Muscle Fatigue: How to Survive the Fearful Muscle Failure That "Hits" Us All

 Muscle Fatigue: How to Survive the Fearful Muscle Failure That "Hits" Us All 

If you've been working out for any length of time, you're undoubtedly familiar with fatigue—the feeling that your muscles are "done," "baked," "toast"...
That "please have mercy before I'm forever imprisoned beneath this weight" or "you may just have to pull me off the track because I've collapsed" sensation.

The word fatigue is often used to describe overall weariness and the associated decrease in physical function.
What this means is that we have "hit the wall" and can no longer complete repetitions on a particular lift; we can no longer run any further or harder, and we can no longer generate the "ideal" output of muscle contractions as we did at the start of the set or exercise.

What Exactly Is Muscle Fatigue?

Fatigue is a complicated phenomenon that occurs when several sites fail during muscle activity.
The fundamental causes of tiredness are either central (neuromuscular—the mind/central nervous system) or peripheral (the actual muscle location).

The central nervous system (CNS) functions similarly to a car engine regulator.
Most automobiles are equipped with a regulator that forces them to "shut down" when the engine is run at excessively high speeds for an extended period.
This device safeguards the engine from "overheating."
Similarly, our brains try to protect our muscles from ripping by slowing the pace at which nerve signals are delivered to our functioning muscles.
In most instances, core tiredness will occur before local fatigue.
In other words, when you believe you can't perform any more work because you're exhausted, your mind is instructing your body (muscles) to shut down.
However, you should be able to continue for another couple of repetitions.

"...when you believe you can't do any more work because you're so tired, what's really occurring is that your mind is instructing your body (muscles) to shut down."

Local tiredness is associated with variables that restrict the capacity to execute muscular work on a local level.
These include the energy systems (ATP-CP, glycolysis, and oxidation); the buildup of metabolic wastes (such as lactic acid); and the failure of the contractile processes of the muscle fibre.
The energy systems function similarly to gasoline in a vehicle or a battery in a flashlight.
On the other hand, humans have three energy systems inside the muscle cells that are activated at various times depending on the intensity and length of an activity.

The first energy system, known as the ATP-CP system, is activated during very brief and robust bursts of activity (e.g., weight training, sprinting, and jumping).
It operates by continuously breaking down ATP (the body's real currency of energy) and replacing it with CP (creatine phosphate).
Fatigue occurs along with CP depletion after repeated maximum contractions.

During workouts lasting more than 30 seconds, the other two energy systems are activated.
These energy systems, known as anaerobic (or glycolytic) and aerobic (or oxidative), are highly reliant on the supply of glycogen (the stored form of glucose—sugar).
The pace of glycogen depletion is regulated by the intensity (i.e., how hard you train) of the activity, just as it is with CP usage.

Sprinting, for example, may consume muscle glycogen 35 to 40 times quicker than walking.
Glycogen depletion and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) impair performance in longer-duration pursuits.
Long-distance runners often refer to "bonking" or "hitting the wall."
This refers to a feeling of exhaustion that is typically caused by glycogen depletion.
At this stage, the body starts to utilize other energy sources, such as fat and protein (which are not as efficient sources, thus making it harder to sustain energy levels).

Our bodies generate metabolic byproducts such as lactic acid and CO2 during high-intensity anaerobic activity such as sprinting and weight training.
As they build up in our bodies, so does our capacity to sustain the length and intensity of activity.
When they eventually reach a saturation threshold, our muscular capacity grinds to a stop.
This is often referred to as the "burn," in which the muscle feels as if it is on fire, alerting you to stop.

Have you read all of that?
I realize these are some pretty complex processes. They are, so here are a few examples I'm sure you can relate to that will help clarify how these energy systems work in our bodies, and more importantly, how we can assist our bodies in increasing their output and delaying (or temporarily overcoming) the onset of muscle fatigue.

How Do You Get Rid of Muscle Fatigue?

While we cannot eliminate muscular weariness, we can postpone it.
However, this delay may sometimes be the difference between a sprinter winning or losing a race, or it might enable weight trainers to "push out" a few extra repetitions (to produce new levels of strength and muscle gains).
There are many methods we may use to achieve this objective, but here is a couple that I've found to be wildly successful over the years:


First and foremost, we must verify that your nutrition is optimal.
It is critical to consume an appropriate quantity and ratio of carbs, fat, and protein.
Endurance athletes typically require more carbohydrates (40-60% carbs) than strength athletes but slightly less protein (30-35%). In contrast, strength trainers (weight lifters) or regularly participating in sporting activities should consume equal or greater amounts of protein to carbohydrates daily (about a 40:40 ratio of carbs to protein).
Carbohydrates, in essence, are to the body what gasoline is to a car—they offer the essential fuel to maintain or sustain energy levels throughout exercises.


Failure to keep hydrated is a frequent error made by many athletes.
I'm not referring to drinking when you're thirsty (as you may know, thirst is a sign your body is already slightly dehydrated).
The significance of staying hydrated cannot be overstated.
Dehydration may impair performance significantly, not to mention the danger of illness and, in extreme instances, death.
Even a three to four per cent reduction in body water levels (as indicated by thirst and tiredness) may reduce muscle contractions by 10 to 20%.
To counteract this, drink at least 10 to 12 glasses (eight ounces each) of water each day (excluding sodas, coffee, or juices)—always included during and after activities when your body is sweating.


Adequate rest is critical for postponing early tiredness.
Inadequate rest throughout training (i.e., between sets) and between sessions may lead to weariness.
A good rule of thumb for resting time between sets is to allow yourself enough time to recover your breath.
Because you're using such a big muscle area, squats take a bit longer to recover from (maybe two to three minutes).
Smaller muscles, such as the biceps, would need a considerably shorter rest period—no more than 45 to 60 seconds at most.

Another quick tip: a recent study on the benefits of improving recovery between sets found that maintaining intensity high after finished scenes enabled weight trainers to do more repetitions in following locations than those who passively rested (sat) between groups.
This implies that instead of sitting down to rest, we should move about or proceed to another activity for a different muscle group.

Over-training is one of the most frequent (and deadly) mistakes I encounter with weight lifters, both novice and experienced.
Many of us believe that if we exercise more extended, more complex, and more often, we will increase our outcomes.
Nothing could be more harmful to your attempts to build muscle and strength than overtraining muscle groups.
Overtraining may substantially impair the body's capacity to heal and repair itself.
Only with appropriate rest (including good sleep) and a sufficient number of days between training sessions will the body be able to recover and rebuild itself.
Overtraining symptoms include lethargy, chronic tiredness, persistent muscular pain, sleeplessness, and a loss of strength.
If you notice any of these symptoms, consider taking another day or two off in between training sessions to see how you feel.

"Being trapped by our "more is better" mindset, many of us seem to believe that if we exercise longer, harder, and more often, we would double our outcomes."

Consider the following factors for adequate recovery times between workouts (of the same muscle group): the smaller the muscle group, the faster the recovery; the more intense (speed of movement), the longer the rescue; and the higher the volume (i.e., the number of reps) and lower the load (weight), the faster the recovery, and vice versa.
In general, I recommend avoiding exercising a muscle that is still painful, and then, after the sensitivity has subsided, I recommend giving it another day on top of that.


There are many supplements available to assist today's athletes in postponing muscle exhaustion.
Endurance athletes may benefit significantly from carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks like Revenge, Gatorade, Ultra Fuel, and a fantastic new supplement known as G-Push.
These include exact carbohydrate and electrolyte (vital salts and minerals) ratios that may replenish those lost during extended activity while also improving the body's capacity to maintain long-term energy.

Caffeine (or its herbal equivalent guarana) and other nutritional stimulants may help postpone tiredness for two reasons.
For starters, it triggers a chain reaction of hormones that causes the release of free fatty acids into the circulation, allowing the body to burn fat while saving carbs for energy.
Second, it affects the CNS, which delays central exhaustion and reduces the perceived difficulty of the activity. 

If you can't stand the jittery, anxious sensations that stimulants (such as coffee) cause, you may try tyrosine or Ginkgo biloba pills.
Because these supplements are not stimulants, they do not affect your central nervous system (which causes nervousness).
Instead, they aid in increasing mental alertness and delaying central tiredness (in the brain), allowing you to raise the intensity of your exercise.

Not to mention creatine monohydrate, which has been scientifically shown to help with short-duration, high-intensity activity like weight training.
It boosts the body's creatine phosphate reserves, which are required to replace ATP, delaying the start of glycolysis.
In other words, creatine aids in the rapid replenishment of energy reserves inside muscle cells, enabling you to work out for more extended and more challenging periods, perhaps leading to greater strength and muscular growth.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it... nothing spectacular, but enough to get you through your next exercise with a bit of extra flair and pizzazz!
You now have practical, safe, scientifically sound techniques for overcoming muscle tiredness, allowing you to exercise harder (perhaps for longer) and grow stronger, both mentally and physically—making every workout that much better.