Episode #82 – How to Manage Your Stress Budget by Jesse Kropelnicki

Episode #82 – How to Manage Your Stress Budget by Jesse Kropelnicki

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How you handle stress on and off the bike are a major determining factor in progressing your natural cycling talents. Ideally you want a year over year increase in the amount of training stress you can handle. All while minimising life stressors, and understanding how the two go together. This episode looks at managing your stress as a whole by making adjustments in high stress times, and assessing how you currently manage your stress.

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This is idea is to understand all the stress factors in your life as a whole. Plan them into your training at every level, while expanding your ability to handle stress over time.

Doing well in cycling is simple – you just have to have a huge capacity of handle stress, but use that capacity on riding by minimising life stresses. Simple – yes! Easy – no!

So today we are going to explore, understand, and manage your stress budget. Because it’s such an important determining factor in your progress through the sport.

The importance here lies in two areas:

1: Lasting an entire season

2: Year-on-year improvement

What is the stress budget?

Defined by Jesse as “the maximum amount of stress that can be added into your life, without it becoming counterproductive to your success, as an athlete.”

Without the consideration of the stress budget in planning it’s easy to continue adding more, without understanding the consequences until it’s too late. There are many ways we can add stress into our lives; in a training sense we can add intensity, volume, racing, team camps. In life; poor nutrition, poor sleep, extra pressure from work or school. Whether conscious or not every small addition has to be looked at as a whole.

What’s happening here on a physical level is the disruption of recovery and the super-compensation cycle. And includes physiological stress of the systems of overtraining rather than overreaching. Such an your hormone levels being out of whack, abnormal blood work, and lack of immunity. Not tired legs. Systematic stress is better managed at a macro level, the 20,000 or 30,000 foot level. Through your ATP, and periodised blocks.

Here’s an interesting idea presented by Jesse – “Your total stress budget is by and large a function of the prior year’s acceptable stress level.”

When you’re new to racing, you’re feeling everything out, the racing, the training, the logistics of life – the extra time it takes to clean your bike once every two weeks.

But once that year is done, you can start benchmarking and refining your process, including looking at the stressful times during the season, and taking those into account when planning.

The first step is looking at the volume/intensity (TRIMP/TSS) that you can churn out on a consistent and weekly basis. The optimal here is being able to sustain this level while being about to contribute to every other area of your life, and not burn out or become injured. Jesse refers to it as “sustainable volume”. I think of it as Semi-Pro Perfection.

Before I go any further though I want to address a not so tangible area that I believe is extremely important in this equation. That is, the mental aspect. While physiological adaptations are one thing, if you can’t sustain a certain the level of workload at work, and your approach to cycling pushes you almost every time you get on the bike – then you’re asking for trouble unless you are consciously going out of your way to rejuvenate your mind.

Let me give you an example. I trained seriously, and worked full time for a couple of years. My job was a sit down office job, that wasn’t very stressful because it wasn’t overly challenging because it played to my strengths, and I was there for 5 years. So it was easy to maintain and stay on top of the challenges. I would train in the afternoons and nights after work, and at first I thought of training as a release, both physically and mentally. But over time I began to realise that training was not actually a release. It was plain hard work. Hard work I valued, but hard work none the same.

So while my work didn’t push me physically, or even mentally, riding challenged my body and my brain. To put it into context of the stress budget. If I changed roles, or got a new job, then my cycling would’ve suffered. I’m sure of it. So it’s easy to listen to people talk about cycling and training as a release, but have a really good think about what it does to your brain – are you fried mentally after a workout, or rejuvenated? And I’m not just talking about being tired. If you’re fried you have to find a way to recharge yourself – whatever that is. Introvert, extravert, ambivert – whatever – you know yourself better than I do.

Ok so back to physiological stress and planning. It’s not just planned adjustments that you need to make to compensate for increased responsibility at work or home. A sharp increase in any stress factor means all other areas have to be reduced. Much like when planning training stress, a 5 or 10% increase a week is all the stress you want to put your body under. So if in theory your university stress increases by 30% something is going to give. So lower all other areas. Think of it as insurance rather than a pain in the arse. Play the long ball, and the training sacrificed will be a drop in the ocean.

There are ways to boost your stress budget, and total stress capability. I touched on it briefly regarding knowing how to recharge your mind. But physically it’s pretty straight forward – in theory. Stick to the basics, good nutrition, more or better sleep, massages, mobility – to put these into perspective think of them as an investment in your entire life, not just your cycling. If you do these things right, then you will have greater capacity to spend more time on your bike, and with your family, friends or whatever you do on Saturday nights.

Once you have a grasp on how to expand your stress budget, and you’ve built it up over the years. There is still an element of disciple or at least an understanding of the best ways to spend that budget. No use putting it towards staying up later, or extra life complications because your athletic progress will simply not happen.

To illustrate his point – Jesse runs through four athlete examples. If each athlete has the same stress budget capacity, these examples start at the worst example of stress budget management moving towards the best. See if you fit into any of these categories.


Athlete 1 – The athlete with the worst stress budget.

Type A personalities. Driven athletes, in all aspects of their lives. Lofty cycling goals, and lofty employment – and maybe even lofty family responsibilities. And as a result, these athletes are often working well beyond their available stress budget, as they try to cram all of these priorities into their lives. This athlete is systematically burnt out, maybe injured, and certainly lacking long term progress.

Unfortunately, this is the worst-case scenario, and also the most common! These athletes would be best served to take a good, hard look at all of the factors pulling on them, and determine if any of these can be mitigated. Because work and family responsibilities tend to be unyielding it is often their training that must be reformulated.

Initially, this can be a difficult pill to swallow, but will very likely improve training, racing, and frame of mind.


Athlete 2 – Very high goals, but lacking appropriate levels of stress in their training.

Actually under budget, the progress of these athletes is actually being limited by too little training stress. These athletes will struggle to make real long-term progress, because of the combination of low training stress levels and a somewhat high level of bad stressors.

With significant stress budgets, which are being both under and incorrectly utilized, these athletes would realize greater training and racing performances by considering how they can incorporate greater training stress into their program and possibly cut back on the opposing factors in their lives.


Athlete 3 – On the right track, these athletes have some training stress and limited life/logistical stress, but underutilize their total budget.

These athletes are much more uncommon, but many times can be that shining gem out there that has great potential, that no one has realized. These athletes typically do not have children, have low-stress jobs, and a great deal of unrealized potential.They are often unaware of the work that is required to make real long-term progress.

Together, with a good coach, these athletes should consider how to implement a greater amount of training stress into their program, so as to induce even greater progress. Already having the infrastructure needed to support the necessary restoration, staying within budget should be accomplished with ease.


Athlete 4 – With a large percentage of their stress budgeted towards training, and very limited “bad” stress factors, these athletes hit it perfectly! Excellent nutrition and restoration help to maintain or improve total stress budgets, and these athletes continue to take full advantage of that budget. These athletes excel beyond the rest, and over the long term makes real quantifiable progress.

The trouble that you I hope you’re beginning to see is that there are certain actions you can take that make that can fill your stress budget, and reduce your total capacity. Twice as dangerous! A perfect example is training instead of sleeping. Seems quite innocent doesn’t it – but it could be this type of action repeated over and over that means you do not fulfill your athletic or stress capacity potential.


As a practical reminder go back and listen to Episode #19 on 5 ways to optimise your life for more riding time.

So now you have this information I urge you to take a step back and have a look at your total stress budget and where you might be adding stress that hampers your progress.


Let me help you work this out. Over the next 2 weeks I’m offering free 15 minute calls to help you figure out any challenges you’re having with your cycling. Your stress budget or any other issue.

Just head over to semiprocycling.com/advice and book your spot. I look forward to helping you.




Photo Credit: lgladdy on Flickr


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Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

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Build fitness on a realistic schedule with The Weekly Workout Stack™

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