them resilient and durable, we need to find a balance between the external stress we impose as coaches, the internal stress our athletes perceive, and the environmental stressors, like sleep and nutrition, unique to each of them.

Balance is maintained by adhering to the “3 P’s” of training. Training should be Purposeful, Practical, and Prudent. In this final part of our Unlocking Stress series, you will learn how the 3 P’s are utilized to optimize stress, find balance, and improve performance in life and sport.

Train Smarter

What is the Purpose of your training? Do you have a plan in place with a clear goal in mind? Or, are you jumping around trying to find that secret squirrel program for success? You need to have a framework to guide your training. Our body responds and adapts to the stressors we place on it. Muscles get bigger, new bone is laid down, and tendons get stronger (9). More importantly, our nervous system adopts the movement patterns we practice every day (8). These patterns become our software, the default our body relies on during stressful situations.

Train Harder

In the Bedrock program we impose purposeful stresses to the body in order to develop a base level of strength. These are considered External Loads, the physical work performed, distances ran, and weights moved (2). These training stresses are chosen for a specific purpose – to prepare the body for battle, making a stronger and more resilient vehicle to display athleticism and withstand the stress of game day.

Don’t Mistake Activity for Achievement

We all know the story. The most physically gifted quarterback, who shines during his college career,  crumbles under bright lights of an NFL stadium. His training program wasn’t Practical. It didn’t take into consideration the other stimuli occurring in his environment that affects the brain’s perception of stress. This ultimately alters physiological processes in the body, primarily hormone function.

The brain’s perception of inputs are considered Internal Loads (6). These are a construct of the operations occurring between the ears. This is one reason why identical external training loads can elicit different internal training load depending on the athlete.The brain receives, interprets, and provides an output for every stimulus (8). Was it a good or bad stress? What type of hormones should be released? Should the body build new muscle or break it down? Accumulated stress loads need to be accounted for.

That is how the reloads on Bedrock work. The program gives you the opportunity to redeem yourself from a lifestyle factor affecting your performance. A practical program finds a way to balance the external loads in order to optimize the internal load response, keeping the athlete sharp and resilient.

Doc! What’s the Dose?

What is the optimal dose of stress required to drive performance and maintain durability? Coaches, this one is on us. We can’t rely solely on technology to tell us when to hold back and when to push the limits. We need to be Prudent. This means being conscious and understanding how the unique traits of our athletes play into the bigger picture. Who are we working with? What is their end goal? Failure to understand these aspects of our athletes will produce a training program that stymies performance and increases risk for injury (4). 

Injuries that are training load dependent (read: non-contact) are preventable and it’s your responsibility, coach! Evidence supports that both inadequate and excessive training loads would result in increased injuries, decreased physical capacity, and poor performance.1 Not enough stress, and we don’t adequately prepare the body to handle the demands of sport (3). 

Just imagine a football team outfitted by Victoria’s Secret models. Appealing? Yes. Gridiron ready? YES, but only if you are referring to bad ass chicks of the Legends Football League.

Too much stress will produce maladaptations, impair the immune system, and decrease recovery (7). This is why certain NFL players are plagued with injuries from which they can’t return. The stress of the league, coupled with poor technique in the weight room, produces inefficient  jumping and landing mechanics, which can lead to career ending ACL tears. The risk of this scenario can be reduced by understanding the Power Athlete Methodology.

When previously damaged tissue or a fried central nervous system has not fully recovered, tolerance to load is decreased and there is an increased sensitization to pain and discomfort (6). This, coupled with poor technique produces excessive loading and stress to structures in the body not equipped to handle that stress (Exhibit A – the ACL). Faulty patterns stress the tissues to a degree that they can’t retain integrity, exceeding tolerance more quickly, and resulting in injury (5). 

Think of our body as having an internal stress bucket, when filled with too much or the wrong kind of stress, it will spill over. This leaves us with a pissed off nervous system, cranky joints, and a grouchy mood.

Master Your Movement: Be Prudent

Remember, everything matters. Have you considered movement selection, rest times, communication strategies, and the overall stress load on your athletes? Being prudent often means showing restraint, mastering the basics of movement, and being aware of your athletes’ internal stressors.

This allows you to find the sweet spot of stress management with your athletes, providing a protective effect and allowing the athlete to fight against higher training loads while optimizing recovery. This is the essence of progressive overload, creating the right amount of stress that fosters accelerated adaptation of skills and traits that lend themselves towards the end goal.

The ideal training stimulus is one that stresses the body enough, with the right amount of recovery, and results in a favorable output by the brain, resulting in a net gain in performance towards the athletes’ end goal. The ability to display discipline with a practical and purposeful training plan will allow you to govern your athletes as a prudent coach. Being a prudent coach is training harder AND smarter.


  1. Banister  EW, Calvert  TW, Savage  MV, et al. A systems model of training for athletic performance. Aust J Sports Med 1975;7:57–61.
  2. Cross  MJ, Williams  S, Trewartha  G, et al. The influence of in-season training loads on injury risk in professional rugby union. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2015
  3. Foster  C. Monitoring training in athletes with reference to overtraining syndrome. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998;30:1164–8.
  4. Fulton  J, Wright  K, Zebrosky  B, et al. Injury risk is altered by previous injury: a systematic review of the literature and presentation of causative neuromuscular factors. Int J Sports Phys Ther 2014;9:583–95.
  5. Gastin  PB, Meyer  D, Robinson  D. Perceptions of wellness to monitor adaptive responses to training and competition in elite Australian football. J Strength Cond Res 2013;27:2518–26.
  6. Impellizzeri  FM, Rampinini  E, Marcora  SM. Physiological assessment of aerobic training in soccer. J Sports Sci 2005;23:583–92.
  7. Kellmann  M, Kallus  KW. The recovery-stress questionnaire for athletes: user manual. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2001.
  8. Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel SD. STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annual review of clinical psychology. 2005;1:607-628.
  9. Spencer  M, Bishop  D, Dawson  B, et al. Physiological and metabolic responses of repeated-sprint activities: specific to field based team sports. Sports Med 2005;35:1025–44.
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Matthew Zanis

PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS Former baseball catcher and an avid outdoorsman. Worked with Division 1 basketball, football, and track and field at the University of Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Cardinals organizations. Received a Bachelors in Athletic Training from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Duke University in 2014. Is board certified in Orthopedics and a Fellow through the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. Is a PT with the United States Olympic Committee and USA Shooting. Currently operates his performance therapy practice in Scottsdale, AZ with Dr. Tom Incledon of Causenta Wellness, and became a Power Athlete Block One Coach in September of 2017.

Dr. Zanis utilizes the Power Athlete Methodology to optimize performance, reduce injury risk, and rehab his clients and athletes through movement assessment, coaching, and individualized program design.


  1. YENNES on February 23, 2018 at 5:31 am

    Matthew Zanis, thank you for this post. Its very inspiring.

  2. Matthew Zanis on February 25, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    Yennes, I am happy you found some inspiration through the post. What was your favorite piece of the article?

  3. Boatwif on February 27, 2018 at 3:50 am

    Matthew Zanis, thanks a lot for the post.Really thank you! Much obliged.

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