Should Athletes Skip Training When They're Tired?
January 25th 2020
Those who are new to lifting are oftentimes extremely eager to build more strength and develop a better physique at the very start of their journey. In order to become the best versions of themselves novice lifters tend to find intense and highly demanding training programs which challenge them in almost every way imaginable and those which promise them that within a few months that they too can win the next Arnold Sports Festival or become an elite national ranking powerlifter.
After the initial phase of excitement and novelty, those who follow this path will find themselves extremely sore and tired as well as questioning whether or not they’re overtraining and if they should take a day off to rest. In order to decide whether or not to skip training, these athletes should first ask themselves if they’re looking for an excuse not to train and trying to take the easy way out from working hard or if there are actual underlying health issues and behaviors which may have led to their exhaustion.
In general, those who are new to lifting should adhere strictly to their training program in order to reach their goals and develop motor mastery over lifts. However, there are some cases where having frequent fatigue may indicate that more serious underlying issues are present and that the athlete should take time off from training to rest and properly recover before their next session.
When Athletes Shouldn’t Skip Training from Feeling Tired
In the majority of cases, those who are new to lifting will start to experience side effects and symptoms from their new training regimen which are completely normal and a necessary component of the training process in order to develop muscle and grow stronger. Symptoms from undertaking challenging and more frequent training may include muscle soreness, slight fatigue, lack of full range of motion, occasional cramping, an initial decrease in athletic performance and reduced ease in performing specific lifts.
These symptoms should be expected to occur at both the novice and elite levels of lifting and generally happen due to exercise-induced hyperlactatemia (EIH) and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). As an athlete trains more often and becomes more familiar with lifting these symptoms as well as the fatigue associated with them should gradually lessen and not impact their training as much as they did during the start of the program.
Having these symptoms alone without any other underlying health issues is generally not a good enough reason for athletes to take time off, however, if training becomes too impacted then the athlete should consider taking an active recovery day to maintain fitness and speed up recovery without taking time off completely.
When Athletes Should Skip Training from Feeling Tired
Novice lifters should keep in mind that they won’t always be able to give 100% towards each training session and that it’s necessary to stimulate the same fatigue that will be felt during powerlifting meets, various competitions, or future intense activities during practice. When new lifters have a better grasp on balancing fatigue with the continual and improved effort they will gain more strength and have better muscular development.
On occasion, athletes might notice that their symptoms of fatigue and difficulty recovering linger around longer than normal. This could occur for several reasons and oftentimes having excessive tiredness might be related to several factors combined. The only reasons why an athlete should forego training when they are tired is when their fatigue is related to overtraining, inconsistent diet and dehydration, insufficient sleep or illness.
Overtraining is one of the most common causes of excessive tiredness in athletes, especially those who are new to lifting and training intensely. Novice lifters and those with limited experience in the gym do not require as much training volume when starting out as compared to more advanced lifters.
However, a lot of times the novelty of lifting and training hard causes these athletes to want to train just as hard and just as much as their powerlifting and bodybuilding idols which causes them to burnout and over-train very easily.
Usually, these athletes will fail to incorporate rest days for an extended period of time or they will train the same muscles several times a week or within back to back days causing them to hinder complete recovery from their prior session through prolonged breakdown of muscle fibers which will limit their potential for strength and development.
Additionally, they may experience a buildup of lactate within their muscles which will cause their muscles to have a reduced ability to contract. If an athlete is feeling overly tired and they have either failed to take a recovery day within the past several days or they have trained the major muscle groups at least once within the same week then they should heavily consider taking at least one day off to heal and reset.
Inconsistent Diet and Dehydration
Another common factor that may contribute to an athlete feeling overly fatigued throughout their training week is if they’ve had an inconsistent diet coupled with dehydration. In order to perform their best in the gym it is crucial for athletes to not only supply their muscles with enough glycogen from their food but to also provide their body with enough water and electrolytes for muscle contraction.
Athletes who do not stay on top of their nutrition or hydration will be at risk for fatigue from both a lack available glucose and stored glycogen as well as from lower blood volume and low iron.
If an athlete has been irresponsible with both their nutrition and hydration throughout the week it would be wise for them to take one day off to replenish their glycogen from eating complex carbohydrates, consume high quality protein to raise iron levels, and rehydrate with water and electrolytes.
A third factor which affects the energy levels of most college-aged powerlifters and athletes is insufficient sleep. It is recommended for adults to sleep around 8 hours on average at night but most athletes between the ages of 18 and 30 fail to sleep 6 hours each night.
When new and experienced lifters alike fail to sleep enough or accumulate sleep debt throughout the week they will be at risk for a reduction in growth hormone released at night which aids with muscle repair and growth.
Athletes who fail to sleep enough may also suffer from hormone imbalances, inflammation, reduced metabolism, decreased immune and cardiovascular system function, and a reduction in both overall performance and cognitive function.
A final reason for athletes to take a day off from training when they are tired is when their fatigue stems from illness. When athletes experience fatigue coupled with other symptoms such as pain below the neck, soreness throughout the body, fever, shortness of breath, or severe coughing and wheezing time off from the gym is absolutely necessary for both proper recovery and to prevent the spread of viral infection to others.
Once an athlete’s symptoms have resolved from their illness they may gradually return to training and should not approach training with high intensity until a few days after they have recovered.
For a beginner, it is best to not skip a workout while starting off. Not only do you miss a day to stimulate your body with weights, but you also break up your workout ritual and you destroy your previous habit building to stay dedicated to going to the gym.
After all, novice strength athletes only go to the gym 3-4 times a week anyway. So, there is not too much time being wasted and all your time is spent learning how to squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press efficiently.
However, life is not so black and white and there may be times where you get home at 11PM after working a double shift or you fasted for 24 hours. At that point, you should be aware enough to make the proper adjustments in your training. As long as these disruptions are infrequent, you should still expect to make progress and to challenge yourself sufficiently.
DALLECK, L. A. N. C. E. C. (n.d.). THE SCIENCE OF POST-EXERCISE RECOVERY. Retrieved from https://acewebcontent.azureedge.net/SAP-Reports/Post-Exercise_Recovery_SAP_Reports.pdf.
Kraft, J. A., Green, J. M., Bishop, P. A., Richardson, M. T., Neggers, Y. H., & Leeper, J. D. (2010). Impact of dehydration on a full body resistance exercise protocol. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 109(2), 259–267. doi: 10.1007/s00421-009-1348-3