March 31, 2006

Thinking about your muscles makes you stronger.

The team wired their subjects up to weight machines which monitored levels of electrical activity in their biceps and asked them to think in two different ways while exercising.

The more electrical activity measured - the more the muscle is doing.

When subjects were asked to focus on what their muscles were doing and how they were working there were significantly higher levels of electrical activity.

But when they were asked to visualise lifting the weight, electrical activity was lower.
So much for your Zen philosophy!


Danny Carlton said...

Actually the article implies the exact opposite about Zen.

I remember at a job I used to have the boss wanted something done and instead of simply giving me the task, he micro-managed every step. Halfway through I screwed up and ruined it. Fortunately, after I explained the problem, he handed the task to me, and I completed it perfectly.

While I haven't read any of these Zen books, I would imagine that the effectiveness of the techniques they advocate lead the person to the point of allowing their body to do what it has developed the instincts to do, without being micromanaged by the conscious mind. The body, then would perform the task in the most efficient manner it has learned. Meditation, therefore, is the process of getting the conscious mind to shut the heck up and let the body do its job.

Archery, as with any other sport, needs efficiency. Body building, on the other hand, requires the exact opposite. The more inefficient the task, the more work, the more muscle development. Therefore the extra electrical activity would indicate extra work when the task in "micro-managed" by focusing on the muscle itself. The decreased electrical activity would demonstrate an added efficiency when the task as a whole is focused on. which is desired depends on the goal: Muscle development or power lifting. The conclusion would be that while working on developing the muscles, concentrate on the muscles, but when doing the sport (lifting, archery, running etc.) concentrate on the overall task at hand.

But, the meditation aspect is only a part of Zen. The religious elements are another topic altogether.

Ann Althouse said...

Danny: "Actually the article implies the exact opposite about Zen."

That's what I meant by "So much for your Zen philosophy" -- almost. Strength isn't everything.

Anthony said...

That seems to confirm something body builders have been aware of for a long time, or at least what they've thought for a long time: They call it 'thinking into the muscle' or suchlike. They tend to work specific sets of muscles at a time and concentrating very hard on working those muscles to their fullest extent during a movement.

I suspect it's because when you concentrate on a particular muscle group you are both making sure that they contract fully and also not allowing yourself to 'cheat' by bringing in other ancillary muscles to assist in the movement.

PatCA said...

Hmmm, so "thinking" affects you physically, but "prayer" does not.

Scrappleface's take on it all was funny...

Eli Blake said...

Then how come physical therapists, dance instructors and chiropractors don't all look like Arnold Schwarzeneggar?

altoids1306 said...

I think Anthony hit the nail on the head.

Thinking about specific muscle groups forces you to consciously control your movements, rather than letting your body automatically find the most efficient motion.

Have you ever noticed that certain repetitive actions are performed with unusual dexterity? For example, opening a closet door, or picking up a toothbrush. I think this brain "micro-management" prevents the muscle-builder from streamlining that task.

On the other hand, for tasks that require precison, I've always found it beneficial to visualize the end result rather than the muscle groups. I'm a decent darts-player, handgun shooter, and squash player, and I find that focusing on the holistic motion is much more effective, particularly in darts.

dax said...

Then why don't all men have 12".............................................never mind!

Meade said...

"Thinking about your muscles makes you stronger."

Stronger in your mind maybe. But to make a muscle physically stronger one has to overload the muscle (work or exercise), provide adequate nutrition (primarily, protein), and rest (preferably, sleep).

Thinking about a muscle may increase action potential, the electrical discharge that travels along the membrane of a cell, but can only lead to increased strength if the muscle moves, becomes overloaded, and is repaired.

Ann Althouse said...

PatCA said..."Hmmm, so "thinking" affects you physically, but "prayer" does not."

The study about prayer tested the effect of prayer on someone else, in a different place. The effect of prayer on the person doing the praying is different. That prayer is also a form of thinking, so one would expect it to have a physical effect on that person. Now, if a study showed that me thinking about someone else's muscles made them stronger, that would be... freaky!

Jason said...

The obvious conclusion the researchers didn't reach is that the muscle is "doing less" when one visualizes lifting the weight because there is less weight for the muscle to lift. The mind is doing the heavy lifting.

Um, right?

PatCA said...

"Now, if a study showed that me thinking about someone else's muscles made them stronger, that would be... freaky!"

I'd pay for a personal trainer with those skills!

Meade said...

Sorry... not a prayer.