- The ability to stay alert, resilient and motivated in adverse situations – critical for all cyclists – can be trained.
- Sports psycho-biologist Professor Samuele Marcora, who researches mental fatigue at the University of Bologna, points out that “mental fatigue increases your perception of effort for the same power output, and so will decrease your performance.” Therefore, instead of burying yourself to notch up your FTP by a watt or two, improving your resilience to mental fatigue might allow you to more effectively access your fitness reserves.
- As well as having physiological effects, mental fatigue can cause a “decline in your ability to perform cognitive tasks and your ability to concentrate,” says Marcora. Given the tactical nature of road racing – or the cognitive challenge that is avoiding the potholes of our Great British B-roads – resilience to mental fatigue could make the difference that gets you in the winning break or means you stay rubber-side-down on an all-day ride.
- There are two ways to approach increasing your mental resilience. The first is concurrent brain-endurance training: this is where a cognitive task is performed at the same time as the physical task of cycling. In this way “your brain is more engaged,” says Marcora. The second is the pre-fatiguing method, which involves performing a cognitive task before a session on the bike.
Outside, Fatigue Is All in Your Head, Nick Heil, Sep 19, 2016.
- The implications are huge. If fatigue is grounded in perception, the logic goes, then an athlete can train to manage it, opening up new frontiers of performance. The theory, which Marcora calls the psychobiological model of exercise tolerance, because it combines the fields of psychology and biology, revises the long-dominant “central governor” theory, attributed to South African exercise physiologist Tim Noakes. Noakes argues that fatigue is a largely physical phenomenon that occurs when the brain signals depleted muscles that they’re out of gas.
- Marcora believes that perception is the regulatory mechanism and that it slows you down before you reach your biological limit. “There’s no physical reason for exertion to feel any harder, but when you’re mentally fatigued, it does,” he says. “Therefore you reach what you perceive as a maximal effort earlier.”
- Marcora’s research doesn’t mean that fatigue is entirely imagined. Both the brain and the body experience very real factors of exhaustion, including reduced glycogen. The point, he says, is for athletes to understand that most of us can keep going after our brains start telling us to stop.