First post, in a hopefully a series, by our newest Author, John Toomey, “The Fatigue Professor” from AUSTRALIAN WELLNESS EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Another Viewpoint on Fatigue
Back in the 80’s when I was working as a Conditioning Coach and Nutritionist for a variety of AFL Teams, players worked full time and trained 3 to 4 times a week. The dedicated players trained daily.
As the “fitness guy” we had to train those players for speed and endurance, strength, explosive power, agility and flexibility. Then the football coaches needed them for skills practice and game practice. Sometimes the players were at training for 3 hours or more.
We did a great job back then, but a question burned for me. “How much training is too much?” I wondered if the players were recovering adequately between sessions and if they were getting enough opportunity to adapt to the workloads.
Then with all of this in mind, following an unexpected or a bigger than expected loss, the coach wanted to punish the players so we would find ourselves running a training session that took us way beyond what we feared.
One famous training session at St.Kilda in the early 1980’s went from 5:00pm till 11:45pm. Two veteran players told me that session effectively ended their playing careers because they never recovered from it.
And perhaps part of what got players through was the use of performance enhancing drugs. Back then, the use was widespread. It was rarely the conditioning coaches involved because many of them, especially the ones I knew well, could not ethically support that. Players were getting them from elsewhere.
Injury levels were high, with many injuries easily relatable to fatigue. When a body is fatigued, it loses strength and it loses motor coordination and kinaesthetic awareness. Many severe knee injuries of the time, for example, could be related to fatigue.
I took a few years out of the system and came back in the 90’s and some bright young people in my profession had taken things a great deal further. They were fascinated with Adaptation Phase of training, which means the period of recovery after training that allowed the body to adapt to the stresses that had been applied to it.
These bright young guys like Darren Welch, John Quinn, David Buttifant, Bohdan Babucjek and others were working with the coaches to gain their confidence to back off on the training and get much more specific about actual training needs and required recovery time. They changed the world in AFL and I was lucky enough to be in there working with them, re-learning my craft and gaining new and deeper insights into the human body.
The Australian Institute of Sport, along with the many professional conditioning coaches around the country sharing their ideas and discoveries, lead the world in recovery techniques.
I guess you might imagine my surprise when I stepped into the Fatigue Management realm in Safety. I was deeply surprised by how little attention is focused on teaching the individual worker to better self-manage to reduce his or her own fatigue risk.
I agree that it has been important to look at rosters, shift rotations and environmental factors that affect circadian rhythms, but to gloss over fundamentally important factors is fool hardy and extremely risky.
At some point in our society, someone decided that people could not take responsibility for themselves and in making that decision, decided that people could not be trusted to be personally responsible. I disagree entirely.
This viewpoint, which I call the Victim Perspective, feeds a lot of industries. We hear things like:
Did you hear about Poor Old Jim? He had a heart attack. Or what about Poor Old Gloria. She has got terrible arthritis in both knees. And what about Poor Old Fred. His back completely gave out on him. All of these viewpoints see these ailments as something that just crept up on these people and jumped on them without warning. Poor Old things. There is not a skerrick of personal responsibility in it. So the person is more likely to assume the role of victim and reach out to anyone who will care for them, give them comfort and hopefully fix them.
Our Mega Billion Dollar Healthcare Industry is built on a victim mindset. Its enduring foundation is “no personal responsibility”.
But you look at a kid. Give them some responsibility and they thrive. It is a more natural part of who we are. When we are given the opportunity to take some responsibility we thrive. We feel good about ourselves.
I believe that for a better society and better workplaces, all people would be better served to learn higher levels of personal responsibility, especially for self-care. When an individual genuinely understands the things that create fatigue and they are given the right level of inspiration to give it a go, they get results quickly. These results give the person confidence and with the right support, confidence, knowledge and competence grow.
Once a person gets self-care sorted, you will notice them taking better care of others.
When we really fully educate and empower a workforce to prevent their own fatigue, we will see a marked increase in production, a significant reduction in injuries and a profound expansion of the workplace culture.