Whether you’re running an ultramarathon, road marathon or doing a high intensity training session, there are times when you get to the point where you just want to quit, or feel like you can’t go any faster. What causes these feelings of running out of fuel or your muscles having no power left? New research shows that your body may not actually be burned out, instead you are getting mixed signals from your brain. They key is to condition your mind to get past that moment when you feel like giving up. While running or training, with every step or rep you are doing, your muscles are sending signals to the brain, telling it what they need in order to keep going; fuel, oxygen and reporting their level of fatigue. The brain reacts by adjusting the muscle contractions accordingly. If you can train your brain to respond to muscle signals differently, then you will be able to push harder and keep going for much longer.
The first step is to understand and figure out your fatigue triggers, what signal makes you want to give up. These triggers can come from one of two places; “central fatigue” or “peripheral fatigue”. When you feel like you have heavy legs at the end of a long run or your arms are trembling as you lower into another set of push-ups during a bootcamp session, that’s peripheral fatigue; a decrease in your muscle’s ability to generate more power. We just assumed that this type of fatigue and signal from the brain was dictating the threshold at which point your muscles were completely done. But new research has shown that your brain can actually underestimate how much energy you have left or how much harder you could push, it then reacts by sending a signal asking your muscles for less effort.
Central fatigue involves the central nervous system; from your brain to the connections to the nerves that are involved in muscle contraction. Central fatigue can be the result of changes in various neurotransmitters in the brain that occur in the body and mind; triggers can be life stress, lack of sleep etc… Often your body will first experience “peripheral fatigue” followed by “central fatigue”.
Tips to avoid “Hitting the Wall”;
1.Cheat the brain– Your performance is not directly limited by muscle fatigue, but more by perception of effort. Your brain is telling you that you can’t keep going or run faster, when in fact you create your own limits because of what your brain thinks you’re feeling rather than what actually is going on in your muscles and body. What matters most is the internal battle between your sense of effort and your desire to quit or not push as hard. You have to find any trick that reduces the perception of effort to improve your endurance performance and keep going. Keep thinking of yourself as powerfully positive, tell yourself “I can make it up this hill”, “I can sprint until the next point” or “I can make it to the finish line”! Make your brain associate exercise or running with something that feels good- “Fake it”! When you start getting tired you start to frown, have negative thoughts, switch it up and start smiling, this will help to deactivate the muscles that trigger thoughts of exhaustion and fatigue. When you lighten up your mental load, you also lighten up your muscles so you can go longer and stronger.
2.Push through the burn– During intense runs or power workouts, your muscles require a lot of oxygen from your heart and lungs to power through the movement. But when you push hard or go long, your aerobic system can’t keep up with the energy demands; this is fatigue! But burning legs or shaky muscles are just a heads up that you’re getting closer to exhaustion- that’s not necessarily your real limit. Your brain always protects your muscles from zeroing out to preserve emergency store, but you can teach your brain to respond less aggressively to these triggers. Practice and training will train your brain to react differently and allow you to push harder and longer. So when your brain tells you that you can’t run faster or longer, or that you can’t do another push up- just ignore it, raise your motivational stakes and tell yourself “I can do it”!
Train Hard, Eat Right, Feel Great!