ORIGINALLY published on Monday, 19 March 2012

Understanding how to prevent muscle fatigue is an extraordinarily powerful tool for our athletes. Muscles are designed to work together.  When they don't work together, fatigue begins. Fatigue can be defined as the process of the muscle shortening.  When full shortening occurs the muscle has achieved full fatigue.  By training a muscle eccentrically we can increase the time before fatigue.   The longer the starting position the longer it takes for the muscle to reach its shortened state. 

As the biceps contracts the triceps should relax to the same degree.  Think of contraction as shortening and relaxing as lengthening.  When the triceps contracts the biceps should relax and lengthen to the same degree.  Traditional athletic training does not teach the body to contract and relax.  Typically, as in the biceps curl, the biceps pulls the load up and then the biceps lowers the load back to the starting position.  In normal movement, elbow extension should be controlled by triceps contraction.  However, we tend to train the biceps to contract with both movements.  This training will transfer over into athletics.  We can see that by contracting the biceps with flexion and extension, it never gets a chance to relax and lengthen. Thus, it is shortening with elbow flexion and not lengthening with elbow extension.  The biceps only gets shorter and shorter, until it finally becomes fully shortened with maximum fatigue.   

Another problem with training a muscle this way is the elbow movement becomes very inefficient, slow and will cause a reduced ability to absorb force.  Please refer to . . . to learn the negatives of poor force absorption.  Training a muscle slowly will also only allow it to move at the same speed during athletics.  In order to move fast we must train fast.  The faster the contraction occurs the more stimulation is applied to the antagonistic relaxation.  With slow contraction the normal reflex loops will not be able to cause enough relaxation of the antagonist muscle to allow relaxation. 

When our athletes train the elbow flexion to be a violent contraction of the biceps we will get reflexive violent relaxation of the triceps.  And with the following movement a violent contraction of the triceps to extend the elbow we will also have a violent reflex to inhibit the biceps and allow it to relax and lengthen.  In the first case we are strengthening both neurologic pathways of relaxation.  In the first case we are only strengthening one neurologic pathway.  In the second case the biceps will be allowed to lengthen with each movement of elbow extension.  Because the contractions are very violent the stimulation to relax is strong enough to allow the muscle to relax and lengthen.  There will also be no fatigue of the muscle because each muscle has the chance to lengthen back to its starting position, away from shortening.  In training at high intensity using the proper muscles to move the joint will allow an athlete to compete indefinitely without fatigue of the muscle.  Fatigue will only occur when the antagonistic relationship only goes one-way.   

Continual training with proper movements over an extreme period of time will also allow for development of the proper energy delivery systems.  As the systems become stimulated at a high rate they will become more efficient, eventually to the point an athlete would never run out of energy.  They would only rotate to different energy systems, thus allowing the previous energy system to recover.  At this point fatigue would never affect an athlete.   

This is very valuable for our athletic community permitting freer, more powerful movement. Longer muscles are capable of creating up to 10x more force than that of the same muscle in a shortened state.  More force will equal a greater athletic performance.  And, due to the violent contraction the athlete will be able to move much faster.  Remember, you can only move as fast as you train!