An Athlete’s Dilemma
As an athlete (or coach advising an athlete) it can be very difficult to tell when to keep pushing and when to back off and recover.
This issue is minimized for on-site coaches who can “look into the whites of your eyes” and get a pretty good feel for how an athlete is prepared for a session.
However, most people are either coached remotely or self-coached so this doesn’t work. Yes, some remote coaches will FaceTime their athletes and this works well, but likely it won’t be an everyday occurrence.
What you need is consistent data that accurately tells you how ready you are to train.
Want to the #1 way I recommend accelerating recovery? Listen to Episode #008 of The Fitness Movement Podcast.
The Issue with Electronics
There are means of measuring fatigue electronically, but they have limitations. Tools like HRV Devices (Heart Rate Variability) or recovery smartwatches like Whoop work great at predicting cardiac and nervous system fatigue, but the cardiac and nervous systems are just part of the recovery puzzle.
For example, things like inflammation and soft tissue quality aren’t assessed. Or what about the athlete’s desire to train?!
It’s common for a high level athlete to perform well, be productive and deeply desire to train while concurrently having high cardiac and nervous system fatigue. On the flip side, it is certainly possible for the average athlete to be mentally burnout and have a terrible session even though they are physiologically recovered.
Subjective Measures of Fatigue
There have been many studies done on the accuracy of subjective indicators of fatigue.
Asking an athlete… “How do you feel today?” “What is your mood like?” “Are you ready to train?”
The consensus is in. Subjective indicators of fatigue work.
If an athlete believe it will be a good session, it usually is.
If an athlete believes it will be a poor session, it usually is.
ZOAR’s Readiness to Train Evaluation
ZOAR has created a document that combines Objective and Subjective indicators of fatigue. Each indicator is assigned a value and based on an athlete’s response will get a score. It takes less than 30 seconds to complete, and the individual will have their Readiness to Train Score as a percentage.
ZOAR’s model is based on the following fatigue indicators:
- Back-to-Back Hard Training Days
- Soreness & Inflammation
- Desire to Train
- Overall Mood
- Hormonal Status
- Immune Status
- Sleep Quantity
- Sleep Quality
This evaluation should be used daily at the same time of day.
It could be done first thing in the morning, during a break time at work or directly before training.
Worry more about shifts and trends in percentage than an absolute figure out of 100. If on average you get “80% Ready to Train” then don’t think about that as being good or bad. Rather pay attention to how that number shifts over time. If you are always between 70% and 80% and you get a day or two the next week in the 60s you need time off to recover.
Complete the evaluation for at least 10 consecutive days before using it to make decision to train or recovery. Just like the first time you track macros you are establishing a baseline rather than making changes.
Individuals and coaches can feel free to adjust the evaluation as necessary including adding fatigue indicators.
Example 1: A coach who is working on an athlete’s power may add a section on a vertical jump test. At the beginning of training after a warm-up, that would be a very accurate predictor of a certain type of fatigue.
Example 2: A weight class athlete may add body weight or hydration status.
Example 3: An athlete who struggles with caffeine or alcohol consumption could add number of drinks the previous day.