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Chronic Psychological Stress Impairs Recovery of Muscular Function and Somatic Sensations Over a 96-Hour Period

Stults-Kolehmainen, Matthew A.1,2; Bartholomew, John B.1; Sinha, Rajita2

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: July 2014 - Volume 28 - Issue 7 - p 2007–2017
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000335
Original Research

Abstract: Stults-Kolehmainen, MA, Bartholomew, JB, and Sinha, R. Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period. J Strength Cond Res 28(7): 2007–2017, 2014—The primary aim of this study was to determine whether chronic mental stress moderates recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations: perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness, in a 4-day period after a bout of strenuous resistance exercise. Undergraduate resistance training students (n = 31; age, 20.26 ± 1.34 years) completed the Perceived Stress Scale and the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire, a measure of life event stress. At a later visit, they performed an acute heavy-resistance exercise protocol (10 repetition maximum [RM] leg press test plus 6 sets: 80–100% of 10RM). Maximal isometric force (MIF), perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness were assessed in approximately 24-hour intervals after exercise. Recovery data were analyzed with hierarchical linear modeling growth curve analysis. Life event stress significantly moderated linear (p = 0.027) and squared (p = 0.031) recovery of MIF. This relationship held even when the model was adjusted for fitness, workload, and training experience. Perceived energy (p = 0.038), fatigue (p = 0.040), and soreness (p = 0.027) all were moderated by life stress. Mean perceived stress modulated linear and squared recovery of MIF (p < 0.001) and energy (p = 0.004) but not fatigue or soreness. In all analyses, higher stress was associated with worse recovery. Stress, whether assessed as life event stress or perceived stress, moderated the recovery trajectories of muscular function and somatic sensations in a 96-hour period after strenuous resistance exercise. Therefore, under conditions of inordinate stress, individuals may need to be more mindful about observing an appropriate length of recovery.

1Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas; and

2Department of Psychiatry, Yale Stress Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Address correspondence to Matthew A. Stults-Kolehmainen,

Copyright © 2014 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.