“Train Your Body AND Brain” Say These Pro Athletes 

Brain Training AND Body Training

You can train your brain, flex your neuroplasticity and exercise your cognitive skills as much as you like, but if you aren’t training your body then your efforts are wasted. And likewise, you can train your body into oblivion but if you don’t train your mind then are you really performing at the top of your game? Probably not.

A Professional’s Opinion

We’ve asked for input and advice from professional athletes so you can apply these brain training and body training tips instantly.

Why is it vital to train your brain and body at the same time this summer?

The brain and the body work in tandem. Whether you’re choosing to play the best brain training games, focusing on a crossword puzzle, swiping right or deciding to up your deadlifts in the gym; your brain and body are communicating and connecting constantly.

Take for example 2019’s Boston Marathon Women’s Winner Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia, who smashed the marathon with a time of 2:23:31(!!) Worknesh’s mindset, focus and body were very much in-sync with one another (or if they weren’t, she got very lucky.)

If Degefa hadn’t trained her mind and body leading up to her race she may have struggled to cope with any unexpected environmental, psychological or neurological factors, possibly affecting her performance and race result on the day.

Train Your Mind for Optimal Performance

Dr Jim Taylor’s book ‘Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Sports Goals’ describes why prepping your mind and body for any physical activity is crucial for optimal performance.

Although Dr Taylor describes his method as a ‘pre-competitive routine’ the same principles can be applied to everyday activities, just swap the word “competition” with “workout.” He says: “The first step in designing a pre-competitive routine is to make a list of everything you need to do before a competition to be prepared. Some of the common elements you should include are meals, review of competitive tactics, physical warm-up, technical warm-up, equipment check and mental preparation… (plus) use mental imagery.”

Factors which may impede your mental preparation could include a lack of sleep, limited visualisation or meditation, a struggle to focus, external or internal stressors, or forgetting your training techniques.

Let’s Talk Physical And Mental Training

We spoke with Jamie Broadley, Player/Coach at Sheffield Tigers Rugby Club and England Counties player, who has some incredible insights and tips when it comes to stimulating your mind to support your physical training:

“There is a growing realisation about the importance of training the mind as well as the body, with sports psychologists now forming an integral part of most back-room set-ups. For the athlete this can be split into 3 distinct areas: training, performance and life outside sport. For training this focuses on allowing the athlete to take on board feedback and consequently speed up the learning process.

This could take the form of working through ego defence, challenging limiting beliefs and developing a growth mindset.

In competition it’s all about extracting the maximum possible performance. This could take the form of visualisation or mindfulness and relaxation techniques to manage nerves.

Athletes also have lives away from sport and they’re just as likely to experience the same challenges as anyone else. Ensuring that these don’t distract from their sporting performance is crucial and as a result so many athletes will access a range of talking therapies to help manage this.”

The power of training physically and mentally was highlighted in a 2013 study by a team of neuroscientists at Imperial College London who: “compared the behavior and brain structure of healthy controls with a group of karate black belts.”

The team of neuroscientists “found that the amount of experience and the age at which training began were all associated with individual differences in white matter integrity in the cerebellum.” Meaning the neural differences were significant, with more cortical thickness in parts of the brains of the karate black belts, due to “upped” training, plus added experience.

We spoke to professional sportsman Max Argyle of Jersey Reds Rugby Club about how he keeps his brain as fit as his body:

“I keep up my mental agility by exposing myself to high-pressure situations throughout my life. This has been proven to enhance your neuroplasticity, especially if your mindset has been trained to control stress in high-pressure situations… I also reflect critically on my own emotions and behaviour for growth and adaptation.”

Max mentioned how he reads stoic literature and plays word games (such as Peak – Brain Training’s word game Word Fresh.) He finds all of these brain training techniques support his training on and off the rugby pitch.

Former professional rugby player Michael Keating follows a similar sort of ritual to adapt his mind from office to field (and back again):

“I read quite a lot, so that would be my main focus. I tend to do the likes of crosswords, word searches and Sudoku if I’m travelling. I’m also a fan of brain training apps which are awesome. They’re a big help for switching you on and waking you up in the morning. Also I love watching quiz shows to improve my random general knowledge.”

What are the main takeaways from this article on the importance of training your brain as much as training your body?

  1. Take as much time training your brain as you do your body
  2. Focus on pre-match or pre-exercise protocols and rituals (no matter how small)
  3. Try a variety of brain training tools, e.g. Apps, crosswords and reading
  4. A summer brain is just as important as a summer body
  5. Thanks to Michael Keating we can now all watch more quiz shows guilt-free (guilty pleasure unleashed!)

So there you have it, the Pros have officially spoken. Thanks to all of their tips, tricks and honest insights. We’re pretty sure we can now all agree that this summer’s training regime has just switched up a notch (or 5), with the realisation that this summer’s body isn’t just going to be built in the gym.

Sources Cited:

  1. Dr Jim Taylor’s book, Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Sports Goals. 2017 Oct: 147.
  2. https://medium.com/peak-wellbeing/an-athlete-s-brain-how-brain-structure-defines-physical-ability-8d26de8dd585
  3. https://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/class/120/3-mind.htm
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22892425
  5. https://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/class/120/3-mind.htm
  6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201207/sports-why-the-worlds-best-athletes-use-routines
  7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/fantasies

Maisie Bygraves

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