I am sure you have heard these before….

Cortisol is evil!

Cortisol is stalling my fat loss results.

Cortisol will destroy all your muscle tissue.

How many times have you heard those statements?

While it is true that cortisol levels are associated with stress and this can lead to poor health, weight gain, and impede your fat loss; there is a simple solution.

The problem is not cortisol per say, but that we decoupled movement from the equation.

Er, come again?

Let’s back up a bit first.


When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol; and that is a GOOD thing.

I know cortisol has a bad rep as some evil catabolic hormone but it serves a very important purpose.

Cortisol’s job is to mobilize energy so the body can MOVE.

Without cortisol, you will literally die.

The key is to get the right amount, at the right time, to do the right job.

The Bad Part About Cortisol

Cortisol being released constantly (due to stress) without movement is bad.

People (er me too) get stressed out sitting in a chair and don’t move. The body is designed when stressed to move (fight or flight).

A zebra in the wild hears a lion and will have a massive cortisol release and then run like hell.

If the zebra gets away, good, cortisol did its job to facilitate energy needed for movement. If not, the lion is full and the zebra does not have to worry again (poor little guy).

It is amazing how people move more and feel less stressed, even though they have not changed the stressors

The Cortisol Solution For Fat Loss

The key is to NOT initially try to stop all production of cortisol. Trying to squash normal physiology processes is rarely the answer.

While you should take steps to control the stress in your life, the first thing to do is go move first!

If your house is burning down, don’t worry about what started the fire, work to put out the blaze first.

Don’t initially worry about the release of cortisol, work to fix the response of your body first (put out the darn fire).

Get in some good exercise and focus on volume. As you know, volume is just the weight x sets x reps.

Volume = weight x sets x reps

Pick a lighter weight (about 50-60% of your 1 Rep Max) and do some rep/volume based work.

This is not as draining and allows for a lot of movement compared to just a few heavy singles.

Your goal is to couple cortisol release back to movement (exercise) and restore balance.

You probably have enough cortisol already (especially if you are stressed out), but you are decoupling it from movement – not the best idea.

Don’t go bonkers in the gym, just get in some easy volume work.

Luckily, you can do more movement and speed up your fat loss results in addition to literally BEING better.

How Soon Do I Need To Exercise?

The simple answer is to move (exercise) more than what you are doing now if you are stressed out.

Training is better than no training, walking is better than not moving.

In a perfect world you can control the stressor; but that is not reality for most so you can then control your response.

The sooner you can move appropriate to the stress, the better.

Exercise Options

Add another training day to your current routine.
Do some bodyweight squats at your desk
Go for a walk at lunch
Ride your bike to work and back home
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Park farther away from the store

First focus on better from where you are at and not worry about what is optimal.

Optimal is a fantasy, there is only better.


While want to control the stress in your life, step 1 is to restore balance by coupling exercise back to the stress response.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson