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Posts Tagged ‘hormones’

Why the brain is the most important ‘muscle’ in the body

In sport, training, and physique building everyone talks about strength, speed and muscularity, but the truth is a lot deeper than that. It’s really about the brain and then we branch out from there.

Everything we do is controlled from the brain. If we develop the brain, we develop everything else.
You may think I’m full of it at this point, but hear me out.

When you strength train you are commanding your brain to create a denser network of neurons that create better wiring that travels down to your muscles, to make them contract harder.

When you develop a skill you are doing the same thing, except this time you are developing fine motor skills or hand eye coordination or movement patterns. All of the above come under the bracket of procedural memory. Your brain is learning to do something better, putting the blueprint in place mentally and in your neurological system, to do it automatically. It is creating more dense networks and faster wiring for certain tasks. It will also create the necessary hormones, body fluids, building blocks to do that task.

This is one of the reasons that I talk about focusing on the muscles you are using in a strength exercise, because it switches the brain on more; and the more of your brain that is engaged, the more you will gain from the workout.

Let’s take this one step further though:
What if we super engage the brain? How could that impact strength training, physique and hand eye coordination?

A lot, as it happens.

So how do we really light up the brain?

Well more of the brain’s cortex is taken up with the hands than any other part of the body. If we develop our hand eye coordination and hand-forearm strength then we are really lighting things up in the grey matter. If we also do that while working ambidextrously we are really taxing (and developing) our brain.

This will make you better at just about every other thing you do.

This is why it is important to play sport, especially ones that require a lot of coordination. Ever notice how much easier it is to do a lot of running when you are playing a game or a match? More of your brain is switched on in chasing the ball, controlling the ball, doing skilled tasks, keeping an eye on opponents, the pattern of play and just having fun etc. Therefore it will provide more of its abilities and resources to help you improve. As a result, you’ll get a lot more from it.

We’ve always sort of known that sport is important to society, but now we are getting more ‘proof’ through neuroscience. We learn a lot about personal development and team work by sport. We also learn about competing. However, we are also directly developing our brain in many different ways and increasing our blood flow to the cerebrum.

The effects of this are far reaching into all aspects of our lives. This will help you in just about every area.

So take up a sport or two, a team sport or a team and individual sport and also try to develop your skills ambidextrously. The greats are nearly always good on both sides or play the opposite way to their natural dominance. Check it if you don’t believe me: Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most talented snooker player of all time, is ambixdextrous. Rafa Nadal in full fitness at his peak was untouchable, he even beat Federer on grass at that point, and he’s right handed but plays left handed. All the great soccer players are either two footed or left footed in a righty world. Tiger Woods is left handed but plays right, Ben Hogan was left handed but played right, Phil Mickelson is right handed and plays left. The best soccer goalkeeper of all time, Peter Schmeichal played handball as a kid (you have to use and develop both arms to play handball). The left side of the body is connected to the right brain and vice versa, and both sides of the brain have abilities the other side doesn’t. We want to engage and amplify all areas and also communication across the hemispheres as much as possible. If the spacial awareness, rhythm, vision, reasoning, interpersonal, sensory, impulse control, and decision centers are all switched on and communicating… skill level is greatly heightened. The greats with ambidexterity are using more of their brains!

This isn’t inbuilt either, it is about development. Then it looks like it is natural two sidedness, but there’s no such thing. There are many accounts of people who acquired an injury to one side and over time developed the other side to be just as good. And of course, as stated earlier, many of the great sportspeople play the opposite side to their usual dominance. If you develop both sides your brain creates that motor cortex structure, if you neglect one side it never develops.

This is another reason why bodyweight exercise trumps repetitive weights routines. You have to learn to control your own body, balance and coordination to do bodyweight exercises correctly. They are also bilateral as they get harder, in other words you start to do them one side at a time (like a one arm push up).

You can also greatly develop your memory directly, and memory is connected to everything you do. You have images for how to do simple tasks, complex skills, for how things work, for things you’ve learned etc.

There was once a study done of London black cab drivers before and after they had memorised 25,000 streets. Their hippocampi region of the brain was 10% bigger after! The brain is very much changeable and very adept at learning skills if you practise them. It will literally change its structure to get better.

So when not playing sport but doing a simple exercise (like push ups or running etc.), you can also recite the capitals of the world or something else you’ve memorised. You’ll find that you actually accomplish more physically because more of the brain is switched on. You are creating more hormones and your neurons are connecting and communicating more across the regions of the brain. This makes you better at everything.

So start using more of your brain, it will lead to greater results in all areas of your life!