Brain Training for Athletics, Sports, Workouts - Sharing Knowledge and Experience from Worldwide

This paper was written by Calvin Thigpen, a college student, and that I would be searching and sharing relevant scientific papers on the same: http://idealab.ucdavis.edu/IST/TermPapers//WebPageF07/Thigpen_web.htm

An excerpt:

Since the birth of the sport of running, athletes have realized that successful racing boils down to who can delay fatigue and exhaustion the longest while maintaining the fastest pace; exercise biologists and physiologists have thus studied what brings about fatigue. There have been several prevalent theories of fatigue in running, which have changed as the collective knowledge of the sport has progressed. The two chief theories of fatigue in the past decades include the peripheral (also the cardiovascular/anaerobic/catastrophic) model of fatigue and the central governor model.

This peripheral fatigue paradigm has persisted through its practical utility, and in recent years, the central governor model has replaced the outdated peripheral model as the dominant theory in exercise biology. The central governor model helps explain faults in the peripheral fatigue model. Most conspicuous of these faults is the discovery that “there is still fuel available to the muscles when fatigue occurs. The actual cause of running fatigue is a reduction in muscle activation by the brain that is influenced in part by declining energy stores” (Fitzgerald Brain 3). The central governor model instead proposes that fatigue is “an effort by the brain to prevent a dangerous loss of homeostasis by reducing muscle activity and by producing feelings of discomfort and loss of motivation” (Fitzgerald Brain 50). Logically, the maintenance of homeostasis, or the stable, regulated condition of the body, makes evolutionary sense, and this is a significant difference from the peripheral model. Unlike its predecessor, the central governor model does not predict that the body will approach catastrophic deviation from homeostasis, a potentially harmful forecast. The preservation of homeostasis is a constant concern of the human body, and the central governor theory sensibly accounts for this vital interest.

The three concepts that closely tie neuroscience and running together are teleoanticipation, qualia, and neuroplasticity. The former relates to racing, while the later two are concerned with training.

Teleoanticipation is considered only at maximum-intensity running, which typically indicates a race or competitive atmosphere. In a race, teleoanticipation occurs when the brain ascertains the anticipated endpoint and then calculates the “maximum amount of muscle activation the runner can sustain from start to finish without a loss of homeostasis” (Fitzgerald Brain 50). The concept of teleoanticipation was first put forward by H.-V. Ulmer and helps explain many discrepancies that the peripheral fatigue model could not account for, including the devastating kick that some runners implement despite their exhaustion at the end of a long race. Finally seeing the finish, their mind is finally able to calculate the exact distance left and thus ramps up the pace. Teleoanticipation makes use of fatigue set points (the internal body knowledge from repeated exercise), afferent feedback, knowledge from past experience, and the environment. The constant adjustments of the body to these various factors accounts for the slight fluctuation in pace that every runner experiences during a race.

Qualia, or the subjective experiences that every human feels as part of their conscious state, has serious import for runners. Utilizing qualia is a handy way to train in a smart, healthy way. For example, if on the day of a prescribed workout, you feel exhausted and moody, skip the workout that day and do it the next day. By listening to your subjective feelings about your training, you can avoid injury and still get the progressive overload that every runner attempts to achieve. And as pacing, according to the central governor model, is governed purely by feel, your qualia can also help you gauge when a workout or training run is getting out of control or too easy, and thus help you adjust your pace to make up for the discrepancy.

Neuroplasticity, a well-known neuroscience term, refers to the remarkable flexibility the brain possesses. Neural connections are quite capable of being realigned in response to a new stimulus, be it in the form of new stride mechanics or a new training stimulation. This concept has important ramifications in the central governor model of training.

The central governor approach to training can effect widespread change in all aspects of a runner’s experience, from training methods to injury prevention to the runner’s stride itself. By accepting the brain as the source of both a runner’s success and downfall, the central governor method integrates the brain into the process, a wholly foreign concept to classical training systems. When a runner uses the brain training method in conjunction with the latest research in physiology, they are well served in all aspects of their running experience.

Another method of consciously training so that race processes are unconscious is the concept of proprioception, which refers “to the sense of where your body parts are in space and how they are moving” (Fitzgerald Brain 27). In many ways a runner’s form will improve simply through running many miles, but at some point, virtually every runner needs to adjust their stride to become more efficient. Proprioceptive cues, prompts, and images help improve form if a runner actively concentrates on them throughout a run, and thus are an effective brain training tool to improve form. Proprioceptive cues help in this regard by making use of the brain’s incredible plasticity and, in essence, rewiring the biomechanics of the stride in the runner’s brain.

The integration of the brain and mind into training produces an entirely new brand of training formula, turning much of the conventional running wisdom on its head. The shift to the central governor model doesn’t make fatigue any less real than when it was understood through the lens of the peripheral fatigue model, because the exercise fatigue that is inherently brain-centered is an effectively infallible safety net from drastic deviations from homeostasis. However, the newfound appreciation for the role of the brain in the sport of running will well serve all aspiring runners.

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