Pontus Wärnestål explores relaxation and stress, and their effect on both our mental and physical states.

"A relaxing holiday after months of stressful work!” ... Sounds pretty good, right? Sure, by all means it’s important to take time off work to reflect and recharge. But there is a problem here, which has to do with the concepts of ‘relaxation’ and ‘stress’. Most of us have most certainly been taught that stress is bad and relaxation is good. But let’s think about this for a minute from the perspective of the body, movement, and mental state.

Pontus Warnestal using ViPR


Stress is defined as pressure or tension exerted per area unit. More importantly, stress is a multi-dimensional process, which affects both our mental and physical states. Adaptive systems (such as the human body) need the ‘right amount and type’ of stress in order to improve or grow.


The absence, or very low levels, of stress is more specifically known as hypostress. Think of this as ‘boredom’. No adaptation is required, and the body (and mind) begins to deteriorate. On the other side of the stress spectrum, we have excessive, unadaptable stress (‘distress’). Think of this as ‘anxiety’ in the system, which is also detrimental. When we exercise intelligently, we put tissues under the right kind of stress (‘eustress’ or ‘hyperstress’), which causes them to adapt and thrive.

Stress, thus, is not a bad phenomenon in itself; it is actually necessary to improve complex adaptive systems (both physiologically and psychologically). The challenge we face in the fitness space is to find the right kind of stress, monitor it, and continuously increase the challenge as our competence increases. And since stress affects our mental as well as our physical state, we have to make sure we address both processes. Otherwise, we run the risk of hitting a plateau, or we over-train and increase the risk of injury.


The father of ‘flow’ – psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high”) – conceptualized the optimal relationship between skill and challenge as ‘the flow channel’.1 When the level of challenge matches your skill level, you are in the zone. You operate effortlessly and with a high quality of movement. As soon as your system adapts and improves, your skill is raised and you need to increase the challenge in order to stay in the flow channel.


If you find your workout being monotonous and boring (the mental challenge is too low), you risk hitting mental hypostress, which in turn can affect your physical state negatively. And vice versa: if you try to move beyond your current capability – too fast, too complex, or with too heavy weights for instance – you stress both the mental and physical systems too much. And this causes anxiety and possibly injury.

Pontus Warnestal using ViPR

When you’re in that precious flow channel both mentally and physically, you build energy and don’t need to ‘relax’. You don’t feel that exercising is boring, but start to enjoy movement for its own sake. NB: This is not to say you should never rest. Tissues need time and nutrition to recuperate. And sometimes life throws things at us beyond our control. So be smart, but remember that exercise has a physical, as well as a mental, component. And they both need to be challenged to match your skill level. 

With a personalized workout customized to you, and a multi-functional tool such as ViPR, you’ll be all set to thrive in the flow channel for a long time.


1. Csikszentmihalyi M (1990), Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York: Harper and Row.