Today’s lessons are focused on the spirit of autonomy in managing training load and fatigue. To highlight my thoughts, I am going to focus on our most ‘autonomous’ athletes -- those on the Squad program -- but the lessons apply to all. I have noticed that several athletes have reported feeling the accumulation of training fatigue over the last couple of weeks. A fair few have mentioned feeling a little more ragged or flat, emotionally drained, and really stuffing in individual tough sessions. There is global fatigue creep going on. I want to address this on three levels:
- What are we going to do about it?
- How to develop autonomy in your training to manage this.
Why is there fatigue creeping in? This is highly nuanced, so we cannot put a finger on the exact reason for each individual athlete. I should also recognize that you may be reading this thinking ‘not me -- I feel great!’ but any current fatigue comes down to a combination of these potential reasons:
- We have been charging hard with a specific focus -- uninterrupted -- for some weeks now. Collectively, Purple Patch athletes have risen through these months and executed a startlingly consistent block of work. Many have, within irony, been more consistent and even hit more work. The accumulation has arrived, and the body is ready to absorb. Fatigue is the reward for a great job, but fitness happens with recovery.
- This Covid-19 thing has really become a pain in the ass! Let’s get on and race. Parallel to the work accumulation is the undeniable mental fatigue of all this nonsense. Can we just get on with things?! Jokes and novelty videos are a thing of the past, and Covid-19 fatigue is a real thing. People talk about cabin fever and Island fever, but this existence has delivered it. The hit of the recent events in the US caused another wave of uncertainty and confusion -- all amplifying fatigue.
- It is heating up in most places. Don’t let it bypass you that the temperatures have risen around much of the world. Summer is coming (even in the UK last week!), and the heat stress becomes a real fatigue accumulator. Athletes love to ignore that.
- Many are adding swimming back into the program. If you have recently regained pool access, and begun swimming again, then it is likely adding to fatigue creep. Be aware of this.
- There is underlying elevated stress in society currently, especially in the US, and we cannot ignore it. Make no mistake, this is a stressful time. There is an underlying pulse of uncertainty and change -- and remember how tough change is? It is all-important, but also challenging and fatiguing.
- Flawed execution of training sessions - leaving athletes failing. Saved the big one for last. We have athletes driven strictly by numbers and not self-managing. It is no one's fault, but the most common aspect of athletes struggling. We also have athletes checking the box and aiming to hit ‘every session.’ We can evolve and do better. From our side, we can improve clarity, education, and guidance. From your side, be more courageous, listen, and adapt to become successful.
What are we going to do about it? Ok, we have a group that is collectively a little tired. What is to be done about it? Action leads to results -- so we are responding -- as while many likely causes are beyond the sessions, we can all benefit from a bit of smart recovery and refreshing. In the long run, it will help. Here is the plan:
- Educate: We plan to educate more on training zones, autonomy, the impact of heat on fatigue, execution of training, and self-management. As I am sure you can tell, we keenly listen to our athletes, on all programs, and adapt. We are unified in chasing your performance, so we will continue to educate heavily.
- Add in a block of recovery: We have decided that there are few athletes that would benefit from a nice little cleanse for three to four days. Look for a real freshen up integrated into plans over the coming weeks. Of course, individually coached athletes will have tailored planning around their own situation.
- Shift the training stimulus. Ok, this isn’t a newly added change, but we are just about to flip things up. Perfect timing, almost like we planned it, but a time to evolve the stimulus. The old saying goes ‘in a rhythm you don’t like? Then change the rhythm.’ Well, we planned to shift it regardless, and it seems like positive timing.
- Build-in forced full recovery every 2 weeks or so. I asked the team to integrate a full rest day every two weeks or so, and a block of two to three lighter days every third week or so. This will amplify performance in the work and allow us to continue to yield positive adaptations.
How to develop autonomy: How can you draw from and develop tools for self-management and awareness from expected and unexpected fatigue.
- Understand what successful training is (it isn’t failure). The vast majority of your sessions should be about adapting to positive experiences, not failure. Some training should be really hard. It should force you to look in the mirror. You also shouldn’t be afraid of some fatigue. With all this said, realize that sessions are not designed for you to fail -- they shouldn’t break you. Athletes fail due to three main reasons:
- Going too hard in easy sessions.
- Too much global training load in the context of life.
- Chasing pre-set power or pace targets without shifting power or targets relative to the day.
- Training Zones: A massive improvement of training prescription -- and customization for individuals in a group environment -- has been training zones. They allow ‘specificity’ and targeted training. Combining these with pre-built workouts, particularly structured workouts into apps such as Zwift, really removes the thinking out of training, but right there is the issue. They remove the thinking! Training zones provide a picture and framework of intensity and capturing power, pace, and heart rate are wonderful objective tools. With this, there isn’t a coach or physiologist who would suggest it is ideal to simply plug a number into a machine and say ‘there you go Johnny, go hit that!’ Removing all nuance and athlete thinking and feeling is a recipe for suboptimal training. You need to balance between convenience/common language and true training. Like any coach, we prescribe training with intention. It should feel a certain way. We should then align expected ranges of metrics associated with that feeling, as a guide. With this, on any given day we may need to adapt to successfully execute. Heat, fatigue, stress, hydration, and various other impacts can either help you perform better or train with fatigue. A smart athlete will adapt. If I had to do 6 x 3 minutes very strong, I would assume to be about 340-360W (I am a big guy) -- but with fatigue, success on another day might be 310-330W. I wouldn’t fail but, I would be tired and execute with the intent. If I was stubborn, stuck to 340W, then blew up and couldn’t finish the set, I would have ‘failed’ the session intent. I might also have a magic day and hit 365 to 370W. I wouldn’t believe it, and they don’t come often, but I would take advantage if I did have a day like that! Don’t hang onto a number, and don’t be shackled by one either!
- If it is creeping - have the courage to recover. A more simple one. If you are feeling a serious accumulation of fatigue, it is a result of hard work. You should -- guilt-free -- step away and let it marinate. Growth will come and performance will bubble back. It won’t come with a day, commit to two to five days easier, turn your back on the sport while sticking to good habits, and you will flourish.
- Don’t be pressured to do every single session: Remember the principle, particularly in the Squad program, is all about integrating sport into life. Don’t see the program and go about working out how to cram in life. Review life, dial in the key sessions, then execute as many of the supporting sessions as makes sense. Look for consistency over the long-term, not simply survival.
I hope that helps. This is not a license for laziness, but instead, it is meant to empower you to have the COURAGE TO RECOVER and be smart in application.
Matt and the Team