Who’s In Charge, Your Body or Your Brain?

Imagine for a moment attempting an all-time maximum back squat, but unlike your usual setup on a stable surface, you instead choose to make the attempt standing on a balance ball.  What do you think would be the result?  Perhaps an epic fail?

Clearly your brain understands the situation described above as dangerous, and for it to recruit heroic amounts of muscle fiber would compromise one of its core principals, preventing you from injuring yourself.

From our friends at Z-Health:

“The human body – your body – is a wonder.  Whether you love how you look in the mirror or not, your body is infinitely more complex and better run than the most advanced technological equipment you can imagine.  In your body, if you are in even reasonable health, there are millions of isolated tasks being carried out simultaneously every moment of every day – usually in near-perfect harmony.  When this harmony is interrupted, however, while top performance may be your goal, survival is priority #1! The fact is, your body is constantly attuned to staying alive and uninjured and it is your nervous system that handles this most critical of all tasks.”

This makes sense, but what does the survival impulse have to do with general athletic performance?  The answer is that you have likely spent an entire lifetime creating patterns for your body that at some level are not optimal.  From the point of view of your brain and nervous system, these patterns tend to limit what you will be “allowed” to do.

Pavel Tsatsouline

Pavel Tsatsouline, Russian kettlebell expert, describes this situation quite well:  “Your muscles are already capable of lifting a car. They just do not know it yet!”

More from Z-Health:

“For most of us as athletes, this is the problem – we want to push ourselves to the limit, while our nervous system wants us to curl up in a ball and stay “safe.”  It can be incredibly frustrating!  However, when you finally wrap your head around your whole “survival programming,” everything suddenly begins to make a lot more sense.

You see, if you want to maximize your capabilities, you have to make sure that your nervous system feels “safe.” The world’s greatest athletes make everything look easy. Another way to say that is that they look “unafraid.” They have mastered their bodies’ responses to fear and learned to cooperate with their nervous system, instead of fight against it. The whole Z-Health system is designed to help you learn to do on purpose, what these elite athletes learned intuitively or accidentally.”

If you want to retrain your body and your brain to marshal resources on demand, you MUST create an environment where the brain perceives safety.  And the key to that safety is deliberate practice.  According to the team at Z-Health, the four key elements of deliberate practice are perfect form, dynamic postural alignment, synchronized respiration, and balanced tension and relaxation.

In my opinion, the advice about perfect form is worthy of some elaboration:

“Perfect Form -The human body is a beautifully designed adaptation machine.  In fact, our physiology is hard-wired to always make us better at exactly what we do! This means that your current body is the direct result of your habitual activities. The lesson here is that if you train with poor form or even slightly poor form – your body will get better at moving incorrectly!

The end result of this is typically injury, pain, lack of progress and poor performance. While the exercise world preaches good form, most people think “close enough is good enough.” Nothing could be further from the truth if you want to maximize your results. Remember this – NEVER SACRIFICE PERFECT FORM FOR AN EXTRA REP OR TWO.”

If improving your brain-body connection seems like an interesting way to advance your athletic performance, I highly recommend exploring the Z-Health site and downloading their free ebook, 21st Century Strength:  Brain-Based Training for Power Athletes.

What are your thoughts?  Do you believe that your subconscious may be limiting your athletic potential?

Photo credit:  SJM Fitness