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Things Athletes Say to Me When They Are Fatigued

Everybody gets tired, it’s almost inevitable. But there is a difference between fatigue and being tired. Fatigue is defined as “extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness” according to the Oxford dictionary. It is the result of many days of overreaching without enough rest and recovery. What is overreaching you ask? Overreaching is defined as a short training phase where you temporarily increase training intensity, volume and load in order to achieve a specific outcome.Keep in mind that some overreaching (overloading) is necessary to produce improvements in fitness. But overreaching can be accumulated too quickly for the body to adjust and adapt to it. The body adapts best when the rate of overreaching is gradual. If overreaching is too severe then it can turn into overtraining and this can take months to recover from.

I see this happen a sometimes with endurance athletes. They tend to become overzealous and want to train harder and longer than what I prescribe. Often they add their own workouts to an already aggressive program and this leads to burnout and fatigue. Sometimes if athletes are experiencing something traumatic such as death of a loved one, divorce, or a sick child, they are more likely to become fatigued, and this is understandable.

Believe it or not there really is a method to the madness in Ironman training. It’s designed to gradually increase the training load so that the body makes adaptations, but some athletes overreach too much then overtrain. There is a difference between just being tired and being truly fatigued. So here are some actual statements my own athletes have said to me giving me a pretty good idea that they are fatigued.

I’ve been having migraine headaches.

I feel so worn out.

Am I supposed to feel like my body is dead before I even start a workout?

I feel like I need to back off for a day or two.

I’m dreading my workouts.

I’m very emotional and I’m crying a lot.

I don’t feel like I can complete my workout.

I suck at every workout.

My heart rate has been higher all week.

I feel like I’m working hard for the same result.

I had 4 hours of sleep the past 2 nights

Relationship issues have been mentally exhausting.

I have no motivation this week for some reason.

My legs were already tired from weights so my run was slow.

A really good sign of cumulative fatigue is when you are hitting your expected training goals but the data shows you are working harder than normal to achieve your goals. For example, your HR will be higher than normal or you may have felt like you were working way too hard for the same workout that didn’t seem so difficult last week. Here are some typical signs that an athlete is fatigued (from Ironman University):

1.Loss of hunger despite high training load. Although you are training 15-20 hours a week , your appetite is suppressed and you may even begin eating less.

2. Unusually sore muscles or sharp pains. Usually, healthy soreness will dissipate within a day or two, but if it hangs around, this could indicate that you need rest.

3. Suppressed or elevated morning HR can be a sign of over training. Before you get out of bed in the morning, check your resting HR. If it is elevated for a few days in a row, chances are you need rest.

4. High RPE during training. Your normal workouts seem harder even though you are working at the same intensities. You just don’t feel yourself.

5. Broken sleep or night sweats. Sleep is necessary for recovery and if you’re not getting enough you are creating a snowball effect for increased fatigue. Night sweats can also be due to anxiety.

6. Apathy towards training. I’ve seen this happen in people who are over training, not sleeping, and pushing themselves despite all the warning signs.

7. Depression/Anxiety. This is a big indicator of fatigue in most cases I have seen.

8. Lack of Confidence. Fatigue can make you feel like you don’t have the abilities you once had.

9. Showing up late for workouts. This falls along the lines of lack of motivation.

10. Slower intervals/slower stroke rate in the pool. Fatigue can cause you to slow down and feel like you are having to work harder than normal for the same outcome.

11. Long HR recovery period. A fatigued athlete will take much longer to recover than normal. His/her HR will take longer to fall after hard workouts.

12. Constant injury or illness. Athletes who are constantly dealing with injuries may be suffering from fatigue and need time off to recover.

My goal in writing this article is to help you recognize when you are fatigued and stop the progression before it turns into overtraining. It’s helpful to keep a training diary of how each of your workouts felt upon completion. You can also use your Training Peaks calendar to record post workout comments for your coach. If you feel any of the above symptoms more than once a week then chances are you may need to back off a little and take some recovery days. Keep a close eye on your body and its warning signs of fatigue and give it rest when it needs it.

Thinking about hiring a coach for your next Iron distance event? Let’s chat about your race goals. Click the button below and enter your info for a free 15 min coach call with me!

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Coach

ACSM Trainer

USA Cycling Coach


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