YOU ARE TOUGH ENOUGH
Expert advice to achieve the body breakthrough you’ve been sweating for.
What makes your muscles cry uncle when you’re trying to hold a plank, go the distance on a long run, or do speed drills? New research says they may not actually be tapped out but instead are getting mixed messages from your brain.
In other words, when you’re putting in the workout time, it’s your mind you need to condition to get past that moment when you want to quit.
Here’s why: With every step or rep, your muscles are sending signals to the brain, telling it what they need in order to keep going – namely, oxygen and other fuel – and reporting their level of fatigue. The brain then responds, adjusting muscle contraction demands accordingly, says Markus Amann, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah. “If we can train our brain to respond to muscle signals in a certain way, we can actually push harder and for longer,” he says.
The first step is to understand your fatigue triggers. The signal to throw in the towel during a workout can come from one of two places: your central nervous system or your muscles. What experts call “central fatigue” originates from the former region, while “peripheral fatigue” originates from the latter.
You’ve likely experienced heavy legs in the last kilometres of a race or trembling arms as you lower yourself for a final set of push-ups in bootcamp. That’s peripheral fatigue, a decrease in your muscles’ ability to generate power. Until recently, it was assumed that peripheral fatigue dictates a certain threshold at which your muscles give up.
But new research in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that the brain can actually underestimate how much gas you have left in the tank, and in response, ask your muscles for less effort.
In the study, cyclists completed three rides at varying intensities until they reached exhaustion: At sprint speed, they lasted an average of three minutes; at race pace, they lasted 11 minutes; and at a challenging endurance pace, they lasted 42 minutes.