Exercise and Stress; Paying Attention to the type of Exercise we do.

by Luke Worthington


Whilst its true top say that letting off some steam in the gym or out on the road is a great way to unwind, and that regular exercise is linked to reductions in blood pressure as well as depression – it is also true that we should pay some attention to the type of exercise that we do.

Cardiovascular training (or metabolic conditioning in modern gym-speak) can broadly be classified in to two categories:  circuit style start / stop interval work – where participants exert themselves as close to maximal as they can muster, and intersperse this with periods of rest; and longer lasting distance type sessions where participants ‘cruise’ at a moderate pace for protracted periods. 

“The popularity of HIIT training on todays workout menus is really as a result of us being a very time poor population.

Luke Worthington

Now as anyone who has ever read a fitness article or browsed Instagram will attest – nothing is anything in the fitness world if it doesn’t have its own acronym – so you can now only refer to your MetCon as either HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or LISS (Low Intensity Steady State).

I am often asked whether HIIT or LISS training is the most effective for fat loss, the answer to that question is that a calorie burned is a calories burned.  The speed at which it is burned is, for the most part, immaterial.   If our goals are purely burning fuel – then the mode of exercise chosen should simply be determined by that which you as a participant are more likely to adhere to.   So if burpees are your bag then a circuit class is more likely to appeal – whereas if you cherish cruising the open roads then perhaps investing ion some running shoes or a bike could be the way forwards.

The popularity of HIIT training on todays workout menus is really as a result of us being a very time poor population.  If we can burn 100 calories in 15 minutes then why would we waste 30 to achieve the same goal?

The answer to this question is that intense exercise is a source of stress to the nervous system.   If you observe a competitive cross fitter or sprint cyclist  before they compete   - they are amping themselves up to a state of heightened  stimulation, ready for their high octane event.    Conversely if we look at the other extreme, marathon athletes are often deep breathing, making small talk , or listening to music – their level of stimulation is significantly lower – predominantly because they have to maintain it for longer!

“Exercise, like any other aspect of life, is about balance. 

Luke Worthington

Now if simply exercising off your Sunday roast is the only goal we are considering, and your workouts have to be fitted in around long working hours, diminishing lunch breaks, and a hectic home life  - then its unsurprising that circuit style workouts (usually named after the length of time in the class, a guess at the calories consumed in completing it – or some kind of variation on the phrase ‘living hell’) have become so popular.  However, when it comes to combating stress – this is where we are doing ourselves a deep disservice. 

A boss that acts like your two year old, and your two year old acting like he’s your boss will create a sense of over stimulation.   As well of course as having limited exercise time.   This is the person who requires the low octane endorphin boosting steady state cruise to lower their cortisol (stress hormone) levels and give themselves some valuable head space.  

Exercise, like any other aspect of life, is about balance.  If you’re a retiree, or have very unstructured working hours, then a loud and intense bootcamp could be just the ticket.  However, if you’re time-poor, maybe skip the high knees and book yourself a half day off at the golf course.

There is not a whole lot relaxing about  kettlebell thrusters.