No pain no gain: How to use sensory stimuli to reduce fatigue during exercise

No pain no gain

Can you recall a time when you were exercising and had to stop? Most people stop exercising because of unpleasant sensations such as muscle fatigue and breathlessness.

Sometimes we are able to neutralise the effects of fatigue and continue exercising for a bit longer or at a higher intensity. How can we achieve this?

Bigliassi and colleagues tried to come up with some of the answers. They assessed the brain’s electrical activity during execution of potentially painful arm exercise to further understanding of this phenomenon.

The volunteer participants were asked to maximally squeeze a handgrip dynamometer (i.e., a device to measure grip strength) for 30 secs while watching different video clips.

A motivational video clip portraying a well-known arm-wrestling bout drawn from the movie Over The Top was used as a means by which to stimulate and motivate participants.

The researchers identified that motivational video clips have the potential to enhance exercise performance and influence the electrical responses in the brain. The motivational stimulus up- or down-regulated some brain waves during exercise and made the task seem easier than under normal circumstances.

The researchers speculated that low-frequency waves are upregulated during exercise in order to slow the body down and thus force us to stop. Contrastingly, high-frequency waves can counteract the effects of fatigue and enhance performance (e.g., prolonging time to exhaustion).

This means that when we feel ‘motivated’ we can partially neutralise what our brain wants us to do (i.e., stop exercising) and exercise for longer or at higher intensities. Music-related interventions also have the potential to elicit similar responses, but the most important thing to bear in mind is that we can always find our inner strength with the use of self-regulation techniques such as positive self-talk and mental imagery.

Whenever you might feel weak and weary, remember that although your brain is trying to slow you down, you do hold the power to fight against it and carry on. No pain no gain.

Citation: Bigliassi M et al. (2016). Brain mechanisms that underlie the effects of motivational audiovisual stimuli on psychophysiological responses during exercise. Physiology & Behavior, 158, 128–136. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.03.001
Figure legend: This image is credited to Marcelo Bigliassi et al. Please do not cite or distribute without author’s permission.