T Nation

Neuroplasticity and Combat Sports


#1

I was watching a short documentary the other day on this very topic, and it was rather interesting and applicable to combat sports in a number of ways.

Now the actual program was focused on the revolutionary treatment method for people who have had strokes or accidents denying them the function of a limb for example, were being taught to regain function in that limb by immobilizing the working limb and being forced to use affected limb, thereby forcing the brain to create new neural pathways. (or as I understood it)

Half way through the program there was a section where they were talking about a study that had a control group practice playing a piano with the goal of rapidly improving the speed at which they could press the keys. The 2nd group was sat down in front of a piano, not to play, but to visualize themselves doing the task of the other group. After a few weeks both groups showed significant improvement in their key speed.

This lead to a expert talking about how just through imaging yourself doing an activity, you were slowly creating new neural pathways. (again as I understood it :P)

Now I've never been a big on visualization/meditation but this does lend some credibility to the concept in my mind. Although I do still think crap like "visualize yourself with your hand held up at the end of the fight" is a waste of time, but visualizing yourself performing techniques or dodging etc may have some merit.


#2

of course there is merit to visualization. imagery is thoroughly studied and a very useful tool for athletes of all levels.

in fact, i bet a large majority of professional/ elite level athletes use imagery in some way as part of their training.

the nervous system is an often overlooked system which is actually a shame, because this system governs the entire body and is the most powerful.


#3

Makes total sense to me. I use visuals or "image training" when racing cars all the time If you can memorize the race track or course you are more mentally aware of what you should be doing before you need to do it.
I also remember reading several articles on building your body and when you do an excercise you visualize what you want your body to look like while doing them.

Also ther are a couple of students in my Krav classes who have a great ability to imitate movements that they have seen in class. This is a great advantage for them to get closer to being able to use it effectively in a real situation.

I would say that the more you think about something the closer you get to becoming what you think of.


#4

I suspect the students who are quick & adept imitators are more visual learners than visualizers. So they're quickly taking in and processing the information that they've seen.

Visualizing, or practicing mentally to improve physical performance, requires more time and a real commitment to the process. Learning by imitation is quick and easily modified. When you're deeply visualizing throwing a right cross (for example) you may even feel the same involuntary physical twitches that come with throwing the strike physically.

Visualization is an awesome tool and it works.


#5

I would agree with that. I see them passing most tests with high marks but when it comes to sparring they are not nearly as strong. That could be caused by fear or other factors but I like to think I am just better at the real thing......lol


#6

If you're like most on this forum you probably spend enough time daydreaming about your chosen sport and probably need to focus a bit more on the other things... (work, study etc.) :wink:


#7

Imagery has been shown in many studies to have a significant affect on performance. The main reason proposed for this seems to be due to neural efficiency, where imagining a movement results in a more efficient recruitment of neural pathways involved in the movement, fMRI studies have shown very similar activity in performance of a movement and execution. If your interested in this sort of thing you should also look into the 'mirror neuron system' recently it has been shown that through just watching a movement being performed we become better at the movement, i did my dissertation on this and found that through merely observation of a bicep curl strength in the curl significantly increased.

OP visualising your hand being held up at the end of the fight could still have a significant affect but it would be merely mental i.e. believing your going to win prior to a fight you'll be more confident etc, but studies definitely suggest that imagining the blocking and punching movements would be of benefit!


#8

Imagery has been shown in many studies to have a significant affect on performance. The main reason proposed for this seems to be due to neural efficiency, where imagining a movement results in a more efficient recruitment of neural pathways involved in the movement, fMRI studies have shown very similar activity in performance of a movement and execution. If your interested in this sort of thing you should also look into the 'mirror neuron system' recently it has been shown that through just watching a movement being performed we become better at the movement, i did my dissertation on this and found that through merely observation of a bicep curl strength in the curl significantly increased.

OP visualising your hand being held up at the end of the fight could still have a significant affect but it would be merely mental i.e. believing your going to win prior to a fight you'll be more confident etc, but studies definitely suggest that imagining the blocking and punching movements would be of benefit!


#9

I am a firm believer of neuroplasticity. When studying exercise physiology at UGA, we used this theoretical principle to help patients with multiple sclerosis to improve their motor coordination. You have to do both mental and physical training though. My doctoral professor published a few studies on the topic in peer reviewed scientific journals, and I've seen patients relearn how to walk, and in some cases run.

I personally believe this works in regards to any type of activity that involves motor learning. I've also read studies that show increased EMG activity to specific muscle groups when the subjects were told to think about contracting that particular muscle (even though they remained still). Therefore I believe there may be some motor unit activation, even if it's minor.

I do a lot of mental imagery/visualization training the week of competition. It's almost like meditating. Whether it's a placebo effect or not, it works for me, so I choose to believe it works. But mental visualization alone doesn't work, you def need to drill and train the movements in both controlled and live situations in order for your CNS and PNS to develop the neural pathways.

I.E. You learn a new technique, let's say an armbar just to keep it simple. You drill the steps several times one day and maybe even try it live (and if you're succesful when going live then it's even better!), then, after training when you are at home you visualize the steps over and over again. You will probably remember the details more when you practice it the next day and your motor units will fire more adequately. This may improve your technique on the following training session.

Of course this is all theoretical, but Couture does say that fighting is 90% mental, 10% physical. I believe there is a lot of validity to that statement.


#10

This reminds me of a study I read a while ago about the way the brain works. When we watch someone doing some activity like a sport, our brain processes the information in such a way that it creates a mental construct of ourselves doing that activity. So if we watch a quarterback running with a football the areas of our brain that are used to control our limbs for running will show increased activity as if we are the one who is running. That is why watching sports can be so exciting to us. Because there is a vicarious mental construct going on where our brains imagine us doing the sport.

With that in mind, I can see how visualizing performing a task could help. Because the visualization is probably causing the neural pathways used in the task to be used, without actually doing it. This is not the same thing as imagining yourself with your hand held up because you won. That's just for building confidence. Not for learning to perform a learned bodily movement.

Having said all that. I am surprised no one has started whining like a little bitch yet. Because, since visualization is an important aspect of practicing forms, this concept implies there very well could be some benefit to that form of training. Which means the concept of neuroplasticity goes against the dogma that some forum members have relentlessly been trying to shove shove down everyones throats for years.


#11

I recently read a book called "Spark" by John Ratay which touted the benefits of exercise for mental health. I am a psychotherapist and mental health counselor and the topic applies to the work I do. Ratay cited studies that showed martial arts training, particular kata and visualized activity build neuroplasticity in developing brains-adolsecents and teens- but is equally or even more important in the middle aged and aging brain. Because there is a combination of movement and thought along with visualzation the brain is forced to develop new pathways.

What I took away from this is that learning a new kata, or better yet some cross training, is beneficial for the middle age martial artist. And if people haven't done martial arts ever then the non threatening tai chi class offered at the local senior center is a good idea.I prescribe all my patients to do some physical activity as the benefits are enormous for one's mental health.


#12

That's really interesting stuff.

Would shadowboxing work the same way? I.e., 'seeing something' that's not there, but reacting to its movement and countering, etc?


#13

I have said always that I believe kata to be important, as important as shadowboxing. I cannot understand how the two are that different. Sure, the environment of one is much more dynamic, but does that really matter when you're learning the moves?


#14

A good thing about kata training is you don't get all busted up. So if you are young and still developing your skills, you don't absorb a lot of damage that will haunt you the rest of your life. And if you are old you don't get so busted up you can't defend yourself.

I would say practicing an old kata can also have benefits. Because as you practice it again and again you refine the movements. In the brain, what happens over time, is it figures out which neurons are not needed to produce a specific movement and stops triggering them. So over time your brain becomes more efficient and the movement becomes more precise.


#15

There are similarities but there are also differences. With shadow boxing you are trying to imagine yourself actually in a fight and you are going at normal speed with no set pattern. It's still basically an external art.

Tai Chi on the other hand is an internal art. Because of that slow speed it allows you to be much more introspective. So you can become aware of things happening inside your body that you normally wouldn't be aware of at full speed, because they are subtle. At normal speed you blast through them without even noticing them. What is important to understand is that although some of these internal things are subtle, if you can develop an awareness of them and get control of them, you can get some real big payoff.

Another internal art is Chi Gong which will take one movement and you repeatedly perform it. This gives faster results than Tai Chi.

The good news for you Irish is you can apply these concepts to western boxing techniques. I know they help because I use them myself.


#16

I went over this some in my other post. I think there are some differences. The main one being that with kata slowed down or Tai Chi you are concentrating on getting the feel of the movement. But once you have that awareness you can bring it into some of your shadow boxing and take your shadow boxing up a level.

Also with kata it's not all about striking or blocking. An essential aspect of kata that is often over looked is stances. As important as stances are, something else that is essential is the movement in between them.

There are people who think they are good at a kata who would be very surprised if they slowed it down. What you might notice on the transitions is there are spots where you feel like you are very vulnerable. You feel like your balance could be thrown off with a push from a pinky or maybe you are opening your guard to keep your balance without even realizing it.


#17

How so? Maybe slowing the movement down to Tai Chi speed, and performing the same combination over and over?

I know Andre Ward's trainer is a big proponent of doing things similar to this, but I have not tried it myself due only to my laziness.


#18

The most important thing about shadow boxing is that imaging and going through different fighting scenarios must be based upon memories of sparring.Reinforcing successfull moves that worked in sparring neuraly & physicaly through shadow fighting is the thing.
Let your imagination run and reinforcing what you ASSUME would work is bad.
Thats why all that shadow boxing or katas is useless garbage unless you are sparring /fighting in your training.

Let me explain.
If you are a basketball player and you are on the court without the ball and you are shadow playing basketball,you are reinforcing what goes through your mind.You may be learning the wrong thing if you are not working off your basketball playing experiences.

Shadow fighting in my experience is rather a difficult method to improve your performance.
So many fighters I saw in practice shadow fighting were just going through the moves.
But its a method with great potential once you master it.It doesnt require equipment,only a bit of space.


#19

the slo mo shit is useless.If it were effective table tenis players would use it in their training. Or sprinters.

Trying to slow down the move thats meant to be explosive in order to improve its performance is useless,coz neural pathways,reflexes,rate of coding and muscle contractions and inter & intra muscular coordination is FUNDAMENTALY DIFFERENT.

If you mimic the throwing motion at slow speed,its not throwin motion,it only seems superficialy as the same move done more slowly.


#20

Did this man learnt to move like this by doing slow motion moves by being more INTROSPECTIVE to get a special feel of the Chi energy flowing from his anus to the third eye on his forehead and becoming one with the universe or by doing the moves explosively as they are meant to be performed?