Training Fatigue Good or Bad, how do you tell the difference?
Careful management of fatigue levels built up in training should be listened too regardless of whether you are a pro or age group athlete.
Knowing when to push on or back off from a session or number of sessions is a learned process on fatigue levels.
To set the scene, performance gains are made with the correct balance of specificity within key sessions in a triathlon training plan or a marathon training plan backed by an understanding of the aim within the session. Consistency within your training program over days, weeks, months and even years can lead to big race day performances. Please note that big one off sessions within the training plan do not singularly take you direct to the performance gains you are striving for. It is the key sessions backed up with supporting sessions that will take you along that path and through the “arch to performance gains” with a consistent layering of specific workouts within your development plan.
The route to athletic consistency is by growth and patients, and as long as you keep in the forefront of your minds that the aim is to ultimately develop and progress then also recognise the process cannot be hurried. There are no short cuts to sustainable long-term performance gains. Training hard is expected during the process but there is a need to understand the journey as a whole as it is the way we can ultimately develop as athletes.
As an athlete, if you are tuned into a structured strength and conditioning plan, supported with solid recovery and sleep practices, backed up with the correct standards and levels of fueling and nutrition, you put yourself in a position of being more aware of and able to take a view of all the separate elements to judge your fatigue levels correctly. Understanding the full picture gives you the information to process and judge whether the fatigue felt, is planned and you should accept it and soak it up, or unplanned and you should be wise and back off.
Becoming aware of fatigue levels which see a consistent drop in performance across a number of days, or your sessions always seem to be disrupted by sickness / injury are rarely just a training issue. It can generally be tracked back to being related to one or more of the following - fueling & hydration practices, quality of sleep, suitable recovery habits, poor execution of the training program or also, as is common in todays busy lifestyles, a program that does not weave into an athletes schedule sufficiently to be able to get the very best out of them.
It must be remembered that fatigue is all part of an athletes progression and without it the targeted performance gains will not happen. Throughout the process, management of the fatigue levels is continuous and you must be aware of when it gets too much before any major set back occurs.
Scheduled fatigue in a training plan can take many forms and as athletes we should be aware of when that is so that we know to push on through it. When it is scheduled it can come in the form of a training camp or a lead up to a big race or a loaded training block.
Unexpected fatigue can take the form of many masks: extended muscle soreness;
the feeling of constant physical, mental and emotional exhaustion can lead to a drop in performance; finding it difficult to sleep; depression; elevated or suppressed morning HR; longer HR recovery period between intervals; easy irritability; persistent illness or injury; lack of confidence; if your body is still not responding as you would expect after a few consecutive light training days; feeling of lethargy; poor performance across a number of normal training weeks; loss of appetite; a high RPE across all sessions.
Understand that being able to judge fatigue correctly cannot be done on a days worth of training.
It can often be very difficult for an athlete to make that tough decision on whether to push on through or back off but as a coach I believe athletes should feel empowered and trusted to lead the fatigue decision making process as much as possible. As we all know athletes possess strong motivation towards their big goals, and can be a great strength but also a weakness when it comes to making important evaluations of fatigue levels.
But helping and encouraging the athletes to view the whole training program across the various phases when coming to a decision will always be the target.
Within our Ironman training plans the phases should always be considered. With the top phase being the overall season’s goals, followed by the break down of the weeks into training blocks, and with the lowest phase covering the individual sessions that make up a week of work for the athlete. By being able to view your plan from these levels it gives you a greater chance to be able to make a knowledgeable decision on whether the fatigue felt is planned and expected and you push through or whether it is unplanned and to pull pack slightly.
Placing yourself in a position whereby you are making that decision from a logical viewpoint rather than an emotional one you will be better placed to make the correct call on your fatigue.
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