With a new found love of psychology it has slowly and inevitable burrowed its way into my articles. Today’s article is very similar and will cover (as the title suggests) the power of the brain in strength and endurance sports. I thought, initially, that this was a wishy-washy topic with little to no science behind it- however, I stand corrected. And so here we are… the power of the mind.
The story starts not with jazz, nor Miles Davis but with his first name. Mile(s). The mile is a popular running distance and has been attempted many millions of times. But one race remains king- and it happened in 1954. On May 6th of that year the impossible was achieved. Roger Bannister ran the 4-minute mile. Up until that point in history no one had been successful in running the 4-minute mile and the feat was so illusive scientists thought it physically impossible. They said that because of the pressure on your heart to pump blood at such a rate- your heart would actually explode! So when Bannister ran the mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds he had a lot of people asking how? To find the answer you need to look into his training…
Aside from the expected, running distances quickly, there was another side of his training that is of interest to us. Every day he would visualise what success was to him. In this case it was running the 4-minute mile. He would have this vision of him crossing the finishing line, looking up and seeing the clock at 3:59. And come race day, that is exactly what happened, to the exact second. Another interesting psychological aspect of the race is what happened after.
Just ten years after the 1954 race 10 others had run a 4-minute mile and the record had been reduced to 3 minutes and 54 seconds. Thirty years after the initial record sixteen had run under the 4-minute mark. It gets even more extreme when you look at the year after 1954. In one race in May of 1955, three others added their name to the esteemed list. Three… in one race. All it took was one record to be reached and the proverbial flood gates opened.
Moving on to another example, this one science based, is the study of thought on muscle growth. A study took three groups and measured their increase in strength after a period of time doing an activity. The first group was a control group- so they just did nothing. A second group took part in strength training and the third took part in mindfulness sessions. Both the strength training and mindfulness sessions lasted for the same amount of time. As expected the control group made a 0% strength gain. The group taking part in training sessions made a 30% strength gain. But when they looked at those who took part in the mindfulness sessions, the results were staggering. They made a 22% strength gain. Other research found that when a specific muscle was focused on by the mind, that muscle was worked 22% more. In fitness circles this is known as “mind-muscle connection” but in science it is known as brain plasticity.
The science is clear on this. Use your brain. Your brain is the strongest thing in your body- make use of it. Be mindful of your thoughts, in the words of Jim Kwik…” your brain is this super computer and your thoughts are the programme it will run”. This is great advice and something I hope you take from this article.
For more on this hugely interesting topic then please read The Brain That Changes Itself — by psychiatrist and researcher Norman Doidge. I certainly will.
I thought this was a hugely interesting topic and one that I will happily write about in the future. If you want to hear more about brain plasticity then tell me below or press that like button.