brain, motivation, science, research, athletes,

Is Your Workout Working?

What happens in your brain when you decide to try a new strategy

Every athlete knows that education is a crucial part of performance. Sport and exercise research, insight from top trainers, science, and technology help you to better understand your body so you can craft a healthier lifestyle, workouts, and recovery plan.

In our daily news series, experts address some of the latest fitness research, nutrition, style, and health stories.


THE SCIENCE
In a new study published in Neuron, researchers followed monkeys to see if they would continue to forage one place (that would eventually reap a reward but with no guarantee on how soon) or try another that might get them a reward faster. Right before the animals decided to move on, the posterior cingulate cortex lit up.
EXPERT INSIGHT
We hypothesize that this part of the brain might help calculate the value of alternative choices, says lead author David Barack, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Columbia University. If your current strategy isn’t working as well as you wish it was, that’s what motivates you to explore different options.

And he points out that these results could particularly help the fitness-minded. "Athletes have to make decisions all the time about when to try new techniques, which may very well be motivated by disappointment in the way things are going," says Barack. Say you’re aiming to run a 21-minute 5K. You’ve been doing speed work on a treadmill twice a week for 30 minutes (30 seconds all-out with one-minute recovery in between). But on race day, you finish in 23 minutes. So, your posterior cingulate cortex lights up and you decide to switch up your training: Ahead of the next race you’ll do longer intervals—one minute all-out with one-minute recovery. And you’ll also add in some plyometrics, which have been shown to improve running times as well.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Take the time to evaluate your progress monthly, whether it's timing your 5K or seeing how many push-ups you can do. If your current strategies aren't working, think about what you can do differently. This may be the key to initiating a new, more productive routine, quicker.