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Understanding Central Nervous Fatigue in Training and Its Impact on Muscle Growth

Updated: Aug 5, 2023


In the pursuit of achieving our fitness goals, we often encounter terms and concepts that may seem intimidating at first. Central nervous fatigue is one such concept that has caught the attention of many fitness enthusiasts. In this blog post, we'll delve into the topic of central nervous fatigue and explore its relation to feeling tired or demotivated during training. We'll also discover how this phenomenon can affect muscle growth and learn some practical strategies to optimize our workouts.

What is Central Nervous Fatigue?

Central nervous fatigue is a physiological phenomenon that occurs during intense training sessions. It involves a reduction in the size of the signal sent from the brain or spinal cord to the muscles or an increase in afferent feedback that reduces the excitability of motor neurons. In simpler terms, it refers to the extent to which you can voluntarily activate a trained muscle.

Is Central Nervous Fatigue the Same as Feeling Tired or Demotivated?

No, central nervous fatigue is distinct from feeling tired or demotivated. While fatigue and demotivation are subjective feelings we might experience during exercise, central nervous fatigue is a specific physiological process happening within our bodies. It doesn't directly correlate to the feelings of tiredness or demotivation but rather affects our ability to activate specific muscle groups efficiently.

Recognising Central Nervous Fatigue:

A common question arises: How can we recognize central nervous fatigue during a workout? When central nervous system fatigue sets in, you'll notice a decline in your ability to voluntarily activate the muscle, which may not have been the case at the beginning of the session. This decrease in voluntary muscle activation occurs due to fewer motor neurons being recruited. As a result, some of the highest threshold motor units may not be engaged, leading to reduced stimulation of muscles.

Optimising Workouts for Muscle Growth:

Now that we understand the significance of central nervous fatigue, we can leverage this knowledge to design more effective workout routines, especially when targeting specific body parts for growth. Placing exercises that target the desired muscle group first in your training session can be a prudent strategy. By doing so, you ensure that your muscles are fresh, and your central nervous system is optimised for recruitment, allowing you to target the muscle group more effectively.


Central nervous fatigue is a physiological process that impacts our ability to activate trained muscles during intense workouts. It should not be confused with feeling tired or demotivated, as it involves specific changes in motor neuron activity. By understanding central nervous fatigue, we can strategically structure our workouts to maximise muscle growth potential. Placing priority on exercises targeting specific muscle groups at the beginning of our sessions can help us achieve better results in our fitness journey. Remember to listen to your body and allow adequate rest between workouts.

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