The value of new
Have you ever had a difficult time motivating yourself to take that walk, do that workout, or step on the yoga mat? You may have had a feeling of boredom. If your brain is bored, then your body is bored, too, and you will not get the most effective physical training that you can. Your body has adapted, and needs fewer muscle fibers and less energy to perform that action. This is called the training effect (1), and to keep progressing, you need to increase your frequency, intensity, duration, or change your mode of training. This is why it’s important to switch up your fitness routine every six or eight weeks.
After that length of time, your brain and body have figured out how to perform that action. On the molecular level, motor neurons have attached to the correct muscle cells to do the work required for that muscle action. Initially, most strength gains are a result of the motor neuron attaching to the muscle cell, not from the muscle itself getting larger (hypertrophy). (2) These new neural connections between cells increase the interconnectivity of the brain, replacing those cells that naturally die. Beyond just physical, your intellect will also function better, with improved memory. (3)
Learning new actions may cause some feelings of discomfort, but some say life begins beyond our comfort zone. Yogis constantly learn new postures and novel ways to engage the mind with intention and concentration. Ashtanga Yoga is a lifelong system of self-learning, with six, increasingly more difficult series, with hundreds of postures to learn. Adapting to constant change results in youthful resiliency and equanimity of mind, replacing old, rigid adherence to patterns learned long ago. (4) The biochemistry of learning new physical actions feels similar to that generated from international travel or a new love interest or new job.
Mastery may result from this continuous physical stimulation.
About 2007 or so, I heard Uma Thurman speak to Terry Gross on NPR. Uma was talking about her training with the fight choreographer of the Kill Bill movies, Yuen Woo-ping (袁和平). (5) Uma said she had always been a klutz. Everyday for six months she showed up for a full day of martial arts training. As soon as she successfully learned a technique or combination, Yuen would give her something new to learn. After six months of intense training, she was more coordinated than she had ever been in her life, as we can see from her masterful performances in the franchise.
You may be shortchanging yourself if you practice the same exercise routine for months on end—bout after exercise bout. Not only will you feel bored, but your body will not benefit from the intense learning necessary to eventually master the body and mind, and you will age less well. (6) Consult with a professional trainer, such as myself, about your routine, and then let’s take it to a whole, new level.
Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance, 7th Edition, Powers & Howley, McGraw Hill Higher Education, Boston, 2009, p. 262.
Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance, 7th Edition, Powers & Howley, McGraw Hill Higher Education, Boston, 2009, pp. 281-282.
How Exercise Affects our Memory.
Why Lifting Weights can be so Potent for Aging Well. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/well/move/lifting-weights-exercise-older-aging-muscles-psychology.html
Biography of Yuen Woo-ping. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuen_Woo-ping