Ripple Reading | South Africa

Are You a Winner?

“Self-belief is the most important determinant to success” – Dr Tim Noakes[1]

The importance of exercise and the role sport plays in a child’s all-round education is not up for debate; however, the question arises as to whether the athlete who comes second has consciously chosen this position. According to Dr Tim Noakes, who posed the question at the ‘Connecting the Heart and Brain Symposium’ hosted by the University of Cape Town in September 2018, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”.

He highlighted the fact that the heart and the brain ‘talk’ to one another during exercise and in this way, regulate cardiac function. If the heart cannot pump out enough oxygen, lactic acid is a result, causing the muscles to cramp and thereby limiting performance. Therefore, according to Dr Noakes, there is the need to down-regulate muscle function and this is governed by the brain. If a runner cannot move his muscles, then he cannot run faster.

According to a study undertaken by Archibald Vivian Hill (1924), who measured oxygen intake while racing, a runner reaches a point, where no more oxygen is taken in and the muscles become anaerobic. This is the ‘mechanism of fatigue’ – the state, where a person cannot remove the lactic acid and therefore muscle relaxation is impaired. This theory, added Dr Noakes, was taught in the classroom for over half a century.

Dr Noakes, however, had an inkling that muscle fatigue was not the only factor in play when it came to an athlete losing a race and this underpinned further research. “Fatigue has nothing to do with his emotional state,” he stated at the Symposium. “The question is: What limits the ability to increase oxygen uptake?”

His answer: The brain homeostatically controls the runner’s speed. “It is the function of the brain to modify behaviour. This is where self-belief, previous experiences, ‘time deception’ and ‘knowledge of the end-point’ come into play.” He added that fatigue is a “brain-derived emotion” as it “saves us from injury,” (Angelo Mosso, 1904) – “it is a mental decision involving the conscious and the sub-conscious”.

“There has to be a break-point,” confirmed Dr Andreas Venhorst[2] who shared the podium at the Symposium, “where you’re saying to yourself: ‘I don’t know, if I can do it’”.

Ultimately, they both agree: the athlete who has won, decided to win! COMMENT: Controversial? Do you agree or disagree?

[1] Talk title: ‘The central governor model – from catastrophic failure in peripheral systems to central regulation of homeostasis and exercise performance’ Timothy Noakes MD, DSc Emeritus Professor of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine –

[2] Talk title: ‘The bio-psycho-social regulation of goal-directed exercise behaviour and task disengagement’ – Andreas Venhorst MD, PhD – Psychophysiologist goal-directed exercise behaviour.

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