Monitoring your training requires understanding of fatigue

After a few weeks of training it starts to get quite noticeable we aim for higher goals. It should be self-evident that the higher the goals, the harder the work that needs to be done. While doing this hard work we aim perilously close for the boundary of physical and mental stress they are capable of handling before crossing it. Athletes look for some method of monitoring and analyzing their fatigue training load arising from building up the training schedules. In this two-part blog I want to elaborate further on what fatigue is and later on which tools you can use to monitor it and adjust the training structure where necessary. This first blog about fatigue is a bit technical. Tough reading, but oh so important to understand! First, let’s look at what fatigue is.

The feeling of fatigue is one that can be misjudged by inexperienced athletes or over-fanatic athletes. The art of self-knowledge is one that one must learn by practicing and studying a lot. In my opinion only the well experienced athletes stand a change of monitoring accurate and truthful information about the impact of the training load by listing to their bodies, and still this is often misjudged. Most of us will benefit greatly from learning to use one or more measuring tools.

Training at the cutting edge is not easy, you will have to work towards it.  The term “High” in high training load is a relative term. An intolerably high training load for a beginner wont even be a maintenance load for a world-class athlete. You need to get to know your body in the most refined sense to know what “high” should feel like.

To get there, thoughtful application of sound training principles accompanied by attentive monitoring results in the best outcome. Adhere to the principles of gradualness in the progression of your training load. Give yourself a change to absorb the previous load and take an active interest in understanding the effects that your training is having on our body. Learn to listen and interpret the (subtle) signals your body is telling you. Listen carefully. This is the only right way to train your intuition. It is only natural that when you are exploring the limits of what your body can handle, you occasionally overstep. It is also important that you know what it feels like to cross your border. Understanding fatigue in its various guises is important if you want to manage it productively. We can categorize fatigue into three general groups;

Calcium Accumulation
This type of fatigue is self-limiting as your ability to contract muscles powerfully will naturally end, you can manage only one more pull-up for example. When calcium ions accumulate in the muscle cells muscles contractions start to be inhibited. The calcium pump that moves these ions back into the inter cellular space fails to keep up with the build-up and very soon loses its ability to contract. This effect is most noticeable in short-duration strength training. There is no need to avoid this type of fatigue, it is even needed to gain strength. However, if you drive yourself into this state of fatigue many times in a workout, the following forms of fatigue can be introduced and recovery can take days.

Metabolic fatigue
While training in one of the higher zones there are products of metabolism that accumulate in the muscles, lactate is the most well-known but the increased acidity from the accumulation of hydrogen ions is another one. These by-products will result in a reduction in muscle power and consequent slowing. This kind of fatigue is often associated with a burning feeling. Recovery from it is on the scale of a few minutes. On a longer time scale the glycogen stores available to power the metabolic process of ATP (energy) production can become depleted and muscle power drops as a consequence. Think of the classic “Bonk” in endurance performances. This is often accompanied by mental confusion and a lack of coordination. Recovery from it is on the scale of a few hours to a few days.

It requires neurotransmitter chemicals to transmit electrical signals from the brains motor cortex, along the motor nerves to the muscles. When these chemicals become depleted through prolonged high firing rates, the electrical impulse becomes weakened and muscle power drops. The first two types of fatigue can also result in this form of fatigue. Recovery takes place on the scale of a few hours to several days.

Dr Tim Noakes (a South African scientist, and professor in the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine) believes that the brain has a build-in self-preservation instinct that limits how far out of homeostasis we can get before alarm bells begin to sound. The brain reduces the muscle power output until homeostasis is restored. According to this theory, it is impossible to tire ourselves to death.

What doe this means for you?

Dr. Noakes proposes that frequently pushing the body out of its comfort zone (away from its homeostasis) makes the brain (and its tolerance) more comfortable in allowing ever-increasing divergence from homeostasis before it begins to shut things down. (This builds up while training.) It seems very likely that fatigue in all its forms depends on this, as yet, poorly understood relationship between the muscles and the brain.

While I hope this clears thing out for you, I realize this is a lot of complicated theory and I am very happy to further explain when you find things hard to put in place. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments below or send me an email to; [email protected]

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