Don’t Forget to Train Your Brain: The Central Governor Theory

Based on theory and research by Dr. Tim Noakes in 2001 and Nobel Laureate in 1923.

The human spirit is hard to measure with scientific tools and evidence. Especially true, an athlete’s spirit. Thus The Central Governor Theory is just that. Theory. Personally, as a life long athlete myself, and having thousands of conversations with highly competitive athletes, I believe that Tim Noakes is correct in his hypothesis. He says that our brain can over ride our physical ability to perform and “shut down”, telling us to “slow down” for self preservation. While our bodies may be highly trained we may sell ourselves short during the race due to this self protection phenomenon. Have you ever noticed that you suddenly have more physical energy when you see the finish line up ahead? It could be that when we see the finish and our brain realizes we are not going to die as a result of the effort of the race. It releases messages to our bodies to go ahead and increase further motor/output neurons, ignore oxygen deficits and “kick down” more power. Of course training has everything to do with our performance, but the brain may not be training enough.

Training the brain would be possible in many ways but I will discuss 2 of them here. Interval training is one. Training the body at maximum output teaches the brain to endure pain, along with increased physiological benefits. The second is self talk, and visualization techniques. When you know that you are highly trained for your race, be sure to tell yourself that you will be in pain, that you accept it will be a part of the race and see your self crossing the finish line is strong position, or imagine seeing a clock with the time you are hoping for, or a PR.

Understanding that the pain is temporary can help you ignore the request of the Central Governor. Have you ever noticed that some Super Athletes often discuss loving pain? Steve Prefontain and Mohamid Ali were always bragging about loving and embracing their pain. According to Noakes, racing is a balance of 3 things: #1. Physical preparation. #2. Emotional components – MOTIVATION and pain tolerance, and #3. Self preservation

In writing this article for you, and many of you are weekend warriors, I am simply offering you a tool to discover for yourself. There is so much we don’t know about human sports performance, and the Central Governor Theory is an angle worth exploring. Anyone who loves sport can appreciate it and take something from it in some way. Why do we “love” to train and race? Why do we love to challenge ourselves and feel the “pain”? These are further questions to ask of ourselves and “train our brains”. I encourage you to research more for yourself, as this is just the tip if the iceberg.

Namaste- Kim Freetly

Kim is a Nationally Certified Sports Massage Therapist through NCBTMB, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and educator and CEU Provider for the NCBTMB She is a Specialist in Strength and Conditioning with ISSA.

Warm Up and Rest During Competition

Warming up for your event is crucial. The more we age the more time we need to warm up.

The warm up is especially beneficial to our fascia/connective tissue. Ounce for ounce we have about the same amount of fascia as muscle. Fascia stretches when it is warm. Lack of warm up may cause injury to tendons, ligaments  and muscle itself, as each tiny muscle thread in cased in fascia.

Warm up can be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on one’s age and specific activity. Once one has warmed up, the body and its fibers stay warm for 15 to 20 minutes. During that time, feel free to sit down, or even lay down before your event goes off. This rest period allows blood from your limbs to distributed through out your entire body, and believe it or not, that short rest might give you the “kick” you need to finish the race in strong position. When you’re resting, try to relax your mind. Save your adrenalin for the starting line and the race itself.

Ice versus Heat

Currently there is an argument against ice concerning injuries. After researching the issue for many, many hours, and considering the fact that I have treated thousands of injuries myself, I believe ice is a great aid in managing pain, and getting athletes back in the game. I am “for icing”.

That being said, I find that many of my clients don’t know the rules of ice and heat. If you have an “acute injury”, meaning the injury is recent (1-72 hours) use ice only.  Inflammation in the body’s tissue is best served with ice. Heat might feel good while applied, how ever adding heat to inflammation will only exacerbate the situation within a few hours. Ice for the first 72 hours. Ice for 15 minutes on and 15 off. X3.

After 72 hours, move onto contrast therapy. Ice and heat. Alternating ice and heat, end with ice. Heat is great for chronic injuries. Pain that is chronic (that which happened months or years ago) to relax muscles and fascia. (connective tissue).

DO NOT take a hot jacuzzi after running a marathon. Take an ice bath or jump in the ocean for a dip.

Ice Pack Recipe: In a 1 gallon freezer bag: One part rubbing alcohol, 2 parts water. Drop into the freezer for at least 8 hours. Enjoy a slushy refreshing ice pack that lasts for quite a while.

Chronic Hamstring Pain

Chronic Hamstring Pain is a very common injury that I see in my office. While there are many possible causes of hamstring pain, I will address the Gluteus Maximus factor here in this article.

Glute Maximus is a very large and strong muscle. It engages when we go from a sitting to a standing position, when we run up a hill or climb stairs. Athletes often believe that doing lunges or squats strengthens and builds the Glutes, when in fact it is the quads that are doing most of the work.

To target the hamstrings we would need to strike the ground on our heals, and push back up on our heals. I recommend doing lunges just this way. Doing squats can actually “turn off’ the firing mechanism of the Glute Maximus, due to a neural phenomenon called Reciprocal Inhibition. Since the Glutes are of great strength, they need to be firing properly. When they are not, the hamstring group needs to work extra hard to support the load put on to it. When the load is too much, injury is likely.

Often only one side of the body suffers from “lazy glute”, sometimes both. Sometimes the Glutes both need targeted strengthening, other times the strength is there, the firing mechanism is just turned off.

One solution to engage Glute Maximus: TABLE TOPS. Get on all fours, raise opposite arm and leg straight out, balance and squeeze Glute. Hold for 30 seconds. Dorsi flex the foot to further target the Glute. Do this 3 times on each side of the body. Donkey kicks and Super Mans also target Glute, though I prefer working unilaterally, so one side of the body does not cheat for the other. Do this as part of your daily training warm up. Your hamstrings will thank you for it.

Hip Pain in Women Runners | The Q Factor

Women runners often come into my office complaining of pain in the hip joint, specifically the acetabulum. (the cup shaped socket of the hip joint) posterior (behind). This is often due to a medial angle of the femur bone while running, also know as a “medial glide of the femur”.

A woman has wider hips than a man. The angle that exits between the hips and knees is referred to as, “The Q Line”. If you can imagine running every step, with the knees closer together than the hips are… you can see the dilemma where gate is concerned. The tendons and muscles in the glute are too LONG. The more the mileage and the wider the hips, the more likely posterior hip pain will develop.
Ways to solve this problem, or at least get the hip joint back to it’s happy place:

  1. Use the thigh abduction machine, and with light weights, target the problem hip. Light weight, high reps.
  2. Make sure you have good arch support in your running shoes. A shallow or collapsed arch with out support will cause the femur to glide even deeper midline of the body (medial) and pull the tendons and muscles of the glute even further out of place (long.)
  3. Refrain from crossing your leg like your Mother taught you. The same leg that you are experiencing hip pain. Crossing the femur to the other side of your body, further stretches tissues out of place. Try to sit with your feet flat on the ground if you can.
  4. DONT get in there (posterior joint at hip) with a hard ball and rub things around. For the most part, this will just aggravate things.
  5. You want to shorten the area and make it stronger. Kinesiology tape can help. Any questions? Feel free to comment or message me. I’ll do my best to help.

Cheers and happy runs!

ROAD TRIP! Traveling to Dallas at the End of the Month

It should be an educational and exciting adventure. I’ll post some photos and tell you all about the Dallas Cowboys ATnT Stadium, otherwise known as “Jerry’s World”. It should be a lot of fun. I’m hoping to convince Daniel Cooper, the team’s MD of the last 30 years to co-write the upcoming book with me. I need to have a Sports Orthopedist as a consultant, and on the cover credits. Dr. Cooper has been on my massage table and experienced my trigger point work, so let’s hope he comes on board. If not, I have another contact. Dr. Cooper is my first choice though. Dear Patients and Clients: Please send good energy to Dallas!

Am I a Dallas Cowboys Fan?

Most of my clients know that I have been involved with the Dallas Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard since 2005. It has been one of the driving forces in my career as a Sports Massage Specialists (well, that and my own athletic background). Working with those highly tuned athletes and being part of the pre-season games kind of makes my blood boil. There is a certain radical energy, being in a room with these guys right after a game that makes you feel exhilarated. And doing their bodywork puts you right on the field with them energetically. What a rush!  It is a magical and interesting chain of events that brought me to that first gig in 2005. That is another story. This story is to answer the  question, “Are you a Dallas Fan?”. (I am asked this question daily during football season.) I always say, “You won’t believe this, but I have always been a Dallas Cowboys Fan.”, and here’s why; The first time I really sat down and paid attention to a professional football game was in the 70’s. I must have been 9 or 10. I had noticed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders first. They were these beautiful women in blue and white short-shorts with silver pom-poms. They were getting a lot of camera attention, with their flirting eyes and perfect white teeth. I had always been a fan of Barbie, so this seemed like real life Barbie World action to me. (Some feminists might scold me, and that’s fine. I was a girly girl, no regrets.) I watched the whole game, waiting to see more of those dancing pom-pom wheeling long legged Cheeranistas. That is my first memory of “rooting” for any NFL team. Soon there after, I asked my Dear sewing savvy Mom to drive me to the TG&Y in Ojai where I bought several yards of blue and white polyester fabric. She sewed 5 little paneled skirts. I showed up at Oak View Elementary School looking for cheerleader to be on My Team. Oh… I also made blue and white pom-poms using tissue paper. (What a mess those were!) And to the little girls that I didn’t pick… I so apologize. Ten year old girls can be terribly insensitive. So, that was the beginning of my relationship with the Dallas Cowboys Football Club. I remember as a kid, those big guys seemed to look so old. Now they look so young. As a professional therapist, I have never asked for an autograph or acted like a fan. It’s 100%  therapeutic clinical work. Nothing more. I do root for the Boys. They  really are “My Team” now. Yes, I did cry when the refs called Demarco’s catch incomplete. And yes, I did become a “real cheerleader” in high school.

Sports Massage Research

Massage has become an integral part of the new athletic regime, from sports medicine clinics to college training rooms, and for professional athletes to weekend warriors. A growing number of sports trainers and sports physicians believe that massage can provide an extra edge to athletes who train and perform at a high intensity. Sports-specific massage addresses wear-and-tear on the body, corrects minor injuries before they become serious and helps the athlete recover faster. The physiological and psychological benefits of massage therapy make it an ideal compliment to a total conditioning program.

Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that massage works quite differently from non-steroidal and other anti-inflammatory drugs, which reduce inflammation and pain but may actually retard healing. Many people, for instance, pop an aspirin or Aleve at the first sign of muscle soreness, but according to Dr. Tarnopolsky,  “there’s some theoretical concern that there is a maladaptive response in the long run if you’re constantly suppressing inflammation with drugs. With massage, you can have your cake and eat it too—massage can suppress inflammation and actually enhance cell recovery.”

Support for his position comes from his February, 2012 study (1) published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Dr. Tarnopolsky had young men exercise to exhaustion followed by massage to the quadriceps muscles of one leg, leaving the other leg to recover without massage. The researchers biopsied tissue taken from both legs immediately after the massage, and again 2 1/2 hours later, which when analyzed revealed that short massage boosted the production of mitochondria (the energy factory of the cells) in the massaged leg. Other positive biological effects were also reported in the leg that received massage.

Other recent studies (2) document a host of neurochemical effects from massage. Among the neuroendocrine chemicals influenced are:

Dopamine: controls the ability to focus attention, and influences mood to produce feeling of inspiration, joy and enthusiasm. Massage increases available levels of dopamine.

Serotonin: this is the “get a grip” chemical, as it regulates appropriate emotions, attention to thoughts, quieting and comforting effects. Low levels of serotonin have been implicated in cases of depression, eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Massage increases the available level of Serotonin.

Endorphin/Enkephalin (endogenous opiates): The mood lifters support satiety (the feeling of fullness after eating) and modulate pain. Massage increases levels of these chemicals, regulating appetite and perceived levels of pain.

Oxytocin: Implicated in love and bonding, levels of this hormone can also be increased through massage to stimulate positive connections with others.

Cortisol: The “stress hormone”, cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands during long periods of stress. Cortisol has been implicated in many stress related symptoms including suppressed immune states and sleep disturbances. Massage reduces levels of cortisol.

Growth Hormone: Promotes cell division and in adults has been implicated in the function of tissue repair and regeneration.

Massage therapy balances the blood levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphin which in turn facilitates the production of natural killer cells in the immune system and regulates mood.

In addition to the neurochemical benefits, massage can play a major role in reducing muscle dysfunction.

Healthy muscles are smooth, hydrated and free from knots and contractions. Our skeletal system supports our muscles. Ideally our muscles are perfectly balanced. Each muscle has it’s own job in getting us around in our active life styles.

If our muscles are balanced with gravity, we are upright and graceful. But when a muscle or muscle group becomes unhealthy, it can cause a chain reaction and breakdown which affects the entire body. When one muscle or muscle group becomes injured, another muscle or muscle group will make up for the injury. Subsequently, that muscle or muscle group becomes over-worked and also breaks down. As a result, a chain reaction occurs.

Deep Tissue Massage can restore and balance the function of the muscles. The use of heat and ice can be helpful along with stretching and guidance in nutritional supplements. A careful assessment of your physical muscular system and implementing the necessary therapies can get you back to a pain-free state of being.

I hope this page has helped you to understand the broad and dramatic benefits of massage Therapy. Here is to you and your good health!


Kim Freetly, L.M.T.

(1) Crain, Tarnopolsky, et al. “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage.” Sci Transl Med 1 February 2012: Vol. 4, Issue 119

(2) Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. Third Edition

Massage Therapy can not be used to take the place of medical treatment and a Massage Therapist cannot diagnose any medical condition.