Prior brain endurance training improves endurance exercise performance

Eur J Sport Sci. 2023 Jul;23(7):1269-1278. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2153231. Epub 2023 Feb 5.


Mental fatigue (MF) impairs endurance exercise performance. Brain endurance training (BET) describes the systematic repetition of mentally-fatiguing cognitive tasks designed to build resilience to MF and improve endurance performance. Evidence to date shows that mental training during physical training can benefit post-training exercise performance, however, this concurrent BET approach may not be practical for all settings. Therefore, the current study evaluated the effects of mental training before physical training (prior BET) on exercise performance. A randomised control trial design: pre-test, training (BET, control), post-test. During the pre-test and post-test sessions, participants performed a 5-min rhythmic handgrip task requiring the generation of as much force as possible, a 20-min 2-back working memory task, and another 5-min rhythmic handgrip task. Participants were randomly assigned to a BET (n = 12) or control group (n = 12). Both groups completed the same submaximal rhythmic handgrip training for five weeks (four sessions per week). The BET group also completed 20-min cognitive training (2-back working memory task, incongruent colour-word Stroop task) before each submaximal exercise training session. Endurance performance improved more (p < 0.05) following BET (24%) than physical training alone (12%). Compared to the control group, the BET group showed higher prefrontal oxygenation during the post-test exercise tasks (p < 0.05). Both groups were characterised by the same exertion, motivation, heart rate, and heart rate variability. Mental training before physical training improves endurance performance greater than physical training alone. The benefits of prior BET may be explained, at least in part, by improved prefrontal oxygenation.HighlightsThis study provides further evidence that brain endurance training (BET) improves performance over matched physical training.Prior BET (i.e. engaging in mentally demanding cognitive tasks before physical training) offers another option to enhance fatigue resilience, which expands the use of BET to more sports and potentially higher intensity training where concurrent BET will not be practical.The benefits of prior BET may be explained, at least in part, by improved prefrontal oxygenation.

Keywords: Mental fatigue; attention; muscle fatigue; near infrared spectroscopy; prefrontal cortex; psychobiological model.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Endurance Training*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Physical Endurance / physiology