While strengthening your body with physical exercise, you also need to strengthen your mind to achieve mind-body harmony. The central nervous system has a remarkable property called neural plasticity which is the ability to strengthen neural connections.
Merely imagining practicing movements can cause changes in the motor cortex, increase the plasticity of the brain, and can motivate the brain to perform the task better.1
Fascia, the muscular connective tissue in the body, has an important link to mobility and flexibility due to its elastic qualities. Keeping fascia healthy and flexible is particularly important for athletes who experience high cardiovascular demand.2 The strengthening of fascia is a journey of training, good food, and endurance. Building physical strength with a weak mind is impossible.3
Meditation and yoga or breathing exercises can be viewed as a psychological exercise that will calm your mind and reward you with improved concentration and a stronger outlook.4
Let us now look into the various methods to strengthen and condition your brain toward achieving success as an athlete.
1. Practice Often
Practice makes perfect is an old proverb. If one practices an activity enough, one will eventually master it. Athletic giftedness is attributed to kinesthetic intelligence which means you are aware of your body position and move through time and space with ease.
You have a keen awareness of the objects and events around you if you are good at your sport. You can time your movements with precision, power, and gracefulness. You have a feel for the game, can understand and create intricate patterns, can anticipate the next move during a performance, and demonstrate swift reaction time.
For athletes, structuring training sessions so that any tactical aspects come at the end after the plasticity boost provided by physical exertion could help the lessons stick. When you become experienced in your sport after practicing a lot, you do not have to think extensively during a performance; the necessary actions are so ingrained through practice that they become automatic.
This ability to perform a task “without thinking about it” is actually the result of your brain falling into a pattern. Practice helps to strengthen these neural connections.5
2. Develop Mental Skills
To perform better in any situation, it is critical to develop psychological skills, which just like physical abilities, can be taught, learned, and practiced. Mental preparedness and psychological awareness are the keys to thriving in any environment.
Cognitive imagery plays a motivational role in influencing behavior. It involves mentally rehearsing race plans and strategies of play and also the mental rehearsal of skills. Mental practice helps you develop ways to manage cognitive anxiety so that worrisome thoughts or fear do not get in the way of your athletic performance.
You learn how to focus on important sensory information while eliminating distractions. Imagery techniques help to prepare mentally for a competition, visualize success, and manage your mood and energy levels.6
3. Work On Your Fascia
Fascia, the body-wide tensional force transmission network is a part of the human body’s every movement. Healthy fascia structures form protective joint capsules, contribute to core stability and a strong back, and are responsible for the body’s muscle definition and contour.
Too much activity will induce negative changes in fascia such as inflammation, injury, and concomitant scar tissue to the extent that muscle function and athletic performance will decrease. Too little activity can weaken the fascia’s ability to support muscle and nerve function. This means that fascia can and should be specifically trained to excel in athletics.
Your ability to learn, feel, and remember movement and the ability of the brain to optimize the performance largely depend on a properly trained and maintained fascial system.7
4. Concentrate On Physical Exercises
Muscle power is essential for a person’s performance in athletics and the nerves that cause the muscles to contract form the fundamental core of muscle power.
Strength training improves power by teaching the nervous system to work effectively and can reduce fatigue in the latter portions of a long endurance race. The coordination and timing of the nerve stimulation of the various muscles involved in a specific skill have to do with how well-trained the nervous system is.
Plyometric training and strength training make you more powerful and capable of going fast for a long time and have the potential to produce great performance rewards. The force that is required to generate power for efficient performance results from neuromuscular strength and can be easily developed with weight training.
The combination of greater power and greater endurance helps you to finish a race strongly. These exercises can result in amazing mental strength to endure and achieve greater power with no fatigue.8
5. Include Yoga And Meditation
Yogic breathing has been shown to increase lung capacity, and greater lung capacity increases endurance and improves overall athletic performance.
Athletes in all sports find that yogic conditioning not only elongates tight, shortened, fatigued muscles but also brings calmness and clarity to the mind. These exercises are also beneficial for rehabilitation from an injury and to gain more flexibility, strength, and stability.
Slow, mindful, and focused breathing helps you to consciously slow down your heart rate and improve endurance at the height of physical and mental stress by calming the mind. It increases the blood oxygen flow, elongates the muscles, and allows the body to engage in more stressful workouts.
Meditation increases the inner focus that can help rebalance, strengthen, and restore overtaxed muscles, joints, and ligaments.9
A strong body cannot perform well under the command of a weak mind. Strengthening the neural network in your body and working your mind is essential to optimize your performance in athletics along with physical exercise. Hence, condition and strengthen your brain as the first step toward excelling in athletics.
|↑1||Bernstein, Douglas. Essentials of psychology. Cengage Learning, 2013.|
|↑2||NSCA-National Strength & Conditioning Association. “NSCA’S Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning.” Human Kinetics, 2017.|
|↑3||Arcaro, Gino. “eXplode: The X Fitness Training System.” Jordan Publications Inc.|
|↑4||Felstead, Christine. Yoga for runners. Human Kinetics, 2013.|
|↑5||Kerr, Barbara, ed. Encyclopedia of giftedness, creativity, and talent. Vol. 2. Sage, 2009.|
|↑6||Gregg, Melanie, Craig Hall, and Esther Nederhof. “The imagery ability, imagery use, and performance relationship.” The Sports Psychologist 19, no. 1 (2005): 93-99.|
|↑7||Mueller, Divo and Hertzer, Karin. “Train Your Fascia, Tone Your Body: The Successful Method to Form Firm Connective Tissue.” Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2017.|
|↑8||Friel, Joe. The Triathlete’s Training Bible: The World’s Most Comprehensive Training Guide. VeloPress, 2016.|
|↑9||IDEA Health & Fitness. “Advanced Sports Conditioning for Enhanced Performance.” IDEA Health & Fitness Association, 2002.|