One of the great benefits you’ll find on your fitness journey is becoming more in tune with your body. You sleep better, have more energy, and learn about hunger cues. But one of the most difficult things – even for elite athletes – is learning when to push and when to rest.
It’s a difficult balance, trying to push yourself to improvement while at the same time avoiding injury and overtraining. For the most part, your body has something extra to give at the end of a walk, run, or workout. When you think you’ve gone as far as you can, your body generally still has more in the tank.
This is due to a biological process called the “Central Governor Theory.” Here’s how it works (from research done by scientist Tim Noakes:
“The power output by muscles during exercise is continuously adjusted in regard to calculations made by the brain in regard to a safe level of exertion. These neural calculations factor in earlier experience with strenuous exercise, the planning duration of the exercise, and the present metabolic state of the body. These brain models ensure that body homeostasis is protected, and an emergency reserve margin is maintained.This neural control adjusts the number of activated skeletal muscle motor units, a control which is subjectively experienced as fatigue. This process, though occurring in the brain, is outside conscious control.”
TL;DR: your brain (your Central Governor) will always stop your body from pushing in order to protect your muscles. It will signal fatigue in increasing amounts in order to prevent damage to the body. Your brain runs the show, your muscles are just along for the ride.
This process can bar you from reaching your full fitness potential by making you stop too soon. And it is unconscious – so you don’t even realize it is happening. So unfortunately, breaking this process and tricking your central governor is going to take conscious effort. When you get tired towards the end of a workout, remember this, and try and power through.
So as you progress, challenge yourself to push through fatigue (NOT pain!) and add just a little bit more to your walk, run, or workout. More often than not, you’ll find that you have more in the tank than you thought!