What to do if your fitness workouts leave you feeling lethargic

During difficult training cycles, it is crucial to self-assess and determine if you are experiencing negative performance outcomes. While you may not feel at your best during your workouts, you may also notice that your performance isn’t as low as you’d hoped. Consider this email from a potential Special Ops candidate who is working but may not prioritize recovery:

Hi Stew, I run 25 miles a week, swim 5,000-6,000 yards a week (3-4 swims) and lift / calisthenics 4 times a week. This week alone, I experienced the following:

  • An easy 4 mile run at a jogging pace sent my heart rate soaring to around 180-190 BPM
  • Feeling lethargic during work
  • General pain around my legs
  • Feeling a little sick without having a cold (runny nose and lethargy)
  • Running and swimming have been much slower this week.

Have you or your candidates experienced overtraining? How would you resolve/recover from this? Thank you, Max

At most, several factors could be contributing to your current performance, including lower caloric intake (not enough fuel), allergies, excessive caffeine consumption before running, or poor sleep quality.

Can you overtrain? Yes, but if you’ve made logical progress over months to get to your current fitness levels, you’re not necessarily overdoing it. Overtraining or under-recovery – it’s the same.

You’re not doing too much, but how long you’ve been training is also relative to your recent history. If you start with two hours a day of training, it can be difficult for the first few months. “Doing too much” is also related to your athletic history and tactical form progression.

Any special ops selection program is a lesson in recovering from overtraining. Do you do any mobility days, like the ones I have enrolled in my programs? These easier days focus on non-impact cardio, stretching, massage and pool skills (waterproofing techniques, stepping, swimming). Placing mobility days in the middle and end of a week has been helpful for both recovery and building water skills and mobility to improve performance with general water confidence challenges.

Mixing heavy lifting or higher rep calisthenics (upper/lower body) can still make you sore, as higher rep volume, long-distance cardio, and heavy lifting don’t mix well for to recovery and performance improvement. Trying to get better at cardio/calisthenics events while lift heavy weights it doesn’t mesh well You can maintain all of the above, but looking for performance improvements in strength while running/swimming hard may not work. The same goes for working on running/swimming faster while lifting heavy weights. When you mix fitness elements at opposite ends of the fitness spectrum, you tend not to improve at anything and feel burnt out.

To answer your question and issues specifically:

I have seen caffeine intake before cardio events raise the heart rate too much. If you’re not pre-workout or drinking caffeine, make sure you’re hydrated. If it’s not an easy fix, consider seeing a doctor to check for heart abnormalities.

Make sure your post-exercise nutrition is balanced in all macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and you get enough calories to function after your workout.

Be sure to stretch your legs after running, doing push-ups, swimming with fins, lifting or doing leg calisthenics. If necessary, cut the volume in half for a week.

It’s allergy season in most parts of the United States, so consider a daily allergy medicine.

Given all of the above, it’s normal to see a drop in performance. Take a few days off, add a mobility day with easy swim workouts and a rest day, and see how you feel. If you haven’t been neglecting nutrition, sleep, stretching, foam rolling, or excessive caffeine use, see your doctor and get a physical if a few days off doesn’t help.

One of the systems we use with our programming is three weeks of calisthenics and focused cardio (no lifting) and one week of lifting with reduced calisthenics and cardio (50%). This “unloading” is helpful for re-resting the joints and maintaining strength gains. You can flip it around and do three weeks of lifting and a week of calisthenics and cardio ‘unloading’. We call this our Seasonal Tactical Fitness block periodization training model.

Read the article and watch this special operations nutrition video with Army nutritionist Lt. Col. Nick Barringer.

Read the article and watch the video about recovery for intense military training.

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