When Pushing to the Point of Failure is Just Too Much…
it’s all in your head
For those of you who feel that pushing yourself to the point of muscle failure is just too much sometimes, there’s another study out that explains that too. In this study, researchers found that the old adage, “it’s all in your head” is true in that, typically, it’s your mind that limits you from pushing to failure, not your body. It’s taken more than a century for scientists to figure this out, and to explain how your brain works in conjunction with your body to ensure that you stop exercising before physical harm develops—a key to overall improvement in your exercise routine.
The study, which is aptly titled: “Fatigue is a Brain-Derived Emotion that Regulates the Exercise Behavior to Ensure the Protection of Whole Body Homeostasis,” explains that the fatigue you may experience when exercising vigorously is a mental or emotional regulator mechanism designed to protect your body from excessive harm. It may sound strange, but the explanation they offer is actually quite sensible. The authors write:
“An influential book written by A. Mosso in the late nineteenth century proposed that fatigue that “at first sight might appear an imperfection of our body, is on the contrary one of its most marvelous perfections. The fatigue increasing more rapidly than the amount of work done saves us from the injury which lesser sensibility would involve for the organism” so that “muscular fatigue also is at bottom an exhaustion of the nervous system.”
It has taken more than a century to confirm Mosso’s idea that both the brain and the muscles alter their function during exercise and that fatigue is predominantly an emotion, part of a complex regulation, the goal of which is to protect the body from harm…the CNS [central nervous system] regulates exercise specifically to insure that each exercise bout terminates whilst homeostasis is retained in all bodily systems.”
Furthermore, the idea that your athletic performance is based purely on your body’s physiological and metabolic responses appears to be false, according to this research, because “subconscious and conscious mental decisions made by winners and losers, in both training and competition, are the ultimate determinants of both fatigue and athletic performance.”
…as the article suggests, our perceived physical limitations are often “all in your head”. So the question is, is it necessary to push past the point of mental toughness?…that depends.
What is your exercise goal?…to lose some weight so that you look better in those jeans? Simply to improve overall health? Improve your fitness so you can run a marathon?
It may not be apparent, but exercising for maximal health or training for maximal fitness are two distinctly different objectives…let me explain. While of course training for a marathon or any other specific activity that requires a high level of ‘fitness’ is much better for your health than being a cigarette smoking couch potato, it is often NOT best for maximal health…training at intensity levels required for a high level of fitness is often very hard on your musculoskeletal, adrenal and cardiovascular systems.
So for you exercise zealots, if you’re like me and simply enjoy training for certain levels of ‘fitness’, as long as you are not pushing through physical pain, injuries or chronic fatigue, go for it…I understand what it can do for your mind and that goes a long way. However, if you are pounding away the miles and pushing through that knee and hip pain, or making sure you get to the gym come hell or high water, all in the name of improved ‘health’, you may want to reconsider your approach.