Training Tuesdays: Jetlag & Workouts

Last week I experienced hellish workout after hellish workout. My muscles felt inexplicably fatigued. I had zero endurance. I wondered how two weeks without workouts could make such a marked difference, especially when our vacation was relatively active.

But then, suddenly, Saturday’s workout was a whole different ballgame and then Sunday’s workout felt even better.  I started to wonder if perhaps it wasn’t two weeks sans workouts, but rather jetlag that was the cause of my ails. It never occurred to me to consider this since, from a sleep perspective, I got back on track very quickly.  As it turns out, a good night’s sleep doesn’t mean my internal clock was back on track.


In the grand tradition of my half-assed research attempts, I did a quick Google search and found that jetlag can indeed impact physical performance. Though it seems research on the topic is both inconclusive and sparse, I was able to cobble together some potential reasons why it can take an average of 5 days to get back to normal workouts:

  •  Circadian rhythm is still…marching to the beat of its own drummer (see what I did there?): Turns out that when external cues (lighting, etc.) don’t jive with the sleep cycle you were previously on, your internal rhythm doesn’t just adjust on a dime.
  • Direction of travel can impact the speed with which your internal clock readjusts. One article I found cited that, when travelling westward, your body will adjust by about 90 minutes a day.  That aligns perfectly with my 4 or 5 days of terrible workouts.
  • Estimates show anywhere from a 10% to 30% drop in performance, though studies are conflicted in whether this is actually due to physiological changes vs. mental fatigue and decreased motivation. To me, that differentiation is irrelevant since both result in decreased performance.

Perhaps I’m simply rationalizing a crappy week of workouts, but I can honestly say that I experienced an unmistakeable feeling of muscle weakness for the first few days. I was excited to get back to working out so I don’t believe it was simply mental or motivational fatigue. The sudden upswing in my workouts also supports jetlag-induced weakness as the real culprit.

The long and the short of it: I’m giving myself a hall pass on last week’s workouts and will firmly stand behind jetlag as the key contributor to a bad week. I dare you to challenge me.


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