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Pain tolerance during exercise can predict endurance performance

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The brain´s tolerance for pain during exercise is a good indicator of performance in cycling time trials, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Kent found that people who are ready to engage in greater amounts of pain perform better in exercise activities.

Dr. Lex Mauger, a professor of exercise science, and PhD student Ali Astokorki set out to test their hypothesis that traditional methods of measuring pain in experiments — such as thermal, pressure or electrical stimuli — are poor predictors of time trial performance, whereas exercise-induced pain (EIP) tolerance is a good predictor.

The researchers signed up 32 recreationally active men and women to examine the connection between pain tolerance, pain threshold, EIP tolerance and cycling time performance.

They conducted a series of tests including the cold pressor test for pain tolerance, pain pressure threshold test, and EIP tolerance, which was measured through rating of perceived exertion, where participants had to adjust and maintain their power output on a cycle ergometer.

Participants then completed a 16.1-km cycling time trial.

Commenting on the results in an interview with Outside Magazine, Dr. Mauger said that pain tolerance is not necessarily something an athlete is born with. Instead, like aerobic capacity or lactate threshold, tolerance is malleable.

“For training, I think feeling pain is part-and-parcel of this, and learning to tolerate pain in training means you will likely deal with it better when it counts during competition,” he explained.

Following the study, which has been published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, the researchers concluded that specifically assessing exercise-induced pain is crucial in exercise/pain research.

This is because pain pathways are very different, with specific responses induced depending on the stimulus.

“EIP is most likely felt due to a build-up of tissue damaging biochemicals combined with an increase in muscular pressure, whilst the traditional experimental measures of pain induce very different bodily responses,” the University of Kent said.