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How Movement Improves Brain Function

Movement is essential to the function of our heart, lungs, and lymphatic system. Movement is critical to keeping our muscles, joints, cartilage, and connective tissue healthy. Movement aids in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout our body and assists in removal of metabolic waste products.

These are points that the majority of us have either heard about or have come to understand about the importance of movement as it relates to our overall health.

Yet one major benefit of movement is often overlooked - the stimulation of pathways required for proper brain and body function.

Yep, that’s correct. Movement - especially of the spine - is required for proper brain function and coordination of activities such as concentration and learning, motor control, emotions, and optimizes organ and immune function.
There is a reason why you experience an increase in mental alertness after exercise or even a visit to the chiropractor. According to Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize recipient in Brain Research, movement of the spine generates 90% of the nerve stimulation used to run the brain.
The brain does not simply control the body, the brain requires constant stimulation and that stimulation comes from movement.

Movement charges your brain’s battery and enables you to think, function, and feel better.
Sound a bit too good to be true?

The work of some of the most prominent neurologists and physiologists in the world continually support the role of movement in brain and nervous system health.

The stimulation your brain receives from movement – once again, especially of your spine – is now being considered essential to optimal brain function and development. In fact, research is now showing that people who do not adequately stimulate their brain through movement have learning, memory, emotional, and behavioral deficits.
This is especially true for children because spinal joint receptor stimulation plays an integral role in the development of the child’s brain and nervous system. The effects of decreased stimulation of the brain in childhood have been linked to central motor impairment, developmental impairments, learning disabilities, and concentration problems like ADHD.

Regardless of your age, the message should be clear at this point: Movement does a body – and brain – good.
Get out and get moving.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/tips-on-recovery-and-restoration/

https://gallagherperformance.com/does-practice-make-permanent-how-practice-rewires-your-nervous-system/

Does Practice Make Permanent? How Practice Rewires Your Nervous System

In our younger years, many of us likely heard the expression “Practice Makes Perfect.” This usually came from a parent, coach, or teacher. Some took the saying a step further, adding “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.” Some even say, "Practice Makes Permanent". Regardless, still the message was clear – if you want to improve, you need to put in some time and focused effort. You need to practice.

But is all about simply practicing or do we need to have a different focus?

Research has provided a better understanding of how practice influences skill development, helping us understand how the nervous system is rewired during the process. While there are many components to consider during the process of motor learning and skill acquisition, in this article we will be discussing how a unique tissue to the nervous system called myelin plays a critical role in the acquisition and mastery of skills.

Practice Rewires the Nervous System
When we are exposed to a movement or sport skill that is new or unfamiliar, the result is typically feeling awkward and uncoordinated. To some degree, we may be apprehensive. This is normal and to be expected. But, as we practice, something happens. Things get smoother, we feel more comfortable, and the movement/skill becomes more natural.

What is happening?

What practice is actually doing is rewiring your nervous system to become more efficient during complex movement tasks through a process called myelination.

The Role of Myelin
Understanding all the intricacies of the nervous system is not the point of this article, but a little background will be helpful. Myelin is a tissue that covers our neurons, the cells that make up the nervous system. Myelin is mostly a fatty substance, with cholesterol being an essential component. It serves to insulate nerve cells and has a characteristic “white” appearance. This is why most people refer to myelin as “white matter” when discussing the nervous system. What science has helped us understand is that myelin improves the speed and strength of nerve signals, meaning that myelinated nerves transmit signals faster than non-myelinated nerves. Myelin helps our nervous system function at a higher level.

Ok, so how do we get myelin onto our nerves?

To begin with, the majority of myelination occurs during the early stages of development. These stages of development occur during the 2-3 years after birth and into early childhood. Children are myelin-generating machines. This can be seen not only in respect to movement, but also with language and comprehension skills as well. Where there is development, you will find myelin. This is why there are critical developmental stages that exist in long-term athletic developmental (LTAD) models. LTAD models help us understand that we cannot make up for lost time. Sure, as we get older we can continue to generate myelin, but it happens at a slower rate and requires more effort. This is why most young athletes who miss critical developmental stages tend to get passed up later in their athletic careers.

So what’s the big deal about critical developmental stages?

It provides children with graded exposure to skills through practice and repetition. The process of practice and repeated effort triggers a pattern of signals through our nervous system. With time and repetition, myelin is produced to increase the speed, strength, and coordination of these nerve signals. It’s a streamlining effect that your nervous system undergoes due to exposure to a repeated sensory stimulus and motor (movement) output.

Practice Makes Myelin, So Practice With Purpose
Understanding the role of myelination in skill acquisition has tremendous implications. Yes, volume and frequency of practice matters, but myelination makes a case for understanding why quality of practice matters. Practicing with an extreme focus on quality is equally, if not more important, than simply practicing a lot. Don’t just practice to practice. Corrections should be made as they are needed. You don’t want to spent the majority of your time practicing bad habits, as bad habits are hard to correct. Bad habits arguably are not permanent. However, the longer they exist, the harder they are to unlearn. Myelin is a big reason why.

In the context of training and sport skill development, if you lift/sprint/jump/practice with poor technique and no one corrects your mistakes, you will be myelinating those nerve pathways – which does you no good and only serves to lowering your athletic potential. Sure you may improve, but you will never reach your true potential. And the longer your bad habits remain, the harder it is to correct them.

The takeaway: practice of movement skills over time causes specific neural pathways to work better via myelination. To improve your performance, you not only need to practice FREQUENTLY, you also must practice CORRECTLY and receive plenty of feedback from a qualified coach so you are able to properly develop your movement and sport skills.
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/unlock_your_potential_with_this_powerful_tip/

https://gallagherperformance.com/movement-improves-brain-function/

Random Thoughts on Sports Training

Had a couple quick thoughts on sports performance training that I wanted to share, so here it goes….

1. Advanced athletes don't always need Special Developmental Exercises (SDE)
One of the more popular trends in the fitness industry is “sport specific training”. While the training of advanced athletes must always consider the specifics of their sport, this does not always mean they need advanced exercises. For the young athlete and athletes with minimal training experience, there is no need for advanced exercises or the “Train like the Pros” mentality. This is generally well understood. However, when it comes to high-level athletes or athletes with several yeasrs of training experience, coaches/trainers may assume that they need highly innovative, cutting edge training. Parents can also fall into this trap as well due to marketing tactics. The truth is that they need the basics too. They need the basics just like everyone else. In some cases, they may need a lot of the basics. It can be surprising how poorly some high-level athletes move when they are removed from sport.

With that said, keep in mind that high-level athletes generally have the ability to adapt very quickly to repeated exposure to a given stimulus. They have the ability to make dramatic improvements from week to week in terms of quality of movement, strength, and power development. This ability is a huge reason as to why they are such gifted athletes. The value of Special Developmental Exercises (SDE) in the preparation of high-level athletes for sport competition cannot be understated, but nothing can take the place of sound coaching that utilizes effective program variations and additions to meet the ever-changing complexities of the individual. When it comes to high-level athletes, programs may need to be updated at higher frequencies to promote continual development of the desired physical attributes the athlete needs. These updates should never be random, but applied with purpose and intent to promote continual development.

At the end of the day, some high-level athletes may be better served by training that focuses on the basics and laying a foundation for continual development through proper periodization rather than concentrating their training on fancy, innovative training methods.

2. Where you “feel " the exercise is just as important as how the exercise “looks”
We all know therapists, trainers, and gym gurus who preach “technique, technique, technique”. The importance of technique does not need repeated, but the idea of textbook technique may be more of a myth than fact. Technique, like exercise programming, should not be handled "one-size fits all" fashion. How an exercise "looks" is important, but what is too often forgotten in regards to exercise is where that individual "feels" the movement. For example, you observe an athlete performing a movement with what appears to be “perfect technique”, yet they do not “feel” the movement activating muscles in the right places. This example also highlights why feedback from an athlete can be extremely valuable. It is extremely valuable to know where your client/athlete “feels” the exercise. Don't just assume they are feeling proper muscle activation all because the exercise “looked good” from a technique viewpoint. Helping the client/athlete to "feel" the exercise while maintaining proper technique simply comes down to coaching, tweaking technique, and/or finding the right cues to promote the visual imagery necessary for them to connect their brain to the movement.
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/quotes-and-insights-from-buddy-morris-strength-coach-of-the-arizona-cardinals/

Unlock Your Potential With This Powerful Tip

“Everyone has way more strength and power than they know how to use.“
- Larry Mather, Canadian Weighlifting Coach

Let's be clear about something: Movement is a skill. This means that exercise form is a skill. Strength is a skill. Speed is a skill. For those that have participated or are currently participating in athletics, you can appreciate the importance of practice in developing skill. Who will progress more rapidly at their sport, the individual who practices 2 hours per week or the one who is practicing 10 hours per week? Assuming all things are equal, the individual with the greater training volume will progress and achieve mastery the quickest. Understand that training volume accounts for a number of factors including training frequency, duration, load, intensity, velocity of movement, etc.

Why am I bringing this up?

Frankly, there seems to be a lot of misinformation being perpetuated about building strength, speed, or mastery in regards to highly technical movements such as sprinting, squatting, and the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk). What cannot be forgotten is that these movements are a total body approach that requires every joint to contribute in order for quality work to be performed. They require a high degree of skill and neurological coordination in the execution of the movement. Regardless of whether you want to debate where stability or mobility is needed at specific regions of the body during specific joint actions, the concept of adequate neuromuscular integrity in all directions must be present.

From a motor learning perspective, strength and power development is neuroplasticity. Clients and athletes are basically undergoing computer programming during training. The greater training volume one experiences, the quicker neural pathways will adapt to become more efficient and coordinated. When you focus on the how (technique), the how much (load or amount of weight lifted) will take care of itself. A more skilled lifter is typically stronger. They can display greater strength potential due to skill in technique and skill in their ability to generate and apply more force.

If you’ve ever coached an athlete or client through technical movements, you will most certainly understand that technique is of utmost importance. Coaching technique as it applies to sprinting, squatting, weightlifting requires that one understands biodynamics and physics. Meaning, doing it the right way is the easiest way. This also means that if the client or athlete is displaying poor technique, often times there is central motor coordination issue that must be addressed accordingly. This is what is know as, "Training the Brain." Yes, muscular imbalances and poor joint dynamics may exist, but it is very common that perceived lack of mobility is simply a result of faulty motor patterning. Rather than focusing on mobility drills and stretches to improve movement quality, appropriate cuing and biofeedback may be all that is necessary. Just watch an experienced coach in action and you’ll understand what I mean.

A coach that understands how to help their client or athlete "Train The Brain", will unlock strength and athletic potential they never knew they could achieve.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/qa-with-head-performance-coach-ryan-gallagher-lmt-ces/

https://gallagherperformance.com/advanced-training-for-elite-athletes/

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