Central Governor Theory - Mind over Matter?

Many people find it difficult to push their body to the level of exhaustion or go as hard as they would like in workouts, the body feels like it wants to go harder but something is stopping you pushing that extra 10%.


The central governor is a term which relates to a proposed process in which the brain regulates the body to stay within safe exertion levels. It focuses particularly on the physical activity so that its intensity cannot threaten the bodies homeostasis. The central governor theory limits exercise by reducing the neural recruitment of muscle fibres. This reduced recruitment causes the sensation of fatigue. The theory was first proposed by Archibald Hill in (1924).

“the heart is able to regulate its output, to some extent, in accordance with the degree of saturation of the arterial blood. This mechanism would tend, to some degree, to act as a ‘governor’” Hill, A. V., Long, C. N. H. and Lupton, H. (1924).


Professor Tim Noakes, a specialist in exercise and sports science explained that the brain constantly adjusts the recruitment of the power output models to keep the brain in a safe level of exertion.

“the rising perception of discomfort produced by exhausting exercise progressively reduces the conscious desire to over-ride this control mechanism. Thus, the presence of conscious over-ride would be undesirable because it would increase or maintain the exercise intensity, thereby threatening homoeostasis ... as exercise performance is centrally regulated by the CNS, then fatigue should no longer be considered a physical event but rather a sensation or emotion, separate from an overt physical manifestation.” St Clair Gibson, A.; Lambert, M. L.; Noakes, T. D. (2001). "Neural control of force output during maximal and submaximal exercise"

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How to Control the Governor

Being smart in your performance will help, a heart rate which is too high for too long and too early will send signals to the brain that this is unsustainable. The brain will start to shut you down and hamper your performance. For a workout which is greater than 20-25 minutes constant effort we should be working at 70-80%.

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor you could use the table below

Heart Rate

60% MHR You can talk easily without any issues

70% MHR Talking is still easy but a little more choppy

80% MHR Talking is difficult but you can still say a sentence

90% MHR You can’t speak at all


 Another way to control this is to build up your training slower so that you can increase volume by smaller increments so your body and mind can handle it. For example if you’re training for an endurance piece (greater than 90 mins) the size and scale of this is daunting. Start your training 4-6 months prior to the event and start with a 20-minute block and increase weekly by 5 minutes eventually your body and mind will be able to withstand the time and distance. Training is simple all we do is pick up a weight and put it down, the hardest part and where the most adaptations are made is controlling the body and mind.