Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Without a doubt we have all incurred some form of fatigue in our training practice, whether it be going out jogging, completing a heavy deadlift or even learning a handstand. Although, what helps us to get back on the horse and try again was the recovery that followed!
As a general rule fatigue shares a strong relationship with training intensity. Therefore, as intensity increases so does the onset of fatigue. Which means, the recovery duration for the fatigue you are experiencing is more often that not, longer when following increased bouts of intensity.
Let’s use lunges as an example:
A. Complete 10 walking lunges each side @ 70% of your max.
After training you may need only 24-36 hours rest before training lunges again.
B. Complete 4 walking lunges each side @ 90% of your max.
After training you may need 48-72 hours rest before training lunges again.
Although this may make perfect sense... An often overlooked or undervalued aspect of the recovery process, is recognising the type of fatigue your body is accruing.
Types of Fatigue
Physiological fatigue i.e. eccentric exercise induced muscle damage from a fatigue in excitation contraction (E-C) coupling.
Neurological fatigue i.e. due to a high recruitment of motor units from 95% 1RM Back Squats.
Psychological fatigue i.e. A repetitious training program resulting in a lack motivation.
With each affecting the endocrine system by increasing release of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine), general signs of lack in attention and/or increased irritability are likely to appear.
Whereas, reduced range of motion, decreased training performance, and demotivation are likely to be specific repercussions of physiological, neurological and psychological fatigue, respectively.
Well, what do you need to do for recovery?
Following muscle damage, inflammation increases amongst other catabolic signalling mechanisms. Therefore, strategies to decrease physiological fatigue are heavily dependant on movement of blood flow and restoring nutrition stores.
The typical recovery approach should include:
Active recovery: Light walking or stretching to circulate stagnant blood flow and increase the flow of nutrients to damaged muscle sites.
Protein and carbohydrate rich food sources: Foods especially high in amino acid leucine which stimulates muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth) and acts to alleviate inflammation at the muscle site. Additionally, consumption of carbohydrates to restore glycogen stores in the muscle, thus reducing muscle protein breakdown (loss of muscle).
The recruitment of higher motor units makes the body feel exhausted and hard to carry around, due to the intercellular communication between nerve cells becoming depleted. These can be due to a decrease in the availability of neurotransmitters (i.e acetylcholine are chemical messengers which initiates particular bodily functions) or electrolytes (Na+, Ca2+, K+, Cl-) amongst other nutrient stores.
Therefore, recovery of this state also remains dependant on quality nutrition and active recovery, although due to the higher intensity and greater levels of stress, the body may benefit from relaxation methods to transition the sympathetic state into a parasympathetic state.
Hence, typical recovery approaches should also include:
1. Meditation/Sleep: As our breathing slows and attenuates, it becomes more regular and consistent, as does our heart beat and neural impulses. Therefore, our stress hormones are reduced and the body can move into a recovery state faster.
2. Electrolyte replenishment: Consumption of foods/beverages rich in calcium, sodium and potassium will restore the electrical capabilities of neurons and sooner prepare them for following high intensity sessions.
Although psychological fatigue is not directly impacted by training sessions themselves, the emotional and affective response our body takes can decrease arousal and motivation. If not taken just a serious, this can result in poorer performance or even a lack of attending training and following nutrition protocols.
These feelings can reflect our change in values, time spent training, lack of progress, comparisons with others, boredom, amongst many others. But ultimately, recovery requires a change in programs, environments or even time away.
Hence, typical recovery approaches should include:
A program revisit: Fresh exercises, goals or alterations in training style, can provide novelty and invigorate a new sense of motivation for the task. Often leading to increased adherence and progress, resulting in an improved positive mindset and lower levels of stress.
Time away: Training for some is monotonous and time-consuming, pulling them away from other valuable events occurring in their lives. After a long duration of following a strict program, time-away can give you the freedom to explore different avenues of life and/or re-invigorate your joy for following a training practice.
To conclude, the key thing to know is, not all fatigue is made equal and it can impact us in a variety of ways. Monitoring and being aware of how that fatigue is affecting you, allows you to choose the recovery strategy that is most beneficial. Ultimately, this will reduce the chances of you getting injured and feeling chronically fatigued as well as improve your chances to progress your training further.