Pushing to the Limits and Beyond!

Pushing the LimitsYou’re eight hard minutes into your set, your lungs are burning, your legs are cramping and your grip is more silly putty than Kung Fu like, everything in your being is screaming STOP! This is where most of us will throw in the towel and stumble off, but what if it’s wasn’t a physical but a mental block?

Lately there has been a lot of new science coming out that’s been leaning hard towards the latter.

Traditionally we’ve been taught that our muscles get tired because we either run out of gas or build up too much lactic acid-and that’s why we stop. The problem is that no one has ever proved that muscles were getting too little oxygen or fuel. As a matter of fact most studies showed that we never recruit more that 50% of our muscle fibers during any intense exercise.

Dr. Timothy Noakes one of the world’s most prominent experts in the area of exercise physiology realized that since we activate our muscles through the brain, our brain must also be responsible for how long, hard and fast we could exercise… This certainly makes sense.

The more research that Dr. Noakes conducted on his “central governor theory” the more the evidence mounted.

So to what degree can the governor in your head control performance?

Suppose you were told to snatch a 20 kg kettlebell for 15:00 minutes without keeping track of your reps and not to switch arms until the half way point, but what you’re not told is that the clock you’ll be using is just a tad slow.

At the 15:00 minute mark you end your lift, even though with the slow clock you unknowingly ended up doing a 20:00 minute set… BOOM!

So what happened?

Your mental governor established a performance limit of 15 minutes but that in no way reflected your actual fitness level and ability.

The fact is that your brain always sabotages your physical performance, when you feel fatigued and done, it’s only an emotion. It has zip to do with your actual physical state.

When brain activity was measured on cyclists as they peddled to their limits, the limbic lobe (the emotional center of the brain) lit up as their intensity increased and in turn the cyclists began to slow and show signs of exhaustion.

The more active their limbic lobes became, the more emotion they tied to exertion and the more they began to disengage in the activity.

As anyone who is active or competes knows, performance can differ drastically from one set or day to the next. Physiologically we might not have changed but what may have changed is our mental state.

What researchers also found was that those athletes who were able to detach themselves from their emotions, such as, not thinking about their laboured breathing or burning legs, almost always ended up performing better.

In competition you are constantly checking in and evaluating your body’s emotions and states, the key is to not look or think of them as a positive or a negative, but as a neutral or grey area, otherwise your brain will begin to set limits… And nothing kills a set quicker than limits.

Our biology sets our true limits (health, age, musculature, etc.), but how close we get to those limits is determined solely on what we choose to believe.

Believe and you shall achieve.

By: Coach Tim Bell

OKC / IKSFA Level 1 Coach and Competitor

ITA / WTF 6th Dan Blackbelt Instructor



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