"Fatigue makes cowards of as all,” but how do you measure it"?
The quote is from famed football coach Vince Lombardi, and it is so applicable to training and sport. But if you want to get maximum overloads in your workouts, the real question is how you measure the fatigue more effectively?
When you are performing your deadlifts, you can feel the burn in the muscle. Once you stop the burning stops and your body begins to recover. This is called peripheral fatigue. But is there more going on?
Your body makes changes based on stimulus or stress to a particular energy system. What we know is that when performing deadlifts your body becomes overloaded by a stimulus that is out of the normal range of work. This overload can typically come in the form of higher intensity of the exercise or greater volume, less rest, more reps, etc. We also know that volume decreases as intensity increases. Remember, small incremental overloads undertaken on a regular basis will result in an adaptation that will increase your performance. The modulations of these overloads are of great importance. As the athlete matures and reaches a higher level of fitness it is my responsibility as a coach to determine what overload will be most effective in eliciting the desired response in his or her body. As higher levels of fitness are achieved, determining and obtaining an overload becomes much more complicated.
We know that a greater stimulus will result in fatigue, followed by the body compensating for this fatigue, followed by super compensation, and a resulting improvement in performance. But if the stimulus is always the same this cycle does not result in improved performance.
On the surface this seems simple. Where it gets tricky is that most athletes have a “Type A” approach to training. More is better and much more is even better than that! If an athlete does not measure fatigue effectively, the slippery slope of overtraining is only a step away.
What is harder to measure well within this cycle of adaptation is how you measure the fatigue. Beyond the muscle soreness there is also another fatigue at play.
Fatigue is generally classified as the direct mechanical fatigue on muscle contraction capability during an exercise. This fatigue is peripheral. In other words, when do you reach the point where you are unable to execute a particular exercise? But there is also a great level of Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue, which is very important to monitor in training. This type of fatigue is insidious and can lead to a lack of enthusiasm, burnout, sleep issues, etc. It is typically the type of fatigue that creeps up on an athlete over time. You just feel tired and burned out all the time. Performance drops off, and it becomes harder and harder to obtain the type of outputs you were easily accomplishing in the past. Athletes will say they “feel flat”. The problem is that if an athlete accumulates too much of this type of fatigue, it takes some time to recover and can lead to major setbacks in training. Therefore it is very important to monitor this closely.
Exercise scientists are still trying to determine how to better monitor this type of fatigue. BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) have been shown to help, but the jury is still out on their long-term effectiveness. Sleep and proper nutrition will always be a part of the process and should be monitored. Different athletes respond to different levels of intensity and volume in exercise differently. Serotonin levels are at play in this overall fatigue. Many endurance athletes are now using pulse oximeters to measure O2 in their blood to see if recovery has taken place. Healthy humans typically carry 97 to 98 percent oxygen in their blood. If you wake up and see 97 or lower, that’s a strong indicator that your body has not recovered.
As a coach, I monitor a core group of exercises for each athlete dependingon the sport. If an athlete begins to drop off 15 percent or more on a regular basis, we pay close attention and reevaluate the training to determine how to taper the workload down and incorporate longer recovery times and rest. Since we cannot look into the body and see the level of fatigue on the central nervous system we have to look for markers outside of the body. As an athlete becomes fitter, these markers become much more important to observe. I am constantly asking my athletes how they feel in an overall sense as well as observing the performance markers we have established.
One of the most important contributions a coach can make to his or her athletes is to tell them to rest. If the coach tells the athlete to rest there is no sense of guilt on the part of the Type A athlete. I also incorporate play into the equation. This reduces the mental stress associated with high levels of training. Weekend warriors generally do not realize the impact of daily stress on their performance.
So the takeaway is that you should give yourself markers of performance and measurements of feel to help you monitor the impact of overall fatigue on your body. Be aware that fatigue is not just your inability to perform an exercise in the moment.
Truth in fitness,