In pursuit of programming mastery, my weekly readings have been centered around the subject of “fatigue”. I believe If someone can understand the mechanisms of fatigue they could program workouts to bypass its effects or, at the very least, delay them. In doing so athletes will become stronger and produce more power consistently over a wide range of durations. I have compartmentalized fatigue into two categories. Survival, which is the basis of how fatigue happens, and Thrive, which is how to adapt and surpass fatigue.
Instinctually we are hardwired to survive. Our bodies want to be safe. In fact your Central Nervous System (CNS) is constantly monitoring everything in real time just to make sure of it. So it’s no surprise that the CNS is the control center for fatigue. This might come as a surprise but fatigue doesn’t originate in your muscles. Your muscles only send messages via the nervous system saying they are “working hard”. Your brain gives you the “feeling” of fatigue by decoding the messages received. Yes, fatigue is a “feeling”, just like being sad or angry. You can read more about this theory from the great mind of Professor Noakes here.
We will use “Fran” as an example to explain further,
By the time you hear 3,2,1… and throughout the entire WOD your body is monitoring your emotional and mental state, hydration, oxygenation, ATP production, how recovered you are from previous workouts, prior experiences with the weight prescribed, duration, movements, motivation, self-belief, respiration, movement rhythm, heat, etc. Every second during the workout the CNS is making decisions based on what it takes to survive the stresses placed on the body. The CNS is very conservative when making decisions! Only allowing 30-50% of muscles to be recruited during prolonged exercise and 60% during max efforts. In other words, it doesn’t let you get close to dying, or achieve max power output. But, in rare cases, this survival mechanism can be manipulated or inhibited. Take the following news story about a 22 year old girl lifting a 3,500 pound jeep off her dad. The limits of the human body is still in exploration. This is even true for us, no matter how old we are.
How do we thrive in the face of fatigue? From a programming standpoint, I can trick the body into working harder by manipulating sets, reps, and rest ranges, or coupling certain exercises together to get max power output. As for athletes, it is a choice they must make. Below is an excerpt from Professor Noakes article:
“In the case of a close finish the CGM (Central Governing Model) was clearly successful – neither athlete died. But if the second runner did not die, why did he not run just a little faster and so approach death a little closer? For surely he could have sped up by just a fraction without dying? Yet he did not. Why not?
My unproven hypothesis is it is that in the case of a close finish, physiology does not determine who wins. Rather somewhere in the final section of the race, the brains of the second, and lower placed finishers accept their respective finishing positions and no longer choose to challenge for a higher finish.”
“Accepted their respective finishing positions”…
This statement is haunting on many levels, not only from a psychological perspective, but also how it mirrors our experiences in the gym on a daily basis. Such as, making choices mid-workout whether to pick up the bar, go faster, get in one more rep, or succumb to the feeling of fatigue. With that said, it is not about what place you take in a workout, but the choices you make regarding “effort” that matters most.
I would like to say nobody will notice what you choose, but that would be a lie. Plato said it best, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” I have seen athletes time and time again make the conscious decision to push themselves to unimagined limits. Regardless of what place they are in during a workout or competition, it is always noticed and many times becomes a catalyst for others to do the same.
Things to Consider
– Are you exploring new limits or enjoying your current level of
– Is setting goals helping or hurting? Is setting goals limiting what we can imagine?
– Does “Fitness” mean the absence of fatigue? Or is “fitness” learning to tolerate/desensitize ourselves while experiencing more fatigue in an effort to achieve self exploration?
– Are you Thriving or Surviving?
-Coach Aaron Davis