Avoiding Training Fatigue

By Candance H. Chemtob, MS, RD, LD, CSSD

Fatigue is a natural response to rigorous training. Ignoring the signs of fatigue and overtraining can lead to disappointing athletic performance, a lack of enthusiasm, and increase the risk of injury. While training and conditioning improve speed, agility, and technique, recovery is also essential to maintaining or improving performance over time. For athletes, who are forever pushing themselves towards maximal output, it may be difficult to embrace this concept. However, recently much attention has been placed on the importance, and science, of recovery.

“I know I can recover,”exclaimed Novak Djokovic after a grueling five-hour match.”I see the other players on the tour. They’re very committed to practice, to recoveries, to what they eat, what they drink.” (USA Today). Professional athletes know tomorrow’s performance may hinge on today’s recovery. The USTA (US Tennis Association) published “Tennis Recovery: A Comprehensive Review of Research,” a 387 page report in 2010. This report is a comprehensive, scientifically-based guide to recovery while specific to tennis that is applicable to all sports including squash. Whether a PSA player or a weekend warrior, all squash players can benefit from understanding the basic concepts of recovery, which will be summarized in this article, and are based on the USTA report.

There are different types of fatigue. My previous article focused on metabolic fatigue. Metabolic fatigue is caused by dehydration or fuel imbalances (diet). In addition to metabolic fatigue, there are other types of fatigue that can plague athletes. Environmental fatigue results from travel, time zone and climate changes, disruption of sleep and eating patterns. Psychological fatigue can be caused by emotional and social stresses. Overtraining can lead to sleep disturbances, irritability, depression, decreased self esteem, and reduced motivation. Other psychological stresses may include academic pressures, feeling alone, personality conflicts, interpersonal relationships, and financial difficulties to name just a few. Additionally, athletes may experience neural fatigue. Peripheral nervous system fatigue affects the muscles, and results in decreased response times and power. Central nervous system fatigue is caused by metabolic conditions and leads to poor motivation, lack of drive, and lack of concentration.

While getting exercise on a rest day may seem counterintuitive, the reality is that “active rest” can include cross training activities performed at 50% V02 max. Activities like cycling give you the opportunity to activate unused muscles in low impact ways.


1. Passive recovery: Passive recovery is sleep, and it would be hard to over exaggerate the role of sleep in recovery. Adult athletes require 7-9 hours of sleep per day, and an adolescent athlete up to 10 hours. Good sleeping habits include: relaxation before bed time, lie down only when sleepy, get up at the same time (within 1-2 hours) every day, lower or cut out caffeine, and limit alcohol consumption because it disrupts sleep patterns.

2. Active rest: Cross training at 50% VO2 is a form of active rest. The main premise is to activate unused muscles in low impact sports such as swimming or biking.

3. Rest days: At least one day per week—benefits are both physiological and psychological. Light activity such as walking, shopping, or golf is preferred over being sedentary and allows for recovery without becoming stiff from inactivity.

4. Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapies have been used since the time of ancient Greece. There is some debate as to whether immersion in hot or cold water, or a combination, is most beneficial.

5. Sports massage: While sports massage is popular with athletes, there is little evidence to support its physical benefits. Some research has shown that massage improves mood and feelings of well-being and can be used as a technique to relax psychologically

6. Stretching: Stretching restores resting muscle length, range of movement, and improves flexibility.

7. Compression garments: Compression garments have gained popularity recently and are believed to create hydrostatic pressure on the extremities, forcing fluid back to the core.
Recovery is the process of restoring oneself. It is about successfully juggling the demands, both physical and psychological, of training and competition with resting, sleeping, eating, studying, socializing, and enjoying life. Find your balance.