Monday, March 12, 2012

Train the Brain and the Muscles Will Follow - Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I included some key points regarding how the brain forms habits and reinforces certain behaviors (ie: addictions, rewards, etc). If you have not read Part 1, I suggest you check it out before you read this second installment.

1.) The "priming effect" is where you develop skill. The brain has an incredible ability to store information on how your body performs a skill. This is called motor memory, or what some of us like to call "muscle memory". Basically, if you learn how to ride a bike and don't ride for years; the next time you do jump onto a bike,  your body will remember the skill. The same thing can be said about walking around your house in the dark. If you had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, your body knows how to maneuver around the room with little or no light. Since it is your house and you maneuver around it everyday--several times a day, than the brain has stored that information into its database. Get up 2 or 3 times a night, and the body gets better at the skill--this is the priming effect.

How does this help you,  the personal trainer? Muscle confusion is a "cool" term that is thrown around alot in many of today's info-commercials and articles regarding exercise. The premise is if the body adapts to a  certain exercise it will stop responding. The problem with this statement is many trainers and programs (like PX90), tend to change the program up excessively and prematurely. Almost every workout is different. I am sure trainers are thinking about a client's boredom levels or giving them challenges simply for the sake of making train harder to watch them struggle; but this is not helping clients in the long-term. The body doesn't adapt to an exercise in 24 or 48 hours. Physical adaption is a good thing and most movements need to be repeated. Physical adaption does not mean plateau. It means the body becomes efficient at performing the skill (priming effect), and gets stronger. Programs like PX90 are great for keeping a client's attention, but in order for one to really get strong and pack on the muscle they must perform the movement several times over a short period of time. If it's client boredom you are worried about, there are plenty of ways to keep a session interesting without sacrificing sound programming. For instance, you don't have to always perform a bench press to acquire the skill of pushing. You can change it up to include push-ups, cable chest presses, or sled pushing. It is not the exercise we are trying to copy, but the movement and muscle actions that will fortify the skill. 

2.) Habits contribute to many disorders. Chronic Pain Syndrome is a real problem that I believe is growing rapidly in today's society. Society is becoming more and more compulsive in finding relief. It is a viscous cycle that is reinforcing the pain system in many individuals--especially sedentary and obese persons. The media and current interpretation of news stories create a "fear" and it is reinforced with commercials on prescription drugs. What does the brain do? The brain stores this information. Seen over and over again, this information becomes reality to most people.  Those in the sociology world call it desensationalization.

As the brain forms new habits, it places certain beliefs on auto-pilot. (remember bottom thinkers? If not read here) that equates to: prescription drugs = instant relief. Fear of doing something to relieve the pain is overwhelming to an individual who constantly sees the solution easily in pill form night after night on television. The lack of movement leads to deconditioning, disability, and disengagement from rewarding life experiences (work, family time, and activities). The question is how can you make a healthy habit a habit? The most effective way is by using the brain's reward system. 

How does this help you,  the personal trainer? This doesn't help a personal trainer. This actually makes our jobs harder. This is why working with the general population is a difficult task that many people outside our industry don't understand or don't give us enough credit for. I believe that exercise trumps all instant relief claims. It has been drilled into out minds that engaging in regular physical activity will help stave off illness and disease which will lead to a happy, healthier life. The challenge is getting someone started. 

Look at it like this: when a overweight person eats a twinkie or an alcoholic drinks a glass of vodka, their is a signal that goes to the brain that releases dopamine--telling the brain that eating the twinkie or drinking the vodka is rewarding. Exercise can be made rewarding by carefully designing a progressive program that creates a "feel good" response afterwards--such as the release of endorphins. The release of these "feel good" chemicals is automatic by the body, but keeping the client engaged is the trainer's responsibility. You can reward the behavior by giving a client a high-five, smile, pat-on-the-back, or giving away a free T-shirt. 

This may be tedious for some trainers, and I suspect is one of the reasons why trainers drop out of the industry because it involves too much "coddling" of clients. But it is effective in getting your foot into the door and throwing a wrench into the client's pain system. If you want to create a "beast" or go into "beast-mode" with your clients, it begins with messing with their psyche. Building mental toughness is the first step before slapping another plate on the barbell. 

1 comment:

  1. This was a delight to read and although I thought I will read the complete article later when I started since I was in the midst of a work, I could not stop reading until the end.
    Keep such brilliant articles coming. It was extremely interesting to read exactly how the brain trains our muscles.
    Rick Kaselj
    Exercises For Injuries


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