How to optimise physiological gains using the mind

Optimising results in the gym requires more than the right strength and cardio exercises. It requires more than the right nutritional plan. The best results are always achieved by members who start in a strong mental head space.

The problem

The value of rest is widely acknowledged amongst the fitness community. Everybody remembers waking up after their first leg session and not being able to walk. Growth is a simple concept; we subject our body to stress (exercise), our nervous system then tells the body to promote protein synthesis in order to prepare the body for those same demands.

The process as you can imagine is a lot more complex than that but that’s the basic premise. While the majority of growth occurs during sleep, it is not the sleep that causes growth, but rather the state of the nervous system. Our nervous system ranges from a state of ‘fight or flight’ commonly referred to as sympathetic, to a state of ‘rest and digest state’ which is regarded as parasympathetic.

How does it work?

The simple truth is that we can not break down food and recover during exercise. This is why all gym goers are advised to have an hour gap in between a meal and beginning exercising. Most of us have made the mistake of eating a big meal before vigorous exercise and paid the price.

It's important to note that our sympathetic nervous system is activated beyond just vigorous exercise. Whenever we become highly stimulated (through video games, movies, watching sport or just partying hard) we are engaging our sympathetic nervous system. This is not great for your body as it limits the amount of time you spend recovering. Our body is in a sympathetic state more often than parasympathetic due to the fact that we feel the need to be constantly stimulated through entertainment, media and other stimulus, leaving us very little down time.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted to promote quality sleep and regulate our circadian rhythm. Many of us are not getting the required melatonin from sleep to ensure growth and recovery. A cool, dark, quiet bedroom is essential for promoting quality sleep. Studies have shown that if you have light entering your room when you’re sleeping, the light can suppress melatonin release by up to 80%. The same can be said for heat; our ancestors usually slept through cold dark nights, exactly what our body needs but we’re preventing ourselves from maximising sleep.

What’s the solution?

We know the body and mind need a cold, dark, quiet room to sleep in. It’s also advised that you should not look at a screen for up to 30 minutes before you go to bed to allow your eyes to adjust and ensure that you are minimizing brain stimulation.

If you must look at a screen, studies have shown that red light (fire, orange tinge) only suppresses melatonin release up to 1%. Another strategy to unwind is to find time throughout the day where you can diffuse, be it meditation, deep breathing or even an afternoon nap. All of these circuit breakers allow your body to enter a parasympathetic state. The key is to just clear your mind and just stop periodically.

Remember that the more active your mind is, the less effective your body will be at repairing and growing your tissues.

Stressed out or not getting enough sleep? Give it a go!!

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Raphael Morrissey

Raphael Morrissey

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