Do you remember when you first started exercising? Remember how difficult a push-up was? Or how impossible you thought it was to perform a proper back squat? However, after a few weeks these moves began to feel natural, they were almost instinctual. The truth is, a proper squat was impossible at first. Your body didn’t have the capacity to complete a proper squat, and your brain was protecting you from potential injury. Someone who has never exercised before more than likely does not have the proper musculature or skeletal support to perform a proper squat. Your brain senses this and communicates with your nervous system to physically and mentally prevent you from acquiring the desired position. It may be lack of mobility, lack of muscular support, lack of tendon and ligament integrity, lack of muscle synchronization, or the lack of bodily awareness to place you in the desired position. Thankfully, our bodies were made to adapt to stimuli of all sorts, and all adaptations originate in the brain.
The ability of our brain to adapt and change its neural structure is called neuroplasticity. Every movement of the body provides sensory feedback to the brain. The brain takes this feedback, deciphers it and adapts to it. It creates new neural pathways, new neurons, new connections between cells and new capabilities. When you first begin to exercise you were unaware of your lack of ability. You didn’t know you were doing the move wrong, you were just doing it as you always had. It was the stage of Unconscious Incompetence. Once you become aware of your abilities, or lack thereof, you start to consciously realize the errors in your movement patterns. Your knees came too far forward during the squat, or your back was rounded. You can tell there was something wrong before we, the coaches, tell you. Luckily, this is the phase where you brain is in overdrive. Sensory input from the working muscles are communicating with the brain at an increased rate. Your brain is taking each and every stimulus and attempting to make it as efficient as possible; it may still be incorrect, but at least you are now at the stage of Conscious Incompetence. Next up is when things all start to make sense, Conscious Competence. The move is being performed correctly and you are aware of the proper technique and “feel” of the move. Every repetition from this point on goes into your memory bank, building and building and building until the move is as efficient as possible for your body type. Finally, you will find yourself in the stage of Unconscious Competence. Now the move is a habit. You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to improve upon it, you just do it. Your “mental map” of the move is memorized and the necessary motor patterns happen without thought. You may need a refresher course every now and again to iron out any wrinkles in the movement pattern, but for the most part the move is securely ingrained within your brain.
As your body grows and becomes stronger, your brain is also forced to grow and become stronger. For every adaptation your body makes, your brain has made multiple. It creates new muscle fibers, new hormones, new endorphins, new neurons, new motor pathways, and new ideas. That’s why they say anything is possible if you set your mind to it. You are doing much, much more than just making a stronger body while at Elite. You are creating a stronger mind, a stronger heart, a stronger mom, a stronger dad, a stronger brother, sister, friend, and role-model.