Have you ever walked into the gym feeling relatively rested only to beat your head against the wall and repeatedly fail even when you know the weight is light for you? I know I have. It’s a clean and jerk you could do in your sleep but for some reason your body won’t cooperate? Do you listen to your body or do you stomp your feet, dig in your heels and put more weight on the bar only to fail miserably and somehow stub your toe or hit your chin in the process? (as I have done)
Avelyne recently posted about her experience with over-training leading up to a meet (Watch, out chica, there’s a bus coming your way!). What she didn’t mention was that she was on the fourth week of a training program where you spend weeks 1-3 preparing for the “beatdown” in week 4. Her dedication to her training inadvertently sabotaged her meet. It was my fault I didn’t rip the barbell away from her that day and send her home to rest. Not only were her muscles tired at the end of such a tough training week, but so was her brain.
What you guys are experiencing is neural fatigue. Unlike muscular fatigue (the burn during tabata squats, your burn out sets, and the push ups in Cindy), neural fatigue is a whole lot sneakier and harder to spot. Your muscles may or may not feel sore, you may have gotten plenty of sleep, and you may have even eaten Paleo all day! Dr. Phil Wagner of Sparta Point Symposium uses a great analogy to describe NF:
If the body is a car, then the nervous system is the driver. The nervous system is a network of nerves that transmits sensory impulses (signals) from the brain to the muscles by way of the spinal cord. The nervous system, aside from directing every function of the body, ranging from hormones to heart function, also governs all voluntary movement by alternating the action of muscular contraction and relaxation. In a review out of the University of Queensland, Neural Fatigue (NF) was defined as an involuntary reduction in voluntary activation.
Unfortunately, scientists are currently unsure on the exact cause of NF, though the most likely culprit is a combination of factors. The major theories include, but are not limited to, decreased reflexes, muscle damage causing impaired function, and decreased athlete motivation.
I know as a CrossFitting athlete, most of us have adopted the ’embrace the suck’ philosophy of gutting it through wods and pushing through the pain. However, there are times, particularly during complex and/or heavy lifts where you have to stop and listen to your body. If your brain (central nervous system) decides that it is tired and doesn’t want to go with the program and it’s a max snatch day, we’ll have you snatch balance, overhead squat, or even front squat instead. What you don’t want is to put in multiple reps with bad form or worse, injure yourselves. **
You know how many muscles need to be working from head to toe for a back squat. Just imagine that you unrack a heavy bar and your brain fails to tell your butt to sit back or to brace your abs, etc. You can be in for a world of hurt, especially because it takes a good deal of coordination just to dump a heavy squat and get out of the way!
Let your brain take a break and come back fresh the next day instead of risking injury. Our goal every day is for you guys to train hard and come back the next day to do the same again.
Hang Power Snatch 3×3