Fatigue Is A Motivator Killer
It feels awful to go to the gym, get there and feel absolutely fatigued. You feel sluggish, weaker than normal and your entire workout just feels like one big grind. Nothing could be more demotivating! Especially if your plan today was to break new personal records and push yourself further than yesterday. Fatigue can ruin your progress. That is pretty obvious. If you train too hard, or train too frequently without sufficient recovery, fatigue can become so great that it sends you on a downward spiral of performance regression.
This can sometimes be really difficult to get out of and sometimes, can last months or even years! If you are in this for the long run, then it’s important to balance training and recovery so that you can keep this fatigue at bay and keep making those size and strength gains.
Some Fatigue Is Optimal
Fatigue in large amounts is really bad for your progress. It usually means that you’re training too much, or recovering too little. But, does that mean fatigue itself is bad? Well, not really! Fatigue is actually an essential part of the whole weightlifting process. When your body is stressed or pushed beyond its current limits, you’re going to experience fatigue. Really, it’s your body’s way of saying that it’s struggling with the current training regime and something needs to change, and fast.
This need to change results in your body adapting and being better prepared for any increased demands. The fatigue you experience is here to let you know that this adaptation process has been set in motion. If you have too much fatigue, then the recovery processes that govern this adaptation are not strong enough. If you have too little fatigue then the chances are you are not stressing your body enough in the first place. Although most people will try to program their training to prevent any fatigue at all, this might actually not be the most optimal approach. Fatigue in the right amount is actually a good thing and a strong indication that you are planning your training optimally.
“Fatigue in large amounts is really bad for your progress. It usually means that you’re training too much, or recovering too little”.
So why do you experience training-related fatigue in the first place? Well, it has to do with what is known as the Two-Factor Model Of Training (TFMT). Its sounds like this could be complicated, but it’s not. It’s just a nice way of showing you why specific performance responses occur as a result of training. Essentially, there are two important things to remember: fatigue and recovery. If you can strike a good balance between these, then you will become unstoppable in the gym. In this model, fatigue is essentially everything that happens after training. You go to the gym, you lift some weight and you stress your body beyond its limits. This will cause all sorts of different things to set in motion in your body that will present in the form of fatigue. The recovery part sets in after training and is your body’s way of trying to restore, repair and replenish itself after a bout of intense training. Without recovery, your body would just break down indefinitely. It is this interplay between these fatigue and recovery processes after training that are responsible for your body’s ability to continually adapt and progress.
I will be honest with you, striking a balance between fatigue and recovery is no easy task! No matter what you read, there are no universal guidelines that will tell you how to optimally achieve this. Heck, even I am still experimenting with trying to find a perfect balance between the two. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t and it goes horribly wrong. But that’s ok! I am constantly learning what is optimal for my weightlifting goals and what is not. For you, it’s all going to be about trial and error and learning to continuously adjust your programming as you progress through the different stages of your weightlifting. Since everyone is different, with different levels of training experience and fitness abilities, it’s impossible to formulate a definitive answer.
Sometimes It Can Be A Downward Spiral
When it comes to the TMFT, it’s all about balancing fatigue with the recovery processes that follow. But what happens if these processes become unbalanced? Many of you have probably experienced periods of time where you are always feeling fatigued and your performance in the gym just keeps going down. You try to get extra sleep or increase your calories, but it seems that whatever you do, you just can’t seem to reverse this downward spiral. If this is you, then it’s likely that your recovery processes are just not large enough to fight the magnitude of the fatigue that your body is experiencing. The truth is if your recovery is not strong enough in relation to your fatigue, the net result will cause your body to progressively become weaker. Fatigue is winning and recovery is loosing. Not something you want happening infinitely! But is it really that bad? If you ask me, it’s disastrous. Here’s why.
“It’s all about balancing fatigue with the recovery processes that follow”.
Thinking back to the article I wrote on Supercompensation (yes, he is back!), I mentioned that after training, your body would initiate a series of fatigue and repair processes. If these recovery processes are larger than the fatigue that occurs, your body will rebound to a temporarily higher state of fitness. As long as your next training session falls within this period of supercompensation, you will be able to utilize more volume and intensity than your body is currently capable of. This is essentially your body’s way of inviting you to stress it more, forcing it to adapt. This is the process that is allowing you to become stronger and bigger over time. The problem is if you don’t manage your recovery in an optimal way, it’s likely that the fatigue processes occurring exceed your body’s current capacity to recover from it. This frustratingly enough sends you in the complete wrong direction! Rather than undergoing supercompensation, you’re more likely to undergo something I like to call: superregression. As fatigue overpowers your efforts to become stronger, you just end up getting weaker.
- This graph represents two supercompensation periods
- Red graph represents supercompensation of a novice (beginner)
- Blue graph represents supercompensation of a more advanced weightlifter
- “A” represents the fatigue processes that set in following training
- “B” represents the recovery processes that act to restore the bodies fitness level
- Supercompensation for a novice typically occurs between two training sessions
- Supercompensation for a more advanced weightlifter will occur over several sessions
- “C” the correct balance of fatigue and recovery will result in a temporary increase in fitness
If you find yourself getting weaker, then fatigue is no longer working to your advantage; it’s working against you. The whole benefit of training fatigue is that it appears when your body is stressed. If you stress your body, you will force it to adapt. This is exactly what you want! In this scenario, the stress stimulus will be a combination of volume and intensity you use, as well as the number of training sessions you undertake. Naturally then, fatigue is a positive indication that you are stressing your body sufficiently to force it to undergo adaptation.
In an ideal situation, this is exactly what you want. A strong enough training stimulus to induce just enough fatigue to force your body to adapt, but not too much that it ends up canceling out any chance your body has at trying to recover. If you allow this to continuously happen then it’s likely that you enter into an overtrained state. What happens is that if you continue to train with high-intensity and high-volume you may fatigue and exhaust your body so much that your body’s ability to actually recover from it, is hindered. You might find in this case that the normal amount of time you allocate for recovery between sessions is no longer sufficient. If this occurs, more recovery time than usual is needed to pull you back out of this overtrained state.
- Graph represents the possible overtraining territory if fatigue (“A”) and recovery (“B”) processes are out of balance
- The blue line represents what SHOULD happen if fatigue and recovery are in balance
- The red line represents possible overtraining
- If fatigue (“A”) is greater than your bodies capability to recover (“B”) then your body will be unable to recover in time for the next training session “C” resulting in reduced performance and a continued decline in fitness level
- If you are overtrained and try to train again to too early, you will end up training at a point where you theoretically are still recovering from your last session.
Recommendations To Effectively Manage Fatigue And Overtraining
The goal of managing recovery and fatigue is to promote continued adaptation in size and strength, while minimizing the effects of overtraining. If recovery and fatigue are knocked out of balance, it can become very difficult to progress over the long-term. How you optimally manage both recovery and fatigue will depend on what stage of training you are in. The good news is if you are a novice trainer (beginner) then managing the two takes very little work. In fact, very little trial and error is really needed! As a novice trainer, the body responds relatively easy to a training stimulus and recovers very quickly from it. After all, this is all new to your body so it’s really unprepared for this. One training session is enough to set the adaptation processes in motion and it usually takes no more than 24-48 hours for the recovery processes to restore the body to its normal optimal state. Say you train 3 days per week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“The goal of managing recovery and fatigue is to promote continued adaptation in size and strength, while minimizing the effects of overtraining”. If you train on a Monday, the fatigue resulting from it will almost be gone by Wednesday’s session. Provided that you don’t train on Tuesday and try to jump the gun, the recovery processes will be larger in magnitude to the induced fatigue to fully prepare the body for Wednesday’s session. The same will happen as you go from Wednesday to Friday’s session. As a novice, one training session is enough as a stimulus to induce fatigue to set the adaptation process in motion.
Fatigue here is your friend. It means you have done a good job! Having a recovery day between Monday and Wednesday will ensure that the magnitude of fatigue is constrained and that the recovery processes are larger in comparison. If you decide to increase the stimulus too quick (e.g. adding in extra training sessions) without compensating for more recovery time, then it’s likely at this stage the extra fatigue would end up overpowering the body’s current recovery processes and you would throw yourself into an overtrained stage. In other words, your performance would not be recovered in the recovery time allocated before your next session. Without more recovery, you would just sink further into a deeper overtrained state.
If you are more advanced (e.g. intermediate, most of you will be in this stage), then managing fatigue and recovery processes takes a little more consideration . For one, it takes a lot more effort to get your body to adapt. Unlike a novice where one training session might be sufficient, a more advanced lifter will need to utilize a lot more total work overall (more training sessions, volume and intensity) in order to initiate the fatigue processes that kick start adaptation. This of course means more fatigue overall. In fact, as a more advanced weightlifter you will never fully recover from fatigue. You will probably start every session with some fatigue. But this is good! At this stage of the game, I would be more worried if you don’t have any fatigue as this probably means that you are not working hard enough to induce the fatigue necessary to induce the adaptive process. On the flip side, more fatigue means more recovery needed.
“As a more advanced weightlifter you will never fully recover from fatigue. You will probably start every session with some fatigue”. If you need a greater magnitude of fatigue (than a novice) to set adaptation in motion, then it’s logical that your recovery will need to be even greater. Why? Although more fatigue is important to induce adaptation in the advanced lifter, the magnitude of your recovery processes still need to stay larger in comparison in order to make sure your body successfully returns to it’s optimal state.
More fatigue without any increase in recovery will simply throw you into overtrained territory. Even though you will never fully recover from fatigue as an advanced weightlifter, it should never outcompete your body’s recovery processes. In terms of training, periodization will be your best friend (as I have talked about in other articles). The best ways in my opinion are alternating between high-intensity and high-volume days, or heavy/light/medium days. This will ensure that you can continue to overload and induce the necessary fatigue, but also plan in enough recovery to stop the fatigue processes from throwing your body into a potential performance regressive state.
Don’t Fight Fatigue, Fight Overtraining
A lot of weightlifters get worried at the first signs of fatigue and overtraining. Overtraining is something you should be worried about and you should do everything you can to prevent it. There are no good outcomes from overtraining, only bad ones. But, fatigue is something you should work with and it’s not something you should try to completely abolish. In my experience, many weightlifters at the first sign of fatigue try everything to get rid of it; such as reducing training sessions, taking extended breaks, completely changing their routine or, reducing total amount of work they do. While it seems logical, it could actually be sub-optimal for your gains. By trying to reduce every bit of fatigue you experience your probably actually removing the very thing that stimulates your body to adapt. If you find your performance dropping, then it’s likely you’re under recovering rather than becoming more fatigued.
When I train, I always become fatigued. I always begin and end my training sessions fatigued. But, very rarely does my performance actually suffer. If it does, it’s usually because I have not added in enough recovery time between my workouts and not because I am completely fatigue free. As you progress through your training career, the fatigue you experience will never fully go away. Fatigue in the right amount will act as an important catalyst in your size and strength gains. The trick is not to let fatigue get out of control. With proper management of recovery you will be able to keep fatigue at bay and reduce the risk of it leading you down a path of overtraining. Fatigue is not really a training problem, overtraining is.
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. Do you always start your training session a little fatigued? Do you try to get rid of it all together? Let me know!