Brain training

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

It’s seemed like a bit of a quiet week. Maybe I am just getting behind this week with things going on. Whatever the case, only one topic today but it’s one that I’m really fascinated in.

I’ve blogged before about the idea of training your brain to handle fatigue more effectively and how that might make you a better runner.

Well, here’s another one. This time, the participants were doing mentally demanding activities during their exercise.

The results were pretty amazing. Untrained participants who didn’t do the mental tasks while exercising improved in a time to exhaustion test by an impressive 42 percent. The participants who did do the mental tasks, though, blew that result out of the water. They improved by 126 percent. That’s an improvement exactly 3 times greater than the control group!

What does this tell us? Well, it appears the mental tasks being performed while training increase the stress our bodies are facing during these training sessions. Removing the stress on test day made the physical stress feel much easier.

Just be sure to note:

Marcora agrees, suggesting there are “certain situations where brain training in combination with physical training makes sense and certain situations where it does not.” More specifically, if you are going to do all-out intervals, it is probably best to focus solely on the intervals, perhaps with some music blasting in the background. But, if you are doing an easier or more moderate workout—anything up to 80 to 85 percent of maximum effort—that’s prime time to work your brain. “Applying a cognitive strain can produce an enhanced training effect without adding any additional physiological stress,” Marcora says.

So just save the mentally challenging tasks for your easy days. But now I won’t feel so bad when I’m out on an easy run and my mind shifts to doing math with numbers I see along the way.

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