Search Google and Youtube and there is no shortage of videos and tips on how to improve your performance with a variety of exercises and supplements as well as a melange of "hacks" promising greatness.
However, like building any solid structure, first you need a solid foundation. That solid foundation starts with your brain and how it communicates with your body.
When we are born our nervous system is brand new and our spine has a single curve. That's right, just a single "C- shaped" curve. Now, because of this we don't have very good muscle tone in our necks, making it a challenge to keep our heads from flopping. The first thing we develop are the nerves and muscle strength to be able to hold up our heads. This process of holding up our heads initiates development of the "secondary" curve in our spine- the cervical curve (the one in your neck).
This curvature is extremely important because it properly aligns the joints in the neck so that the nerves have proper spacing to run to the rest of the body. This also begins the stabilization of the head relative to the body. Anyone in sports performance knows the importance of being able to steady your head in action. Stable head, stable eyes, better eye-hand coordination.
Next we crawl.
The act of crawling sends information back and forth to the brain that helps coordinate movement with both sides of the body. (via the corpus callosum). As you can imagine, crawling is a critical part of building that solid foundation. If you don't properly coordinate your left and right side, you have a hard time running, jumping, throwing, etc. You get the picture. More importantly, it increases your chances for injury. A poorly coordinated system in an unstable system.
Long before we begin walking and pushing ourselves through gravity, our foundation has long been built in our brains.
But what do we do if that foundation was not well established?
Does that mean we are doomed to a life of poor coordination and injury? No.
Thanks to neuroplasticity (your brains ability to learn and adjust), you can train your way to a more solid foundation and greater performance.
Step One- put the phone down!
Our lives are consumed with screen time, especially on our phones. And the posture to look at our screens is face down, flexion. Flexion is the exact opposite of what best aligns the spinal joints in your neck for optimal function. Poor spinal posture and alignment means poor information going back and forth to your brain. It's like driving on a road with lots of roadblocks, merging lanes and construction happening; you just can't move as fast.
Step Two- cross crawl exercises
This exercise mimics the crawling movements and re-establishes the communication between both sides of your brain.
Step Three- balance
Challenge your vestibular system by standing on one foot for 10 seconds at a time. This does two things:
1. Helps improve your overall balance and works out your vestibular system
2. It coordinates your body so that it can stack itself nicely to be able to stand on one foot. That shifting of weight and stabilization is critical in all forms of sports; lateral direction shifts, jumping, throwing, etc.
When you get good, then try it with your eyes closed!
Performance is not only about strength and conditioning. There are many factors: diet, sleep, recovery, mindfulness and positive psychology. However, don't forget that all of these have one thing in common and that is your brain is intimately involved. If you want the most out of your performance, make sure you take the time to create a solid foundation.
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