“The best cure for worry, depression, melancholy, brooding, is to go deliberately forth and try to lift with one’s sympathy the gloom of somebody else.”

Arnold Bennett

I recently received a fantastic email from TTP reader Pieter Derycke, a physical therapist from Belgium, that I’d like to share.  Pieter’s got some great insight on the issue of CNS priming, along with some erudite speculation on taking CNS priming/activation to an even more advanced level.

What follows is Pieter’s email to me, which I’ll note in italics.  My responses and ruminations will be interspersed, and in bold print.  For the most part, I’ll leave Pieter’s wording unedited, as our contrasting styles will make the discourse a little easier to follow.  And please do chime in with your thoughts on this subject, as much of what we’ll go into here is speculative in nature.

Enjoy.  And thanks again, Pieter, for a fantastic email, and the healthy helping of food for thought.

Dear Keith,

I’ve been thinking about this idea I have, and, as an avid reader of your blog (and few times commenter), I thought I could email you and maybe get your thoughts on my idea.

I like your blog because you really can describe the essence of strength/power training, diet and health. And this in the evolutionary perspective, which makes a lot of sense to me. Really, it is the only perspective that truly makes sense (as in the famous quote of Theodosius Dobzhansky). As you have often put it: the essence is really simple, the rest is interesting, but a side issue. Of course simple does not necessarily mean easy…  And I’m afraid the subject of my mail is rather such a side issue, but hopefully an interesting one.

And I also really like the fact that you put emphasis on the nervous system. That’s the main reason for emailing you.

The idea and question I have is about the threat we have to cause to our organism, for training adaptation to occur. The threat we usually use is a physical, actual threat.

From my experiences as a physical therapist, and from the pain science and literature, I know that the actual threat can be different from the perceived threat. And it is the perceived threat that causes the central nervous system to produce pain. So the perceived threat causes the response.


For an example of what Pieter is talking about here, think of the perceived threat that comes from being spooked.  Now, take that feeling — along with the nice CNS jolt — into a power clean PR attempt.


I’m wondering if we could use this principle in strength/power training: changing the perceived threat instead of only the actual threat to augment the response.

Maybe I should digress a bit and first talk about the neurophysiology of pain. (sorry for the lengthy email in advance…) Pain-physiology is the stuff that got me thinking. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.

Pain is an active product of the brain, or more correct, the central nervous system. The injured tissue on its own cannot cause pain. It can only send nociceptive signals to the spinal cord. Nociception means ‘danger reception’. So the CNS can choose to produce pain (a little or a lot) or not. So pain is not input, it is output.

The CNS ‘answers’ two questions: is the signal dangerous enough? and is it a priority? It tries to answer these questions with the survival of the organism in mind. So it makes use of the context and environment, and of your past experiences, your culture, gender, education, …

If you sprain your ankle or pull a muscle, it is in your best interest to feel pain and change your behaviour (relative rest, limping and probably some overt pain behaviour (verbal and non verbal) to attract attention and help of your peers).

Now, the same sprain or pull can cause totally different reactions if the situation is different. As when your running away from a dangerous predator like a lion (to use the archetypical example). For you ankle or sprained muscle the same relative rest could be useful, but for the organism as a whole it is better to keep running and not feeling pain. And this of course is what happens: in these situations there is no pain. You probably know some spectacular similar stories.

For those of you who have ever been engaged in competitive sport, you know what it’s like to not “realize” that you’re injured until well after the event.  The same can be said of late-onset symptoms of injuries sustained in, say, automobile accidents.

Now this is something that happens all the time, not only in extreme situations. Almost everybody has experienced some pain (e.g. tooth ache, headache, …) that at some time disappears when you’re distracted. The distraction is something the CNS perceives as more important. This makes it really difficult for chronic pain patients to see the causes of their pain.

And of course, this also works the other way round: if your CNS is convinced there is danger, it will cause pain, even if there’s no danger signal coming from the tissues.

A very analogue situation is vision. Vision also is not a passive input, but an active construction of the CNS. We don’t see the ‘blind spots’ on our retina, because the CNS produces a congruent image. Illusions and illusionist use this principle. They use the constructions of the brain that are very useful in a real life situation in nature, but keep fooling us in the case of the illusion.

Even more analogue to pain are: hunger and thirst, the feeling of having to go to the bathroom, and fatigue. This because they all stimulate the organism to undertake some kind of action.

Of course this is also how placebo works: you tell somebody you gave them a painkiller, and the CNS changes its output because the meaning of the nociceptive information has changed. The opposite (nocebo) also happens: you tell somebody the pill will lower the pain threshold, and indeed, they feel more pain. These are very consistent findings in pain science.

So the actual threat (the nociception from the tissue damage) is less important than the perceived threat. The perceived threat causes the reaction: pain. There is even no need for a real threat, there can be pain without nociception. Nociception is not enough,  nor necessary for the production of pain.

Maybe also interesting is that pain is now viewed not only as a ‘feeling’ but as a CNS output including the ‘conscious sensation’, the sympathetic response, the immune response, the hormonal response, the behavioural response, and the motor response. We used to say that some muscle contract as a consequence of pain, now we know that this muscle tension is part of the pain (if you’re interested, I could send you some papers on this, often called the neuromatrix of pain).

Now, after this long digression through the incredibly interesting field of pain-physiology, back to power/strength training.

Do you think it is possible to use analogue mechanisms for increasing the physiological response to a workout? Do you have any thoughts about how to increase the perceived threat, without increasing the actual threat. This could have some advantages: could be safer because of the smaller actual threat. Or it could be better because of a greater response and thus better progress and health.

I have got some ideas:

  • It could be that whole body, compound exercises are better because of the greater perceived threat. If you break a snatch exercise into components, and execute them separately, you could +/- do the same work, but with less results. Being fatigued from head to toe is (from evolutionary/survival perspective) more threatening than having isolated muscles or body parts fatigued. Of course a snatch could actually be ‘really’ more threatening. And of course it could be a bit of both.
  • Another way of augmenting the perceived threat could be using imagery. Like imagining that you are being chased by a lion while doing your sprint workouts. Imagery is used (with scientifically proven results) in training movement/coordination patterns, and with pain patients. I have no idea of this has been used for power training or other physical conditioning.
  • Another way the perceived threat influences the power/strength training could be the following: after a while of performing an exercise or exercise routine the organism gets less threatened because it gets used to it. Of course you could augment the actual real threat by making the exercise harder by doing more reps, or by using heavier weights, or your other typical progressions. But often the perceived threat stays rather low because of the familiarity of the organism with the exercise/routine. That’s when the plateau happens. A typical way of trying to get more results is using another strategy, another exercise or another routine. This causes the perceived threat to increase, and thus stimulates the organism to adapt further, even though the actual threat (the workload) may not be very different.

Many elite sprinters will say that immediately pre-race, they will put themselves mentally in an “angry place”; anger/aggression being a huge motivator/CNS primer, where ultra-fine motor skills in not necessarily a factor. And I do believe that the additional “perceived threat” helps explain why a trainee will much such good progress (for a while) following a new program, using new exercises and/or changing environs.

Also, I feel that this is another application in which brainwave optimization could be utilized.  This is far from voodoo science in my opinion — in fact, it looks a lot like pin-pointed and highly effective (and intense) bio-feedback.   I’m quite sure that one could readily learn how to get to that “hyped”, fight or flight state with limited investment in “therapy” time/money.

By the way, Carl Lanore, of Super Human Radio, recently interviewed Lee Gerdes, author of Limitless You. Quite thought provoking, and dovetails nicely to this discussion.

Athough I really do think that the threats causing pain (and hunger, thirst, fear, …) are in some way similar to the ones causing physiological adaptations in the muscle tissue, cardiovascular system, …, there probably is a big difference between them.

The pain response (or for that matter, the hunger, thirst or fear) is probably a cheap thing for the organism. Muscle hyperthophy (and…) is probably much more expensive to get (and to keep).

Randolf Nesse (a Dr. writing a lot about Darwinian medicine) uses the analogy of the smoke detector system: it is better to be scared or have pain too often than too few. This would make sense: it is better to be scared too much of a noise in the bushes, although maybe 99% of the time it will be a false alarm. If you’re not scared, it will cause you damage that 1% of the time it is in fact a dangerous animal.

This is especially true if the cost of the response is rather cheap. Muscle adaptations (and …) probably are much more expensive and thus harder to get. I think…

To conclude: a recapitulation (again sorry for the long email): threatening the organism causes a response, and the perceived threat is more important than the actual threat. Using this principle could increase the training effects (and/or make them safer).

So after this long explanation, do you have any ideas on this? Do you think it is a valuable hypothesis? And do you see any practical application? Do you have any suggestions?

Feel free to chime in, folks.  Consider this an “open forum”.

Thanks for taking your time to read this. And thanks already for a little response,

Pieter Derycke

In health,

Keith

43 COMMENTS

  1. “It could be that whole body, compound exercises are better because of the greater perceived threat.”

    This is why I do jumps on one leg up stairs with a 15 lbs. (heaviest available at gym) medicine ball above my head; there’s the perceived threat of falling. The heightened proprioception response is difficult to mimic in less ‘risky’ exercises. Standing free and balancing on a Swiss exercise ball is another example; there’s the perceived threat of falling off. World-class skiers can jump up on them and land and stand. I am working on that. Upside-down pushups and handstands are another way to add perceived threat: you don’t want to crash on your face, tumble to the ground, etc.

    This and visualization help me, as an athlete, tremendously: it helps you ‘raise the roof’ in the physiological headroom equation in ways that may not otherwise be accessible/obtainable.

    Good topic; thanks, Pieter and Keith.

    Best,

    Brent

  2. “This and visualization help me, as an athlete, tremendously”

    Yeah, I couldn’t agree more about visualization. I played lacrosse in college, and the day of our home games, I would head out to the field several hours before the game by myself. I would run thru several “scenarios” of how I was going to beat the defensive man covering me and score a goal. To a casual observer, I probably looked like a fool trying to play against an invisible defense, but this solitary creation and the acting out of a game plan for different scenarios, really was effective. I called it a “moving meditation” on the up coming game.

    @epistemocrat Your “World-Class Skier” reference triggered a possibly interesting question.

    How does so-called “extreme” sports figure into this equation? More specifically, a skier who routinely skis backcountry, very dangerous, and avalanche prone runs where the threat level is high. What’s his edge? Is it how he perceives the threat? Or does it have more to do with the fact that the skier has had success in that past with this activity, and can therefore visualize a successful outcome that somehow primes the body to accomplish?
    Additionally, how does the Fight or Flight response figure into this? I would love to hear some input on this from the readers of this blog. Part of me feels that the past successes seem to dictate a future response ability, but then, there’s that whole lacrosse visualization experience so it may be a hybrid of the two.
    Thanks for the blog Keith, I’m a daily reader. Damn good post!

    • I use similar types of mimicry as well:

      http://www.arthurdevany.com/?p=1026

      It’s a fascinating component of achieving high performance–to unleashing those ‘out-of-body’ experiences that make you feel ‘in-the-zone’. ‘Moving meditation’ is a great way to describe it–I like that.

      Here is an example of jumping onto a Swiss exercise ball:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QR3BZGfchk

      There is certainly perceived threat in that activity.

      I suspect that past successes shift what we perceive as threats; things that used to scare us become background noise, and we no longer key in on them. We desensitize and move on to focus on higher/novel threats, if they are available.

      One thing/extra benefit that I have noticed from intermittent/high-intensity exercise, compared to chronic motions, is that the exercises stay difficult much longer if I add in a balancing component, such as lifting on one leg instead of two.

      Finding ways to bring perceived ‘threat’ into our workouts–for its CNS benefits–without putting our bodies at real physical danger–we don’t want to get hurt–is a fun part of energy expenditure experimentation.

        • @ Brent: I wonder if the jumping on the exercise ball only increases the perceived threat. It probably also increases the actual threat. But maybe the increase in perceived threat is relatively greater than the increase in actual threat. I think I see this a lot in patients: a big difference between two exercises that is hard to explain with biomechanics or workload only, e.g. elder people find walking on a treadmill surprisingly difficult. Another example may be the sometimes really big difference between a chest press on a machine and a bench press.

          • Yes, I intended to mean that the perceived threat would be relatively greater than the actual increased threat; that is, if we set up the training situation appropriately given our current abilities, like the examples you cite.

            Have a great weekend, Pieter and everyone else.

            Cheers,

            Brent

  3. This brings to my mind the concept of a “central governor”, best explained in ‘The Lore of Running’ by Tim Noakes. The concept is that many physiological limitations can be traced to reduced central nervous system activity. It appears that in order to prevent damage, the brain somehow shuts down the activity before it gets too intense by reducing muscle recruitment. But the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) can override this throttle and bump up the level of effort if there is a sufficient stimulus.

    So it could be that the perception of threat prevents this theoretical central governor from reducing activity.. basically overriding our bodies better judgement and keeping effort high. But by repeatedly doing so, the central governor can be ‘reset’ to allow for sustaining that level of activity in the future.

    • “It appears that in order to prevent damage, the brain somehow shuts down the activity before it gets too intense by reducing muscle recruitment. But the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) can override this throttle and bump up the level of effort if there is a sufficient stimulus.”

      I think this is key, functioning like a “golgi organ” for the CNS.

  4. This is a very interesting theory.

    Visualising threats is something that’s an extremely high motivator … both mentally and physically.

    I used to motivate myself to study harder by imagining a life where I lived in poverty and couldn’t take care of my family and all the consequences that came with it. For training purposes, when I did an all-out effort, like say a 20-rep squat or a 400-meter run, I visualised that I had to make it in time or the world would come to an end.
    I know, this is bordering on the edge of psychotic … but it worked. It was a combination of fear and anger.
    What I did notice, though, is that it’s not something you can do every time you train.
    It is very demanding on your central nervous system to simply imagine a threat of a certain magnitude and you’ll burn out fast.

    I had an ephiphany during one training though. What if there was an element of playful competition? Would it still be as stressful?
    I know I perform better on some types of training(like a sprint)when someone who is more or less in the same league is racing besides me.
    Unfortunately it wasn’t always possible to train with someone else, especially if you can’t always train at a regular hour.
    So I just visualised a friend of mine training besides me as a motivator, trying to outdo me, and this worked and caused less “complete exhaustion” afterwards.

    • “It is very demanding on your central nervous system to simply imagine a threat of a certain magnitude and you’ll burn out fast.”

      This is why it’s important to reduce stresses of all kinds outside of the training sphere, and to get plenty of rest/recuperation/sleep. Easier said than done, I know. Training hard coupled with “living hard”, though, can push one into adrenal fatigue in a hurry.

      • Definitely.

        Speaking of which(adrenal fatigue), I read you were talking about the combination of metabolic typing and the paleo diet.

        A future article in the works?

        I am now full paleo, however, a few years ago I had a metabolic typing test done by Eric Talmant and it concluded I should focus on meats and eggs mostly … but should also avoid broccoli and all nightshades, which I didn’t agree with(I did however, give it a shot long enough to see what the effects were).

        I found metabolic typing to be very subjective. The questionnaire calls for a high degree of knowledge about yourself and your reaction to certain foods. These things are influenced by your own psychology and I think the reliability is greatly decreased because of this.

        • Right now I’ve got some ideas kicking around in my mind; soon, though, I’ll commit them to a post. The way I see it at the moment is that Met Typing would give one an indication of what kind of rough protein/fat/carb ratios might be better for each “disposition”. With Paleo as a baseline, I do believe that different people function better at different macronutrient ratios. For instance, I could pretty much go carb-free, with a huge preference toward fat/protein, while for Meesus TTP, that would be too “heavy”, she preferring to lean more in the way of veggies/fruit. This, in my mind, is consistent with the natural distribution of human Paleo “types”, running the gambit from Eskimo to Amazon Indian and all shades between. Of course, I’d still eliminate the simple carbs, grains and legumes no matter what the Met Typing might have to say about that. Typing might bring something to light that you otherwise might not thought of needing to avoid. In your case, maybe you do need to limit nightshades consumption. Give it an n=1 trial, and see. This is what I did with raw dairy, and had positive results. Now I include small amounts of raw cow and goat dairy in my diet.

          • I find the fact that you refer to the different “types” of paleo diet very interesting. Can you perhaps do a survey of sorts in the article, to see which type everyone is leaning towards?
            It’s even possible to have all participants of the survey enter their food intake on a calorie calculator like Fitday.com, so we can compare calorie ratios.
            I find I flatten out fast when I eat less than 3 pieces of fruit a day … even though I don’t crave more than one a day anymore. I talked about this with Melissa Byers/Urban and she recommended more grains now and then, however, I recently found I do just as well(with the added benefit of not causing an insulin rush)when I eat more saturated fats, from sources like organic sausage meat.
            It would be very interesting to see what type of paleo diet everyone is following, what amount of fruit and what type of training they combine with it.

          • About the only non-Paleo thing I ingest is beer and wine, both of which cause a tad bit of water retention. I eat very little fruit, usually keeping my intake limited to the “condiment” level — a bite here, a bite there, for flavor contrast. 3 days of alcohol and fruit abstinence and any sign of water retention is vanquished.

            I like the idea, Bert. It would be interesting to check out the different shades of Paleo that folks are following.

          • I generally eat Paleo. My non-Paleo cheats are:

            Full fat whipping cream
            Some full fat milk
            Coffee
            Wine and/or Spirits
            Some fruit
            Occasionally use some crappy Franken-Oil we use to fry something
            Cheese

            I never drink beer anymore and now when I eat grains/wheat, large dark circle appear overnight under my eyes.

          • I think this ‘different shades’ of Paleo is fascinating and that fruit could act as a useful heuristic for plotting a spectrum. Folks’ experiences with fruit are diverse, so that seems like one place to start in mapping this thing out. I suspect my northern European ancestry has something to do with my personal experience.

          • I find it very interesting how little fruit most of you eat. Although most paleo resources I’ve encountered say “limit fruit to an extent”, seldom I see people not consuming any at all. Can you give details on the exact reasons why?
            I assume it has to do with the body’s limit storage ability for liver glycogen, but other than that, I feel “some” fruit has a ton of benefits.

            Here’s my entry from the food I had yesterday. I hope the link works.

            http://fitday.com/fitness/PublicJournals.html?Owner=Leeuwer

            I drink plenty of coffee, but other that I stay fairly true to the paleo diet. When I reach my target body composition, I may add organic whole milk in, to see what effect this has on muscle gain.

          • I think the main problem with modern fruit is that, per serving, it packs a significant fructose whollop. Remember that all modern fruits have been significantly manipulated/bred from their Paleo-times cousins so as to be bigger and sweeter. If this were an old SAT exam, the word association would be: poodle is to wolf, as pear is to…..

          • I struggle with this. The wardroom on my ship always has fruit laying out, and when I go in for a cup of coffee and strike up a conversation, I find myself mindless gravitating towards a kiwi or plum. I’m not eating it because I’m hungry, and I think mindlessly eating even “healthy” foods like fruit and nuts can interfere with one’s goals to achieve elite fitness levels.

          • Oh yeah, I forgot to mention my love of raw dairy (cow and goat — full fat, of course), and my caffeine addiction 😉

          • Keith, I have it from a reliable source that you can never fulfil your true potential in life, health and love if you don’t average 2 liters of coffee a day 😉

          • By the way, I wonder how fruits on the different continents differ.

            I live in Western Europe(Belgium, like Pieter)and I live in the heart of the fruit industry. Almost pears and apples here are from species that are quite old, with little genetic manipulation or mixing of species.
            Of course, the chemicals they’re sprayed with may still mess a lot of things up …
            I try to eat 40% of my yearly fruit intake from my parents’ trees, which consists of different plums, pears and apples. Does this make a difference?

          • This would be very interesting to study. I wonder how same-size servings of both “old world” and “franken-fruit” pears (for example) would compare in a nutritional breakdown. This past weekend, I found a couple “wild” fruit-bearing pear trees on the side of the road. The fruit was much smaller and much less sweet than the Franken-variety found in the store. I picked as many as I could carry in my shirt, and have been enjoying them here and there with meals. Each one is about the size of a lemon (the Franken-variety lemon).

          • lol

            “If this were an old SAT exam, the word association would be: poodle is to wolf, as pear is to…..”

            That made me burst out laughing, Keith.

            Bert, my favorite example is corn. Folks in the US that I talk to know what real corn used to taste like–current-day corn is an entirely different, fructose-filled, beast.

            Unfortunately, paleolithic fruit, I suspect, had much higher acid content and much lower fructose levels.

            And Jared Diamond said agriculture was one of the biggest missteps in human history …

  5. Keith,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my email and for using it for this post.

    Visualisation is known for its performance enhancing effects. And of course, if you perform better on training, the results will be better. If some kind of visualisation helps you to lift 100kg instead of 95kg, the results will be better.

    Except if that 100kg was really too heavy, then you could have loaded your organism too much, and therefore the results will be worse.

    This kind of visualisation helps to increase the actual threat (the actual workload) by inhibiting some protective mechanisms. If applied correctly (and carefully) I think this can be very useful.

    What I’m really interested in is increasing the response of the training (the super-compensation), not by increasing the actual threat, but by increasing the perceived threat only.

    An example (a rather ridiculous one, I must admit) could be using hypnosis, so an organism ‘thinks’ it has lifted 100kg, but it actually only lifted 95kg. The perceived threat is bigger, the actual threat is the same. Do you think that something like this could cause better training results (hypertrophy, cardiovascular, … real tissue responses)

    (Note that I’m not a lazy bastard looking for the perfect beach body in only six weeks without doing a thing 😉 )

    So what I’m looking for is some kind of training method that uses this principle. Something very concrete like: sets and reps, going to failure or not,

    Keith, I agree that a lot of the ‘new’ things in fitness and strength training (core, balance, kettlebells, mace, …) have good results because of the fact it is new and thus more threatening. This does not mean those methods are better, on their own (they could be). But it also doesn’t mean they are worthless.

    If used with correct intensity and recovery, they could increase the variety in threats, the randomness in training, and thus the results.

    Oh, randomness probably increases the perceived threat. CNS adapts rather quick to regular impulses. Art De Vany talks a lot about this, and it makes sense to me. Regularity = familiarity = less threat for CNS.

    Reading all these interesting comments, and thinking some more, I think you could say that increasing the perceived threat can do several things:
    – Give you a fight of flight like boost (overwriting the protective mechanisms that apply in ‘normal situations), so you can actually perform better, lift more, sprint harder… This can be good, but possibly dangerous (because there’s no protection). This method should be used carefully and maybe sparingly (competition only?).
    – Block the organism and its performance/output because the perceived threat is too big and the adaptive protection comes in and inhibits action. Even if the actual threat is not really that big. Think fear of heights: walking on a balance beam 30cm above the ground is ok, walking on the same beam 3m above the ground will be really different, although the actual difficulty/threat is probably the same. These performances probably need visualisation/imagery that lowers the perceived threat
    – And my third possibility is the most hypothetical one: increasing the perceived threat without actually doing more could lead to better results

    Thanks for the great input on this interesting but probably not really important issue.

    Pieter

    • “…increasing the response of the training (the super-compensation), not by increasing the actual threat, but by increasing the perceived threat only…”
      I certainly do believe this is possible, if one were able to learn to “mirror” the brain wave patterns associated with such response. Is such a thing practical? Maybe not yet, but in time, I believe, the technology will be available, and simplified enough for “home use”.

  6. Wow, great post, great ideas, great thoughts. This post really made the whole CNS priming click in my mind.

    There was an interesting story in The Mental Game of Baseball by Karl Kuehl and H.A. Dorfman. I think there is some connection between this story and the ideas you have Pieter.

    THe story is about Charles Garfield, a man who says he had “developed his strength to world-class levels”. For this study, he agreed to lift some weights for a group of scientists from East Germany, Bulgaria, and the U.S.S.R.

    It had been seven years since Charles had been a serious lifter. At the time of the experiment, he was lifting 280 on bench press regularly (although, in his prime, he had lifted 435). The scientists asked him how long it would take him to get into shape to lift 365 pounds. Charles replied that it would take nine to twelve months of serious training.

    The scientists than asked Charles what the maximum amount of weight he was willing to try would be, and Charles replied: “300”. (However, Charles was doubtful he would be able to even lift that.) So, apparently, the scientists hooked Charles up to several machines, EEG, ECG, and EMG. Charles was than told to lift 300 lbs, and after several warm ups, he was able to.

    This is where it gets interesting. The scientists than added 65 pounds to the bench press. Charles originally thought that he was not going to be able to press 300 pounds, let alone 365. Especially jumping from 300 pounds to 365 with no gradual build up to that point weight-wise.

    The scientists than guided Charles into a deep state of relaxation, and than talked him through a “series of mental preparations”. Charles started to visualize lying down on the bench and, “with total confidence”, lifting the 365 pounds. He was very precise when it came down to this visualization, visualizing down to the smallest details like feeling the grip of the bar.

    Charles suddenly became “apprehensive”, but the scientists settled him down through “more relaxation, more visualization”. Then, Charles says: “…everything began to come together for me, just as it does an instant before you know you are going to succeed in some task for which you have been preparing. In my mind, I became convinced I could do it. …I lifted the weight”.

    Anyways, I thought that somehow tied in to what you are talking about. The Mental Game of Baseball’s main idea is that visualization is a great way of prepping your mind for actual baseball scenarios (batting, fielding, pitching…), and by visualizing these scenarios, by performing these mental reps, you are preparing your body and your mind for when you actually play. Most of us are probably capable of throwing a baseball 90 feet with some accuracy, but to use visualization to imagine the sudden threat (and randomness) of a ball being hit at you at top speed during a game and the possibly of having to quickly dive to field the ball, get up, and throw out the runner, is an entirely different experience than taking hard grounders you know are coming your way during practice.

    Anyways, I think visualization, of either a perceived threat or maybe even of that confidence Charles talks about, can definitely lead to better results.

    Hope that was somewhere along what you are talking about Pieter. Again, thanks for the thoughts/ideas, and thanks for the post Keith.

    E.M.R

  7. @Keith

    Good, good stuff as always.

    Had a thought the other day – conventional wisdom has it that we lift/crossfit/workout to enhance our performance at pick_your_sport.

    Clearly, this is true. But, under-appreciated in this, is I think that the reverse could be true as well.

    Shooting from the hip and based on a purely anecdotal (n= 1 = me) perspective, the actual playing of sports could prime the CNS in such a manner that lifting type activities are enhanced.

    Recently, I went to play water polo (been about 5 years since I have played seriously), and the actions of passing the ball, shooting the ball, reacting to a shot on goal, jostling/shoving for position etc etc seemed to “wake” up my CNS.

    Having touch on the ball, whether shooting or passing, is a different sort of CNS stimulant — one that I have been missing in CF activities.

    The next day I went to CF and had an epic day.

    Purely coincidental and completely unrelated? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

    • I think this is real; I experience it when I play soccer and basketball, sports I used to play regularly but now only get to play on occasion. Same thing with tennis: some of my best workouts occur after a tennis match.

      The “wake up” perspective resonates with me.

    • Regarding visualization and CNS priming, I knew a pretty serious powerlifter who could deadlift a friggin’ house.

      He said when we DL-ing, especially at a powerlifting meet, he would picture himself DL-ing a car up off his wife to get that extra bit of fear stimulus.

    • This is the great question of the S&C community, and I think there is much to be considered here: Does a fantastic athlete make for a fantastic trainee, or does intense training make the athlete? It’s two sides of the same coin, in my opinion. Bettering one’s self in one realm will produce improvement in the other realm, which will slingshot back to the field of play; this is the yin-yang of athletic improvement and a good S&C coach will “know” when to back -off in the weight room (and other GPP and or specific training), and let the athlete before better by engaging in his sport.

      • >>>>Does a fantastic athlete make for a fantastic trainee, or does intense training make the athlete? It’s two sides of the same coin, in my opinion. Bettering one’s self in one realm will produce improvement in the other realm, which will slingshot back to the field of play;<<<<

        Agreed.

        On a personal note, for the sports I played (water polo and judo), I was a terrible practice athlete. I mean, I went and gave it my all, but could never perform 100%. Average players (guys riding the pine) would occasionally outperform me in practice. Embarrassing to say the least for me and frustrating for my coaches who often thought I was sandbagging.

        But come game/match time — it was a different scenario. I could get mean/angry and ratchet up my performance significantly.

        The difference between, say, how hard and accurately I could shoot the water polo ball in practice or in a game, may have been 25%.

        I didn't see this same (as severe) disparity amongst my friends. Most of them who were strong game/match players, were also strong practice players.

        It made me realize how important, especially to me, the mental aspects of athletics are. Looking back, I wonder if I had been more successful in engaging/priming my CNS during practice, would i have been more successful in actual matches/games?

  8. I think visualization is fine, but it’s something that you have to make sure you know you’re limits with. My T levels feel like they’re going through the roof over the last few months as I keep my insulin levels low, growth hormone high, and have been doing some good lower body work stimulating that much more GH. The “anger” motivation must be kept within bounds, and have a resolution to it, that results in a stress free feeling. When I’m under a lot of stress, though I feel great with good muscle growth going on right now, using too much aggression in a work out may actually be counterproductive to me. I don’t go far as to imagine rainbows 🙂 but there are times when I work out when I intentionally don’t go into the “fight or flight” response. I want the endorphins and adrenaline without the aggression, otherwise my body feels great but I’m a bit hair trigger. I think for those more experienced with this, some comments on practicing these techniques would be helpful. My 2 cents is to not necessarily try this with every workout, that’s been my experience.

  9. Angry metal, action movies, monday night football. I think the perceived “threat” associated with all of these things can trigger enhanced performance/adaptation to stimuli. I know I feel I could jump through the roof after watching a Jason Bourne flick . . .

    Thus, it kills me that the gym on base in Norfolk seems to only ever play golden oldies when I’m trying to lift. If I forget my Ipod, Jimmy Buffet is going to be coaching me through a sub-optimal workout. My own fault I suppose.

    Luckily, that may not be a problem anymore!

    Great post. Thanks Keith and Pieter!

  10. Keith,

    Could it be that IF is a CNS stimulator? That IF creates an actual threat to the organism? I find that when I exercise at the end of a 36 hr fast, I usually achieve that zone of invincibility…that zone where reps at higher and higher weights come effortlessly.

    Being 66 years old, I have found that I must control my exuberance in adding weight/reps as I can/have exceeded my body’s capacity which results requiring many days of rest…but no injury…just the need for longer than normal rest.

    I also do Tabata wind sprints. I am going have to try visualizing that lion chasing me down for his dinner.

    I am an avid softball player in Arizona and I will now incorporate batting, catching, running visualations into my twice weekly mediation sessions. I do need help in all aspects of my game.

    It will be hard to incorporate an angry mental attitude into the game as I truly enjoy each day I am on the field of dreams.

    Great Post.

    Dexter

  11. maybe a appropriate quote:

    “We are highly adaptive creatures. The predictable becomes, by definition, background, leaving the attention uncluttered, the better to deal with the random or unexpected.”

    —Ian McEwan, Enduring Love

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