In part 1 we discussed what fatigue is, how it manifests and how to detect it. In this installment we will explore ways of managing fatigue to ensure optimal performance, recovery and gains.
Recovery and Adaptation Defined
Recovery is defined as: “the return of physiological systems to baseline, which results in a restoration of athletic performance to pre-disruption levels, or at least to levels sufficient enough to resume overloading training” (Hoffman et al. 2017).
When considering recovery, it is important to note the difference between recovery and adaptation. A full recovery of a physiological system may not result in any gains being made, however adaptation implies that some improvements have occurred. Therefore, recovery can happen independently of adaptation but adaptation cannot happen without recovery. With this in mind we can describe adaptation as: “the improvement of baseline characteristics after overloading training , making the system more capable than it was before the stimulus” (Hoffaman et al. 2017).
It is also important to note that it is not necessary for a full recovery of systems between sessions in order to perform overloaded training again, however for peak performance (competitions etc) maximizing recovery may be necessary.
Implementing recovery strategies should be something that a well-designed training programme incorporates day-to-day, microcycle-to-microcycle, mesocycle-to-mesocycle etc etc. This means that recovery should go hand-in-hand with your training and not just once fatigue reaches high enough levels so as to disrupt your training. However, not all recovery strategies are created equal and most people favour the less effective methods as they appear more extreme and therefore of greater benefit. This is misinformed and can actually harm the adaptation process.
Below is a list (in rank order) of effective recovery strategies that should be utilized throughout any training cycle:
- Successfully managing training stress – not getting in to an overtrained state.
- Passive recovery – sleep, relaxation and stress management.
- Nutrition - consuming enough calories and appropriate macro amounts.
- Active recovery – taking deloads, light sessions and active rest phases.
- Supplemental – compression garments and thermal treatments, NSAIDs
Managing Training Stress
Think of your body as a sink for a moment. There is a faucet pouring water in, and a drain allowing water to flow out. The water being poured in to the sink is training stress and the drain is your body’s ability to recover. If our in-flow (training stress) is far more than our out-flow capabilities (recovery) then we will reach an overtrained state.
This may seem fairly intuitive yet many athletes are training with an in-flow of stress that considerably outweighs their body’s ability to recover from it. Once this happens, none of the aforementioned recovery methods will alleviate the fatigue generated by being in an overtrained state. When this situation arises, going back to the drawing board and restructuring the training programme is imperative.
None of the following recovery tools will be able to alleviate fatigue if an athlete continually trains with more water flowing in to the sink than flowing out, thus making it the single most important method for managing fatigue.
Utilising passive recovery methods is the second most important strategy that we can possess in our toolbox. These methods help to reduce fatigue without placing any additional fatigue on the body so are extremely valubale. Getting a consistent 8 hours of sleep per night, allowing time for relaxation (reading a book, watching TV etc), managing daily stressors effectively (having a supportive group of friends) and ensuring you take at least one day completely off from training every week.
When considering newly-released recovery products, it is wise to ask yourself the question of whether the claims of the product could be achieved by using passive recovery methods instead.
Ensuring you eat the right amount of food (calories) that is made up of the appropriate ratio of tissue-building blocks (macronutrients) at the correct times in the best quality food possible will play an important role in the recovery process.
Being in a hypercaloric state (eating more calories than you use) is vitally important as the processes that facilitate recovery from hard training need energy that is provided by calories. These calories should be comprised of the correct ratio of macronutrients to further enhance the recovery process. Carbohydrates should be priority from a recovery standpoint, they replenish glycogen within the muscle to allow subsequent performance but also optimizes the anabolic state within the muscle. Protein requirements should be met so as to provide the body with the necessary substrates to build and repair muscle tissue and enzymes that are necessary for many basic functions. In terms of recovery, fats are of least importance. Meeting the minimum requirement for fats will ensure critical bodily functions continue unimpaired but offer little to no benefit to the recovery process. Once carb and protein requirements have been met, the remaining calories should be made up of fats.
Any properly designed training programme should include periods of active recovery. Deloads, volume manipulation, active rest phases, light sessions and tapering all allow an individual to keep training whilst simultaneously reducing fatigue. Strategically placed within a training cycle, these methods can be more effective than taking periods of complete rest as it allows an athlete to maintain and/or practice sport form and not become deconditioned.
Deloads should be taken every 3-6 weeks and should reduce total training volume by approximately 50%. This low-volume approach to training will enhance blood flow needed to optimize the recovery of the muscles and help to trigger an anabolic response.
Supplemental forms of recovery should be considered the cherry-on-top within our toolbox. Using these methods without fully committing to the more important methods will give extremely sub-par results to your recovery and adaptation processes.
Supplemental methods of recovery include; cold/heat application and temperature contrast and static and dynamic compression. The temperature based recovery modalities provide benefit by reducing perceptions of fatigue, decreased perceptions of pain, increased recovery of expercise performance, improved lympathic drainage, psychological relaxation, increased cardiac output, improved muscle blood flow and improved removal of waste products. However, these treatments should be used wisely as they can blunt the inflammation response to exercise and therefore reduce gains. It is suggested that these should be used to help alleviate high-levels of fatigue (pre-competition, for example) and if multiple hard performances are required in short succession (between strongman events, for example).
Static compression garments (leggings, stockings etc) provide a decreased pressure gradient between the muscles and blood vessels leading to increased blood flow. They also help to enhance the muscle-pump action, particularly in the lower extremities to improve venous return. This will cause a reduction in DOMS, decreased perceptions of pain and improved recovery of exercise performance. Dynamic compression is different in that the pressure is applied intermittently with the use of machines or garments. These help to reduce muscle soreness, improve lympathic drainage and also causes short-term improvements in flexibility.