In the early 2000s, South African MD and sport scientist Tim Noakes coined a concept he calls the “central governor” which flew in the face of modern theory on fatigue. For the majority, the belief was that fatigue (and us subsequently slowing down) occurs when there is catastrophic failure in one or more body systems. In Noakes’ view, the central governor (otherwise known as the brain) is what limits endurance performance.
Until Noakes, the belief was that the body’s physiological response to effort such as lactate build-up, rise in core body temperature, and muscle failure would directly cause the body to slow down. In this theory, Noakes turns this upside down and says that the brain uses these as signals and forces us to slow down before failure of these body systems occurs.
This is backed up by another study where cyclists were asked to ride until they absolutely could not push the pedals another turn. As soon as they hit this point and stopped pedaling, they were asked to sprint. All were able to sprint to some capacity. This shows the body had not reached complete failure yet but rather the mind had stopped the athletes short of this.
If Noakes’ theory is correct, and I believe it is, we are limited only by our minds in achieving our genetic potential. I am not saying that we can all run a sub 2-hour marathon, but we ALL have the ability to go faster and further than our minds will allow. If we can ignore these physiological signals just a little more, we will find a level that we did not know we had.
So, what is the most important byproduct of training? I believe it is training your mind.
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