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Understanding Central Fatigue: How It Impacts Your Workout Gains

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Have you ever wondered why you might feel weaker or less motivated during a workout, even when you're pushing yourself? The answer might lie in a phenomenon called central fatigue. Let's explore what it is, how it affects our performance, and some strategies to minimize its impact for better gains!

What is Central Fatigue?

Central fatigue is a reduction in our ability to produce voluntary force caused by actions within the central nervous system. In simple terms, it's like our brain and spinal cord are sending weaker signals to our muscles, making them feel tired and less powerful.

Factors Contributing to Central Fatigue

Central fatigue can occur due to two main factors:

  1. Reduction in Signal Size: Sometimes, the original signal from the brain or spinal cord to the muscles weakens, leading to reduced force production.

  2. Exercise Order and Rest Periods: During a workout, central fatigue gradually accumulates over multiple sets. This can affect the exercise order and the duration of rest periods, impacting overall performance and hypertrophy.

Exercise Order and Central Fatigue

The exercises you choose and their order can influence the impact of central fatigue. For example:

  • Early Exercises: Starting with exercises at the beginning of your workout makes them less susceptible to central fatigue, as you are still fresh.

  • Later Exercises: As you progress through your workout, central fatigue from earlier exercises can affect your performance in later ones.

  • Rest Periods: Rushing into the next set with short rest periods might not be ideal, as it takes time for central fatigue to dissipate.

Muscle Mass and Central Fatigue

The amount of muscle mass involved in an exercise can affect central fatigue:

  • Smaller Muscle Mass: Exercises involving smaller muscle groups can tolerate greater muscular fatigue compared to exercises involving larger muscle groups.

  • Beneficial Exercises: Utilising exercises that involve single joints or single limbs, and less muscle mass, can be especially helpful when central fatigue is high at the end of a workout.

Training Methods and Central Fatigue

Certain training methods can increase central fatigue:

  • High Reps and Short Rest: Training with high reps and short rest periods can enhance central fatigue.

  • Large Muscle Mass Exercises: Exercises involving large muscle groups can also contribute to increased central fatigue due to the higher aerobic demand.

Optimising for Muscle Growth

For long-term muscle growth and better workout performance, consider these strategies:

  • Moderate Reps and Rest: Using heavy to moderate loads with 5 to 9 reps, and rest periods of 3 to 5 minutes, may be more effective than light loads and higher reps for minimizing central fatigue.


Understanding central fatigue is crucial for improving your workout routine and achieving your fitness goals. By being mindful of exercise order, rest periods, and choosing the right exercises, you can optimise your gains and perform at your best!

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