Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Fatigue is one of the most annoying aspects of working out. It limits your ability to press weight, and is the reason that many beginners quit the gym early on in their fitness career. Being in a state of fatigue is hard. It hurts, and it sucks.
It is inevitable, and is sure to happen when you work hard. But thankfully, there are some methods and steps that you can take to reduce the pain and intensity of the fatigue in the gym. In this post, we'll go over the best ways you can manage your tiredness in the gym, and look into how you can incorporate some of these methods into your training as well.
The 7 Steps to Reducing Fatigue Are...
Taking Longer Rest Periods Between Sets
The first, and one of the most important steps that you can take to reduce fatigue during your working sets is to simply rest for longer in between them. I see too many influencers promoting short rest periods, saying that it keeps the intensity of the workout high and is ideal for hypertrophy. You likely would've seen it before.
People are going around promoting 30-60 second rest periods in between sets, when their main goals in the gym are either strength or muscle growth. And while the workout might feel more intense to some, short rest periods like that are really only effective when your main goal is muscular endurance in rep ranges of 25+ per set. Otherwise, shortening the rest periods down that much won't bring about any extra benefit to the average lifter wanting to build muscle and strength over resting more.
You'll be able to give yourself more of a chance to catch your breath, get more fluids in and let your muscles recover. You won't feel as tired during your sets, and won't feel as sluggish when the reps start to get hard. Which will happen pretty soon if you're resting less than 60 seconds between sets.
Plus, increasing your rest periods is also better for muscle growth. Let us explain.
You see, shortening the rest periods increases the metabolic stress of your muscles. That's the burning feeling you have that hurts so much. And according to this study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld, metabolic stress is one of the main drivers of muscular hypertrophy. Now doesn't that mean we should all be resting short?
Well, not exactly. While metabolic stress is one of the primary drivers of hypertrophy, the absolute and most important factor is mechanical tension. That's basically the amount of weight that you move with your muscles. By resting loner, you're able to find that you can lift more weight, and achieve more consistent results, whether that means being able to lift heavier or being able to do more reps. Both of which are beneficial to an increase of mechanical tension over time.
By resting more (upwards of 3 minutes per set), you're giving yourself the best chance possible to get as strong as possible. And yes, there is a correlation between muscle strength and muscle size. If you look at the biggest guys and girls in your gym, chances are, they'll be the strongest people there as well. Most of the time anyways.
By resting for longer, you're allowing yourself to lift the most weight possible for your chosen rep ranges (make sure that they're conducive to hypertrophy if that's your goal). This increased ability to load heavy will result in more strength gain over time, and more mechanical tension placed on your muscles in the long run. This will lead to more muscle growth. It won't be quick, but over time it'll add up quickly.
Another study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld does support this idea in saying that: "This study provides evidence that longer rest periods promote greater increases in muscle strength and hypertrophy in young resistance-trained men." And the results would likely be pretty similar for women as well.
Or this study by Jozo Grgic, which concluded that "Novel findings involving trained participants using measures sensitive to detect changes in muscle hypertrophy suggest a possible advantage for the use of long rest intervals to elicit hypertrophic effects."
As we can see, the science supports this idea of longer rest intervals as well. Not only does it help reduce your fatigue, but is better for muscle and strength gain as well. Unless you're incredibly short on time and have to get out of the gym quickly it's a win-win situation.
Do Your Heavy Lifting First
The next tip that we can give you is to do your heavy lifting first, or towards the beginning of your workout. Like we mentioned above, fatigue is inevitable. It's bound to happen during a workout if you're training hard. And by doing your heavy lifting first when you have the most energy, you're giving yourself the best opportunity to get stronger in your appropriate rep ranges and build the most muscle.
This will ensure that you do your most intense lifting when you have the most energy, and save your less intense stuff for later once fatigue does start to kick in. You don't want to be stuck at the end of your workout completely exhausted, trying to lift upwards of 90% of your one rep max. It's not the best feeling in the world.
Spread Your Volume Out
The next tip that we have for you is to spread your volume out throughout the week. By this, we mean doing less working volume in a singular session, and instead spreading it out across 3-6 training days a week.
Doing this will ensure that you face the least fatigue in each session, and can really give the sets that you perform your all. The amount of work that you do does not matter if you're not able to take it to a high level of intensity/difficulty. Set quality is more important than set quantity.
Spreading out your volume will increase the productivity of the work that you do, and help you make the most out of your time in the gym whilst reducing the severity of your fatigue as well.
For example, instead of doing a crazy long workout that consists of 20 working sets for your chest, you could look to split that across two days (ideally not consecutive days for the same muscle groups), and perform two workout sessions consisting of 10 working sets for the chest instead.
This ensures you're doing productive work for all your sets, instead of just going through the motions without a real purpose and thinking about what you're doing.
Science has shown that 10-20 working sets per muscle group per week is the optimal training volume for most people. To satisfy this, 5-10 sets per muscle per session twice a week will be a great place to start if you're newer to training. The lower end will be better suited for beginners, and the higher end will be best for more advanced lifters.
So spread your volume throughout the week if you can. It reduces the fatigue you experience in a single session, and is better for the productivity of the work that you do as well. If you can, it's definitely something you should look to do.
Drink More Water
You'd think that this was pretty obvious. But no. I see too many beginners heading into the gym and smashing their workouts without ever bringing a water bottle with them. And then they wonder why they feel weak all the time and never make any meaningful progress.
In fact, studies have shown that dehydration can seriously affect athletic performance in a negative way. It can make you feel sluggish, and as if you'd just woken up from a bad night's sleep.
It's the little things that can go on to play a huge role if you're not careful. During exercise, you sweat and remove some heat from your body. This happens as your body is trying to return to its optimal temperature. However, you also lose your fluids when you sweat. And to combat this, you need to drink water. It'll prevent you from experiencing any heat stress, help you maintain proper functionality of the body and help keep you performing as well as you possibly can. Plus, you'll also feel more energized.
Did you know that our muscles are made up of nearly 79% water? Common sense should tell you that they need water to function properly. You won't be able to train very efficiently if you never give them the water that they need to stay healthy and strong. Your sets won't feel as sluggish, and you won't feel like you're barely hanging onto the workout for life.
Make Sure You Eat Before Your Workouts
This is another one that you'd expect most people to know. But lots of people go into their strength training workouts without having eaten anything, and wonder why they have absolutely no energy when they start lifting the weight.
Our bodies need something to burn as fuel when we work out. They need it for everyday life as well. Eating prior to a workout will ensure that your body has enough carbohydrates to burn as fuel when you go about your training. Plus, it'll help you store glycogen in your muscles and your liver which your muscles can use when they start to fatigue to keep them going.
Eating well before your workouts will ensure that you don't feel as slow and sluggish as you sometimes do, and can really perform as best you can, for as long as possible. And it's not a huge hassle either.
Get More Sleep
Next up on this list, look to get more sleep. The role of sleeping is to restore the body's supply of energy. And it should one again be common sense that the more intense your exercise is, the more sleep you should be getting. If you're currently sleeping less than 7 hours a night, and you're wondering why you're not feeling so great in the gym or in your everyday life, try getting more sleep!
Whether this means you have to cut down on your time spent scrolling through TikTok in bed every night, or you see if you can sleep for longer in the morning, you should take the necessary measures to ensure that you are getting enough sleep during the night. Trust us, it's well worth it. Several studies have shown that getting adequate sleep improves athletic performance and overall quality of our everyday lives.
It's not lazy to try and get more sleep. It's smart, and it should be done if you're not getting enough of it.
Sleeping more will also improve your protein synthesis and muscle recovery, which improves muscle gain over time. Your muscles actually don't grow when you're training in the gym. They grow when you rest and give them the necessary nutrition to repair themselves, and come back bigger and stronger than before. By getting enough sleep, you're giving yourself the best opportunity to make gains.
Doing More Machine Work
Many people think that lifting free weights all the time is the best option, as they engage the most muscle mass across the body.
And while this notion does hold some water, it's not a very practical approach for most people.
You see, lifting free weights does engage more musculature across the body. However, this comes at the cost of more fatigue in the central nervous system (CNS), as you're working so many more muscles at once.
Doing more of your work with machines will allow you to target your muscle groups in a more isolated way, whilst reducing the damage done to your CNS. The lack of a need for stabilization of the weights will reduce the involvement of your stabilizing muscles, and reduce the overall fatigue that you experience during your workouts. You're moving the same if not more weight, but using less overall muscles throughout the body to do so.
Lifting with machines will also allow you to place more of the load onto your target muscles, and prevent your smaller stabilizing muscles from doing too much work.
For example, this increases the mechanical tension that you place specifically on the lats during a lat pulldown, as opposed to your biceps and forearms doing a lot of the work. (Free weight counterpart would be the pull up).
So lifting with machines reduces the amount of muscle that you're engaging throughout the motion, which will in turn reduce the fatigue that you face during your workouts. Machines are also better for targeted hypertrophy and more isolation, which helps you reach your goals quicker if that's your main and primary goal with a given exercise.
Overall, fatigue can be a severely limiting factor in our workouts. And while there's nothing that we can do to completely prevent it, the 7 steps outlined in this post are a great place to start, and can be effective at reducing and helping manage fatigue if used correctly.
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