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”?┬áThese 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.