What Is Muscle Fatigue, Is It Harmful, and How To Recover From It

Every athlete has felt and probably will feel muscle fatigue. You can recover from it with nutrition, exercises and a few other tricks.

We have all felt it. Muscle fatigue can happen to anyone who performs some kind of physical activity and is common for athletes who push themselves to the limit – we are looking at you CrossFitter. But is muscle fatigue bad? Why do I feel it? How to recover?

In theory, the fitter you are, the less muscle fatigue you will feel. But there are several reasons why you are feeling sore and also a variety of ways to recover from it.

What is muscle fatigue?

“Muscle fatigue can be defined as exercise-induced decrease in the ability to produce force,” explains an article published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Often defined as an overwhelming sense of tiredness, lack of energy and feeling of exhaustion, fatigue relates to a difficulty in performing voluntary tasks.”

Do you know that feeling of not being able to do one more set of dumbbell row or you cannot even fathom doing a single more pistol squat? Do you feel like your body will not be able to perform a specific exercise at all after you have been training for a while? Simply put, that is muscle fatigue.

What causes it?

When you search about muscle fatigue you will read a lot about lactic acid and lactate, which is a by-product of our body when we go through physical exertion. When lactate accumulates, it significantly impacts the contractile function on the muscle tissue, increasing acidity levels in the muscles, causing pain, soreness, and ultimately decreasing performance.

paleo diet

You must also take care of your nutrition and this is an argument that most people do not think over. If you are not eating balanced and healthy meals every day, your body might be lacking some of the important nutrients it needs to properly function.

Every coach will tell you to stretch and warm up before doing any exercise. Not stretching enough could be another reason you are feeling muscle fatigue. As a general rule, dynamic stretches before a WOD are useful, and longer extended sessions of static stretches should be kept for the end of your training.

Source: adidas
Stretch before and after workouts

Here are some key points to understand about muscle fatigue:

  1. Causes:
    • Metabolic Fatigue: During exercise, muscles rely on energy sources such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and glycogen. As these resources are depleted, muscle fatigue sets in.
    • Accumulation of Metabolic Byproducts: The build-up of metabolic byproducts, such as lactic acid, contributes to muscle fatigue.
    • Neuromuscular Fatigue: The nervous system plays a crucial role in muscle contraction. Fatigue can occur due to the reduced ability of the nerves to stimulate the muscles effectively.
  2. Symptoms:
    • Decreased Performance: A noticeable decline in strength, power, or endurance during physical activity.
    • Sensation of Weakness: Muscles may feel weak, and movements may become more challenging.
    • Pain or Discomfort: Fatigued muscles may experience sensations of discomfort or pain.
  3. Types of Muscle Fatigue:
    • Peripheral Fatigue: Refers to fatigue within the muscles themselves, affecting their ability to contract.
    • Central Fatigue: Involves the central nervous system, affecting the communication between the brain and the muscles.

Is Muscle Fatigue Harmful?

Not necessarily. When we work out, we tear muscle tissues and in order to grow muscle, these tissues need to be repaired. Feeling sore after training is a sign that you are pushing your body to the limit and creating metabolic changes that will help you to get stronger.

The workout should not be easy to complete if you want to see significant changes in your body. If you are performing the exercises correctly and feel muscle fatigue after it, you are on the right path to get stronger and fitter.

muscle fatigueSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

The problem is to feel muscle fatigue for too long, longer than a day, for example. If you are feeling sore before you start another set of training, your body will not be able to perform at the same level as it did before, which in turn will make your workout not as effective as it could be.

Read More: Why You’re Always Tired and How to Fix It

How to Recover from Muscle Fatigue?

Now that you know what can cause muscle fatigue, how do you recover from it? There are numerous ways to do it.

As head trainer Fira Zahabi explained while being on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, you should get plenty of rest. According to him, overtraining does not exist, but rather “under rest”. “No matter how hard I push in practice, if I didn’t kill myself, I can rest from it and recover and have a super compensation.”

You might be surprised that another good way to recover from muscle fatigue is to go running. Performance consultant Ross Hamilton explained to BOXROX what he calls metabolite clearance. “Light intensity exercise helps us promote blood flow and clear metabolites through several mechanisms.”

Running at a low to mid-intensity level during rest days is recommended to recover faster from the previous WOD.

A balanced and healthy eating habit goes a long way to recover from muscle fatigue. Increasing your daily take of protein might be what you need, as protein is essential for the repair of cells that have been damaged during intense training and to grow muscles. Find out 10 super healthy foods to help you gain muscle.

Carbs are the main fuel source of the body, so make sure you are incorporating healthy carbohydrates into your meals. Vitamins and minerals are also essential for the proper functioning of our cells and muscles. Potassium, calcium, and magnesium, for example, are extremely important when it comes to muscular health and function.

Nutritious FoodSource: Kim Julie Hansen
Balanced diet will help against muscle fatigue and soreness

If an athlete’s diet is lacking certain minerals and vitamins, they may unwillingly speed up the process of muscle fatigue during training. Sustained fatigue can be the cause of lack of Vitamin D. Find out 6 signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency.

Stay hydrated as well, as water is the main constituent of our blood and when hydration is poor, we have a reduced blood volume. Maintaining good hydration ensures our cardiovascular system is functioning at maximum capacity.

The foam roller can become your best friend in times like these. The roller acts as a targeted massager on your body and helps prevent damage and scarring to the connective tissue between muscles. Foam rolling can increase muscle flexibility, making it less tight. You can perform foam roller exercises as a warm-up, before your workouts, or after it, in order to loosen up tight spots. Check out this guide to foam rolling.

Muscle fatigue Sara Sigmundsdottir

One last trick you can do to recover faster from muscle fatigue is to use the hot and cold therapy. Apply an ice pack to the affected area for a while, but not directly on the skin. This cryotherapy technique reduces inflammation in the area and a possible swelling, which is likely the cause of your pain. Alternate to a hot pack which alleviates minor stiffness and muscle tensions. Alternate every 15 minutes for a couple of hours.

To put it in shorter words:

  • Recovery:

Rest and Nutrition: Adequate rest, hydration, and proper nutrition are essential for recovering from muscle fatigue.

Active Recovery: Engaging in low-intensity exercises or activities can help promote blood flow and aid in recovery.

  • Prevention:

Progressive Training: Gradually increasing the intensity and duration of workouts can help the muscles adapt and reduce the risk of fatigue.

Proper Warm-up and Cool-down: Ensuring a thorough warm-up before exercise and proper cool-down afterward can contribute to better muscle function.

Train to Failure How to Get a Stronger Lower Back Back Exercises Ranked Best to Worst lay pulldown variations

It’s important to note that muscle fatigue is a natural and expected part of physical activity. However, persistent or excessive fatigue, especially without an apparent cause, may indicate underlying health issues and should be addressed with medical professionals. Listening to the body, allowing adequate recovery, and maintaining a balanced training regimen are crucial in managing muscle fatigue effectively.

Now that you know about muscle fatigue, how about experiencing it? Check out 10 CrossFit bodyweight workouts that will utterly destroy you.

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