T Nation

Maximal Effort / Failure

Given a specific athletic exercise consisting of a maximal effort to the point of failure, would this point of failure be determined by physiology or psychology. That is, if one were to say improve their mental focus, concentration or mental attitude, would they be able to extend or delay the point of failure a bit longer. Basically, when performing maximally is it a physical or mental thing that actually causes us to stop ? Any thoughts T-men ?

It depends.

For example, an individual not experienced in weight training is capable of exerting more force under highly stressed circumstances than what he can exert voluntarily. This is nowhere as extreme as the concepts given in the media of mothers lifting 3000 lb cars – lifting one CORNER of a car, especially with suspension on the other three corners, doesn’t require anything remotely like 3000 lb – but is substantial.

However, a highly trained strength athlete
can in my opinion achieve all he can achieve by voluntary effort. If someone sets a world record in the bench press, for example, don’t imagine that you could put another 100 lb on the bar, put a gun to his head, start shooting people in the crowd to prove you were serious, and see him lift yet another 100 lb. He will not be able to. He had already lifted about all he was physically able to do before.

Don’t know if it’s quite along the same lines as the thread, but I find that if I spend a little time visualising a great workout just prior to actually doing it, my lifts are heavier than without the visualisation.

I thought about this before and Ive found that on upper body exercises such as bench press, an experienced weightlifter’s muscles will fail before his mind. But for legs and for longer lasting exercises, the line between failing physically and failing mentally is a fuzzy one. Try this experiment and you will know what I am talking about. Sprint until failure. I’ve done this a few times now and I still can not determine whether or not I have failed because of lack of mental focus or because my muscles have failed. Squatting a light weight until failure may be another example you could try, but sprinting is a better example since you would not have to focus your mental energy on not getting injured and could just focus it all on not feeling pain and keep on going.

I think BurritoJimmy’s answer is touching on another point. His examples would cause you to mentally stop due to pain like getting off the calf raise before failure because of the burn. That wouldn’t happen in an example like Bill Robert’s where the set is much shorter. I’d say the benefit of better concentration or “more desire” would only show itself in endurance events where other factors cause pain like burning muscles or gasping for air.