If you have just had a hard workout, then it’s likely that you’re going to be feeling stiff and sore. Some muscle-fatigue is unavoidable, but if you want to make gains and keep training hard on a regular basis then you are going to want to try to beat that fatigue so that you can hit the gym several times per week. Here are a few tips to help you recover better between workouts and avoid or treat that pesky fatigue.
Hydrate Early and Often
One mistake that a lot of people make is that they don’t drink enough water. If you wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking, then you’re going to feel terrible after a hard workout. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and before your workout – because it’s the water you drink before you train that will keep you going during the session. Do drink during the workout too, and hydrate afterwards. That will stop you from getting cramp, and it will help you to avoid your muscles seizing up.
Cool Down Properly
Another common mistake that people make is that they’ll train, and then just… stop. That’s a recipe for soreness, stiffness, and fatigue the next day. End your workout with some light and gentle movements. Do some stretches. Slow your run down and do a bit of a walk. End your heavy lifting with some light bodyweight exercises. Figure out some way to make sure that you’re not going from exercising super hard to a cold stop – because that cold stop is part of what is going to make you feel like a little old lady tomorrow morning. Your gym teacher was on to something when they lectured you about warming up and cooling down. It really does help you to avoid injury, and it really does help with your performance in the gym.
There is No Need to Go to Failure Every Session
There used to be a lot of emphasis on going to failure in the weight training world, and while it’s true that testing your one rep max is useful, and that the feeling you get from going to failure can be beneficial too, you will quickly find that if you push yourself that hard every session your progress will stall – and you’re likely to get injured too. Taking yourself to failure is putting undue stress on your muscles. You do want to feel some fatigue, but if you’re reaching the point where you genuinely cannot move, every session, then your body can’t go through the repair and regeneration process that will allow you to get stronger and faster.
The best workout plan for your needs will depend on the sport that you play and the level of athlete that you are. Beginners can do well working out three days per week. More experienced athletes may feel that they need to train more, and training five or six days a week is not uncommon – however, athletes who are training that much will have one or two ‘heavy’ days and some light days.
If you are feeling fatigued after a heavy day, then a good strategy is to do some active recovery the next day with pain relief patches. Active recovery involves doing exercises that are similar to what fatigued you, but less intense. A long-distance runner might do a short, slow jog and some gentle stretching. A martial artist might do some yoga. The exact strategy will depend on what is sore, and why.
Foam Roll Your Sore Spots
If you are feeling cramped, tight and stiff then foam rolling could be a good way of relieving your symptoms. Foam rollers provide myofascial release. They use pressure to massage damaged or tense parts of the body, promoting circulation, forcing the muscles to relax, and breaking down scar tissue so that the muscles can heal properly. Foam rollers come in a number of different colors, and as a general rule darker colors are ‘harder’, with black foam rollers being the ones that are made of the hardest material. Some are smooth, and some have nodules on them that make it easier for you to target specific spots.
If you have tension in an awkward area to roll, such as between your shoulder blades, then a lacrosse ball could be a good option. You are looking for something solid and small that you can use to massage the specific area where you are having issues.
Eat More, Sleep More
Your muscles are powered by energy, which comes from carbohydrates (or fats if you’re in ketosis, but that’s a whole different subject), and your muscles will get stronger and grow bigger if they are stimulated with heavy load and supplied with proteins. To avoid fatigue, or recover from it, you need to be eating enough. You also need to sleep, lots. While you are sleeping your body repairs itself. This means that if your muscles have been under stress it will build new muscle. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, then it can’t go through that process, so you will wake up tired – and you may find that you feel weaker and weaker if you keep working out without getting enough sleep.
Some people call this “over-training”, and while it’s true that if you are working out regularly you may find yourself chronically fatigued, professional athletes commit to intensive and arduous training and do well with it, because they take recovery seriously.
Fatigue can be a sign that your body needs more rest, or it could be a sign that you just need to eat better, stretch off after training, and do a bit of yoga. Try to listen to your body and figure out whether you’re tired, sore, or actually injured. As you become more experienced you will be able to pick up on the cues better and make better decisions about your training. If you want to progress, though, you need to learn to push yourself to make your body perform.