A common misconception relating to exercise is that, in order to see improvements to your fitness and hypertrophy goals, you need to push through the fatigue and train harder. It’s that all or nothing, the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality, that in my opinion is fundamentally wrong.
I have been guilty of pushing my body to its limit and suffered set backs in training protocols, which is not ideal. Though it is important to challenge yourself during your workouts, it is important to be mindful of the fact that, actually gains are not made in the gym. Though, there is a breakdown of muscle fibers and an increase of circulating metabolites whilst you train, the ‘gains’ are made during rest, when the body is in a parasympathetic mode.
It is important to allow time for your body to recover and then hop back into your regime full of energy in order to see consistent progression.
Let me explain why
The human body is constantly maintaining homeostasis and if any deviations to the norm occur e.g. training, our systems will work to get us back to baseline.
In the image below, you can see that the purple line represents fitness; it begins at the baseline or homeostatic level. When a stimulus is added, for example a resistance training session, the line dips and general fatigue occurs.
Time between the initial stimulus (training session) and the return to baseline is known as ‘compensation,’ if proper recovery is implemented, then ‘supercompensation’ will be attained. This is when positive adaptations are made and the body achieves a higher level of fitness to then build upon.
If however, you begin training too early, the adaptations will not take place, supercompensation will not be accomplished and you will either find yourself fatigued or simply, won’t see results.
It’s all in the timing
It is prudent to create a split in your exercise wherein you leave adequate time for rest and recovery, but also don’t miss that window of supercompensation.
Thus, you must be aware of your levels of fatigue and whether they are central (nervous system) or peripheral (muscular).
Muscular fatigue should not last longer than 48-72 hours, if fatigue or discomfort is continued beyond this point, it may be prudent to re asses your current training program and regress volume or intensity.
Nervous system fatigue is another variable you must consider when training. This isn’t quite as obvious as muscle soreness and can take anything from 3 to 2 weeks to get back to recover from, so it is incredibly important you listen to your body to avoid over-training. This can be easier said than down, there are a few methods of quantifying this type of fatigue.
1. Heart Rate Variability: HRV is the variation of time in between your heartbeats. If there is more variability within your heartbeats the more optimum your performance will be. The lower your heart rate variability the more fatigued you are. [I will be writing a blog solely on HRV soon, so watch this space].
2. Hand Grip Strength: Is directly correlated to nervous system fatigue. Physiotherapist, Jeff Cavelier of Athlen-X, demonstrates an accessible method of tracking your grip strength at home without the use of an expensive hand- grip dynamometer. He suggests you measure your baseline grip strength by holding on to a scale and recording the number at baseline and then repeating this after exercise. To make sure you get the most reliable results you should make sure you repeat this at the same time of day. If you notice a continual decrease post exercise, the you should probably change up your program to avoid overtraining.
There needs to be a balance between the catabolic sympathetic state and the rest and digest, parasympathetic state in order to achieve optimum fitness.
Through means of assessment and learning to listen to your body, health and fitness goals can be achieved.
Your body is like a car, you wouldn’t get very far if it didn’t have a tank of petrol/diesel. Your body is similar, it won’t get very far if you are running on empty, so look after your body and there is no stopping your journey.