Workout Fatigue: How To Identify It & Prevent It

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November 29, 2019 - Updated March 20, 2023

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Have your muscles ever been so sore after a workout you’ve struggled to get out of bed or wash your hair? Perhaps your workout routine is leaving you feeling constantly tired or those muscle aches just never seem to go away? You may be experiencing post-workout fatigue.

When you dial up the intensity of your training or start to move again after time off from exercise, it’s normal to sometimes feel a bit tired or encounter DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) afterwards. While normal bouts of tiredness may occur occasionally or last for short periods and DOMS should subside after a few days, workout fatigue and aches become an issue when they hang around for much longer or start to impact your health and day-to-day life.

So how can you identify (and prevent!) this fatigue? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is workout fatigue? 

Workout fatigue is a result of overtraining or pushing yourself too hard. It can leave you feeling tired (physically and mentally), and your body aching for long periods — and that’s just the beginning.

Signs of workout fatigue

Here are some other symptoms of workout fatigue that go beyond tiredness and muscle aches.

Poor sleep

When you’ve found the sweet spot in terms of your training frequency and intensity, a common benefit is improved sleep. On the other hand, overtraining can affect your nervous system or hormone levels in a way which can negatively impact your sleep

When you’re sleeping, your body produces hormones that facilitate muscle recovery. If your sleep quality is poor, your body will produce fewer recovery hormones and instead produce stress hormones like cortisol, leading toan unpleasant cycle of constant tiredness!

Poor quality sleep doesn’t just make you tired. A 2017 review published in Nature and Science of Sleep journal discussed the consequences of disrupted sleep and concluded short-term consequences include a heightened stress response, pain, depression, anxiety, and impaired cognition, memory, and performance.

Lowered immune system

When you overtrain and don’t get enough rest, your body isn’t able to repair damaged muscle tissue and cannot fully recover, which is when your immune system can become compromised.

A 2019 review published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found the risk of illness may be increased when an athlete competes, goes through repeated cycles of unusually heavy exertion, and experiences other stressors to the immune system. 

If you’re training hard and have noticed you tend to catch every cold that’s going around or your recovery time from illness or injury is slow, it might be a good idea to slow down or introduce more rest days.

Prone to aches, pains and injuries 

Consistently overtraining can potentially make your body more prone to long-term injuries for two reasons - you’re not allowing your body enough time to recover and rebuild between workouts, and your state of tiredness can lead to impaired form or concentration during your sessions. 

The American Council on Exercise states that overused muscles and joints can cause constant aches or joint pain, and any pain that doesn’t subside after two weeks or so should be considered a notable injury.

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How to prevent workout fatigue 

Prevention is the best cure! Here are some of the best ways to avoid long-term workout fatigue.

Don’t skip your warm-up or cool-down

According to the Mayo Clinic, a proper warm-up and cool-down may reduce stress on your heart and other muscles. 

Taking 5-10 minutes to warm up is an important part of any workout and helps to increase blood flow to the muscle groups you are about to train, as well as helping to reduce muscle soreness and lessen your risk of injury.

A warm-up doesn’t need to be complex or take a long time. Just 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches or light cardio such as walking, jogging or cycling will increase the blood flow around your body.

A few minutes of light cardio can also be a great way to cool-down and slowly bring your heart rate and breathing back to their normal rhythms, followed by some foam-rolling or static stretches to aid recovery. These are where you hold a single stretch position for 20 seconds or longer to help promote flexibility and range of motion.

Stay hydrated 

The British Heart Foundation recommends 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Staying well-hydrated is always important, but even more when you're training regularly. 

According to health experts at WebMD, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your workout, and you shouldn’t rely on thirst alone to tell you how much you need to drink. Often, by the time you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated! 

As a guide, you should aim to drink about two cups of fluid prior to a workout and continue to hydrate during the workout. If you’re exercising for an hour, aim to drink around two cups of liquid, then more when you’ve finished. Depending on what works for you, this could mean taking regular small sips, or a bigger drink every 10 minutes or so.

If you don’t enjoy drinking water, try adding some fresh fruit to your water or drinking herbal teas, such as ginger or peppermint tea. 

Refuel your body after working out 

The Mayo Clinic suggests opting for a post-workout meal that includes both protein and carbohydrates to help your muscles recover and replenish their glycogen stores.

A protein smoothie or bliss balls are quick and easy options when you’re in a rush, but there are lots of foods that can help with muscle recovery! If you're training at a high intensity or love explosive training styles like HIIT and heavy lifting, creatine can also help support energy and recovery.

Schedule enough rest days 

According to Michigan State University in the US, rest and recovery days are an important part of any exercise program. Rest gives the body time to repair, adapt and strengthen itself in between workouts, as well as replenishing muscle glycogen (energy stores) and allowing body tissue to repair.

Without adequate rest and recovery, you may not see your performance and ability increase in future workouts, and increase your risk of injury and fatigue.

Everyone’s lifestyles and daily stressors are different, so there’s no shame in taking more rest if you need it to feel your best.

Follow a progressive workout program 

Following a workout program that progresses gradually in complexity and intensity as your strength and fitness improve can help prevent the muscle soreness and the fatigue that happens as a result of going too hard, too fast. 

Most programs in the Sweat app get progressively more difficult, and some programs even have foundational weeks to guide you through the basics. If you’re interested in building your strength, opt for a program that incorporates the training principles of progressive overload, such as BUILD or Strength & Sculpt.

Train with your menstrual cycle

In case you didn’t already know, hormonal changes throughout your menstrual cycle can have a range of effects on energy levels and exercise performance, and different forms of exercise may be better suited to each stage of your cycle.

Keeping track of your four main phases - menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase - and scheduling your training to match can help you avoid fatigue and get the most out of your workout routine.

How to recover from workout fatigue 

If you’re already feeling fatigued, these prevention measures mentioned above will also help you to recover. Making rest and recovery a priority, reducing the intensity or frequency of your workouts, drinking plenty of fluids and ensuring you maintain a healthy and balanced diet can ensure you help promote muscle recovery and replenish your energy stores so that you can bounce back to your training feeling your best.

If your fatigue or soreness doesn’t seem to be improving with these steps, it’s best to see your healthcare professional for advice.

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Take care of your body 

Self-care is where it’s at if you want to avoid fatigue. Instead of waiting until you feel burnt out, focus on prevention, listening to your body and being aware of your limits. 

A healthy diet that includes plenty of water and a balance of food groups will help you to keep on track with your health and fitness goals, and stretching before and after your workouts can help you avoid any prolonged muscle soreness.

If you do find yourself suffering from workout fatigue, make sure to prioritise your health and take as much rest as you need.

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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