T Nation

Perceived Exertion and Progress

While I think there are different issues that get in the way of progress for different people, I think it’s possible that perceived exertion is one of them.

These days I’m making both more progress and more consistent progress than I probably ever have. And yes, I know I have one hell of a long way to go, I’m not crowing about where I am.

So, sitting under my thinking tree, as I’m often accused of doing in the politics forums at least, I’m wondering if intensity is a limiting factor for some people once you get beyond beginners gains.

The reason I’m thinking this is that my progress seems to have taken off after I started using caffeine and ephedrine before workouts. From an article on this site…

NSCA: Sizzle and Burn
Caffeine can decrease pain induced by exercise. It also decreases our force sensation. So, we can train harder without feeling like we’re training harder. Caffeine seems to affect how we receive and perceive pain.

So, in all likelihood I’m simply doing more work or more intense work. What I’m thinking is that limitations due to pain, or more realistically exertion feedback, can keep some of us from trivially challenging our muscles to the point that they grow. Since muscles are metabolically expensive it makes sense that our body is built to inhibit the growth of “excess” muscle.

Anyway, since this site is a think tank, I wanted to post this for consideration. Maybe this will be something worth trying for some people who are beyond the beginner stage and feel like they are working hard enough, but don’t see ongoing gains even when they are apparently eating plenty and getting appropriate rest and recovery.

I guess the question is does the body really respond to the demands placed on it? If so, perhaps the concept of genetics is more aptly thought of as a set of limiting factors such as testosterone levels, exertion feedback, CNS activation limits and so on which may simply have to be overcome if they limit your progress.

That is a good topic. It is interesting that one of the guys I lift with is just starting in to high weight/low rep lifting and commented “It doesn’t burn or hurt. You just go numb. It feels like you are being crushed, but numb.”.

He is used to the “burn” type of pain, not the bone crushing pain. He knew something was there, he just didn’t know what.

I would consider that a good sign, with one caution. Without the realization of pain, or exertion feedback, the risk of injury is high. I’ve always had a high tollerance/low realization of pain, and without that feedback, it is easy to throw another plate on and tear a muscle, ligament or dislocate a joint.

It’s like putting the stop sign on the far side of the intersection.

Sky, no doubt, I’d agree. However, I think some people have a set point that is quite low.

Short of AAS supplementation or risky lifting behavior, I don’t think this type of person will be at risk of overexerting themselves due to feedback inhibitions.

Obviously, there will be those that are wired to live very close to the injury threshold too.

However, to be clear, I’m not advocating the people need to switch to singles or other lower rep ranges to take advantage of this issue.

I agree that preceived exertion is a huge limiting factor. That many people myself included though getting better really need to learn how damn strong they can be if they REALLY do it. Not try hard learn to ngive everything you have.

Sure much of it comes in time the CNS getting more effecient etc, but a lot has to do with just mentally knowing you can do something, not taking no for an answer, beleif etc. Pushing thorugh that rep when you really thought you couldnt making your self finding out what you are really made of.

I agree in that this is limiting many out there. You see two types for the most part in gyms. those that are dedicated they show up every session but the intensity is crap they lul thorugh the same w/o every session. Then you have those short lived people come in intense as hell to get in shape say right after new years. they are CRAZY intense but are gone in a week or two.

The rarity is to find the combo, some one who is dedicated, and brings intensity to there w/o. They actually exert them selve push the limits of mind and body.

Like I said and you did as well Vroom it was really very recent that I have gotten better at exertion and aiming to always get better and well its paying off for sure.

Hope something in that makes since.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Sky, no doubt, I’d agree. However, I think some people have a set point that is quite low.

Short of AAS supplementation or risky lifting behavior, I don’t think this type of person will be at risk of overexerting themselves due to feedback inhibitions.

Obviously, there will be those that are wired to live very close to the injury threshold too.

However, to be clear, I’m not advocating the people need to switch to singles or other lower rep ranges to take advantage of this issue.[/quote]

Your simply saying that they dont give or really know nhown to give there all. Its mental a lot of it. IMO thats why I think newbies can benefit from going to failure at times more than the veteran. This teaches them how to beat that. The difference between the mind being tired and sdaying no more and true physical exhaustion.

The mind will tell the body to stop well before its real limits and by training to over come this, retrain the mind, not listen to it. You can pass some huge barrier.

I do agree though your also getting closer and closer to walking that fine line of injury and have to become smarter in training as you are better able to control the brain body link.

[quote]Phill wrote:
Your simply saying that they dont give or really know nhown to give there all. Its mental a lot of it. IMO thats why I think newbies can benefit from going to failure at times more than the veteran. This teaches them how to beat that. The difference between the mind being tired and sdaying no more and true physical exhaustion. [/quote]

No, I’m not just saying that. I’ve heard studies (not that I can easily point to them) that there are differences in how people feel pain from the same stimulus. I was surprised when I heard it, which is why I remember it.

People may actually be “wired” differently, just as they are different in just about every other way, such as testosterone levels and so forth.

Some people have differences which are not helpful, that they have to find a way to overcome. Well, so I believe anyway.

At the same time, sure, I’ll bet there are plenty of people that simply need to learn to ignore what they perceive as their own limits – I won’t argue that your view doesn’t also apply.

A big part of training is learning how to exert properly. That comes with time. For beginners I wouldn’t recommend caffeine and ephedrine at all. It can establish a false sense of inensity that will be missing when they don’t take it and they will never learn how to get the most out of themselves.

Bam, here’s a study showing a visible trait is related to pain perception… and I think it’s the one that I was so surprised to hear about several years ago.

Red Heads Suffer More Pain
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2923
[i]
People with red hair are more sensitive to pain and consequently need more anaesthetic during operations than other patients, according to new research.

“Red hair is the first visible human trait, or phenotype, that is linked to anaesthetic requirement,” says anaesthesiologist Edwin Liem, who conducted the research at the Outcomes Research Institute of the University of Louisville, US.

Ten red-haired women between 19 and 40 years of age and ten more with dark hair were given a commonly-used inhaled anaesthetic in the study. After each dose of the anaesthetic, the women were given a standard electric shock.

The process was repeated until the women said they felt no pain. Their reflexes were also monitored to assess the effectiveness of the painkiller. The researchers found that red heads required 20 per cent more aesthetic to dull the pain.

In people with red hair, the cells that produce skin and hair pigment have a dysfunctional melanocortin 1 receptor. Liem says this dysfunction triggers the release of more of the hormone that stimulates these cells, but this hormone also stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.

Liem is hopeful that the research will lead to improved patient care. Anaesthetists must be very careful when choosing how much anesthetic to give a patient before an operation. Too little and the patient could wake up, too much and they could suffer cardiac complications.

The research will also move forward understanding of the relationship between genetic characteristics and anaesthetic requirements, he says: “Investigating the role of melanocortin system in the central nervous system is likely to help us understand fundamental questions such as which systems in the brain produce unconsciousness and which modulate pain perception.”

The research is being presented at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists on Tuesday 15 October.
[/i]

[quote]nikolo wrote:
A big part of training is learning how to exert properly. That comes with time. For beginners I wouldn’t recommend caffeine and ephedrine at all. It can establish a false sense of inensity that will be missing when they don’t take it and they will never learn how to get the most out of themselves.[/quote]

No doubt. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners either, but nobody should be a beginner forever… :wink:

That study is a good example. It was an anesthesiologist that I lift with that clued me in to the relationship between pain realization and a tendency toward injury.

In his line of work he has read and written a buttload of work on the topic, from studies that link a genetic tendency to feel pain more or less intensely, the cultural differences in response to pain, to the psychological effects- or what it means to diffrent people.

The variety of effects and responses are amazing. Some are hard wired, some are completely psychological.

I think another major factor in the perception of exertion would also be relative to other experiences. Aside from the physical adaption in response to work, there is the psychological conditioning that occurs as well.

An example would be to tell someone to move a ton of dirt from point A to point B. If they know that a ton is 2250lbs., their response could very well be- “Holy Shit, thats a lot of work”. Tell them to move 2 qubic yards though, and they won’t even flinch. The both weigh the same, but just knowing that something weighs a ton will overwhelm a person, regardless of the actual difficulty of task. To someone who moves way more than that every day, a ton means nothing, physicaly or psychologicaly.

Some people even consider breaking a sweat a sign of exertion. I’ve busted some guys balls before for sandbagging, and their response is “But I’m sweating my ass off.”. My response is- " It’s 90 degrees. Of course you’re sweating. Now do some fu**ing work.". They’ve confused the function of cooling the body with actual exertion.

[quote]vroom wrote:
nikolo wrote:
A big part of training is learning how to exert properly. That comes with time. For beginners I wouldn’t recommend caffeine and ephedrine at all. It can establish a false sense of inensity that will be missing when they don’t take it and they will never learn how to get the most out of themselves.

No doubt. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners either, but nobody should be a beginner forever… ;)[/quote]

Very true, and I apologize as I misread what you originally wrote.

How are you taking eph, and how often? I know you mentioned pre-wo but any other times? I am sure you are using it wisely but it gives that certain oomph to work outs that’s hard to let go of. I love the stuff and get great work outs when on it but I have to use it judiciously as I tend to go overboard…and the eph crash sucks big time.

[quote]nikolo wrote:
How are you taking eph, and how often? I know you mentioned pre-wo but any other times? I am sure you are using it wisely but it gives that certain oomph to work outs that’s hard to let go of. I love the stuff and get great work outs when on it but I have to use it judiciously as I tend to go overboard…and the eph crash sucks big time.[/quote]

Hmm, good point. Personally, I’m non-addictive, so I don’t seem to associate feeling good or bad with a substance, though consciously I obviously know what caffeine withdrawal is, for example.

I’ll use it most workouts, though today will be a light day so I’ll skip it.

[quote]SkyzykS wrote:
The variety of effects and responses are amazing. Some are hard wired, some are completely psychological.

I think another major factor in the perception of exertion would also be relative to other experiences. Aside from the physical adaption in response to work, there is the psychological conditioning that occurs as well.

An example would be to tell someone to move a ton of dirt from point A to point B. If they know that a ton is 2250lbs., their response could very well be- “Holy Shit, thats a lot of work”. Tell them to move 2 qubic yards though, and they won’t even flinch. The both weigh the same, but just knowing that something weighs a ton will overwhelm a person, regardless of the actual difficulty of task. To someone who moves way more than that every day, a ton means nothing, physicaly or psychologicaly.

Some people even consider breaking a sweat a sign of exertion. I’ve busted some guys balls before for sandbagging, and their response is “But I’m sweating my ass off.”. My response is- " It’s 90 degrees. Of course you’re sweating. Now do some fu**ing work.". They’ve confused the function of cooling the body with actual exertion.[/quote]

Skyzyks, that all sounds accurate to me.

I see the same ideas coming from yourself, Phill and Nikolo really. As you guys point out I am certainly aware that beginners just need to start moving the weight and adapt to that, learning to safely work hard in the process.

I also don’t like the idea of people using things as a crutch. You know, like fat people in society often do, as there are so many “reasons” for people to accept being fat.

However, at some point, we all know that there are differences between people. Yet, at the same time, we use those differences to assign negative attributes to those that are unlucky enough to have them.

At times we, individually or as a society, resist the idea that some people actually are different.

With the pain issue, I’ve got my own anecdotal story involving a childhood visit to the dentist. Not fun. Anyway, being more sensitive, in general or to pain, has a lot of ramifications.

I am hypothezing one of them is a lowering of the threshold at which the brain says “I quit” due to maximal exertion, lactic acid buildup and/or perceived risk of injury.

This means someone can psychologically be busting ass, feeling it, pushing it, and yet not stimulating the muscles as much as the next guy – thus not getting the gains that people say hard work brings about.

What led me down this road was considering the difference between men and women. Women don’t really have the testosterone that men do, but that doesn’t stop some of them from putting a decent amount of muscle on either.

I’ve got some more harebrained ideas hatching but I’ll leave them for another time.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Red Heads Suffer More Pain
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2923[/quote]

Does that mean that red headed women are more sensitive to pleasure as well? I’d thought so…

[quote]vroom wrote:
Bam, here’s a study showing a visible trait is related to pain perception… and I think it’s the one that I was so surprised to hear about several years ago.

Red Heads Suffer More Pain
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2923
[i]
People with red hair are more sensitive to pain and consequently need more anaesthetic during operations than other patients, according to new research.

“Red hair is the first visible human trait, or phenotype, that is linked to anaesthetic requirement,” says anaesthesiologist Edwin Liem, who conducted the research at the Outcomes Research Institute of the University of Louisville, US.

Ten red-haired women between 19 and 40 years of age and ten more with dark hair were given a commonly-used inhaled anaesthetic in the study. After each dose of the anaesthetic, the women were given a standard electric shock.

The process was repeated until the women said they felt no pain. Their reflexes were also monitored to assess the effectiveness of the painkiller. The researchers found that red heads required 20 per cent more aesthetic to dull the pain.

In people with red hair, the cells that produce skin and hair pigment have a dysfunctional melanocortin 1 receptor. Liem says this dysfunction triggers the release of more of the hormone that stimulates these cells, but this hormone also stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.

Liem is hopeful that the research will lead to improved patient care. Anaesthetists must be very careful when choosing how much anesthetic to give a patient before an operation. Too little and the patient could wake up, too much and they could suffer cardiac complications.

The research will also move forward understanding of the relationship between genetic characteristics and anaesthetic requirements, he says: “Investigating the role of melanocortin system in the central nervous system is likely to help us understand fundamental questions such as which systems in the brain produce unconsciousness and which modulate pain perception.”

The research is being presented at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists on Tuesday 15 October.
[/i]
[/quote]

Thought i’d just say how surprised i am with this research. I come from a germanic/celtic background, and this mix gave me red hair. (If i ever let it grow beyond .5! lol)

But my understanding of these peoples was that they were fierce, and feared.

I also have a high pain threshold. I’m not the strongest guy to have lived etc, but i have had some painful shit happen to me (brain haemorrhage, testicular surgery, busted lips, face, fights etc, tonisilitus, broken bones, torn tendons, rotator cuff shit, fucked up wrist off the punchbag, etc etc) and i’m sure that i can handle pain better than the average guy.

I actually had surgery on my lip, after a rugby accident, and this cute russian doctor injected my gum, then started cutting. She was like ‘are you okay?’ and i just mumbled ‘yeh, i’m cool, i can feel it though’. I sat there while she sliced my mouth up, the anaesthetic hadn’t done it’s job, but she was distracting enough…

Or maybe that’s the point the study is making- i’m not so good with anaesthetics. How crazy though

Vroom,
Just possing a thought here that I would like to hear your opinion on. Along the lines of the exertion, do you think that people that have a goal (lets say with regards to sets and reps) will limit the amount they do in an effort to meet the goal?

I remember reading from a couple of trainers that they often trick their clients into doing more reps by ‘miscounting’ during a set.

For those that write out what they plan to do in a workout, it would seem that they would pick a load that would challenge them yet allow them to complete the workout. In my mind, this too can be a limiting factor for the exertion.

[quote]Arioch wrote:
Along the lines of the exertion, do you think that people that have a goal (lets say with regards to sets and reps) will limit the amount they do in an effort to meet the goal?
[/quote]

I don’t think anyone knows how it works, but there is so much that happens based on what we think. Sometimes you might load up the wrong weight and just do it, thinking it is lighter than it really was (or you could hurt yourself trying).

I think that one of the reasons we always hear advice about lifting with stronger people is that it shows us what can be done, it can motivate us to push harder than we otherwise might. The brain sees that it isn’t impossible, so it had better find a way to do it also.

It’s a tricky area. The last thing I want is for people to have an excuse, like some fat people, so that they can just comfortably achieve nothing. However, if it is something that is limiting their progress, and they know it, then they can use that knowledge to get around the issue.

As others have said, it’s also worth throwing a big red flag at beginners to just not be a pussy and really learn how to work or what their limits really are as they develop strength even before muscle growth. Maybe the CNS efficiency gains are what allows the intensity to force muscle growth past initial strength gains?

So far, I think all the points raised in previous posts bear on the issue to some degree.

[quote]dannyrat wrote:
Thought i’d just say how surprised i am with this research. I come from a germanic/celtic background, and this mix gave me red hair. (If i ever let it grow beyond .5! lol)

But my understanding of these peoples was that they were fierce, and feared.

I also have a high pain threshold. I’m not the strongest guy to have lived etc, but i have had some painful shit happen to me (brain haemorrhage, testicular surgery, busted lips, face, fights etc, tonisilitus, broken bones, torn tendons, rotator cuff shit, fucked up wrist off the punchbag, etc etc) and i’m sure that i can handle pain better than the average guy.

I actually had surgery on my lip, after a rugby accident, and this cute russian doctor injected my gum, then started cutting. She was like ‘are you okay?’ and i just mumbled ‘yeh, i’m cool, i can feel it though’. I sat there while she sliced my mouth up, the anaesthetic hadn’t done it’s job, but she was distracting enough…

Or maybe that’s the point the study is making- i’m not so good with anaesthetics. How crazy though[/quote]

I think that this is a good example of the social/cultural effect, and how it would have a posative effect on pushing past a thresh hold.

Most nationalities do try to promote a sense of strenght and toughness as a legacy to their next generation. We all come from fierce tribes of warriors- Cosaks, Berserkers, Hunns all legendary conquerers from around the world.

I think it works prety damn well to promote a strong sense of herritage connected to strength and durability. It also motivates a person to not be a let down to their nationality.

Just ask any of the nordic strong man competitors.

[quote]Arioch wrote:
Vroom,
Just possing a thought here that I would like to hear your opinion on. Along the lines of the exertion, do you think that people that have a goal (lets say with regards to sets and reps) will limit the amount they do in an effort to meet the goal?

I remember reading from a couple of trainers that they often trick their clients into doing more reps by ‘miscounting’ during a set.

For those that write out what they plan to do in a workout, it would seem that they would pick a load that would challenge them yet allow them to complete the workout. In my mind, this too can be a limiting factor for the exertion.[/quote]

No way. By logging your workouts you always have a weight or rep number to beat from the last time. I started seeing much faster gains when I started training this way.

I dunno guys, I may get flamed a little here, but this sounds like too much analysis. You are either going to muster the determination and effort to get the job done and bring about results are you’re not. You can break it down and dissect it all you want, but it’s really a simple concept.

D