Mind and Body (Cardio or Weights Part 12)

This post is a continuation on my series through Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? All of the following questions are taken from this book and the answers are paraphrased from the authors words with my interpretations and thoughts added in.

— Scott

If my brain is tired, will my body’s performance suffer?

Short Answer:  Yes

Long Answer:  A 2009 study done by researchers at Bangor University found that cyclists fatigued significantly faster when tasked with a strenuous mental task before exercise.  The mentally fatigued group showed less signs of physical fatigue than the control group during the experiment yet gave up sooner.  This suggests that exhaustion isn’t purely due to physical exertion but is tied to perceived effort as the central governor theory suggests.

Does it matter what I’m thinking about when I train?

Short Answer:  Yes, deliberate practice is more efficient than passive practice.

Long Answer:  Psychologist Anders Ericsson conducted a study of musical professionals and found that among different tiers of musicians, the better ones spent more time deliberately practicing (as opposed to passive practice).  Deliberate practice involves intense mental concentration, prior planning, and regular performance assessments to track progress.  A study done by the University of Ottawa found Ericsson’s research can be applied to runner’s as well.  The researchers found a correlation between better runners and those who included more elements of deliberate practice.

Does listening to music or watching TV help or hurt my workout?

Short Answer:  It can do either, but most likely will help significantly.

Long Answer:  A 2009 study done by Liverpool John Moore’s University found that by adjusting the speed of music, participants performance could be adjusted as well.  The researchers came to the conclusion that different types of music will have different effects on different listeners as individuals relate to every song uniquely.  They also found that watching TV or movies reduced performance, suggesting too much distraction reduced performance.

Will I perform better under pressure if I focus harder?

Short Answer:  Not if its already a reflexive task.

Long Answer:  An article in the 2002 Journal of Experimental Psychology compared novice athletes against professional ones and asked them to perform tasks while focusing and while distracted.  They found that novices, for whom the task was unnatural, performed better while focusing and the experts, for whom the task was natural, performed better while distracted.  Researchers credit this too the brain making familiar tasks procedural which allows the body to perform associated actions without conscious thought.  By actively focusing, the individual tasks of a complex action are broken down into separate elements rather than processed as a group.

Can swearing help me push harder in a workout?

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer: A Keele University study researched the correlation between pain tolerance and swearing.  The researchers found that swearing (as opposed to saying random words) dramatically increased pain tolerance.  This is attributed to swearing promoting the body’s natural adrenaline response when under duress.  A similar study done in 2010 by Harvard University psychologists found that pain tolerance and maximum effort could be increased by imagining committing violent actions which supports the adrenaline response theory.

Is there such a thing as a “runner’s high”?

Short Answer:  The mythical runner’s high is actually extremely rare.  Exercise does promote feel-good endorphins though.

Long Answer: A 2008 study done by the University of Munich monitored endorphin levels in the brains of runners at the end of a two hour run.  They found a direct correlation between endorphin levels and perceived euphoria and that the most affected areas of the brain were in the mood control centers.

Will taking a fitness class or joining a team change my brain chemistry during workouts?

Short Answer: Yes, collective efforts result in greater endorphin levels and increased pain tolerance.

Long Answer: In 2010, Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology released a study of the university’s rowing team in which the athletes were asked to row alone and as a team and the results were compared.  Researchers found that the athletes rowing as a team demonstrated nearly twice the level of pain tolerance than those exercising alone despite equivalent levels of exertion.  This has been tied to higher endorphin levels in the athletes tasked with rowing as a team.  Further research has demonstrated the greater the group mentality, the greater the effect.

What are the effects of exercise on the brain?

Short Answer:  There are numerous effects including increased intelligence and cognitive abilities.

Long Answer: A 2009 Swedish study found a strong correlation between aerobic fitness and greater intelligence.  The correlation did not exist for muscle strength.  This is attributed to the increased levels of blood flow and is supported by other studies such as a 2009 study done by the University of North Carolina.  In this study, participants were tested on their working memory following 30 minutes of aerobic or resistance based exercise.  The participants who performed aerobic exercise showed improved performance whie the resistance training group did not.