Your body makes changes based on stimulus or stress to a particular energy system. What we know is that your body is overloaded by a stimulus that is out of the normal range of work. This overload can be in many forms, for example, higher intensity of an exercise or greater volume. We also know that as intensity increases volume decreases. As I mentioned in a past entry, overload/ adaptation, small incremental overloads on regular basis will result in an adaptation that will increase your performance. The modulations of these overloads are of great importance and there is a whole body of science on how to optimize rest to work ratios.
As the athlete matures and reaches a higher level of fitness it is the responsibility of the coach to determine what overload is most effective in eliciting a response. As higher levels of fitness are gained determining and obtaining an overload becomes much more complicated. In many cases this is where the wheels come off the wagon. The coach does not recognize the fatigue and the athlete does not have enough rest to recover from the training and progress is slowed or reversed. In addition often times it is more difficult to get an overload. The science of exercise science and program design play a big role in order to get small incremental gains in performance.
We know that a greater stimulus will result in fatigue, followed by the body compensating for this fatigue, followed by supercompensation, and a resulting improvement in performance. If the stimulus is always the same this cycle does not result in improved performance.
On the surface this seems simple. Most athletes have a “Type A” approach to training. More is better and much more is even better! If an athlete does not measure fatigue effectively the slippery slope of overtraining is only a step away.
What we don’t know as well within this cycle of adaptation is how you measure the fatigue. It is easy to look at a squat, count the reps and multiply by the weight to come up with a number on total load and subsequent overload. The problem comes into play on how you measure the resulting fatigue. You can feel the fatigue and see the result at the moment of the lift. This is called peripheral fatigue. However another fatigue is also at play. Velocity based training is helping with this issue. It allows the coach to see the velocity of the bar with a particular weight. In other words how hard was it for the athlete to move the bar is evident in the speed of the bar.
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 of inability to execute a particular exercise? However, there is 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 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. Performance drops off, and it is harder and harder to obtain the type of outputs you were easily accomplishing in the past. Athletes will say the “feel flat”. The problem is that if you accumulate 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 that this is monitored.
The science is still trying to determine how to better monitor this type of fatigue. BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) have been shown to help, monitoring effective sleep, but the jury is still out. Sleep, good 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.
At Sirens and Titans www.sirensandtitansfitness.com we monitor a core group of exercises for each athlete dependent on the sport. Power performance seems to be a better reflection of overall fatigue than strength exercises. If an athlete begins to drop off on power performance 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 CNS we have to look for markers outside of the body. As an athlete becomes fitter these markers become much more important to observe. We are constantly asking the athlete how they feel in an overall sense as well as observing the markers we have established.
One of the most important contributions a coach can make to the athlete is to tell them to rest. If the coach tells the athlete to rest there is no sense of guilt. At Titan we also incorporate play into the equation. This reduces the mental stress associated with high levels of training. Even with our personal training clients we closely monitor fatigue and rest. Weekend warriors do not realize the impact of daily stress on their performance.
So the take away is to 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
Jacques DeVore, CSCS