Many people think that when they work out, they often go to their absolute limit. Now scientists found that by deceiving the brain, a hidden stash of energy reserves is activated and you improve your performance.
Race Against Yourself
In a research project at England’s Northumbria University, cyclists were asked to race against an avatar on a computer screen, which they were told presented their previous best time.
In reality, however, the avatar was going 1% faster than that best time.
Additionally, the cyclists could also see themselves represented as an on-screen avatar as well, which allowed them to directly compare themselves to what they believed was the previous and better performing earlier incarnation of them.
Five Percent Improvement
Despite never actually having ridden this fast before, the cyclists improved their performance by up to 5%.
The researchers believe that this happens because the brain calculates the total energy it assumes necessary for an exercise session and uses this calculation to set a pace it believes will take it through it. Feedback from the body is then used to control energy output, allowing the body to see the end of the exercise bout without causing damage.
This leaves an interesting question: Is it safe to use this last reserve?
While this increase in performance is remarkable, there apparently is a reason for the brain to keep back this last and final reserve. If it continually is tapped into, this may cause the damage the researchers themselves believe the safety guards are meant to prevent.
Kevin Thompson, one of the scientists behind the research, told Alpha Galileo Foundation:
We feel that this system is conservative and even in well-trained individuals, who have a well developed pacing template, there is a reserve of energy production which can be utilised to further enhance performance.
Feeling and knowing are not quite the same thing. As there is already talk that this technique will be used for preparing ahtletes participating in the 2012 Olympics, I hope that none of them will have to face dire consequences to their health.
Picture courtesy of “lululemon“.