Danny M. O'Dell, MA. CSCS*D Strength coach
Danny M. O'Dell, MA. CSCS*D Strength coach

 
 

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STRENGTH AND POWER
TRAINING INFORMATION FOR THE SERIOUS ATHLETE

Fatigue: Is it in the muscles, the mind, or the heart

 


Fatigue: Is it in the muscles, the mind, or the heart

Dr. Timothy Noakes, MD. postulates that fatigue originates within the structural makeup of the heart itself and is thus controlled by a ‘Central Governor’. This model of fatigue “proposes the existence of a governor that monitors the state of oxygenation of the heart and perhaps other organs (such as the brain and diaphragm) as well.” (1)

When the oxygenation levels to the heart approach a critical stage of what is deemed safe by the organism the motor cortex of the brain stops recruiting additional muscles to continue the activity at the present pace or intensity. Without new muscle fibers recruited into the activity, the body experiences fatigue. This sensation “is always sensed exclusively by the brain, even though it appears to be coming from(2) somewhere else. These signals of fatigue may manifest as muscular exhaustion or various degrees of discomfort in the musculature.

Following the lack of additional muscle fiber recruitment, the work output of both the heart and muscles begins to drop off. This leads to a reduced demand for oxygen at the heart. With this reduced demand for oxygen the heart is automatically protected from damage which would occur if it were to be without enough oxygen to function correctly.

Accordingly, “this model predicts that maximum exercise capacity is a process, coordinated subconsciously by the brain, limited by the maximum capacity of the coronary blood flow to supply oxygen to the heart, and regulated to prevent heart damage during maximal exercise.” (3)

With that out of the way here is a new definition of fatigue:

Recall that fatigue is traditionally defined as “the inability to sustain the desired or required force”(4). Some authorities hypothesize that fatigue is an emotion or sensation and not a direct physical phenomenon. These interpretations of fatigue seems to indicate that changes in the brain commands to the muscles signals the onset of the fatigue condition in our bodies. Added to this theory is the contribution from Noakes, T who believes that fatigue is the ‘manifestation of a change in pacing strategy’. 

Summary

Fatigue may not be what it appears, i.e. a physical deterioration of muscle and oxygen utilization. Instead according to this new theory it may well be controlled by the hearts ability to maintain the critical blood flow within the system, specifically to the actively engaged muscles.

(1) Lore of Running, Noakes, T, MD. Human Kinetics 2003
(2) Ibid
(3) Ibid
(4) Ibid

 

 

 

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