You have never actually maxed out because fatigue is but an emotion holding you back

Aug 16, 2021

 by Mitch Potterf

“What do you mean fatigue is an emotion? I just did an all-out sprint on the bike followed by a sled push. My legs are on fire; my lungs are on fire; my heart rate is maxed. It’s physiological!”

False: Fatigue is actually a brain-derived emotion that regulates the exercise behaviour to ensure the protection of whole body homeostasis. 

What does this mean?

This means your physical capacity—in other words, your performance—isn’t dictated by your body reaching physical failure. It’s regulated by your brain protecting you against that from happening.

Check out more about the latter in this article by Tim Noakes (, a South African scientist and Exercise Science professor at the University of Cape Town. A revolutionary thinker, he’s also the author of Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports and The Real Meal Revolution and Lore of Nutrition: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs.

In the above research, Noakes asked the question of why athletes always stop exercising before they reach their actual physical limit.

“The presence of the noxious symptoms of fatigue must indicate that exercise cannot be regulated solely by an inevitable and unavoidable failure of skeletal and or cardiac muscle functions,” he said. 

As a result, Noakes developed a theory—the Central Governor Model for fatigue—which basically says—when it comes to fatigue during exercise—it’s all in your head! \

Thus, all forms of exercise are then sub-maximal efforts because there’s always a reserve of motor units not being used. Proof of this is the fact that your skeletal muscles are never all recruited when you workout. In fact, just 35 to 50 percent of your skeletal muscles are in use during endurance training, and still only 60 percent when you’re doing alleged ‘max efforts.’

It actually makes a lot of sense when you consider those times you might have been fooled into lifting more than you thought you were, whether because a coach tricked you on purpose, or if you misloaded the bar and ended up back squatting a PR easily without even knowing it.

Further, Noakes argues that although many factors influence performance—such as your your sleep the night before, what you did yesterday for training, fluid loss, thirst, heat, hunger, internal motivation that day, what you ate for breakfast, alcohol, muscle glycogen storage and on and on—none of those things are as influential as the brain. 

In other words, your brain forms an opinion and then predicts what it thinks might happen when you workout. So, what’s going on in the brain is essentially all made up bullshit!

Here’s a thought: Fatigue isn’t real, and our brains assign meaning to it and then we let it hold us back.

This doesn’t just happen during exercise, though. It happens during life. Every. single. day.

Consider the following:  

As human beings, we’re constantly taking in empty and meaningless information and then assigning meaning to it. Something happens and we create a story about it and we assume that’s the “truth” about “what happened.”

The reality is, it’s rarely THE truth: It’s just our truth.

In the case of fatigue during exercise, it looks like this:

What happened is you just did three rounds of a 400 meter run and 25 burpees. The story you told yourself is that you were tired and needed to slow down. But is that what really happened, or just the story you let hold you back?

In the case of real life, here’s an example:

Amanda was 11 when her mom stopped dropping her off at figure skating practice. It was time for Amanda to walk herself to figure skating. At the age of 40, Amanda was still pissed off at her mother. She always felt so alone doing up her own skates, while all the other girls’ moms lovingly tied up their daughter’s laces. The story Amanda had told herself for nearly 30 years was that her mom didn’t love her.

Meanwhile, Amanda’s younger sister Erin, who had the same experience when she was 11, had created a different story. Erin felt independent and empowered when her mom told her she could walk to figure skating on he own. Erin thought this meant her mother trusted her more than the other mothers, that she was more capable than the other girls her age.

Two 11-year-olds. The same thing “happened” to them, but two completely opposing stories were creating. Hmmmm.

The point is only to say your truth isn’t always the truth. And your fatigue might not even be real!

Mic drop.

I’ll leave you with this: Your physical fitness doesn’t determine how well you do (possibly

mostly during unskilled, non-technical, endurance-based work like running and burpees. A failed strict pull-up might be a lack of physical capacity, but who knows?). Instead, the illusionary symptoms your brain has created—i.e. the story in your head—is interfering with what is actually happening. And it holds you back. Every single day of your life.