Central Nervous System Fatigue:
A Perpetual State of Fried Wonder
by James Bullock

Central Nervous System Fatigue

The central nervous system (CNS) is responsible for controlling the functions of the body including muscle contractions. There are two origins where the muscles can become fatigued:

  • Localized (in the muscle) also known as peripheral fatigue
  • CNS (at the origin of the muscle contraction) also known as central fatigue

Each and every time you train you are not only placing stress on your muscular system, but your central nervous system as well.

The amount of stress is directly related to, but not limited to, the following:

  • Load being lifted
  • Intensity of the session
  • Total reps
  • Total sets
  • Amount of rest between sets

Central nervous system fatigue can be extremely detrimental to your training progress. Some of the warning signs of central nervous system fatigue are:

  • No motivation to train
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lack of concentration
  • All training progress stalls
  • Increased frequency of being sick
  • Increased rate of injuries
  • Poor mood

Lifting really heavy regularly (close to your one repetition maximum) can make you susceptible to central nervous system fatigue. This can potentially overstress the CNS causing the onset of CNS fatigue.

Now… let’s move on to some experiential knowledge. The biggest cause of CNS fatigue for me is lack of sleep. Too many days in a row of little sleep, and my training progress makes an abrupt halt or slows to an epic crawl. One way for me to know if my CNS is drained is that a load I would normally lift with relative ease feels ridiculously heavy. Another way that I notice is that I generally just ache all over, and not as a result from hard training.

It is rare that I ever feel the above affects. I believe this is largely due to the fact that I have always lifted relatively heavy. The body can adapt to nearly any stress if it has too.

The biggest mistake I made over the years was attempting to lift maximally every time I would train. Trying to go for a new 1 rep max daily was not the brightest thing I ever tried. Doing that left me in a perpetual state of fried wonder.

Now I lift the heaviest load I can handle for a given rep range while paying attention to the overall performance of each rep and set. If form breaks down and/or speed suffers too much, then I stop. This helps stave off central nervous system fatigue. Proper pre-, intra-, and post-workout protocols will help as well, but that is beyond the scope of this article and will be saved for another time.

If you notice any of the signs of CNS fatigue it would be smart to pay attention to them. Lighten the loads you are using for a session or two, get more rest, and at least attempt to get adequate nutrition to support proper recovery of the muscular system and the CNS.

Strength & Honor

James Bullock

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About the Author

James Bullock is the head coach for Irondom Performance Systems and Combative Sciences. He's written programs for athletes and non-athletes alike, including numerous world record holders in various sports. Combative Sciences was found in 1999 and is the culmination of decades of martial arts training. 

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