Is Exercise Actually Stressing You Out?

(Image credit: Unknown)

You may know Chevy Rough as a coach on the BBC documentary Mind Over Marathon, where he helped people with mental health difficulties run the London Marathon. Or perhaps you know him from Coach’s Facebook Live stretching session after last year’s Royal Parks Half Marathon. Or maybe you’ve seen his name on the schedule of this weekend’s Sweatlife Festival, a two-day event chock-full of talks and classes hosted by Lululemon.

Rough’s giving a talk called “Mindful Movement” which, admittedly, looks a bit naff when written down but starts to make more sense when you give the charismatic Rough the chance to explain it. For instance, when we spoke to Rough he made the point that the mind doesn’t understand the difference between training-related stress and work or life stress.

He sees it when people train with his Chasing Lights running collective. “People usually rush from work and their system is up, they’re sweating,” Rough explains. Put that into another exercise class and “you’ve got this hectic mind coming through the door and before you know it they’re jumping around doing burpees.”

Does that seem familiar? Then there’s probably plenty more in our chat with Rough that will interest you. He began by explaining that mindful movement is about “how people can connect the dots between mind and body”. So we had to ask…

How are the mind and body disconnected?

We go into training because we want to make change, but often people are fuelled by emotions that they’re not confronting. That can come from a negative space. Sometimes when people go out and start training they push themselves too hard, they run too fast, they lift too heavy, they benchmark themselves by PBs and they don’t create an honest relationship with their movement.

I get people to really address that truth and once we understand what fuels people’s movement, we then start to look at how can we mindfully approach training.

Does that reflect your own experience?

I went into the City at 17 a very lost young man and what followed was 15 years of using alcohol and drugs. After coming out of it, I realised I was actually fuelling my depression and anxiety.

I got to about 32 and realised I needed to make a change. For me, it was running. It put me in control over my body and mind – I thought I was in control. But actually I was getting injured all the time because I sat at a desk for 15 years and had no relationship with my body. No understanding of my lack of mobility, strength, glutes and core. The reality was I didn’t show humility in my practice, I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t trying to understand my body.

Training for a marathon is like going into therapy –, it exposes you physically and mentally. And it exposed in me that I was really running away from myself. Until I stopped beating myself up on the road I was never going to have a healthy relationship with movement.

In your Chasing Lights collective, you bring meditation and breathing into training. Is there any resistance to that?

It takes a lot of voodoo to get people falling down the rabbit hole of breathing! If you had asked me even a year ago to do it I would have run the other way because I didn’t want to slow down and listen to my thoughts.

We’re talking about mindfulness a lot at the moment. And I work with companies who say “come in and talk because we want people to be more mindful to deal with stress”. Let’s be honest, what we’re talking about when we talk about mindfulness is mental health.

So what do you do to get people started?

Getting your breathing right is important for runners, so a couple of breathing exercises at the beginning of a session helps to spark up the respiratory system and that’s kind of doing a little bit of meditation.

When sort of effect have you seen on people who adopt breathing techniques?

For Mind Over Marathon I worked with a lovely girl named Shereece who suffered with anxiety and panic attacks. We would often be in a social situation and she’d get short of breath and have a panic attack.

When she was out running her breath would just escape her and as soon as that happened she’d start to get in this panic attack mode. By giving her some breathing exercises to do she learned to control that panic and that anxiety, and soon she learned to breathe herself down when she felt it coming in everyday life.

It’s like running. People think that running is something that we all can just do. But there’s a good way of running and there’s a bad of way running, and it’s the same with breathing. We are living this hunched-over life and our respiratory systems have picked up bad habits.

By teaching people how to breathe you’re helping them use the respiratory system to its fullest capabilities. You’re going to see an improvement in their running because they’re going to oxygenate their bodies more efficiently, they’re going to recover much more efficiently and have more energy. Then, when it comes to dealing with things like stress and anxiety, you have the tools to learn to control that as well.

The Sweatlife Festival takes place on 22nd July at Tobacco Dock, London E1. Visit for more

Jonathan Shannon
Former editor

Jonathan Shannon was the editor of the Coach website from 2016 to 2024, developing a wide-ranging experience of health and fitness. Jonathan took up running while editing Coach and used the training plans on the site to run a sub-40min 10K, 1hr 28min half marathon and 3hr 6min marathon. He’s an advocate of cycling to work and is Coach’s e-bike reviewer, and not just because he lives up a bit of a hill. He also reviews fitness trackers and other workout gear.