So you’re training hard and ‘hit the wall’ and feel your body just can’t give anymore. Here is a study to consider:
Samuele Marcora, an exercise physiologist at Bangor University in Wales, first started to question physical failure in exercise after working with victims of a muscle-wasting disease that caused extremes of fatigue. He noticed that their perceptions of how tired they were, fluctuated much more quickly than their actual condition. With no other way of explaining the rapid changes, he theorised that they were regulated by the brain.
When he started applying this idea to sports science, Marcora came up with an experiment that changed how people think about fitness. After recruiting 10 athletes from Bangor University’s rugby team, he put them on exercise bikes, hooked them up to power meters and put them all through the same three-part test.
First, they were told to pedal as hard as possible for just five seconds. Between them, the test subjects managed an average wattage of 1,075, which is about what you’d expect of well-trained athletes.
Second, they were told to pedal at a fixed power level, averaging out at a reasonable 242 watts, until they simply couldn’t sustain it any more. This part of the process usually took 10 to 15 minutes. Finally, with no rest after finishing part two, they were told to pedal as hard as they could for another five-second, all-out effort.
According to the catastrophe theory, the subjects shouldn’t have been able to put out more than 242 watts, since they’d just failed at that level thanks to some sort of physical breakdown. Instead, however, they managed an average of 731 watts.
They’d stopped because they couldn’t stand the pain of pedalling any more, but when they were told to go for another five seconds they cranked up the intensity – because they only had to do it for five seconds.
The well-trained, mentally tough sportsmen hadn’t suffered some sort of physical catastrophe. They’d given up. Next time you’re feeling spent at training and about to stop, ask yourself if that is REALLY all you’ve got!