What is happening when your workout performance declines? by Matthew Romans
Posted April 30, 2019 by Matthew Romans
Here is the scenario: Everything seems ridiculously hard in today's workout. You feel like you just don't "have it" today. It feels as though the weights on every exercise were raised by twenty pounds. You struggle to maintain focus and proper form, and you feel more fatigued than usual. Your instructor tells you that your time under load on most of the exercises was much shorter than usual; when you ask if all the weights were heavier, you are told no. While you did the best you could do, it was not on par with your performance in previous workouts. What could be the explanation?
The answer could be something as simple as a common upper respiratory infection, or even a night or two of poor sleep. One subpar workout performance isn't necessarily a cause for concern; after all, we are only human. While novice clients do often improve very rapidly (largely due to the learning effect), it's unrealistic to expect that experienced clients are going to turn in career-best performances on every workout. However, several subpar workouts in a row, combined with feelings of lethargy, decreased strength, and dwindling focus could be an indication that you're not satisfying your biological requirements between sessions. What is happening?
Several factors affect recovery, particularly sleep, stress, additional activity level, nutrition, and hydration. During sleep, other body processes slow down, and that is when the body goes about repairing muscle tissue broken down during the workout. Stress, and the lack of management of it, can make sleep difficult and contribute to a diminished workout focus. Being active outside of Total Results has many benefits, but excessive physical activity can put a strain on your recovery ability. Nutrition and hydration are fairly self-explanatory; the body needs raw materials in order to make the bodily improvements that are sought. The body also needs fuel in order to facilitate intense muscular effort; this fuel comes primarily from carbohydrates, which is stored in your muscle cells and liver as glycogen.
If you are getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night, managing stress, not overdoing it with additional physical activity, eating an ancestrally-appropriate diet and drinking plenty of water, there is one most likely explanation for your decreased workout performance: you need to decrease your exercise frequency. It's important to understand what Dr. Doug McGuff (author of Body by Science) refers to as the "dose-response relationship of exercise." The workout is the exercise stimulus; that is what sends the message to the body to adapt (i.e.- get stronger, improve cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, etc.). Just like many medications, exercise has a narrow therapeutic window, which means that not enough exercise will not stimulate any benefit, and too much exercise will have a toxic effect. You want the minimum dose necessary to stimulate the desired result. If you reintroduce the stimulus before the body has completed the adaptive response, you will remain in a catabolic (breaking down) state rather than an anabolic (building up) state. This can lead to a cessation of progress, illness due to a compromised immune system, and overuse injury. Think about incurring a relatively superficial cut to your index finger. Provided the cut is reasonably minor, it will probably heal within seven to ten days. However, if once the cut starts to scab you pull it off, that will interrupt the healing process and make it take much longer, and could even lead to a scar. Exercising again before your body is properly recovered has the same metaphorical effect.
At Total Results, we go to great lengths to regulate the variables of exercise frequency, volume, and intensity; this is where precise record-keeping becomes critical. Every result of every exercise of every workout is kept in detail on a client spreadsheet. Since the body is fairly resistant to change, we need to exercise at a high level of intensity (work toward momentary muscular failure) in order to stimulate the body to adapt. Because of this higher level of effort produced, the workouts must be of shorter duration (30 minutes or less) and performed less frequently (no more than twice per week, with at least three days between workouts) than traditional weight training methods. If your weights and/or time under load are stagnating or significantly decreasing, you may be overtrained. Many of our longer-tenured clients exercise once per week, and we even have a few clients that exercise once every 10-14 days. Each person's recovery ability can vary.
Let Total Results find the right exercise dosage to unlock your body's potential. Schedule an initial consultation today!