Movement & the Development of Your Brain

New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds writes, "It's widely accepted among scientists that regular exercise transforms the brain, improving the ability to remember and think." Reynolds goes further pointing to a promising body of research supporting the idea that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. The National Academy of Sciences published a new study showing how testosterone increases in the brain after training could be fueling neurogenesis and brain plasticity.

It turns out your brain likely produces a significant amount of the hormone dihydrotestosterone or DHT (as you might have guessed by the name, a derivative of testosterone). Researchers found that the hippocampus - critical for memory formation and spacial navigation - in particular was bathed in this hormone after training and that new neuron growth likely resulted from DHT's uptake in the brain. Reynolds summarizes this stating, "In essence, exercise prompts the production of more DHT. And more DHT helps to create more new brain cells."

Turning our attention to brain-derived neuro-tropic factor or BDNF we find yet another body of research supporting brain development and training. BDNF is a protein that promotes tissue growth and health throughout your body, including that brain of yours taking in these words. Training increases your levels of BDNF. It is vital in the learning, memory and higher thinking regions of the brain (not to mention it is well established as an important part of the regulation of body weight, in particular fat oxidation in muscle tissue, and energy homeostasis). Of all the chemicals that help stimulate and control neurogenesis, BDNF is perhaps one of the most active. Harvard's clinical professor of psychiatry Dr. John Ratey calls it the "Miracle-Gro" of the brain.

So, if you happen to be interested in enriching your neurons with the right "nutrients" to fire more quickly, grow faster and develop stronger connections then get into your training, NOW!

Furthermore, I can't think of a more rich neurological climate to pick up meditative or contemplative exercises with the power to yield multifaceted transformations throughout your life. Get training and while you're at it you might as well make strength training your new spiritual practice as Strength To Awaken illustrates.

 Enjoy,
~Rob McNamara


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When you Should and Shouldn't Train for Size


Size, it's a major focus point in the field of strength training. Unfortunately size is not properly understood so I am going to chime in on a few things.

1. You need more muscle mass. 


If you haven't followed my blog on why - you need to read it here. Muscle mass generally makes you smaller until you have gotten your body fat down to fairly low levels. So for most people, training to gain more muscle mass means you'll trade very dense muscle tissue for very dispersed adipose tissue (this is especially the case when you refine your nutrition to support muscle growth and fat loss). Get bigger muscles & you get smaller. This is the kind of size that's good for most people.

2. Athletes, slow down! 


If you happen to be a aspiring athlete who wants to get bigger and stronger... slow down!


I remember coming back my senior year in college and telling my lacrosse coach that I had gained 10 pounds of muscle. He was sitting in his office studying game tapes and here was his two year captain rolling in telling him that I gained 10 pounds of muscle since last season. What do you think his response was?

He got angry.

He knew all too well what this typically means. To him, I was telling him something along these lines, "Hey coach, I trained really hard and got slower for you... but I look good on the beach."

What was my response?

I said, "Coach, I gained 10 pounds of muscle and...I got faster. I am faster than last season."

That's when he got excited.

Gaining muscle in the conventional sense typically slows you down. Training methodologies that are designed to just build muscular size (these have become the most popular and wide spread) are not the exercises that likely you should be doing. You want to build muscular power, joint integrity and your ability for something I was talking about yesterday with a young athlete - progressive acceleration.

If you gain muscle, make sure you're doing it in a way that builds more starting power, better joint integrity and higher measures of progressive acceleration. If you're doing this your coach will be happy with what happens come competition. Athletes, whenever possible consult with seasoned experience working with athletes at the highest levels of your discipline. Learn what they are doing and employ these methodologies strategically.

In most cases you will find out that you want to avoid size like the plague, unless size is also making you neurologically more powerful, explosive, dynamic, flexible and more insulated from possible injury. If size is slowing you down, chances are you're training yourself out of being competitive.

3. The real size everyone needs.

Here is what 99% of the discourse on size is missing. While you may or may not want more physical size, you should be training to inhabit more of your psychological size. That's right you want your sense of self to be bigger, broader, more inclusive and integrative.

You need a bigger self.

Training can grow your sense of self such that you are larger than culture. This means that you are bigger than social conventions. Social norms don't drive you, your larger intelligence directs you. The self that's smaller than culture is directed by culture. The self that's larger is the one doing the directing that stems from a larger integrity. This self is big, but to be perfectly honest it's not big enough.

If you're interested in training to become larger my book Strength To Awaken is perhaps the most nuanced discourse on the subject matter. I show you how to cultivate a self that is bigger than polarities. A self that is larger than the dualities of pain and pleasure is a massively large self that is capable of an elegance that smaller, less integrative selves can not even dream of.

The next time you dive into your training I recommend focusing on what size of self you are training. Are you "exercising" your self that is smaller than your socially constructed habits or are you training the self that is larger than your habituation? Are you playing inside the conditioning of pain and pleasure or are you playing in a self that is outside of this conditioned box?

And for those of you who are worried about having a big self, or a "big ego" as it might be referred to... relax. We are not talking about inflating the ego's sense of self importance to monumental proportions. We are instead talking about growing your ego functions to massively powerful and refined levels such that you can regulate social pressures, personal habits that may hold you back as well as unresolvable polarities. These become facets that you participate with, manage and regulate instead of being managed and regulated by them.

Expand your sense of self, train to grow a larger more capable self and you will likely be served in every other facet of life.

Big Love
~Rob
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