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March 29, 2011
It Is All in Your Head
What if I told you that being tired from running had little to do with your body and more to do with your brain? Research is actually now supporting the old coach’s theory that being tired it is “all in your head.” Now that doesn’t mean to keep training because you can push through the pain, but it does require some deeper explanations of why we need to pursue exercise for greater endurance. Samuele Marcora out of the Bangor University in Wales has established a new paradigm, a theory known as the psychobiological model of endurance performance. I know that is a tough label to swallow, but Marcora goes on to explain that,” endurance performance is directly determined exclusively by psychological factors. The two most important ones are perception of effort and motivation.” Marcora is not saying muscles and physiological factors, like the cardiovascular system’s ability to pump blood/oxygen, have no role in endurance. They just serve to mostly affect perception of effort or motivation. Hard to believe, I know, but Marcora is not the only scientist to support this idea of perception of fatigue rather than the physical failure of the body. Others in the past have provided supporting evidence for the brain’s chief role in feeling tired, or at least choosing to stop further exercise. In the most recent 2010 study, Marcora found athletes’ muscles decreased their performance during prolonged exercise, so the brain has to work harder to provide a similar output as exercise continues. Hence the previous recommendations to provide amino acids to athletes during workouts (see Sparta Point 1/12/11); to prevent fatigue, or at least the perception of it. So you can continue to push yourself, but the best option is to stop if you truly cannot continue, or simply do not CHOOSE to continue as we now know. The direct reasons for fatigue are endless, but do not include muscular mechanisms. Maybe you don’t want to play your sport or are involved for the wrong reasons, maybe you need to find another type of exercise that you actually enjoy, maybe you need to sleep or eat better to feel more energized, and the list goes on, but you get the idea. So we know endurance is limited by your perception of fatigue, but we also know that you cannot CHOOSE a bigger jump, a faster sprint, or a skilled play with the ball. So use that conditioning time to play your sport or get stronger. In the end, these pursuits of your sport skill and weightlifting will also make you mentally stronger, which will also give you better endurance.
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March 29, 2011
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4 thoughts on “It Is All in Your Head”

  1. as a distance runner i have always believed that as a safety mechanism the brain sends messages to slow down or stop long before any physical threshold is reached. A big part of distance training is to develop the habit and build the confidence that you can break through this mental throttle without causing physical problems. Once you do, the sky is the limit.

  2. I have rock climbing for 7years and this is so true. When you set to mind right and start with mental rehearsal… no route is impossible.

  3. Timothy Noakes was actually the first proponent of this theory. It is known as the Central Governor model of fatigue. Google him

  4. Thank you Jacob, I am well aware of Noakes theory, though it is always hard to be so thorough in a short blog post meant for athletes rather than scientists.

    Noakes was one of the first to propose endurance limits lie above the shoulders, but the mechanisms behind it have been contradicted and disproven by Marcora. Noakes proposed that feedback signals sent to the brain from the muscles and other organs during exercise are responsible for perception of effort. However, Marcora’s study provides strong evidence that this is not the case, placing an even greater role on the brain to maintain output.

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