Exercise and Fatigue: Central Vs. Peripheral Fatigue

In terms of exercise, fatigue is considered a state in which an individual can't maintain the desired physical performance. Internal or external factors can both cause fatigue.
Exercise and Fatigue: Central Vs. Peripheral Fatigue

Last update: 12 August, 2019

In an exercise context, central and peripheral fatigue are changes that your body suffers as it attempts a new workout or challenge. Sore muscles, tiredness or diminished energy can all be signals of fatigue.

Exercise: central and peripheral fatigue

On the topic of fatigue after exercising, we need to differentiate between two main types of fatigue:

  • Central fatigue: or, mental fatigue. Fatigue affects your central nervous system.
  • Peripheral fatigue: or, physical fatigue. Physical fatigue affects your muscles.

Knowing the differences between these two systems and how you react to them will help you plan your workouts more efficiently. Below, let’s look at some important aspects that you need to know.

Central fatigue

Central fatigue plays a key role in your health, and you could even say that it does more so than peripheral fatigue. What makes it so important is that it negatively influences both your mental and physical state.

Everyday happenings such as personal issues, work stress, a busy lifestyle or exams are common triggers of central fatigue. But, the question we want to ask you is: how should you confront these stresses? Should you rest when you feel fatigued? Not really.

As we mentioned above, central fatigue depends a great deal on your central nervous system (CNS). A top CNS characteristic is that it always tries to adapt and save as much energy possible to maintain optimal state.

Thus, if you’re suffering from central fatigue, your CNS will look for a way to adapt and save energy by making a workout seem unappealing.

fatigue exercise central

But, if you end up resting and skipping your workout, your brain will become used to the habit and become lazier. In light of that, you need to look for new ways to perk up and skip the rest.

If you’re feeling mentally fatigued, giving your body a new stimulus or repeating something that you already know well will be a treat for your CNS. Once it’s back to a positive mindset, it’ll be equipped with a stronger will to react.

Peripheral fatigue

Unlike the case above, peripheral fatigue doesn’t affect your central nervous system. If you feel physically tired but mentally sharp, you can still push yourself through and make the most of a workout. So workouts can seem easier when you have peripheral fatigue instead of central fatigue.

But, if you do find yourself with peripheral fatigue, we don’t recommend continuing your workout. Doing this could lead to intense tiredness or over-training your body, which would greatly increase your chances of suffering an injury.

How can you help your body recover physically?

You have different recovery options:

  • Sleep more
  • A good sports massage
  • Eat a nutritious and filling meal
  • Postpone your morning workout until the afternoon or next day; you should always respect the time that your body needs to recover between workout sessions.

These are all good options for refilling your energy reserves as well as for a successful recovery and resting muscles or joints. They’re all important for preparing your body for your upcoming workouts.

fatigue recovery

Conclusions on fatigue after exercising

Considering everything we explained above, understanding a couple of things about physical fatigue is crucial:

  • If you’re physically tired but mentally sharp, you can still work out.
  • On the other hand, if you’re mentally tired but physically fine, you won’t be able to work out: your physical performance will suffer greatly. You’ll even find yourself less willing to exercise.

Before you start any workout, remember to ask yourself what’s going on with your body and if it really is physical fatigue or not. We often feel the effects of central fatigue, which is– as we saw above– a whole different story. Analyze your condition before pushing your body to the max!

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bogdanis, G. C. (2012). Effects of Physical Activity and Inactivity on Muscle Fatigue. Frontiers in Physiology, 3, 142.
  • Pegaux, B., Lepers, R. (2018). The effects of mental fatigue on sport-related performance. Prog.Brain.Res. 2018;240:291-315.

The contents of this publication are written for informational purposes. At no time do they facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.