We all know what chronic fatigue feels like after a period of prolonged stress/work, that felling of heavy limbs, poor cognition and generally low mood. Managing your energy levels in training or as I like to look at it as managing your fatigue is a straight forward process, in fact you need to feel fatigue at points in your training to be really getting the most out of your body. Overtraining or overreaching is a key aspect of growth but you will need plans in place to recover once you hit this stage.

First let’s look at the types of fatigue there are, Muscular, connective tissues, neurological, emotional and resources. But what do they all mean?

All of these will cross over into each other at some point and will be affected by the bodies resource’s to heal and grow but have certain unique properties you will need to keep in mind.

 Muscular fatigue

Every time you work out your muscles will tear ever so slightly these micro tears are what stimulates the muscle to grow become thicker and stringer, when we don’t give the muscular tissue time to recover it will then start to become more of a stressor and cause more damage than good. Small muscle groups only need a day or 2 to recover whereas the larger muscle groups will take 2-3 days. If you leave too long for muscles to recover you can also risk losing fitness/strength  so to get the best out of your body often you can be training the same body part 3 times in a week depending on other factors.

Connective tissue fatigue

Connective tissue can be stressed most often by high volume of similar movement patterns to a joint, if you continually stress an area exactly the same for too long you can cause the tissue to become over sensitised and therefore refer pain. Changing the exercise or movement patterns will help keep this level of fatigue down, beware of plyometric training here though as this will cause the most stress in this element.

Neurological fatigue

Every time your nervous system send information through the body this will cost resources, in fact every time you stress a ligament the adrenal glands have to work to produce the chemical messenger. Working with larger muscle groups and high volume of work can cause this system to fatigue quickly but the true cause of this system to fatigue is normally the use of the higher motor neuron units for example 90%+ of your 1 rep max. you will literally feel an inability to lift heavy when this starts to fatigue whereas in muscular fatigue will be more of an endurance issue.

Emotional fatigue

Training full throttle and living the life of a monk can be very challenging on your mind, there will be times where you feel like you’re missing out on life, which is never a good thing ensure planned breaks to enjoy life a little to keep you sane.

Resource depletion

Many believe that fatigue is just under eating, this is not the case, if you are truly pushing your boundaries then no matter how great your lifestyle or diet is you will need rest. That being said for those working out often will find certain resources will become depleted very fast and depending on the type of energy system you are using for example the kerb cycle or the Pentose phosphate pathway. Ensuring those vital elements are toped up as well as managing your environment to decrease external stressors will be vital.

 

Other factors you need to take into account are the methods of fatigue for example intensity, volume, repetition and passive/active recovery.

These will determine the speed of fatigue in each of the previous areas.

Intensity

The weight you lift and the rest length you give yourself equal the intensity of the workout, intensity often will result in neurological fatigue more than any other forms.

Volume

Volume has the most potent effect on fatigue, high reps, high sets and a large number of workouts in a week will cause the fastest accumulation out of any stressor.

Repetition

Repetition of the same movements will incur all types of fatigue, hence the importance to keep routines evolving not only on your set, rep and rest ratios but for exercise order and selection too.

Passive/active recovery

Forms of recovery like yoga, massage, saunas and cold baths can all be useful when used correctly but also can be a stressor or an inhibitor of recovery if applied wrong. Yoga and massage are generally great at removing inflammation and aiding lymphatic drainage but can often add unneeded stress to muscles if in the planned overtraining phase. Whereas infrared saunas are a great way to recover, stimulate blood flow and help your body produce ATP but will cause dehydration, so managing your hydration adequately will be a must if you are thinking of using them. Cold baths are a terrible idea just after training as inflammation is a key signalling process for growth and repair but can be used before a workout or during the recovery phase of your plans to aid in fatigue management.

When planning a programme in a periodised scheme for best results then all of these factors need to be accounted for to optimise results, reduce risk of injury and stay feeling top of your game all the time.

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