A central debate in the exercise sciences is the cause of the fatigue that develops especially during high intensity exercise of short duration. The most popular theory holds that this form of exercise is limited by a peripherally based, metabolite induced failure of skeletal muscle contractile function, independent of reduced muscle activation by the central nervous system; so-called peripheral fatigue. This theory arose originally from studies undertaken by Nobel Laureate Sir Archibald Vivian Hill and colleagues in Manchester, UK in the 1920s. In turn, their interpretations were crucially influenced by the earlier 1907 findings of Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, Nobel Laureate for his discovery of the vitamins, and Walter Morley Fletcher. The original model of Hill and his colleagues proposed that performance during exercise of high intensity was limited by skeletal muscle anaerobiosis that developed as the result of a limiting skeletal muscle blood flow, following the onset of myocardial ischaemia. Such skeletal muscle anaerobiosis ultimately prevented the neutralization of the lactic acid that, Hill believed, initiated muscle contraction. The resulting lactic acid accumulation impaired skeletal muscle relaxation, causing the (involuntary) termination of exercise. The evolutionary progression of this model led to the “catastrophe theory” of Richard Edwards, which posits that exercise terminates when the physiological and biochemical limits of the body are exceeded, causing a catastrophic failure of intracellular homeostasis.
This paper addresses six hallmark physiological requirements that must be correct if Hill’s cardiovascular/ anaerobic/catastrophic model is the exclusive explanation for the fatigue that develops during maximum exercise to exhaustion. This leads to a review of the evidence supporting other, related “catastrophe” models that have been developed to explain fatigue during exercise of lower intensities and longer durations.
It is concluded that there is little published evidence supporting the theory that fatigue occurs only after physiological homeostasis fails according to the prediction of these catastrophe models. Rather, it is proposed that fatigue in any form of exercise may form part of a regulated, anticipatory response co-ordinated in the subconscious brain. The ultimate goal of this regulation is to preserve homeostasis in all physiological systems during exercise, regardless of intensity or duration or the environmental conditions in which it is undertaken.
- ATP, adenosine triphosphate
- CNS, central nervous system
- EMG, electromyographic
- MR, magnetic resonance
- MVC, maximal voluntary contraction NIRS, near infrared spectroscopy
- PCr, phosphocreatine
- RPE, rating of perceived exertion
- exercise models
- plateau phenomenon
Statistics from Altmetric.com
The long version of this education article is available as a downloadable PDF (printer friendly file).
If you do not have Adobe Reader installed on your computer,
you can download this free-of-charge, please Click here
For citation purposes, please cite the short version:
Noakes TD and St Clair Gibson A. Logical limitations to the "catastrophe" models of fatigue during exercise in humans Br J Sports Med 2004 38:648-649 .
If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.