Skip to main content

The Effect of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Exercise Performance

Angius, Luca (2015) The Effect of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Exercise Performance. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:56645)

Language: English
Download (13MB) Preview
[thumbnail of Angius PhD Thesis.pdf]
This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology.
Request an accessible format


The physical limits of the human being have been the object of study for a considerable time. Human and exercise physiology, in combination with multiple other related disciplines, studied the function of the organs and their relationship during exercise. When studying the mechanisms causing the limits of the human body, most of the research has focused on the locomotor muscles, lungs and heart. Therefore, it is not surprising that the limit of the performance has predominantly been explained at a "peripheral" level. Many studies have successfully demonstrated how performance can be improved (or not) by manipulating a "peripheral" parameter. However, in most cases it is the brain that regulates and integrates these physiological functions, and much of the contemporary literature has ignored its potential role in exercise performance. This may be because moderating brain function is fraught with difficulty, and challenging to measure. However, with the recent introduction and development of new non-invasive devices, the knowledge regarding the behaviour of the central nervous system during exercise can be advanced. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) are two such methods. These methods can transiently moderate the activity of a targeted brain area, potentially altering the regulation of a particular physiological (or psychological) system, and consequently eliciting a change in exercise performance.

The first study investigated the effect of a well-documented analgesic tDCS montage on exercise-induced muscle pain. This study demonstrated for the first time, that although anodal tDCS of the motor cortex (M1) reduces pain in a cold pressor task, it does not elicit any reduction in exercise-induced muscle pain and consequently has no effect on exercise performance. As reductions in exercise-induced pain have previously been documented to improve performance, probably the lack of effect was due to either the M1 having a limited processing role in exercise-induced pain, or that the cathodal stimulation of the prefrontal cortex negated any positive impact of anodal M1 stimulation.

Previous studies investigating tDCS have shown its potential to alter autonomic activity, and in some circumstances reduce the cardiovascular response during exercise. Considering the emerging studies and applications of tDCS on exercise and the potential benefits of tDCS in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, the third study monitored multiple cardiovascular variables following tDCS in a group of healthy volunteers. Using more advanced techniques and methods compared to previous research, including the post exercise ischemia technique and transthoracic bioimpedance, the results suggest that tDCS administration has no significant effect on the cardiovascular response in healthy individuals.

Taken together, the experiments performed as part of this thesis provide new insights on how brain stimulation influences exercise performance, with notable findings regarding the role of M1 excitability and perception of effort. Furthermore, considering the lack of knowledge regarding the use of tDCS on exercise, these findings will help further understanding of how to apply tDCS in exercise science. This consequently improves the knowledge base regarding the effect of tDCS on exercise and provides both a methodological and theoretical foundation on which future research can be based.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Mauger, Alexis R.
Thesis advisor: Marcora, Samuele Maria
Thesis advisor: Hopker, James
Uncontrolled keywords: tDCS, exercise, effort, fatigue, brain, exhaustion, muscle, performance
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation. Leisure > Sports sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Natural Sciences > School of Sport and Exercise Sciences
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2016 09:40 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:36 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
  • Depositors only (login required):