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8 February 2019


by Lyndon Purcell 0

In my previous article I spoke to you guys about Specificity; the framework that all of the other training principles are contained within and which provides direction (or misdirection) for the training adaptations we accrue.

Chapter 2: Overload & Fatigue Management

Is training hard and aims to apply overload, right?

Is taking a day off or scheduling a deload, enough to manage fatigue?

In my previous article I spoke to you guys about Specificity; the framework that all of the other training principles are contained within and which provides direction (or misdirection) for the training adaptations we accrue.

As I stated last-time; SPECIFICITY IS KING!

However, just because it is the first and foremost principle that needs to be satisfied, it is not the only one.

If all you have is a king, with little-to-no supporting or contributing structures within the framework beneath him, then it’s never going to be a very impressive kingdom.

So now that we have specificity taken care of, what is the next biggest piece of the training puzzle?

The Answer: Overload.


Overload as a training principle has two major components. The first and more widely understood component of overload is a progressive component, or “Progressive Overload”.

Progressive overload states that in order to ensure continued adaptation and improvement, training must become more challenging over time.


So, what does this actually mean?

Well first up, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It DOES NOT mean that every session MUST be harder than the last. Don’t think of it occurring or needing to be applied on a daily or session-to-session basis, unless you’re a rank beginner, but probably not even then.

Just think of progressive overload on a longer time-scale. It simply means, that on average, you want to do more, in due time.

Next week you probably should do a bit more than this week.
Next month you should almost certainly be doing harder training on average than this month.
Next year definitely should be more challenging than this year, and so on and so on.

So that’s progressive overload, but what is the other component?

The less famous brother of progressive overload is; System Tolerance Overload.

That’s a mouthful right…

This may also be called homeostatic disruption, adaptation threshold or a number of other things, but basically it means that training must be within a range that challenges a specific system beyond what it can comfortably deal with, in order to generate adaptations.

Let’s examine a hypothetical squat program to explore this further.

Workout 1: 3×5 @ 60kgs

Workout 2: 3×5 @ 65kg

Workout 3 4×5 @ 65kg

Workout 4: 4×5 @ 70kg

Would you classify this program is overloading?

Most likely, you would answer yes.

The actual answer however is, it depends.

This program is progressive; there is no doubt about that. But does it ACTUALLY produce overload?

Not if the individual following this program is the very large, and offensively strong Ray Williams. Believe it or not, Ray squats over 200kgs… as part of his warm up!

60kgs progressing up to 70kgs across 4 workouts is nowhere near challenging enough to be even close to overloading Ray’s squatting capabilities.

So what does this mean?

Big Ray-Ray can squat 60kgs till he’s blue in the face, but he won’t get any better. He’s a seasoned lifter, an advanced athlete and his body is already SUPER resilient to making improvements at this stage of his development anyway, even with the best designed program… Let alone with a weight that is practically insignificant to him.

A weight that is so small relative to his maximum capacity will not challenge his physiology to any significant degree, meaning homeostasis will not be disrupted and therefore there is zero need for adaptations to occur.

Remember, the reason that training “works” is because it is a “threat” to the internal environment of our body. Our body wants to feel safe, and the body feels the most safe when its internal systems are stable and unperturbed.

When training is difficult enough and thus overloads a certain system (muscular, skeletal, neural etc), the body responds and generates adaptations in order to “protect” itself from future threats of the same nature.

That all makes sense, right?

Intuitively it makes sense, training has to be hard and get harder for us to get better.

You’re probably thinking, “This isn’t anything new Lyndon… Besides, I’m leaving the gym sweating out of every single cell in my body, I’m nearly puking between sets and I can’t even move my limbs once I get home. I’m definitely training hard and overloading. I never take it easy, I kill every workout!”

Oh really, is that so?

You might be…

But I would ask, what are you basing that off?

“Well I train chest doing heavy sets, then rest-pause sets, then super-sets and drop sets and I keep doing that until I can’t even do a single knee push-up… I feel wrecked afterwards and I know I’ve destroyed my chest and forced it to grow”

This is how so many recreational lifters describe their workouts and judge their efficacy. I see it time and time again and I can tell you right now, there are a few major issues with this that make it a fair whack from “optimal”.

Issue 1) If your goal is to get better, STOP determining how successful a workout was, based on how it made you feel! Lifting weights isn’t a sensation-driven activity. Judge sex on how it feels, not training. How you feel is just a psychological manifestation and perception of the physiological state of your body.
Issue 2) How do you ensure that this type of workout is progressive? If you always just train until you’re sweating like a **insert any number of humorous yet politically incorrect jokes** then how do you accurately gauge if you DID DO MORE? Do you feel more tired than your last chest session? What if you just had less sleep or ate less today? Did you sweat more? But what if it was just a warmer day? You spent more time at the gym?

Oh cool, I didn’t know just being at the gym was a guaranteed way to grow muscle. Besides, you can’t just keep adding time to your workouts or you’ll eventually be working out for 24 hours, not sleeping or doing anything else and you’ll need some Rick & Morty inter-dimensional time-travel shit to fix your crappy life then.

Issue 3) Since when have 10kg Dumbbell Presses been OVERLOADING to a guy who can bench press 80kgs for multiple sets of 6 while he’s fresh? Literally probably f*cking never!

But I’m not fresh now, or “I’m Running-the-rack and burning out the muscle” you might say. To this I would say, well stop then! You’re literally wasting energy to get nowhere, and it’s likely even taking you further from your goal if anything.

Think of it like this, you’re a builder. You live in a nice house, but you wouldn’t mind renovating it a bit, improving some things and expanding. You’ve got enough financial resources (calories) and you’ve plenty of tools (anabolic cellular machinery) and materials (protein) lying around at home that you could use.

But even though you’ve got everything you need to make the renovations, you don’t, because even though you want a better house, there’s been no reason to get started and actually do it, regardless of whether you have what’s needed. A reason to act must also be provided in order to disrupt your current homeostasis.

One day, you come home and your house has been vandalised. There’s some damage to the front door, a few broken windows and some graffiti on one of the outside walls.

This is the spark you needed to finally start renovating, making some repairs and improving the house.

With just a little damage, you still have plenty of time, money, resources and energy that you can put into fixing and building the house up. This is essentially what happens when you overload the body just enough and it responds and adapts appropriately.

However, once you’ve reached this point (you’ve disrupted homeostasis enough), any damage beyond this becomes not only a waste of time, but detrimental as it reduces the ability to make repairs and improvements.

When you’re “burning out a muscle group” at the end of your workout, after enough damage has already been caused, it’s like coming home and finding your house vandalised and then continuing the destruction.

It would be like kicking in you front door even more and breaking more windows, and the lighting fire to the spare timber outside that you were going to use for repairs.

This sounds illogical, but this is exactly what going beyond the required level of overload does. So don’t do that, because you’re 1) reducing the ability to make gains from that single session and 2) reducing your ability to overload in future sessions and thus make gains, because of too much accumulated fatigue.

Which leads us to the next most important training principle: fatigue management.


Fatigue management is just that, managing fatigue.


Most people would associate fatigue with tiredness, which isn’t necessarily incorrect, but it’s not the whole story.

After a hard, OVERLOADING workout you might consider yourself very fatigued, because you feel tired, and this is true, but that’s not the entirety of fatigue. After a very hard workout, you also have a reduced ability to do mental and physical work and this is the component of fatigue that most people don’t consider very much if at all.

There is essentially two issues with doing training that “feels hard” all the time.

  1. You need a more quantifiable and less subject measure than feel to determine if training is in fact hard.
  2. You simply can’t train hard all the time

When fatigue is not managed appropriately, you will train and it will feel hard, but that does not mean that it is! Or at least not hard to the specific system (i.e. muscle) that we are trying to improve.

Fatigue not only reduces your ability to do hard work, but it also makes doing work of any difficulty feel harder than what it actually is…

So you’ve reduced your ceiling of physical performance and reduced your ability to push yourself to your ceiling… Combine those two things together and you’ve got a recipe for stagnation due to never creating System Tolerance Overload, as we discussed earlier.

So what’s the result?

You felt like you trained hard.

You’re even more tired now.

You’ll surely grow, right?

Wrng! If no homeostatic disruption occurred, then neither will growth.

Muscle mass isn’t created just because training feels hard.

Hard training, which funnily enough, feels hard, is what creates more muscle mass.

Fatigue is like a limiter on your car, but in this case it’s a limiter on your physical performance. The more fatigue you build up, the lower the limiter drops and if it drops low enough, even the hardest training you can do at that time, isn’t hard enough to reach the overload threshold. Especially as the overload threshold rises overtime, hence why we need progressive overload to stay above it.

So what can we do?

How do we make sure that the limiter doesn’t drop too low and we can ensure we reach the overload threshold when we train?
Glad you asked J

You make sure you’re recovering and keeping fatigue at a reasonable level by:

1 – Not training too much: Doesn’t matter how many massages you get or how many scoops of BCAA’s you sip on during the day, you can’t “out recover too much training”.

2 – Having periods of time when you do less: Auto-regulating within a session, having rest days within the week, taking deloads within the month and having easier training months within the year will help to manage fatigue on all timescales and will ensure that your training can be as productive and effective as possible.

3 – Eating and sleeping appropriately: Nutrition is how we obtain the materials and substrates that our body uses to recover and sleep is when we allow our body to repair, build and integrate those substrates into structures. Adequate, deep and consistent sleep combined with a diet that has enough calories, protein, carbohydrates and essential nutrients will go a LONG way to keeping fatigue low.

That is the big, BIG rocks of fatigue management right there.

And the best part is, they aren’t anything fancy and everyone can do them… Or can they?

The first and second points are ones that many recreational trainers struggle with.

“Leave nothing on the table, I’ll do whatever it takes, no days off” is usually the catch phrase of someone who would rather just train till they puke, not track their workouts or ever deload. So therefore, they really aren’t doing whatever it takes, are they?

These people often convince themselves that they are doing what others aren’t willing to do, thinking that rest is for the lazy, it’s not. Rest is for the smart.

If these people were truly the dedicated athletes that they think they are, they would take rest days and deloads, irrespective of if they wanted to or not. Success is about doing what is required, and sometimes what is required is rest.

My advice: Don’t attach so much of your being and who you are, to being the person who has no days off.  A little rest only improves your results. A house doesn’t completely collapse if you stop building it for a few day, a week or even month and neither do your muscles.

This shit takes time, so set yourself up for success.

Train hard, rest, train harder, rest a bit more, train hardest, rest a lot. Repeat.

That’s overload and a fatigue management in a 2300+ word nutshell.

If specificity is the bread of your sandwich, then overload is the meat and fatigue management is the cheese (soz vegans and vegos)… The other principles, which we will talk about next time, are just the finishing touches.

So stay tuned, because I can tell you right now, some Spicy BBQ Sauce is critical for THE BEST kinda sanga.

Until then kids!

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