Can Strength Training improve your emotional intelligence?
Thu, Nov 22 2012 10:46 | Brain, Emotional Intelligence, Interoception, Nervous System, Neuroplasticity, Strength Training
Strength training may be strengthening your body-mind's capacity for interoception just as much as, perhaps more than, it is strengthening your muscles, connective tissue, and your neurological capacity to innervate muscle fibers through your motor units.
So while strength training is often focused upon conventional measures of strength, power and endurance I propose that strength training may also be effective at strengthening your ability to identify, assess and control emotions.
Interoception, or the perception of the inside of the body, is a central foundation in strength training. The process of feeling down into your body (or part of your body) creates a more "vertically" integrated nervous system. The prefrontal cortex
- the seat of your conscious awareness and decision making center of the brain - connects through the insula down into the body to receive all sorts of information such as heart and breathing rates, tension and fatigue in the muscles, pressure upon the skeletal system, pH levels in the digestive system amongst many others.
Strength training vertically integrates the nervous system which is very similar to the neurological wiring needed for self-awareness and social attunement. So while you may be focusing on lifting more weight, the interoceptive process required to do so may be fine tuning your neurological capacity for a larger emotional intelligence.
It's likely that through the process of staying calm, open and relaxed in the face of high levels of pain and intensity during your training that some important neurological changes may be under way.
The assessment of when to be reactive and to be receptive that happens in the brainstem might be undergoing some sort of change making you a more receptive human being even under immense stress. As your posterior insula registers your bodily states during your training a more robust connection to your anterior insula (the part that is invariably activated when you are aware of your bodily states) may be developed as you consciously focus on the direct and immediate sensations of training.
This in turn may introduce stronger connections between the anterior insula and your prefrontal cortex. Spindle cells are responsible for precisely this and research supports that as spindle cell density increases, so does the experience of self-awareness.
Strength training, it's usually focused upon waist lines and muscle tissue, but perhaps as we outgrow these limiting orientations we will discover how strength training brings greater plasticity to the nervous system and shapes a more integrative human being.