Rest & Recovery: Minimizing Fatigue, Overreaching And Overtraining Part 2!

When you consider that most people spend only 4-10 hours a week working out, you can see that the vast majority of our time is spent in the rest and recovery phase. Several factors effect recovery rate. Find out what they are and how they can help you!

Part 1 | Part 2

In Part 1 of this article we looked at some factors that can effect recovery and the different therapeutic modalities we have at our disposal for speeding that process up.

In part 2 we will look at fatigue, overreaching, overtraining and how you can monitor your recovery status to minimize their effects.


While most have heard of overtraining, many of you have probably never heard of overreaching before.

Overreaching is a term used in some circles to distinguish between transient overtraining, which can take between 2 days and 2 weeks to recover from, and true over training, which is much more severe and can take several weeks to several months to recover from.

When applied correctly you should recover from the fatigue of a training stimulus in 12-48 hours, depending on the energy system used and intensity of the session. Muscle soreness, insomnia and a lowered immune response usually accompany fatigue.

Proper use of the therapeutic modalities covered earlier will help keep fatigue to a minimum and speed your recovery from it. Without taking special steps to keep fatigue under control you will have a hard time achieving full recovery between training sessions.

Overreaching occurs when full recovery is not achieved for an extended time period and fatigue builds up. This usually occurs slowly over the course of a month or two, but it can happen much quicker in the face of a dramatic increase in training volume and/or intensity.

Symptoms associated with overreaching are similar to fatigue, only more severe. Those of you who have overreached may also notice an increased resting heart rate, premature fatigue during training, decrease in work capacity, increased heart rate during submax loads and an increased thirst, especially at night.

If you do overreach and do not allow for a period or two of lower intensity levels the fatigue will continue to accumulate and your body will force you to take a rest by becoming injured or overtrained.

True overtraining takes several months to set in but once it does you will have to dramatically decrease your workload anywhere from several weeks to several months in order to fully restore all bodily systems.

During this period it is very difficult to even maintain current fitness levels, much less improve them, and a decrease is usually expected. This is why true overtraining is to be avoided at all costs.

Fatigue, which is at the root of the whole recovery paradigm, can be split into four categories:

One should not view fatigue as an ambiguous idea without any real cause or distinctions. An understanding of the different aspects of fatigue will help you to keep it to a minimum and avoid overreaching, overtraining and the set backs they bring.

Neuromuscular Fatigue

Neuromuscular fatigue is associated with central nervous system (CNS) and its ability to communicate with motor units within a muscle.

It can be divided into two types: high-frequency and low-frequency fatigue. High-frequency fatigue is usually associated with activities that last around 60-seconds or less.

This type occurs as a result of potassium build-up in key places within the muscle fibers, which interferes with the electrical signals that cause muscular contractions.

Force output decreases because of this decreased ability of the muscle cells to conduct the electrical signals across the cell membrane. Cold-muscles are more vulnerable to this type of fatigue than warm ones are, making a proper warm-up a very good idea.

Low-frequency fatigue is associated with cellular damage, particularly the damage caused by eccentric contractions. This cellular damage can leave the portions of the muscle fibers that conduct the electrical signals literally torn and frayed. This too will obviously have an effect on force output.

Failure to allow the muscle fibers to repair themselves and reestablish an optimal connection with the CNS (best accomplished by alternating periods of high and low intensities) will result in those same muscle fibers eventually being placed in a state of inhibition to protect them from further damage. This means that muscle contractions will be noticeably slower and weaker.

Metabolic Fatigue

Metabolic fatigue is a result of the depletion of fuel sources (ATP/CP, glucose and stored glycogen) and the build-up of energy metabolism by-products.

These byproducts, particularly lactic acid, interfere with several things, including your body's ability to resynthesize creatine phosphate and decreasing the blood's pH.

All this adds up to one thing—a decreased work capacity as a training session progresses and, if full recovery is not achieved, as a program progresses.

In addition, a look at this type of fatigue again points to the need for adequate rest periods both between sets and training sessions to allow complete restoration of vital fuel sources and the removal of all metabolic waste.

The best way to go about speeding this process up is to perform a proper cool-down and to make sure your nutrition program is in order, particularly your post-workout shake. Make sure you get in a high carb, high protein shake within 30-45 minutes after working out.

Creatine would also be a great choice to add to your post-workout shake in order to help fully restore all fuel sources before the next training session. Diets that are too low in carbs will slow down the recovery from this type of fatigue.

Structural Fatigue

Muscle structures are put under a lot of stress and strain during the course of an exercise program and damage to a few of these structures is bound to happen.

Some of these structures, like tendons, are more apt to be damaged than other ones are, like the muscle belly, by virtue of their elasticity, or lack of it.

While both concentric and eccentric contractions have been shown to cause this damage, eccentric contractions have been found to be a major culprit.

Several factors could contribute to this phenomenon, such as the increased intra-muscular heat generated by eccentric contractions, but whatever the reason or cause these disruptions will eventually lead to microtrauma and the well-known Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.

Almost everyone who has ever touched a weight is familiar with the dull and sometime not so dull aches that come with this condition.

Severe DOMS, while sought by some as a sign of a good workout, is usually a sign that you did too much and have caused some structural damage that must now be repaired.

DOMS can be minimized or even avoided by taking care of your vulnerable tendons and musculotendinous juncture (where your tendon attaches to your muscle belly). This can be done by observing the following recommendations:

How To Minimize Doms:

  • Do not engage in explosive movements without first establishing a training base and building your tendon strength.
  • Avoid excessive use of eccentrics and/or exaggerated eccentric rep tempo. This doesn't mean not to use these methods, it simply means to vary your rep tempos, mixing in periods where the eccentric portion is actually de-emphasized.
  • Use care when stretching so as not to over-stretch and damage the tendons.
  • Use a proper warm-up and cool-down.
  • Allow for periods of lower intensity training. Remember that your muscles will gain strength much faster than your tendons will. Failure to observe this fact will lead to tendons that are weak in comparison to the muscles they are attached to. This will lead to a very real possibility of a major injury to those tendons.
  • Supplement with glucosamine. Supplying your body with this important building block of connective tissue will help ensure that tendons will recover as quickly as possible. Once an injury has occurred to a tendon it will require a long time to fully heal. This is why it is very important to minimize structural fatigue. While both slow- and fast-twitch dominant muscle groups can suffer from tendon damage and DOMS, fast-twitch muscle groups are far more vulnerable, most likely because of their higher force output and the increased tendon strain this causes.

Neuroendocrine Fatigue

Neuroendocrine fatigue is associated with hormones and their reaction to training stress. At the core of this type of fatigue is the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio.

Testosterone levels drop and cortisol levels rise as a result of a training session (this rise in cortisol can be minimized by having a post-workout meal 30-45 minutes after training) and they will need time to return to normal.

Testosterone, as most of us already know, is highly anabolic and the key hormone in muscle and strength gains. A lowering of T levels will have an obvious negative impact on recovery.

Couple this with a rise in your body's most catabolic hormone, cortisol, and you can see why you want to minimize this type of fatigue.

Failure to allow adequate rest periods between training sessions so that your hormone levels can return to normal will eventually lead to your body being in an almost permanent catabolic state. Proper nutrition also can play a huge role in this as well.

As mentioned earlier, a post-workout meal will blunt your body's cortisol response to training and minimize the decrease in testosterone-to-cortisol ratios.

In addition, essential fatty acids and certain minerals, particularly zinc and magnesium, have been shown to help regulate testosterone levels and a deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause a drop in T levels and slow recovery.

Monitoring Fatigue To Prevent Overtraining

Most discussions on overtraining have usually focused on what it is and what to do once you have reached that state (rest, rest and more rest).

A better way to go about this is to look not only at what it is but also how to use that information to estimate the state of your fatigue and avoid overtraining all together.

Remember that no two people will respond the same to similar training loads, making the use of individual recovery estimations a much more effective tool when designing a recovery program than guessing and simply applying standard procedures.

While some top-level coaches and athletes will make use of several sophisticated clinical tools to assess their recovery status, simpler and less expensive means can be used very effectively as well.

By keeping a daily log charting a few key indicators of your recovery status it becomes relatively easy to tell when fatigue is building up and overreaching is imminent, allowing for adjustments to be made well before overtraining can set in.

One of the easiest things to observe and chart is training willingness and muscle soreness. If you find yourself with chronically sore, stiff muscles and a less than positive attitude towards training, odds are you are starting to overreach a bit and it's time for a period of lower intensity training.

In addition to those two observations, several others can be used to assess recovery status. Here is a list of bodily functions that can be observed in order to gain some insight as to the completeness of recovery:

Bodily Functions To Observe To Recover Faster

  • Sleep Patterns: A sudden decrease in the amount and/or quality of sleep is usually an early indicator of overreaching/overtraining.
  • Bodyweight Fluctuations: A decrease of more than 2 pounds in one day is usually an indicator the training load is too high and recovery will be delayed.
  • Morning Heart Rate: heart rate every morning before getting out of bed. A large (3 beats or more) increase is an indicator of overreaching/overtraining.
  • Appetite: A decrease in appetite is another sign of overreaching/overtraining.

The more of these factors that you can observe the more accurate your assessment will be. The important thing here is to be consistent and to log your information so you can make observations based on previous records.


By using the therapeutic modalities discussed earlier to speed up your recovery and monitoring your fatigue levels as discussed above you can take your training to a level most people never experience.

Since a very large part of any fitness program is your recovery from and adaptation to the training stimulus it only makes sense to pay close attention to this very important aspect of your program.

Avoid the burn-out that keeps people away from the gym and their ultimate goals—start to give your rest and recovery plan as much attention as you do to how many sets and reps you'll do on legs day and watch your progress take off.

Part 1 | Part 2