“I give up!” – is that your brain telling you during a high effort exercise or running?
Cause: Effort overload
Occurrence: Anytime you’re pushing your limits
Antidote: Train your brain.
It hurts too much. That’s the simplest way to explain why you don’t push a little harder during those crucial final miles. But it’s not quite right. Pain—the feeling that makes you go “ouch!”—isn’t what holds you back. When researchers at Great Britain’s University of Kent ran electric current through the brains of volunteers to dull their sense of pain, using a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), it didn’t improve how subjects felt during exercise or how they performed in a ride to exhaustion on a stationary bike.
What matters, according to exercise physiologist Samuele Marcora, Ph.D., one of the authors of the Kent study, is effort: the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop. All the other forms of fatigue—oxygen deficits, metabolite accumulation, overheating, dehydration, muscle damage, fuel depletion, and so on—contribute to your overall sense of how hard it would be to maintain your pace or speed. Effort, in other words, combines all the different fatigue signals that emanate from every corner of your body—and the moment of truth in any race corresponds to maximum effort.
Runners spend most of their training time trying to make their muscles, heart, and lungs stronger and more efficient. But Marcora’s theory suggests that altering your subjective sense of effort is another way to run faster. Studies have successfully altered effort—and endurance—using techniques such as subliminal messages (smiling faces flashed for a fraction of a second), electric brain stimulation (with electrodes positioned to alter perceived effort instead of pain), motivational self-talk (Feeling good!), and “brain endurance training” (computerized tasks completed while exercising on a stationary bike).
In short train your brain and never give up! 🙂