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Brain Endurance Training

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In this post we will explore how we can help to rewire your brain to keep physical exhaustion at bay for longer.

Is it REALLY muscle fatigue that exhausts you after a tough training session? Or could it simply be a perception that you have reached your limits and you just gave up? It may well be mostly in your mind because research indicates that fatigue can often be mental rather than purely physical.

To link mental perception and physical performance in 2009 a clever scientist called Samuele Marcora carried out a test in which the subjects cycled on a stationary bike after undertaking a boring cognitive exercise. He thought that in the same way muscles are trained through repeated strain the brain could also be trained to become more resistant to mental fatigue - and to perceived physical effort.

Two groups of volunteers were first tested to assess their capacity for physical endurance, they pedalled on the stationary bike for as long as they could and the results were collated.

After this the subjects then trained on the bike for 3 hours every week for 12 weeks.

But whereas the control group only trained their bodies, the experimental group had to train their brains too. As they cycled the subjects carried out a mental exercise called AX-CPT on a computer by the bike while they pedalled.

During the AX-CPT task, the participants were shown sequences of letters and they needed to push a button when they spotted and "X" following an "A" which happened 75% of the time. To succeed the subjects have to avoid giving automatic responses to the stimuli. The test is designed to be repetitive and boring so its mentally exhausting to do!

But it activates and develops a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex which is identified as being responsible for perceiving effort.

After 12 weeks the subjects returned to the lab where they were retested for cardiac fitness undertaking the same test.

Unsurprisingly the heart fitness had improved more or less identically for both sets of subjects, but when they repeated the "all you can pedal" test the two groups' results differed significantly.

The control group improved it's fitness by 46% - but the subjects who had undergone the mental training had improved by 120%.

The difference was that the "brain training" group simply felt less tired: the way their brains perceived effort had changed.

Britain's ministry of defence partially funded this research and soldiers were also tested (albeit with different experiments) in the hope that they would become even more physically and mentally resistant...but the results are classified...

Give something like this a go on your next training session...maybe your 12 times table would be good?


P.S Look out for our next article on mindfulness...


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