The following is David Emond’s second guest post on the WARRIORS blog. To view David’s first article on workout efficiency, click here. In this article, David discusses ways in which you can minimize central fatigue in order to increase performance. Enjoy! – Austin
By: David Emond
Since my last article on efficiency, I feel like some people may have taken my advice to heart. During my gym traveling escapades, I’ve noticed some real efficient individuals! Not only can they get their workouts in, they can read a book, can talk on their phones with friends and I wouldn’t be surprised if I soon saw someone cooking a meal in between squats.
Sarcasm aside, there are a lot of people missing out on optimal gains because of their lack of mental focus during their workouts. No matter what your goals, in order to get better, you need to focus during your training sessions. Mental focus is vital for a successful workout.
Fatigue: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!
We’ve all heard of the term “fatigue”. At the muscular level, it refers to the inability to produce an expected force. There are two types of neuromuscular fatigue: central fatigue and peripheral fatigue. We’ll be focusing on central fatigue.
Central fatigue encompasses the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the motor neurons controlling your muscles). This means that at any level within these two systems, something can go wrong to decrease muscular force production. To perform better, you need to take advantage of ways to minimize this type of fatigue.
Use Your Brain!
In terms of control, thoughts start at the brain and a message works it’s way down to the muscles. Your thought patterns can, in fact, affect your performance. Studies have shown that motivated individuals are able to recruit a much higher number of motor units*, which results in greater force production. This means a positive and confident attitude before a big lift or event can increase performance.
*A motor unit consists of a motor neuron and all the muscle fibers it innervates
Visualizing the movements you are about to perform actually primes the nervous system by activating the pathways to the muscle. When visualizing, you need to be completely focused. Avoid all distractions and picture yourself going through the movement patterns of the exercise. Imagine the stresses of the weight and executing the movement with perfection. It is important to keep things realistic — you’re not Hercules, so don’t pretend to be.
The Fat Tongue
One method to help with relaxation and focus during your visualization is called the “fat tongue”. Dr. Stu McGill describes this technique as slightly tilting your head back and allowing your tongue to relax and fall to the back of your mouth. Combine the fat tongue with proper breathing and visualization exercises before a lift to feel more “pumped” and improve results.
The Music Debate
There have been a lot of studies focusing on the effect of music on performance. The evidence is pretty enticing, but you must always take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve personally experienced a better mental drive with music. Believe me, there’s nothing I want to do more than get an intense workout in if Iron Maiden is blasting in the background.
Music has been shown to motivate individuals (although the music has to fit the individual). It has also been shown to act as a distraction to pain. Distractions can help an individual continue to produce higher muscular forces since fatigue is lowered with lower levels of perceived pain.
Music can also act as a distraction to your focus and your workout itself. Sometimes individuals can get carried away listening to a favourite song. Remember the visualization process? It’s pretty difficult to get that optimal neural drive with poor focus and lack of visualization.
The effect of music varies with the situation. Listening to music can be beneficial during a conditioning session, however, it can be detrimental if you are attempting a squat PR. Try different combinations to see which gives you the best performance. My advice? Get amped with your favourite songs before your workout or during warm-up for that extra motivation. Once lifting time comes, turn off the noise and get in the zone!
We’re All Best Friends
Aside from your own focus, verbal encouragement during a lift or event has also been shown to increase performance. Find good workout partners who will cheer you on. Verbal encouragement can act in the same way as music does, so make sure your partner isn’t yelling in your ear at the wrong time!
Next time you go to the gym, remember these little things that can help to improve your performance. Work on that mental drive, visualize your movements, bring in a good workout partner, and avoid useless distractions (leave your damned cell phones in your locker!!!). In time, you should see results. Who knows, maybe this is all you need to get past that stubborn plateau!
Have you used visualizations, the fat tongue, or music to improve your performance in the gym? What other techniques do you recommend to reduce central fatigue and/or increase motivation? Comment below and remember to “like” us on facebook!
My name is David Emond and I am currently a 2nd year Kin student at UW. As a former junior hockey player, I spend my summers as a trainer with my specialty being hockey players. I’ve been fortunate enough to help out in Dr. Stu McGill’s human biomechanics lab, and because of that, I’m passionate about constantly finding new ways to improve athletic performance. If you ever see me around feel free to come have a chat about anything fitness!
- Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance 4th Ed. by Stu McGill