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Stress and your Capacity Bucket

The human body is pretty clever.


It heals itself from minor (and sometimes major) trauma, can grow and support another life, and can achieve major feats of endurance, strength and resilience. Its capacity to adapt and respond to changing stimulus in the environment is incredible.


All of those situations I’ve listed above promote a stress response in the body. Some stress is necessary and invokes positive change such as muscle growth and adaptations to training. Other stresses are of the chronic kind, they build up over time and don’t go away so easily.


Back when we were cavemen, moments of heightened stress were mostly instantaneous, and invoked an immediate ‘fight or flight’ response in the body by activating our sympathetic nervous system. Encountering that sabre-tooth tiger meant an instantly quickened heart rate, dilation of the pupils and tenser muscles as the body readied itself to run for it’s life.


Now, we receive these same responses when we receive a credit card bill, get behind the wheel of our cars, or have a meeting with our Manager.


Imagine feeling that heightened stress response every day, every week, for months on end…..?


It’s enough to bring out a stress response in myself just typing it!


Our body likes harmony, balance, and a state of equilibrium. To contrast with that sympathetic nervous system that’s activated when we’re stressed, we have a parasympathetic system, also known as ‘rest and digest’. This is a safe place for our body, a place where we can recover, grow, fuel and ultimately, make adaptations.


The Capacity Bucket


Thankfully, we don’t encounter many sabre-tooth tigers in modern day life anymore. We do, however, encounter credit card build, arguments with our loved ones and career deadlines, all of which don’t go away as easily. Our allostatic load, or what I like to think of as our capacity bucket, is constantly full. Think of yourself as constantly aroused, senses heightened, ready to run away from whatever is our source of stress.


The problem lies when these sources of stress don’t go away. Our bodies never come down into ‘rest and digest’ mode and we keep adding to our capacity bucket.


Training is an extremely effective way of coping with the stresses of modern day life. A tool to relax, unwind, and experience endorphins that give us a natural high knowing we’ve done something good for our body. The problem with training at intensity is it invokes a stress response from the body, further adding to our capacity bucket.


At some point, our sympathetic nervous system becomes so used to being ‘switched on’, our ability to turn it off, rest, and digest, becomes stunted.


Progress stalls, sleep suffers, and workouts no longer leave you feeling GOOD.


So how can I keep moving towards my goals?


  • Assess your capacity bucket: is it full or teetering on the edge?

  • Think about what your body NEEDS right now: is it actually an intense work out, or is it more gentle movement at a steady pace?

  • Talk to someone! Our Coaches are able to adapt our workouts so you can get what you need relative to how full your capacity bucket is.

  • Prioritise the other important pillars of health: gentle nutrition, sleep and mindfulness.


As Coaches, we want you fit and healthy for a lifetime, ready to respond when that sabre-tooth really does come along!


Coach Amy



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