Welcome to this episode of the 911 Shift Ready Podcast, where we are going to be diving into why exercise is not the best way to manage stress. Now, for those of you who may know me, or a little bit of my story. My background is as a personal trainer and nutrition coach for 27 years. And being active is who I am.
It’s who I am deep down into my core. It’s being active, taking care of myself and my body. So I do not come lightly by this when I say that exercise is not the best way to be managing your stress. And with that though through my career, there were 14 years where I struggled to work out. Looking back now I was in burnout but there were days where going to the gym was such a hassle. It was, it was so tough. I would try to push weights, but as I’m pushing them, I could just feel my strengths decreasing. I was not peaking at all. In fact, my weights would decrease in strengths.
I used to be that girl who was the strongest one in the gym. I used to be the one who could leg press, bench press more than most girls and a lot of the guys in the gym. Until one day I couldn’t. It just all seemed to go away and then injuries were always flagging me. I could still, some days do some workouts, but then just walking up a set of stairs in my house would just exhaust me.
It was baffling. I tried to pull out everything, tried to adjust my work as do everything that I needed to do, and I couldn’t figure it. So well until now, which is what we will be going over, but it really taught me that thinking that exercise needs to be the priority for stress management is not the truth and it’s not the way to go.
So along with my story, we know there’s been guys, I know a fire guy who owned his own gym. Exercised with deep, deep, deep down in its core. And he ended up off on leave. He couldn’t work out anymore. He couldn’t work at the fire station anymore. He ended up on leave. His body was just so exhausted. He could not ask anything more of his body. There were other symptoms going on as well that we have talked about and linked with burnout where his sleep was completely off. He was having gut issues, short fuse. All of these things distancing himself from people.
There were a lot of different signs there, but this is a guy who owned a gym. He’s deep, deep, deep in his core working out. And that did not keep him from going out on stress medical leave. There’s another fire guy, another personnel trainer that anxiety was ruling him. He was trying everything, all the workouts, all the supplements, all the things and could not get his anxiety down. It was absolutely ruling him.
We’ve had tactical officers, numerous, numerous tactical officers who have come to us with such high anxiety and being in such a hypervigilant state all of the time that they could not switch out of it. And these guys were like, in top shape. Or tried to be that’s who they were until they really even couldn’t anymore. That really starts to beg the question of is working out a lot, the best way to handle the stress from your job, from the work of a 911 responder?
So if exercise really is the best way to manage stress. If this was true, then every single responder who pushed really hard in workouts, they would never need to go on stress leave, would they? And we know that’s not true. I mean, I just gave some examples, but we all know. You, whoever is listening to this. I’d be surprised, pretty shocked. If you did not know of a colleague or have not heard of stories where a responder was like a personal trainer. Really having to workouts, a CrossFitter, hardcore sports, maybe marathons, just always pushing their body and then ending up on medical leave.
So if we think of this as well, like a formula one race car. The race car, every Sunday, it pushes itself. It pushes itself in that race on Sundays. That race car, once that race is done, it can’t go right into another race. The race car has to be taken back to the shop, to the mechanics. They get all of their diagnostic equipment on. It and they have to keep taking it for test runs and everything, to make sure that that car runs even better the following week. So what happens in between these races actually determines how that car is going to perform each race.
So if we think about that for a second. If that race car, it’s actually what happens during the week determines how well for the driver as well, how the driver, what the driver does during that week and what they do with that car that week is going to determine how that car performs, how they do in that race that following week. So how you are performing in the gym? Is it really determined based on the workout? Or what’s going on in between? Like we’ve been taught that stress comes in two forms. We have good stress and bad stress. And we’ve been told exercise is a good stress. You need to keep putting this exercise that’s good stress on you in order to be able to combat bad stress. Training for this stress is what’s gonna train you to handle the bad stress. And part of that is true, but think of it this way.
We’re gonna think of a rollercoaster. Rollercoaster’s fun to ride on. You get on a roller coaster, then you get off and you walk around. You usually have to wait in line for a long time before you get to go to on the next one in season with roller coasters. But have you ever been to an amusement park where, because of weather whatever’s going on off season, there’s not really a line up. And you can basically go over and over and over again on that roller coaster. You can go back to back. You start getting sick. Some people can handle it longer than others, but if you keep going, let’s say you rode that roller coaster for 24 hours. What would you be feeling like after? You’d be spinning, puking in the garbage. You wouldn’t be able to stand. You’d be an absolute disaster. So the thing is, is that there really, isn’t such a thing as good stress and bad stress. There’s well, we call it U stress. U stress is good stress, but having too much of it.
So there is good stress, but you can have too much of a good stress. So your body doesn’t necessarily know the difference between stressors. It doesn’t know the difference between being exciting and on a roller coaster ride between pushing hard and a workout between rushing to a call. It doesn’t know the difference between getting to a call, anything cleared before you get there, or it being a hot priority call.
Your body doesn’t know the difference. It sends out the cavalry for everything. And so basically I kind of imagine that we have a bucket that can hold all of our stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s our working out stress, riding that roller coaster. If it’s the stress of eating junk food. If it’s admin stress, if it’s a high trauma call rushing to two different calls on work. Having to do a take down or fighting like a three, four alarm fire. EMS at a 20 car pile up. Like it doesn’t matter what the stressors are, you have a bucket. And that bucket can only handle so much stress.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s the good stress. It doesn’t matter if you just got married and you moved into a new home and you’re going on a honeymoon and you’re doing all this traveling and you’re drinking and eating all the junk food and having a great life. All of that stress goes into a bucket. And when your bucket can’t handle any more stress that’s when you start getting burnout symptoms.
So let’s say you did a 12 hour shift, a 24 hour shift. For police we’re talking 25 to 40 pounds of gear on you. For fire, it can be up to a hundred pounds that you put on for each call. And EMS. It really depends on what position and situation your patient is in. So you’re throughout your shift with having that equipment on or doing the things that you’re doing. You’re doing an endurance workout. And then every single time you’re rushing to a call, for pursuit happens, fighting a fire, needing to carry a client. All of these things are hiit workouts in between. So all of these things are filling up your bucket. Everything. Family stress, the guilt of missing out on events, finances, all of these things are filling your bucket.
And when you have so much overflowing, your sleep starts to get off. You become tired and wired. You start waking mid sleep, you get weight around your middle. You can’t lose. You get short fused, brain fog, total body fog, where it just takes energy to move. Motivation and drive decreases anxiety, depression, gut issues. All of these things start creeping in as more and more and more stress comes into that bucket.
So if your bucket is so overflowing and you add in a workout then that becomes like riding that roller coaster for longer. Where it stops giving you the benefits that the workout should normally give you. So Jocko Willink, he works out hard. And he always makes sure though that he gets the rest in recovery that his body needs in order to heal and repair.
So the solution to making sure that your workouts are benefiting you because you guys definitely need these workouts. You need them to stay strong. You need them to be quick. Like for those of you doing like, Brazilian jujitsu, doing all kinds of tactical training, all of these things are super important to help you stay safe on the job. But we need to find that balance.
Now, the thing is, is that our nerves? I know I talk about this in so many of the podcast episodes because of how important this is but your nerves are like a muscle. So, if you are constantly training that stress nerve, then your resting nerve becomes overpowered. And so you keep actually shifting into your stress nerve more frequently. Now, remember your workout is also pushing yourself in your stress nerve. So in order for you to be able to work out where you are pushing your body, but not overfilling. Then we need to take some of that other stress out of your bucket. Which means that we need to strengthen your resting system so that you can control that switch as to how often you’re in that stressed state.
So as soon as you do get to a call, that’s cleared, you can switch out. As soon as you’re doing your paperwork, you can switch out of the stress nerve. When you’re, you know, at home, you can switch out of it. So the more that you are switching out of that stress nerve, then the more availability you have in that bucket of stress to be handle the stress of a workout.
So that is step number one. Now step number two is that once you do have that resting nerve that’s as strong and then we need to start learning how to work out around your shifts so that your stress nerve doesn’t overpower your resting nerve again. We need to figure out what does your body need physically each and every day. Now this is not easy. You’re working 24s, 48s, different shifts. I mean, the other day I was speaking with somebody from EMS who is very rural. Very, very small. It’s him and a partner on a 24 hour shift. The thing is, is that when they go to a call, it takes them two hours to get to the closest hospital that they are lights and sirens for two hours.
And whoever is in the back of the truck is the one doing what they need to do in order to keep that person alive, to get to the hospital. So they are going for two hours straight when they have those calls. They have two to three of those calls a week where they’re working on the patient for most of that two hours as they’re going through getting to the hospital. And then they have still another two hour drive home. So it’s about a five hour turnaround for a patient.
That is what the pressure that puts on their stress system is astronomical. But then they also are at a slower rural station where they don’t have a lot of calls. So there’s different ways to work around that versus somebody who is at a station that has a very high call volume. Where call volume after call volume, where they can never sleep. So understanding how to work around these shifts in order to understand which day do I need to rest and recover and which days do, can I really push in this workout and peak.
And it’s not gonna be a formula where we’re like, “Oh, day one and day three. You can do this and day five. You do that” because everything that happens on shift. So it’s really is about teaching you how to understand what your body needs physically on each and every day. What happens on shift? What’s happening in life? Where your stress levels are at? What’s optimal? So really understanding that once we get that resting system strong.
So we had as well, example of this is, there’s some ways that you can track, if you know how to track your HRV. Your HRV is a indicator of your body’s ability to recover from stress. So basically when you are not stressed, your heartbeat’s slower. So it’s a longer distance in between the heartbeats. That is your HRV. Your HRV is the distance in between heartbeats. So a higher HRV means you’re less stressed than a lower HRV. Your HRV is usually calculated while you’re sleeping because while you’re sleeping, most of the parameters are the same. You’re usually in the same bed, in the same situation, same circumstances, hopefully similar temperatures. All of these things are the same. Whereas if you did HRV in the day, you don’t know, there’s so many stressors around. What you ate, conversation that you’re having, where you’re at, time of day, all of these things are, are, can affect it. So HRV’s calculated at night.
So we had a guy who had a bed with an HRV tracker on it. And we were noticing that through his shift. So he is fire. He was a 24 on 24 off three in a row and then his days off his HRV on his second day off dropped. And this was huge in us looking at it. So we started talking about what was he doing on his first day off?
Well, his first day off, he was getting home at seven in the morning and feeling so guilty for his spouse having to be on child duty, domestic, all that stuff working all of these things that he just tried to take over instantly once he came home before he’d even slept. And he’s at a busy station, he wasn’t getting any sleep in the last 24 hours. And so he was staying up and trying to get the to-do list done get like this whole list of things that he told himself that on his days off he had to do, but trying to do them all on the first day. Being with his child as well and not taking a nap or anything. Sometimes he would actually take a nap when his child did, but sometimes his guilt was so bad over he needed to be at home now that he would forego a nap even. And he started noticing that his HRV dropped. So we started adapting and making changes on that first day off that allowed him through his days off to get his HRV higher and higher and higher so that he was going into his block of shifts with a higher stress tolerance.
And so these are the things to really understand is understanding how to read certain data from any of the trackers that you’re using, understanding data from your body, knowing what happened on your shift. There’s so many different factors to really take into account with that in order for us to really know when should you do that CrossFit workout so that you peak. When should you do, you know, certain high intensity workouts and when should you be resting and recovering so that your workouts work for you instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m stressed. I need to work out.” ‘Cause if your HRV is low and you’re working out, your body may not be able to heal and repair cuz your bucket is overflowing.
And then that gets us to step three, which we kind of did lead into is learning what’s beyond exercise. Understanding what your body really does need in order to stay in that peak condition. So ways that we can start pulling out more stress out of the bucket. So learning how to train your resting nervous system in step one, definitely takes a lot of stress off your bucket ’cause if you’re not shifting into a stress state as often then your stress system is not filling up that bucket as often. But there’s also other things that we can start working at.
There’s such a huge list. One thing that we have found invaluable with you guys is toxins. So any officers that are working with a lot of guns and tactical units, there’s lead and cadium which the toxins can be leading to anxiety, depression, and adding a lot of stress in your body. Same thing too, fire you are exposed to a lot of toxins on every single fire. Now I know that you guys take a lot of precautions for it but we’ve found, we had a guy who went in an investigative fire afterwards and his toxins were through the roof. So I’m getting those out of his body made such a difference in the stress that his body was taking on, on a daily basis.
Thing as well is working nights. Your body decreases its ability to detox. So even if your toxins are not showing high understanding what to do just for daily toxins, there’s just toxins in our inner daily life. There’s toxins in our water. There’s toxins in our air. It’s just what it is. Right? There’s daily, regular toxins that we are exposed to. Different areas are exposed to different ones. I know like some of the Southern states as well, mold. There’s a higher mold exposure as well. So your body struggles to detox these when you are awake at night. So understanding certain strategies in order to help with that. I mean, there’s huge lists that we can be going through about stressors.
Gut issues. There’s so many different things that are stressing at your guts. There’s getting your sleep in check in order to be able to sleep and stay asleep and wake with energy. There’s so many different strategies in different ways to get more and more stress out of that bucket. To really understand how to work them around your shift schedule as well, in order to make sure that we are taking as much stress out of that bucket of stress, so that you can then do these workouts to stay strong and stay in really good shape to have the physical abilities to do your job. But not using it as a stress management tool. Right?
So if you don’t start adjusting your workouts to work for you versus against you then you will experience one if not more of of these followings. Your sleep is gonna get worse. You’re gonna start being more tired and wired, waking mid sleep. You’re gonna start getting overtraining symptoms. Waking mid sleep can be an overtraining symptom. Less healing and repairing. Less recovery. Your body starts breaking down. You start getting injuries, which usually takes you out of your workouts. Short few starts appearing. You may find that when you work out the day or the day or two, after you’re shorter with your family.
So it’s not helping the stress. It’s actually adding to the stress. You need more and more pre-workout drinks, coffees to get through your workout. More stimulants. Your body doesn’t have enough just normal energy, in order to help you get through your workouts. Eventually your motivation and drive decreases, which takes you outta your workout if your injuries didn’t already take you out. And it can end up with you ending up on medical leave as we talked about. Like how many guys do you know that our personal trainers are really heavy into fitness and end up on medical leave? It’s very common and that’s because of understanding that difference as to when to push and peak in your workouts. And when you need to be doing other things and making sure that you’re getting as much stress out of your stress bucket, as you can.
So this can really make the difference between you being a rundown responder, or a resilient tactical athlete. Right? That rundown responder is exhausted, taken out with injuries, motivation, and drive, medical doubt. And the resilient tactical athlete is peeking. They’re the ones that people are like, “Holy crap. How does this guy have all this energy?” Like how can you be keeping up with the canine dog in a chase? You know, that is the resilient tactical athlete, who really understands how to manage all of the stress and they’re not making exercise be their stress reliever.
Exercise is what’s keeping them in peak condition when done properly. So there’s an anonymous quote that I like that says make every workout count. And that is so true. Make them count. If you are making every single workout count that means that you’re doing what your body needs every single day in that workout. It doesn’t mean you’re kicking ass in every single workout that you’re trying to get personal best every single workout ’cause that is just gonna wear you out. It’s making sure that every single workout counts.
Now, my goal really is to make sure that you are as strong as possible to handle all of the stressors thrown at you. As a wife of an officer, I want you to come back safe at the end of every shift. And if that means that I need to go against popular beliefs and help you understand that exercise is not necessarily for stress relief exercise is to keep you safe on the job. And there’s other ways that strategies that need to be implemented for stress relief and that’s what I’m gonna do.
We need you guys to come back safe and we need you to be as strong as you can on the job. And we need you to be strong at home. It’s not always easy managing everything when you guys are working all these crazy hours and we need to be able to stay strong as well ourselves in order to make sure when you come home, you can get some downtime as well. And we can all be working together and that all comes with having the right strategies to be 911 shift ready, which is what this podcast is all about. So our doors have closed to get into our 911 lead performance program. We have stopped them in order to focus on the current members that we do have to coach them.
And we’re also working really hard to update the program that we’ve had running since 2018. As mentioned with COVID, everything, there has been a lot more stressors and things and so we wanted to adapt our program, upgrade it to be able to work with a lot of the newer stressors that have happened in the last three years through COVID, black lives matters, through the defunding practices that are going on.
I mean, shit, Chicago police. Oh man. I know the one summer was it last summer, two, three months straight, they weren’t allowed to take a day off and I heard that that was going on again. I’m not a hundred percent, but I know that there’s other services well with COVID having to cover other stations working 96 hours straight. It’s just crazy. So we are working those into the lessons in our program in order to teach you how to keep your body, keep your stress system as strong as possible through having to push through a 96 hour shift. What to do beforehand to make sure you’re strong going in what to do during and what to do after.
So if you would like to be one of the first to know when we do open the doors again, make sure you go to our mailing list. You’ll get on our mailing list. You do that by going on to 911ShiftReady.com scroll all the way to the bottom and it should say, join our mailing list. There’s also a free training right now. I dunno how long it’ll last on anger and stress management. So if you sign up for that, you also get on our mailing list, so you could do that as well if you’d like instead.
That’s going to 911ShiftReady.com scrolling to the bottom and click to go into our mailing list or stop when you see the anger and stress management, free training and sign up for it. Until then keep listening to stay up to date on how to stay 911 shift ready.