How do I manage training induced fatigue?
Why this post?
I first thought about writing this blog as a consequence of my daily routine in a physiotherapy private practice. I often get asked by my clients how to best avoid fatigue.
The conversation usually starts when I raise the bar by asking a client to improve their form during an exercise execution or a modification in the exercise loads as an example. In lots of instances these clients are going through the back end of their rehabilitation or have been out of action for quite some time. They are currently going through that re-adaptation phase where training is starting to pick up but they still need clinical care which is quite often exercise based. There are also those who are in top form but come in for body tune ups from time to time. I usually hear I am exhausted, feeling so fatigued. How can I avoid been so fatigued? Is there anything I can take or do?’.
Regardless of whether you are a health care operator involved with sports rehabilitation in any level or an athlete you would have heard these type of questions. However, there is a catch here.
Non-exercise induced fatigue
We must be aware of other factors which can lead to non-training related fatigue. I am sure you all are. Non-exercise induced fatigue is another topic and I would like to keep it separate. So before you even start thinking about an answer, first you need to determine if the fatigue you or your client current reports is actually training-induced or not.
There are a few giveaways in the conversation you should be attentive to and that is exactly why great coaches and therapists must build a strong rapport with their athletes. Scenarios such as family issues, financial difficulties, taking certain medications (eg: antidepressants) will usually point you towards non-training induced fatigue, commonly known as mental fatigue.
Fatigue in general may lead to mood swings, metabolic overload, lack of libido, injury and, more importantly, decrease in physical performance. There are subjective questionnaires in the literature which can be helpful in exploring and assessing these domains. Fatigue ultimately needs to understood and managed rather than stopped.
Training induced fatigue
On the other side, the biggest giveaways for training induced fatigue leading to maladaptations are:
- prolonged poor performance
- frequent non-contact injuries (‘chronic rehabber’)
- lack of planned rest in one’s periodisation
- uncontrolled spike in loads.
It doesn’t matter your fitness level, we all need planned rest and load monitoring strategies as part of a good training schedule. Training is suppose to be hard and smart, not just hard. This concept comes from Tim Gabbett PhD, an authority in the field of exercise science.
Should you try and avoid training induced fatigue?
Well, I sort of started to answer the initial question but let me dive into it: how can I avoid training induced fatigue? Sorry folks but the short answer is you shouldn’t. That is exactly why I selected the word ‘manage’ for the blog title.
Technically, avoiding training-induced fatigue is simple, train less and watch more Netflix, problem solved. Unfortunately, it does not work this way. Most experienced athletes and coaches understand fatigue is a means to an end, with that end being better performance.
Bottom line, the absence of fatigue leads to plateaued performance. On the other hand, excessive fatigue results in poorer performance, increased injury risks, illness etc. The answer lies somewhere in the middle and it comes out of the right question: how can I manage fatigue to improve my performance? I will have to use some literature (picking on the brains of smarter people than me) to answer it for you.
Managing Fatigue to Improve Performance
First, let us consider one important thing. There is not ‘one size fits all’ on this topic. As you enter the realms of sports performance you ask yourself: why didn’t I pick another subject, cooking perhaps? We do it because we love it, just like the ones pursuing excellence in sports. They show up for training sessions day-in day-out because they love it.
Amongst all the wisdom out there, formulas, recipes, cartwheels etc, exists something called science. Science tells us one very important thing, different exercise modalities may require different tapering strategies. Know-how preaches that different individuals may respond differently to the same tapering approach. However the common denominators are always the same. Monitor your loads, monitor your training volume and adjust rest accordingly. Sounds simple.
What does the scientific literature ‘say’ on managing fatigue to optimise performance?
Marrier et al (2017), found in their study with professional Rugby players that 1-2 weeks tapering seemed the ideal timeframe to maximise physical performance. This phenomenon is called ‘supercompensation’, which translates as a period of improved performance on the back of high intensity training, leading to fatigue but followed by the ideal taper time. For clarity of message, the literature reports a 2-weeks taper to be equal to an exponential reduction in training volume of 41% to 60% with no changes in intensity or frequency (Bosquet et al 2007). In this case, sprint performance, maximal strength and repeated sprint ability (RSA) were sensitive to the taper phase. A longer than 2 weeks taper showed a reduction in those variables. Particularly in relation to sprint performance, these authors found that it might decline before peak force and RSA. In other words, sprinting peaks earlier during the taper phase in comparison to the other two.
When we start talking about endurance sports another great piece of literature deserves our attention. Aubry et al. (2014) set out to investigate a great topic – functional overreaching in triathletes (F-OR). The concept of F-OR is loosely described as decreased performance with concomitant high perceived fatigue, during the overload period, followed by supercompensation. F-OR has been around for some time and implemented in many training rosters as a means to trigger supercompensation effects. In this study, F-OR athletes were compared to an acutely fatigued group of athletes (AF), which was characterised by no decrease in performance during the overload period. If you are interested in digging deeper I suggest you to refer back to the full protocol utilised in their study. During the studying period, mood state, VO2max, blood lactate concentration and rate of perceived exertion were measured. Training volume and intensity monitored via heart rate calculations. Lastly, illness symptoms monitored via health questionnaire. At the end of their observation, the group who was functionally overreached before tapering did not have the best performance outcome after the tapering period. The authors conclude saying that high training loads before tapering are beneficial for performance and VO2max, except in functionally overreached individuals. Also, functionally overreached athletes presented with a higher risk for training maladaptation and upper respiratory tract infection.
My take home messages
Despite the complexity of the topic and the many variables existent, I advocate that we can draw a few take home messages from this reflection:
- Simply avoiding fatigue is not the answer. Make informed decisions and learn how to manage it for best performance,
- Rest and tapering strategies are essential for better performance but there is not one size fits all,
- Functional Overreaching for endurance athletes may not represent the best strategy to optimise performance,
- In team sports, 1-2 weeks of tapering seem to yield optimal results,
- There are many factors outside training loads which can lead to fatigue and poor performance. Do not underestimate them, eg: sleep deprivation.
- Last but not least, any active rehabilitation must be monitored and factored in as ‘training load’.
Get out there and enjoy your exercise. Train hard, train smart and stay away from the chronic rehabilitation loop.
Bruno Rebello (APAM)
Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog
Bosquet, L., Montpetit, J., Arvisais, D., & Mujika, I. (2007). Effects of Tapering on Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39 (Supplement). doi:10.1249/01.mss.0000273823.80848.1f
Aubry, A., Hausswirth, C., Louis, J., Coutts, A. J., & Meur, Y. L. (2014). Functional Overreaching. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,46(9), 1769-1777. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000000301
Hausswirth, C., Louis, J., Aubry, A., Bonnet, G., Duffield, R., & Meur, Y. L. (2014). Evidence of Disturbed Sleep and Increased Illness in Overreached Endurance Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,46(5), 1036-1045. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000000177
Marrier, B., Robineau, J., Piscione, J., Lacome, M., Peeters, A., Hausswirth, C., . . . Meur, Y. L. (2017). Supercompensation Kinetics of Physical Qualities During a Taper in Team-Sport Athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance,12(9), 1163-1169. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2016-0607
Meur, Y. L., Buchheit, M., Aubry, A., Coutts, A. J., & Hausswirth, C. (2017). Assessing Overreaching With Heart-Rate Recovery: What Is the Minimal Exercise Intensity Required? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance,12(4), 569-573. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2015-0675