Joondalup Chiropractic Clinic

Perceived Effort

Some days your exercise routine feels easy and other times it’s a struggle to just get your-self out the door. How much effort does it take to complete a task can change on a daily basis.
Perceived effort is defined as the effort necessary to sustain a task at a given intensity. Coaches and athletes can express this in terms of percentage of the maximum output, such as an 80% tempo run. Perceived effort can apply to any athletic pursuit but also mentally challenging tasks. Elite athletes experience pain just like the rest of us, but they are able to endure the pain necessary to perform at a higher perceived effort.
The effort necessary to perform different sports will vary according to each athletes physical characteristics and past experiences. Cycling is an exercise I often recommend to non-athletes wanting to improve their cardiovascular fitness. The perceived effort for an individual to get their heart rate up to say 140bpm might be quiet high if they start running, but that same individual should be able to sustain this same heart rate at a lower perceived effort when on an exercise bike. Without the need to monitor technique, without the jarring and with no base fitness, cycling is often a great way to start.
There are many factors that will affect the way you feel on a given day. Athletes wanting to improve should be aware of these factors and potentially manipulate these factors to their advantage. Most athletes have experienced that dream state when the perceived effort is much lower than usual for the same output. When the athlete feels good despite pushing the pace, the basketballer that doesn’t miss, the golfer who surprise him/herself, the team that plays as one, exercise scientist call this a state of “Flo”.
The fitter you become the lower your perceived effort will be when performing at the same intensity. Regular training sessions that improve both the strength, endurance and skill required for the sport will, over time reduce the perceived effort by the athlete. That’s why winners are grinners !
The Group effect – regardless of your pursuit, training and playing in a team will be easier than training alone. An athlete’s success as part of a team, will often help to elevate the performance of other individuals. The Australian swim team experienced great success at the 2000 Olympics on the back of Ian Thorp’s performance in the 400m freestyle. The Group Effect is also seen amongst Kenyan runners, a country where running is seen as a national sport and genetic differences can only account for a small percentage of their success.
The Crowd effect – Having a crowd to cheer you own certainly helps. College athletes lifted 12% more weight when cheered on by a crowd out of competition versus performing a lift on their own as part of a competition. Most runners would have felt the lift they experience when running past family and friends during a fun run.
Of all the physiological processes in your body, very few will have such a profound effect on your athletic ability as the lack of sleep. Many elite athletes in the endurance world have reported an addiction to good sleep. As Mark Allen (Ironman Legend) stated “Sleep is the ultimate performance enhancing drug and it’s legal”. Research has shown that less than 8-9 Hours of sleep per night will reduce your time to exhaustion and increase your perceived effort for the same task.
Mental fatigue from work or brain numbing computer games will also reduce your ability to sustain a high perceived effort and reduce your time to exhaustion. Athletes of all codes should endeavour to limit screen time prior to competition and training.
Smile ! athletes who were shown a happy face for 1/100th of a second had a lower perceived effort than compared to a sad face even though they did not consciously see the happy face. Smiling and being positive is contagious and performance enhancing. Expecting that the pain will arrive at some point in a race will allow the athlete to cope better than to loth it’s arrival when it does.
Exercising outdoors and especially amongst a natural environment has shown to reduce the runner’s perceived effort. It is much easier to push yourself up and down trails surrounded by nature compared to concrete and city streets.
Leading a race and setting the pace will reduce your perceive effort compared to those athletes chasing and trying to bridge a gap. Leading a race and winning for the first time will also lead to an athlete being able to sustain a higher perceived effort for longer in an attempt to reach their goal. Athletes and teams that have experienced success over many years may, at one point struggle to sustain the intensity of training to stay on top, or to sustain the same perceived effort in competition if they start to believe the race is won before it’s run.
On the other hand, athletes that have experienced hardship in their earlier years, often develop the hunger to push harder and develop an ability to sustain a higher perceived effort over those that may be more naturally talented. Grant Hackett commented during a TV interview that many members of the 2004 Olympic swim team were not the young talented high school athletes but those just on the cusps of success who develop a hunger to train and sustain a high perceived effort for longer. Regardless of the race distance it is always the person that slows down the least that wins. Even in the 100m sprint, Usain Bolt was able to maintain his top speed for slightly longer than other athletes but all athletes slowed down in the last 30m of the race.
As we push our bodies and learn about the elastic boundaries of the human mind, it becomes more and more crucial to do so under the guidance of an experienced coach. As a chiropractor of 24 years whose practise includes many athletes of many disciplines, sporting injuries become a major part of amateur and professional sport. Many athletes are training themselves to sustain a higher perceived effort to the detriment of their bodies. Many injuries occur through poor coaching. Previously rare conditions such as Acute Rhabdomyolysis where the muscle breaks down and becomes irreparably damaged are now not uncommon. No athlete can sustain an ever increasing work load or gains throughout an entire year without running a high risk of injury. Incorporating hard weeks and recovery sessions over a season and the year becomes crucial if we are to reach our potential and stay healthy.
Frederic Cappon
Joondalup Chiropractic