Continued from previous post.
Mind Over Muscle
As Dr. Norman Doidge, author of the New York Times best seller, The Brain That Changes Itself, recounts: “from a neuroscientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not as different as they sound.” – This ties in nicely with a favorite quote of mine from Maxwell Maltz who says that,“the human body cannot tell the difference between something real and that which is vividly imagined.”
We know from PET scans and studies using FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) that a gymnast will activate the same neurons whether she is visualizing her routine or physically executing it. Furthermore, it’s been clearly demonstrated that she can fortify neural networks and make marked improvements to her physical routine by mental run-through alone.
One of the most unbelievable demonstrations of how thinking makes it so, has to be an experiment carried out by Drs. Guang Yue and Kelly Cole showing that “imagining one is using one’s muscles actually strengthens them.” – The study had two groups of hand “exercisers”, one physical group and one mental group. The physical group did 15 maximal contractions of a finger strengthening exercise, five days per week for four weeks. The mental group imagined that they were doing 15 maximal contractions of the same exercise at the same frequency. And at the end of the four week period, the results were as follows: “the study subjects who had done physical exercise increased their muscle strength by 30%, as one might expect. Those who only imagined doing the exercise, for the same period, increased their muscles strength by 22%”
A 22% strength increase through visualization alone!
The explanation for the dramatic increase in strength among the mental group lies in the fact that strength is, first and foremost, a product of the Central Nervous System’s ability to recruit muscle fibers – NOT a mere product of muscle-density.
This can be seen in the “novice effect” for first time gym-goers. If you can recall the very first time you picked up a set of dumbbells, lied back on the workout bench and tried to do chest flies; you were probably all over the map. But by your second or third try, you could steady the weights with ease and likely lift twice as much. – This is not because your muscles suddenly grew by 2x in one workout. The tissue growth (if any) was minimal in such a short time period. Rather, your CNS adapted to the new movement pattern and learned to execute it with a greater degree of efficiency, allowing for more weight to be added at the same energetic cost.
Again, strength is less a product of muscle density and more a result of your brain’s ability to signal contractile muscle fibers. The more fibers contract, the higher the strength output.
Another classic example of CNS induced strength vs. muscular development is that of the 90lb woman who sees her child stuck under a truck tire. Low and behold, she is able to lift the rear corner two feet from the ground and clear the child.
Extreme circumstances, albeit are not the norm, display high value by revealing to us, our hidden potentials we might otherwise never have known. Understanding that these abilities exist within us at all times, and we can tap into them, is an absolute game-changer!
Now I’m certainly not advocating that you attempt to lift a truck the next time you’re on your way to the gym; only to be aware of what lies within you. – On that final repetition of that final exercise, when it seems impossible to complete that lift, consider this reality: Your body can handle it; the question is… can your mind?