Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,
where we discuss science
and science-based tools for everyday life.
I’m Andrew Huberman,
and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology
at Stanford School of Medicine.
This podcast is separate from my teaching
and research roles at Stanford.
It is, however, part of my desire and effort
to bring zero cost to consumer information
about science and science-related tools
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This month on the Huberman Lab Podcast,
we’re talking all about physical performance.
So that means athletic performance, recreational exercise,
weightlifting, running, swimming, yoga,
skills and skill learning.
Today, we’re going to talk about
and focus on skill learning.
We are going to focus on how to learn skills more quickly,
in particular motor skills.
This will also translate to things like musical skills
and playing instruments,
but we’re mainly going to focus on physical movements
of the body that extend beyond the hands,
like just playing the piano,
or the fingers like playing the guitar.
But everything we’re going to talk about
will also serve the formation and the consolidation
and the performance of other types of skills.
So if you’re interested in how to perform better,
whether or not it’s dance or yoga,
or even something that’s just very repetitive
like running or swimming,
this podcast episode is for you.
We’re going to go deep into the science of skill learning,
and we are going to talk about very specific protocols
that the science points to and has verified
allow you to learn more quickly,
to embed that learning so that you remember it,
and to be able to build up skills more quickly
than you would otherwise.
We are also going to touch on a few things
that I get asked about a lot,
but fortunately recently,
I’ve had the time to go deep into the literature,
extract the data for you,
and that’s mental visualization.
How does visualizing a particular skill or practice
serve the learning and or the consolidation
of that practice?
It turns out there are some absolutely striking protocols
that one can use,
striking meaning they allow you to learn faster,
and they allow you to remember how to do things
more quickly and better
than if you were not doing this mental rehearsal,
but the pattern of mental rehearsal,
and when you do that mental rehearsal
turns out to be vitally important.
So I’m excited for today’s episode.
We’re going to share a lot of information with you,
and there are going to be a lot of very simple takeaways.
So let’s get started.
Before we get into the topic of skill learning
and tools for accelerating skill learning,
I want to briefly revisit the topic of temperature,
which was covered in the last episode
and just highlight a few things
and clear up some misunderstandings.
So last episode talked about these incredible data
from my colleague, Craig Heller’s lab at Stanford.
He’s in the department of biology
showing that cooling the palms in particular ways
and at particular times can allow athletes
or just recreational exercisers
to do more pull-ups, dips, bench presses per unit time,
to run further, to cycle further,
and to feel better doing it.
There really are incredible data
that are anchored in the biology of the vascular system,
the blood supply and how it’s involved in cooling us.
Many of you, dozens of you in fact,
said, wait a second, you gave us a protocol in this episode
which says that we should cool our palms periodically
throughout exercise in order to be able to do more work.
But on the episode before that
on growth hormone and thyroid hormone,
you said that heating up the body
is good for release of growth hormone.
And I just want to clarify that both things are true.
These are two separate protocols.
You should always warm up before you exercise.
That warmup will not increase your body temperature
or the muscle temperature to the point
where it’s going to diminish your work capacity,
that it’s going to harm your performance.
The cooling of the palms,
which is really just a route to cool your core
in an efficient way, the most efficient way in fact,
is about improving performance.
Heating up the body with exercise
and focusing on heat increases
or using sauna for heat increases
is geared toward growth hormone release,
which is a separate matter.
So you can do both of these protocols
but you would want to do them at separate times.
So just to make this very concrete
before I move on to today’s topic,
if you’re interested in doing more work,
being able to do more sets and reps per unit time
and feel better doing it or to run further
or to cycle further, then cooling the palms periodically
as I described in the previous episode
is going to be the way to go.
If you’re interested in getting growth hormone release,
well then hot sauna, and I offered some other tools
if you don’t have a sauna in the episode
on growth hormone and thyroid hormone
is going to be the way to go.
Okay, so those are separate protocols.
You can include them in your fitness regime
and your training regime,
but you do want to do them at separate times.
And as a last point about this,
I also mentioned that caffeine can either help
or hinder performance
depending on whether or not you’re caffeine adapted
because of the ways that caffeine impacts body temperature
and all sorts of things like vasodilation and constriction.
It’s very simple.
If you enjoy caffeine before your workouts
and you’re accustomed to caffeine,
meaning you drink it three or five times or more a week,
100 to 300 milligrams is a typical daily dose of caffeine.
Some of you are ingesting more, some less.
If you do that regularly,
well then it’s going to be just fine
to ingest caffeine before you train.
It’s not going to impact your body temperature
and your vasodilation or constriction
in ways that will hinder you.
However, if you’re not a regular caffeine user
and you’re thinking, oh, I’m going to drink a cup of coffee
and get this huge performance enhancing effect,
well, that’s not going to happen.
Chances are it’s going to lead to increases
in body temperature and changes in the way
that blood flow is happening in your body
and in particular on these palmar surfaces and in your face
that is going to likely diminish performance.
So if you enjoy caffeine and you’re accustomed to it,
so-called caffeine adapted, enjoy it before your training.
If you regularly, excuse me,
if you do not regularly use caffeine,
then you probably do not want to view caffeine
as a performance enhancing tool.
And while we’re on the topic of tools,
and because this is a month on athletic performance
and exercise and physical skill learning,
I want to offer an additional tool
that I’ve certainly found useful,
which is how to relieve the so-called side stitch
or side cramp when running or swimming.
This actually relates to respiration
and to the nervous system.
And it is not a cramp.
If you’ve ever been out running
and you felt like you had a pain on your side,
that pain could be any number of things,
but that what feels like cramping of your side
is actually due to what’s called collateralization
of the phrenic nerve, which is a lot harder to say
than a side cramp or a side stitch.
But here’s the situation.
You have a set of nerves,
which is called the phrenic nerve, P-H-R-E-N-I-C,
the phrenic nerve, which extends down
from your brainstem, essentially, this region,
to your diaphragm to control your breathing.
It has a collateral, meaning it has a branch,
just like the branch on a tree,
that innervates your liver.
And if you are not breathing deeply enough,
what can happen is you can get
what’s called sometimes a referenced pain.
Referenced pain is probably going to be familiar
to any of you who have ever read
about how to recognize heart attack.
You know, people who have heart attacks
will sometimes have pain on one side of their body,
the left arm.
Sometimes people that have pain in a part of their back
will suddenly also get pain in their shoulder
or part of their face.
This has to do with the fact
that many of our nerves branch,
meaning they’re collateralized
to different organs and areas of the body.
And the way those nerves are woven together,
it’s often the case that if we disrupt the pattern
of firing of electrical activity
in one of those nerve branches
that the other ones are affected too.
The side stitch, the pain in your side,
is often because of the contractions of the diaphragm
because of the way you’re breathing
while you’re exercising, running or swimming or biking.
And as a consequence, you feel pain in your side,
but that’s not a cramp.
The way to relieve it is very simple.
You do the physiological sigh that I’ve talked about
in previous episodes of the podcast and elsewhere,
which is a double inhale through the nose,
very deep, and then a long exhale.
And you might want to repeat that two or three times.
Typically, that will relieve the side stitch
because of the way that it changes the firing patterns
of the phrenic nerve.
So the side stitch is annoying, it’s painful.
Sometimes when you think we’re dehydrated
and you might be dehydrated,
but oftentimes it’s just that we’re breathing in a way
that causes some referenced pain of the liver.
We call it a side stitch or a side cramp,
and you can relieve it very easily
through the double inhale, long exhale.
That pattern done two or three times.
Often you can continue to engage in the exercise
while you do the double inhale, exhale,
and it will just relieve itself that way.
So give it a try if you experienced the side stitch.
Some people I know are also doing the double inhale,
long exhale during long continuous bouts of exercise.
I actually do this when I run.
We have decent data,
although these are still unpublished data
that can engage a kind of regular cadence
of heart rate variability.
So there are a number of reasons
why this physiological side can be useful,
but it certainly can be useful for relieving the side stitch
or so-called side cramp.
Let’s talk about the acquisition of new skills.
These could be skills such as a golf swing
or a tennis swing, or you’re shooting free throws,
or you’re learning to dance,
or you’re learning an instrument.
I’m mainly going to focus on athletic performance.
There are basically two types of skills,
open loop and closed loop.
Open loop skills are skills
where you perform some sort of motor action,
and then you wait and you get immediate feedback
as to whether or not it was done correctly or not.
A good example would be throwing darts at a dart board.
So if you throw the dart,
you get feedback about whether or not you hit the bullseye,
you’re off the dart board,
or you’re some other location on the dart board.
That’s open loop.
Closed loop would be something that’s more continuous.
So let’s say you’re a runner
and you’re starting to do some speed work and some sprints,
and you’re running and you can kind of feel
whether or not you’re running correctly
or maybe you even have a coach
and they’re correcting your stride
or you’re trying to do some sort of skill
like a hopscotch skill,
which maybe you’re doing the ladder work
where you’re stepping between designated spaces
on the ground.
That’s closed loop because as you go,
you can adjust your behavior
and you can adjust the distance of your steps,
or you can adjust your speed,
or you can adjust your posture.
And you are able to essentially do more practice
per unit time,
but you’re getting feedback on a moment to moment basis.
Okay, so you have open loop and closed loop.
And just to make this very, very clear,
open loop would be practicing your tennis serve.
So let’s say that you set a target
on the other side of the net,
you throw the ball up and you hit the ball, it goes over,
that’s open loop.
You’ll know whether or not you were in the court,
you were on the location you wanted to hit
or close to it or not.
That’s open loop.
Closed loop would be if you’re in a regular case,
so maybe you’re learning a swim stroke,
or maybe you’re trying to learn a particular rhythm
on the drum.
So maybe you’re trying to learn a particular beat.
I’m not very musical,
so I’m not going to embarrass myself
by giving an example of this,
although later I will,
where you’re trying to get a particular rhythm down.
And if you’re not getting it,
you can adjust in real time
and try and catch up or slow down or speed up, et cetera.
Okay, so hopefully you’ll understand open loop
and closed loop.
You should always know before you try and learn a skill,
whether or not it’s open loop or closed loop.
And I’ll return to why that’s important shortly.
But if you want to learn something,
ask is it open loop or closed loop?
There are essentially three components of any skill
that involves motor movement.
And those are sensory perception,
actually perceiving what you are doing
and what’s happening around you.
So what you see, what you hear,
sometimes you’re paying attention
to what you’re doing specifically,
like the trajectory of your arm
or how you’re moving your feet if you’re learning to dance.
Sometimes you’re more focused
on something that’s happening outside of you,
like you’re listening for something in music
or you’re paying attention
to the way your partner is moving, et cetera.
So there’s sensory input.
Then there are the actual movements.
Okay, so there are the movements of your limbs and body.
And then there’s something called proprioception.
And proprioception is often discussed
as kind of a sixth sense of knowing where your limbs are
in relation to your body.
So proprioception is vitally important.
If I reach down and pick up this pen and pick it up,
I’m not thinking about where the pen in my hand
is relative to my body,
but proprioceptively I’m aware of it
at kind of a sixth sense deeper subconscious level.
I can also make myself aware of where my limbs are.
And typically when we learn,
we are placing more focus on proprioception
than we do ordinarily.
So if I get up from this chair
and I happen to walk out of the room,
I don’t think about where my feet are landing
relative to one another.
But if my leg had fallen asleep
because I had been leaning on one of the nerves of my leg
or something like that,
and my leg feels all tingly or numb,
I and you, if this were to happen to you,
would immediately notice a shift in gait.
It would feel strange.
I’d have to pay attention to how I’m stepping.
And the reason is I’m not getting
any proprioceptive feedback.
Now, skill learning has a lot of other dimensions too,
but those are the main ones that we’re going to focus on.
So just to remind you,
it’s you need to know open loop or closed loop,
and you need to know whether or not, excuse me,
you need to know that there’s sensory perception,
what you’re paying attention to,
movements themselves, and proprioception.
And there’s one other important thing that you need to know,
which is that movement of any kind is generated
from one, two, or three sources within your nervous system,
within your brain and body.
These are central pattern generators,
which are sometimes called CSPGs, excuse me, CPGSs.
CSPGs are something entirely different in biology.
CPGSs, this just goes to show that I have a module.
CSPGs are chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans.
They have nothing to do with this topic.
CPGSs are central pattern generators,
or CPGs they’re sometimes called.
These CPGs are in your spinal cord, mine and yours,
different ones, and they generate repetitive movements.
So if you’re walking, if you’re running, if you’re cycling,
if you’re breathing, which presumably you are,
and you’re doing that in a regular rhythmic cadence,
central pattern generators are controlling that movement.
After you learn how to walk, run, swim, cycle,
do anything really, much of the work is handed off
to these central pattern generators.
And there were experiments that were done
in the 60s, 70s, and 80s
that actually looked at decerebrate animals
and even decerebrate humans.
These are humans and animals that lack a cerebral cortex.
They lack much of the brain,
and yet they can engage in what’s called a fictive movement.
So it sounds like a kind of barbaric experiment.
I’m glad I wasn’t the one to have to do them,
but this is the stuff of neuroscience textbooks
that cats or dogs or mice
that have their neocortex removed,
put them on a treadmill, they’ll walk just fine.
And they will adjust their speed of walking just fine,
even though they basically lack
all their thinking, decision-making brain.
And it turns out humans that have,
unfortunately, massive strokes to their cortex
and lack any neocortex,
but preserve the central pattern generators,
will also walk just fine,
even though they lack any of the other stuff in the brain.
So these CPGs or CPGSs are amazing,
and they control a lot of our already learned behavior.
When you’re really good at something,
CPGs are controlling a lot of that behavior.
And that’s true also for a golf swing,
even if it’s not really repetitive.
Somebody who’s really good at golf is going to,
I guess you call it a tee, you put the ball on the tee.
I show my knowledge of golf.
I’ve only done mini golf, frankly,
but someday maybe I’ll learn how to golf,
but you set the golf ball down and swing,
set the golf ball down, swing.
Central pattern generators are going to handle
a lot of that.
If I were to go to the golf course,
Stanford has a beautiful golf course.
If I were to go out there, put a ball on the tee,
my central pattern generators would not be involved
in that at all.
The moment I get, you know, bringing the club back to swing,
it’s going to engage other things.
And the other things it’s going to engage,
because I don’t know that behavior now or then,
is upper motor neurons.
We have motor neurons in our cortex, in our neocortex,
that control deliberate action.
And those are the ones that you’re engaging
when you are learning.
Those are the ones that you have to pay attention
in order to engage.
And that’s what’s happening, for instance,
if I decide I’m going to reach down and pick up my pen,
which I rarely think about, but now I’m thinking about it,
and I’m going to do this in a very deliberate way.
I’m going to grab with these two fingers and lift.
My upper motor neurons are now involved, okay?
So upper motor neurons are very important
because a little bit later in the episode,
when we talk about how to use visualization
in order to accelerate skill learning,
it’s going to leverage these upper motor neurons
in very particular ways, okay?
So we have CPGs for rhythmic movement,
upper motor neurons for deliberate unlearned movements
or movements that we are in the process of learning.
And then we have what are called lower motor neurons.
Lower motor neurons are the ones in our spinal cord
that send little wires out to our muscles,
which actually cause the firing of those muscle fibers, okay?
So the way to think about this
is you’ve got upper motor neurons,
which talk to CPGs and to lower motor neurons.
So it’s really simple.
And now you know most everything there is to know
about the neural pathways controlling movement,
at least for sake of this discussion.
So anytime we learn something,
we have to decide what to place our sensory perception on,
meaning what are we going to focus on?
If you’re listening to this
and you’re the type of person who likes taking notes,
this should be the second question you ask.
Remember, the first question is,
is it open loop or closed loop?
The second question should be,
what should I focus my attention on?
Auditory attention, visual attention, or proprioception.
Should I focus on where my limbs are relative to my body,
or should I focus on the outcome?
Okay, this is a critical distinction.
You can decide to learn how to do a golf swing
or learn how to shoot free throws
or learn how to dance tango
and decide that you are going to focus on
the movements of your partner or the positions of your feet.
Maybe you’re going to look at them.
Maybe you’re going to sense them.
You’re going to actually feel where they are.
Or maybe you’re going to sense the position
and posture of your body, which is more proprioceptive, okay?
So you have to allocate your attention,
and I’m going to tell you how to allocate your attention
best in order to learn faster.
So these are the sorts of decisions that you have to make.
Fortunately for you, you don’t have to think about
whether or not you’re going to use your upper motor neurons
and your lower motor neurons or not,
because if you don’t know how to do something,
you’re automatically going to engage
your upper motor neurons.
And if you do, then you’re not going to use
your upper motor neurons.
You’re mainly going to rely on central pattern generators.
You are always using your lower motor neurons to move muscle.
So we can really simplify things now.
I’ve given you a lot of information, but we can simplify it.
Basically, open loop or closed loop, that’s one question.
And what am I going to focus on?
And then your neurology will take care of the rest.
So now I want to talk about realistic expectations.
Somewhere in Hollywood, presumably,
it got embedded in somebody’s mind
that instant skill acquisition was possible,
that you could take a particular pill
or you could touch a particular object
or you could have a wand wave over you
and you would suddenly have a skill.
And so that is the result of Hollywood at all.
It doesn’t exist, at least not in reality.
And I love movies, but it simply doesn’t exist.
Then the self-help literature created another rule
called the 10,000 hours rule.
And frankly, that doesn’t really match the literature,
at least the scientific literature, either.
I like it because it implies that learning takes time,
which is more accurate than the Hollywood at all
instant skill acquisition rule, which isn’t really a rule.
It’s a myth.
But the 10,000 hours rule overlooks something crucial,
which is that it’s not about hours, it’s about repetitions.
Now, of course, there’s a relationship
between time and repetitions,
but there are some beautiful experiments
that point to the fact that by simple adjustment
of what you are focused on
as you attempt to learn a new skill,
you can adjust the number of repetitions that you do,
you adjust your motivation for learning,
and you can vastly accelerate learning.
Some of you may recognize this by its internet name,
which is not a scientific term,
which is the Super Mario effect.
There’s actually a quite good video on YouTube
describing the Super Mario effect.
I think it was a YouTuber who has,
I think a background in science,
and he did an interesting experiment.
And I’ll talk about his experiment first,
and then I will talk about the neurobiology
that supports the result that he got.
The Super Mario effect relates
to the game Super Mario Brothers,
but you’ll see why at the end.
But basically what they did was they had 50,000 subjects,
which is a enormous number of subjects,
learn a program, essentially taking words
from a computer program or the commands
for a computer program that were kind of clustered
in a column on the right.
So these are the sorts of things
that computer programmers will be familiar with,
but other people won’t.
And those commands are essentially,
they essentially translate to things like,
go forward, and then if it’s a right-hand turn in the maze,
then go right and continue
until you hit a choice point, et cetera.
So it’s a bunch of instructions,
but the job of the subjects in these experiments
were to organize those instructions in a particular way
that would allow a little cursor
to move through the maze successfully, okay?
So basically the goal was,
or at least what the subjects were told,
is that anyone can learn to computer program,
and if somebody can just organize the instructions
in the right way, then they can program
this little cursor to move through a maze, very simple.
And yet, if you don’t have any background
in computer programming, or even if you do,
it takes some skill.
You have to know what commands to give
in what particular order, and they made that very easy.
You could just assemble them in a list
over onto the right.
So people started doing this.
Now, there were two groups,
and one half of the subjects,
if they got it wrong,
meaning they entered a command and the cursor would move,
and it was the wrong command
for this little cursor to move through the maze,
they saw a signal jump up on their screen
that said, that did not work, please try again.
If they put in the wrong command
or it was in the wrong sequence,
it would say, that did not work, please try again.
And then the subjects would reorganize the instructions,
and then the little cursor would continue.
And if they got it wrong again,
it would say, that did not work, please try again, okay?
The other half of the subjects,
if they got something wrong,
were told, you just lost five points, please continue.
So that’s the only difference in the feedback that they got.
Now, I have to confess,
I would have predicted based on my knowledge
of dopamine circuitry and reward contingency
and epinephrine and stress and motivated learning,
and this other thing that we’ve been told
in many, many books on behavioral economics
and in the self-help literature,
which is that people will work much harder
to prevent losing something
than they will to gain something.
That you hear all the time.
And it turns out that that’s not at all what happened.
If they looked at the success rate of the subjects,
what they found was that the subjects that were told,
that did not work, please try again,
had a 68% success rate.
68% of them went on to successfully program
this cursor moving through the maze.
Whereas the ones that were told you lost five points
had a 52% success rate,
which is a significant difference.
But the source of the success
or the lack of success is really interesting.
The subjects that were told,
that did not work, please try again,
tried many, many more times per unit time.
In other words, they made more attempts
at programming this thing
to allow this cursor to move through the maze.
Whereas the people that were told you lost five points
gave up earlier or gave up entirely.
Okay, so let’s just step back from this
because to me, this was very surprising.
It violates a lot of things that I had heard
in the kind of popular culture or the self-help literature
that people will work much harder
to avoid losing something than they will to gain something.
And it didn’t really fit with what I understood
about reward contingencies and dopamine.
But it did fit well with another set of experiments
that I’m very familiar with
from the neuroscience literature.
And I’ll give you the punchline first.
And then we’re going to take what these data mean
and we’re going to talk about a learning protocol
that you can use that will allow you to learn skills faster
by willingly participating in more repetitions
of the skill learning.
Meaning you will want to do more repetitions
even if you’re getting it wrong some or most of the time.
So the experiment that I want to tell you about
is called the tube test.
And this is generally done in mice
although it’s sometimes been done in rats
and it has a lot of parallels to some things
that you’ve probably seen and experienced
even in human life, in regular life,
maybe even in your life.
So here’s the experiment.
You take two rats, you put them in a tube
or two mice, you put them in a tube
and mice and rats, they don’t like to share the same tube.
So what they’ll do is they’ll start pushing each other
back and forth, back and forth.
Sooner or later, one of the rats or mice
pushes the other one out.
The one that got pushed out is the loser.
The one that gets the tube is the winner.
Now you take the winner, you give it a new competitor.
And what you find is that the mouse or rat
that won previously has a much higher
than chance probability of winning the second time.
In other words, winning before leads to winning again.
And the reverse is also true.
If you take the loser and you put that loser
in with another mouse, fresh mouse, new mouse,
the loser typically will lose
at much greater probability than chance.
And this is not related to differences in strength
or size or testosterone or any other of the things
that might leap to mind as explanations for this
because those were all controlled for.
Now, that result had been known about for decades,
but three years ago, there was a paper published
in the journal Science, phenomenal journal.
It’s one of the three apex journals
that examined the brain area that’s involved in this.
Turns out it’s a particular area of the frontal cortex
for those of you that want to know.
And they did a simple experiment
where the experimenters increased or decreased
the activity of this brain area in the prefrontal cortex,
a little sub-region of the prefrontal cortex.
And what they found is if they stimulated this brain area,
a mouse or rat, regardless of whether or not
it had been a winner or loser before,
became a winner every single time.
And they showed that if they blocked the activity
of this brain area, regardless of whether or not
the mouse or rat had been a winner or a loser,
it became a loser every single time.
And this translated to other scenarios,
other competitive scenarios where they’d put a bunch
of mice or rats in a kind of cool chamber.
They’d have a little heat lamp in the corner
and mice like heat.
And there was only enough space for one mouse
to be under the heat.
And the one that had won in the tube test
or that had the brain area stimulated
always got the nice warm spot.
Okay, so what is this magic brain area?
What is it doing?
Well, the reason I’m bringing this up today
and the reason I’m bringing it up on the heels
of the Super Mario effect is that stimulation
of this brain area had a very simple
and very important effect,
which was it led to more forward steps,
more repetitions, more effort,
but not in terms of sheer might and will,
not digging deeper, just more repetitions per unit time.
And the losers had fewer repetitions per unit time.
So the Super Mario effect, this online experiment
and the tube test, which has been done by various labs
and repeated again and again,
point to a simple but very important rule,
which is neither the 10,000 hours rule
nor the magic wand Hollywood version of learning,
but rather the neurobiological explanation
for learning a skill is you want to perform
as many repetitions per unit time as you possibly can,
at least when you’re first trying to learn a skill.
I want to repeat that.
You want to perform as many repetitions as you possibly can,
at least when you’re first trying to learn a skill.
Now that might sound like a duh, it’s just more reps,
but it’s not so obvious.
There’s no reason why more repetitions
should necessarily lead to faster learning
because you could also say, well, more repetitions,
you can make more errors.
And those errors would lead to poor performance
like misstepping a number of times.
And in these cases, there’s very little feedback, right?
It’s not like every time the rat pushes forward
or moves back that it is sensing, oh, I’m winning,
I’m losing, I’m winning, I’m losing on a micro level.
It probably does that as it starts to push the other one out
the rat or mouse probably thinks, I’m winning.
And as it’s backing up, it probably thinks I’m losing.
As you play the game, the Super Mario game,
you are told, nope, that didn’t work.
Nope, that didn’t work, please try again.
But the important thing is that the winners
are always generating more repetitions per unit time.
It’s just a repeat of performance, repeat of performance,
even if there are errors.
And that points to something vitally important,
which is reps are important,
but making error reps is also important.
In fact, it might be the most important factor.
So let’s talk about errors
and why those solve the problem of what to focus on.
Because as I said earlier,
if you want to learn something,
you need to know if it’s open loop or closed loop,
and you need to know what to focus on,
where to place your perception.
And that seems like a tough task,
but errors will tell you exactly what to focus on.
So let’s talk about errors and why you can leverage errors
to accelerate skill learning.
Okay, so we’ve established that performing
the maximum number of repetitions per training session
is going to be advantageous.
And that might seem obvious,
but there’s a shadowy side to that, which is,
well, why would I want to just repeat the same thing
over and over again if I’m getting it wrong 90% of the time?
And the reason is that the errors
actually cue your nervous system to two things.
One, to error correction,
and the other is it opens the door
or the window for neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain and nervous system’s ability
to change in response to experience,
essentially to custom modify itself
in order to perform anything better.
We did an entire month on neuroplasticity,
and I talked a little bit about errors
and why they’re important.
Now we’re going to make this very concrete
and operationalize it, make it very actionable.
There was a paper that was published in 2021
from Norman et al.
This is a very important paper.
It was published in the journal Neuron,
which is a cell press journal, excellent journal.
The title of the paper gives it away essentially,
which is, post-error recruitment
of frontal sensory cortical projections promotes attention.
Now, what that says is that when you make an error,
it causes an activation of the brain areas
that anchor your attention.
Remember, we need perception, attention,
which they’re essentially the same thing.
We need proprioception,
and we need the upper and lower motor neurons
to communicate in the proper ways.
And this vital question is what to pay attention to.
Errors tell your nervous system
that something needs to change.
So if you are performing a task or a skill,
like you’re learning how to dance
and you’re stepping on the other person’s toes
or you’re fumbling or you’re not getting it right,
those errors are opening the possibility for plasticity.
If you walk away at that point,
you’ve made the exact wrong choice, okay?
Unless the errors are somehow hazardous to your health
or somebody else’s wellbeing,
you want to continue to engage at a high repetition rate.
That’s really where the learning is possible.
Without errors, the brain is not in a position
to change itself.
Errors actually cue the frontal cortex networks,
what we call top-down processing,
and the neuromodulators,
things like dopamine and acetylcholine and epinephrine,
that will allow for plasticity.
So while the Super Mario experiment, the maze experiment,
was only focused on generating errors,
telling people that wasn’t right, please try again,
or that wasn’t right, you lost five points,
the key distinction is that the errors themselves
cued people to the fact
that they needed to change something.
So if you’re trying to learn a new skill
and you’re screwing up and you’re making mistakes,
the more mistakes you make,
the more plastic your brain becomes,
such that when you get it right,
that correct pattern will be rewarded and consolidated.
And you can trust that it will
because the performance of something correctly
is associated with the release
of this neuromodulator dopamine.
Dopamine is involved in craving and motivation.
It’s involved in a lot of things,
but it’s also involved in learning.
We will do an entire episode on dopamine and learning,
but because some of you are probably wondering,
this does not mean that just increasing your dopamine levels
before learning will allow you to learn faster.
In fact, increasing your dopamine levels
before learning using pharmacology
will actually reduce what’s called the signal to noise.
It will make these increases in dopamine
that pop up in your brain
that suddenly make you realize, ah, I got that one right.
It will make those smaller
relative to the background levels of dopamine, okay?
You want a big spike in dopamine
when you perform a motor pattern correctly,
and you want to make lots of errors,
many, many repetitions of errors
in order to get to that correct performance.
Now, if you’re like most people,
you’re going to do this in a way that’s somewhat random,
meaning, let’s say it’s a tennis serve.
I can’t play tennis.
I think I’ve probably played tennis twice.
So if I throw the ball up in the air and hit it,
I’m going to get it wrong and probably hit the net.
Then I’m going to hit the net.
Then I’ll probably go too long.
Then I’ll probably go over the fence.
At some point, I like to think I’ll get it correct.
The dopamine signal for that is going to be quite big.
And I’ll think, okay, what did I do there?
I actually don’t know.
I wasn’t paying attention.
What I was paying attention to is whether or not
the ball went to the correct location
on the opposite side of the net.
Remember, it’s an open loop move.
So I don’t actually know what I did correctly,
but your nervous system will take care of that
provided I, in this case,
complete more and more and more repetitions.
Now, if I were to just elevate my basal level of dopamine
by taking, I don’t know,
1500 milligrams of L-tyrosine or something,
that would be bad because the increase in dopamine
would actually be much lower, right?
We would say the delta is smaller.
The signal to noise is smaller
if my overall levels of dopamine are very, very high.
So I’m actually going to learn less well.
So for skill learning, motor skill learning,
increasing your dopamine levels prior is not a good idea.
It might help with motivation to get to the learning,
but it’s not going to improve the plasticity process itself
and it’s likely to hinder it, okay?
So that’s very important.
So these errors cue the brain that something was wrong
and they open up the possibility for plasticity.
It’s what’s sometimes called the framing effect.
It frames what’s important.
And so I think this is a shift.
We’ve heard about, you know, growth mindset,
which is the incredible discovery and theory and practice
of my colleague, Carol Dweck at Stanford.
This is distinct from that, right?
This isn’t about motivation to learn.
This is about how you actually learn.
So the key is designate a particular block of time
that you are going to perform repetitions.
So maybe that’s 30 minutes, maybe that’s an hour.
Work for time and then try and perform
the maximum number of repetitions that you can do safely
for you and others per unit time.
That’s going to be the best way
to approach learning for most sessions.
I will talk about other things that one can do,
but making errors is key.
And this isn’t a motivational speech.
I’m not saying, oh, go make errors.
Errors are good for you.
You have to fail in order to win.
No, you have to fail in order to open up
the possibility of plasticity,
but you have to fail many times within the same session.
And those failures will cue your attention
to the appropriate sensory events.
Now, sometimes we’re working with a coach.
And so this is a shout out to all the coaches.
Thank you for doing what you do.
However, there needs to be,
at least what the scientific literature say,
there needs to be a period of each training session
whereby the athlete or the person of any kind
can simply pay attention to their errors
without their attention being cued to something else.
A really well-trained coach will say,
oh, you know, your elbow is swinging too high
or you’re not gripping the racket
in the appropriate way, et cetera.
They can see things that the practitioner can’t see.
And of course that’s vitally important.
But the practitioner also needs
to use this error recognition signal.
They need to basically focus on something
and the errors are going to tell them what to focus on.
So put simply, there needs to be a period of time
in which it’s just repetition
after repetition, after repetition.
I think many people, including coaches,
are afraid that bad habits will get ingrained.
And while indeed that’s possible,
it’s very important that these errors occur
in order to cue the attentional systems
and to open the door for plasticity.
So if I’m told, look, you know, I’m standing a little wide,
I need to tighten up my stance a little bit, great.
But then I need to generate many repetitions
from that tightened stance, okay?
So if I’m constantly being cued from the outside
about what I’m doing incorrectly,
that’s not going to be as efficient, okay?
So for some people,
these learning sessions might be 10 minutes.
For some people, it might be an hour.
Whatever you can allocate,
because your lifestyles will vary
and whether or not you’re a professional athlete,
et cetera, will vary.
You want to get the maximum number of repetitions in
and you want to make errors.
That’s allowing for plasticity.
So science points to the fact
that there’s a particular sequencing of learning sessions
that will allow you to learn faster
and to retain the skill learning.
And it involves doing exactly as I just described,
which is getting as many repetitions as you can
in the learning session,
paying attention to the errors that you make,
and then the rewards that will be generated,
again, these are neurochemical rewards,
from the successful performance of a movement
or the approximate successful performance.
So maybe you get the golf swing better, but not perfect,
but that’s still going to be rewarded
with this neurochemical mechanism.
And then after the session,
you need to do something very specific, which is nothing.
There are beautiful data describing neurons
in our hippocampus, this area of our brain involved
in the consolidation of new memories.
Those data point to the fact that in sleep,
there’s a replay of the sequence of neurons
that were involved in certain behaviors the previous day,
and sometimes the previous day before that.
However, there are also data that show
that after a skill learning session,
any kind of motor movement,
provided you’re not bringing in
a lot more additional new sensory stimuli,
there’s a replay of the motor sequence
that you performed correctly,
and there’s an elimination of the motor sequences
that you performed incorrectly,
and they are run backward in time.
Okay, so to be very clear about this,
if I were to learn a new skill or navigate a new city,
or let’s just stay with the motor skill,
let’s say the free throw or a golf swing or a tennis serve,
dance move, novice, so I’m still going to make
a lot of errors, don’t get it perfectly,
but maybe I get a little bit better
or I perform it correctly three times out of 1,000,
that sounds like something I might do,
and there I’m probably being generous to myself.
After I finished the training session,
if I do nothing, I’m not focused on some additional learning,
I’m not bringing a lot of sensory information in,
if I just sit there and close my eyes
for five to 10 minutes, even one minute,
the brain starts to replay the motor sequence
corresponding to the correct pattern of movement,
but it plays that sequence backward.
Now, why it plays it backward, we don’t know.
If I were to wait until sleep or regardless,
when I sleep later that night,
the sequence will be replayed forwards
in the proper sequence.
Immediately afterward, it’s played backward
for reasons that are still unclear,
but the replay of that sequence backwards
appears to be important for the consolidation
of the skill learning.
Now, this is important because many people
are finishing their jujitsu class
or they’re finishing their yoga class
or they’re finishing their dance class
or they’re finishing some skill learning,
and then they’re immediately devoting their attention
to something else.
You hear a lot about visualization
and we are going to talk about visualization,
but in the kind of obsession with the idea
that we can learn things just sitting there
with our eyes closed without having to perform a movement,
we’ve overlooked something perhaps even more important
or at least equally important,
which is after skill learning,
after putting effort into something,
sitting quietly with the eyes closed
for one to five to 10 minutes
allows the brain to replay the sequence
in a way that appears important
for the more rapid consolidation
of the motor sequence of the pattern
and to accelerated learning.
If you’d like to learn more about this,
this is not work that I was involved in,
I want to be very clear.
There’s an excellent paper that covers this and much more
for those of you that really want to dive deep on this,
and we will dive deeper in a moment.
This is a review that was published in the journal Neuron,
Many of the papers that I’m referring to
were covered in this review,
which is titled,
Neuroplasticity Subserving Motor Skill Learning
by Dayan, D-A-Y-A-N,
I hope I’m not butchering the pronunciation,
and Cohen by Leonard Cohen,
but not the Leonard Cohen most of us are familiar with,
the musician Leonard Cohen.
Dayan and Cohen,
Neuroplasticity Subserving Motor Skill Learning.
And this was published in 2011,
but there’ve been a number of updates
and the literature that I’ve described
in other portions of today’s episode
come from the more recent literature,
such as the more recent 2021 paper, okay?
So you have this basic learning session
and then a period of time afterwards
in which the brain can rehearse what it just did.
We hear so much about mental rehearsal,
and we always think about mental rehearsal
as the thing you do before you train or instead of training,
but this is rehearsal that’s done afterward
where the brain is just automatically scripting
through the sequence,
and for some reason that’s still not clear
as to why this would be the case, it runs backward.
Then in sleep, it runs forwards,
and certainly, absolutely, sleep and quality sleep
of the appropriate duration, et cetera,
is going to be important for learning of all kinds,
including skill learning.
We did an entire four episodes on sleep
and how to get better at sleeping.
Those are the episodes back in January,
episodes essentially one, two, three, and four,
and maybe even episode five, I don’t recall,
but you can go there to find out
all about how to get better at sleeping.
Now, there are other training sessions involved, right?
I’m not going to learn the perfect golf swing
or the tennis serve or how to dance in one session,
and I doubt you will either.
So the question is when to come back
and what to do when you come back to the training session.
Now, first of all,
this principle of errors cuing attention
and opening the opportunity for plasticity,
that’s never going to change.
That’s going to be true for somebody who is hyperskilled,
who has mastery or even virtuosity in a given skill, right?
Remember, when you’re unskilled at something,
uncertainty is very high.
As you become more skilled, certainty goes up, right?
Then eventually you achieve levels of mastery
where certainty is very, very high
about your ability to perform,
yours, certainty, and that of other people.
And then there’s this fourth category of virtuosity
where somebody, maybe you,
invites uncertainty back into the practice
because only with that uncertainty
can you express your full range of abilities,
which you aren’t even aware of
until uncertainty comes into the picture, right?
I happen to have the great privilege
of being friends with Laird Hamilton,
the big wave surfer who’s phenomenal.
I don’t surf.
I certainly don’t surf with Laird,
but he and another guy that he surfs with, Luka Padua,
these guys are, they’re virtuosos at surfing.
They don’t just want the wave that they can master,
they want uncertainty.
They’re at the point in their practice
where when uncertainty shows up,
like a wave that’s either so big
or is moving in a particular way
that it brings an element of uncertainty for them
about what they’re going to do,
they recognize that as the opportunity
to perform better than they would otherwise, okay?
So they’re actually trying to eliminate uncertainty.
At the beginning of learning any skill
and as we approach from uncertain to skilled to mastery,
we want to reduce uncertainty.
And that’s really what the nervous system is doing.
It’s trying to eliminate errors
and hone in on the correct trajectories.
If you perform a lot of repetitions
and then you use a period immediately after,
we don’t really have a name for this.
Maybe someone will come up with it
and put it in the comment section if you’re on YouTube,
if you’re watching this on YouTube,
a name for this post-learning kind of idle time
for the brain.
The brain isn’t idle at all.
It’s actually scripting all these things in reverse
that allow for deeper learning and more quick learning.
But if we fill that time with other things,
if we are focused on our phones
or we’re focused on learning something else,
we’re focusing on our performance,
that’s not going to serve us well.
At least it’s not going to serve the skill learning well.
So please, if you’re interested
in more rapid skill learning,
try introducing these sessions.
They can be quite powerful.
And then on subsequent sessions,
presumably after a night’s sleep
or maybe you’re doing two sessions a day,
although two sessions a day is going to be a lot
for most people, unless you’re a professional
or a high-level athlete.
The subsequent sessions are where you get to express
the gains of the previous session, right?
Where you get to perform well,
presumably more often, even if it’s just subtle,
sometimes there’ll be a decrease in performance,
but most often you’re going to perform better
on subsequent and subsequent training sessions.
And there is the opportunity to devote attention
in very specific ways, right?
Not just let the errors inform you
where to place your attention,
but rather to direct your perception
to particular elements of the movement
in order to accelerate learning further, okay?
So to be very clear,
because I know many of you are interested
in concrete protocols,
it’s not just that you would only let errors
cue your attention on the first session.
You might do that for one session or five sessions.
It’s going to depend.
But once you’re familiar with something
and you’re performing it well every once in a while,
you’re accomplishing it better every once in a while,
then you can start to cue your attention
in very deliberate ways.
And the question therefore becomes
what to cue your attention to.
And the good news is it doesn’t matter.
There is a beautiful set of experiments that have been done
looking at sequences of keys being played on a piano.
This is work that was published just a couple of years ago.
There are actually several papers now
that are focused on this.
One of them was published in 2018.
This is from Claudia Lappe and colleagues, L-A-P-P-E.
She’s done some really nice work,
which talks about the influence of pitch feedback
on learning of motor timing and sequencing.
And this was done with piano,
but it carries over to athletic performance as well.
So I’m going to describe this study to you.
But before I describe it,
what is so interesting about this study
that I want you to know about
is that it turns out it doesn’t matter so much
what you pay attention to during the learning sequence,
provided it’s something related to the motor behavior
that you’re performing, right?
That seems incredible, right?
I’m not good at a tennis serve.
So if I’ve done, you know,
let’s say a thousand repetitions of the tennis serve,
maybe I got it right three to 10 times.
Now I’m being even more generous with myself.
And I do this post-training session
where I let my brain idle and I get some good sleep
and then I come back
and now I start generating errors again,
presumably or hopefully fewer errors,
but I decide I’m going to cue my attention
to something very specific,
like maybe how tightly I’m holding the racket,
or maybe it’s my stance,
or maybe it’s whether or not I rotate my right shoulder in
as I hit the ball across,
and I’m making this up again, I don’t play tennis.
Turns out that as long as it’s the same thing
throughout the session, learning is accelerated.
And I’ll explain why this makes sense in a moment,
but just to be really clear,
you can and one should use your powers of attention
to direct your attention
to particular aspects of a motor movement
once you’re familiar with the general theme of the movement,
but what you pay attention to exactly is not important.
What’s important is that you pay attention
to one specific thing.
So what Claudia Lape in college showed was that
if people are trying to learn a sequence of keys
on the piano, there are multiple forms of feedback.
There are error signals,
if for instance, they hear a piece of music
and then they’re told to press the keys
in a particular sequence,
and the noise that comes out,
the sound that comes out of the piano
does not sound like the song they just heard, right?
So instead of, and here forgive me
because I’m neither musical nor can I sing,
but instead of da-da-da-da-da-da,
they hear that da-da-da-da-da-da-da,
and then instead when they play,
or for me it would sound something like da-da-da-da-da-da,
it wouldn’t sound right, okay?
It wouldn’t sound right
because I likely got the sequence wrong
or I was pressing too hard on the keys
or too lightly on the keys, et cetera.
What they showed was if they just instruct people
about the correct sequence to press on the keys,
it actually doesn’t matter what sound comes back
provided it’s the correct sound or it’s the same sound.
All right, so here’s the experiment.
They had people press on these keys
and it was a typical piano
and it generated the particular sequence of sounds
that would be generated by pressing the keys on the piano.
Or they modified the keyboard in this case or piano
such that when people pressed on the keys,
a random tone, different tones were played
each time they pressed on the keys.
So it sounded crazy, it sounded like noise,
but the motor sequence was the same.
Or they had a single tone
that was played every time they pressed a key
and the job or the task of the subject
was just to press the sequence,
press the keys in the proper sequence.
So instead of dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun,
it was just dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun.
Instead of da-da-da-da-da-da-da,
It’s even hard for me to say it in an even tone,
but you get the idea.
So a singular tone, just think a doorbell being rung
with each press of the key would be really annoying, okay?
But it turns out that the rate to motor learning
was the same whether or not they were getting feedback
that was accurate to the keys of the piano
or whether or not it was a constant tone.
Performance was terrible
and the rates of learning were terrible
if they were getting random tones back.
So what this means is that learning to play the piano,
at least at these early stages,
is really just about generating the motor commands.
It’s not about paying attention to the sound
that’s coming out of the piano.
And this makes sense because when we are beginners,
we are trying to focus our attention
on the things that we can control.
And if you think about this, if you conceptualize this,
pressing the keys on the piano
and paying attention to the sounds
that are coming out are two things.
So what this means is that as you get deeper
and deeper into a practice,
focusing purely on the motor execution can be beneficial.
Now, this is going to be harder to do
with open loop type things where you’re getting feedback.
I guess a good example of open loop
would be the attempt at a backflip, right?
If you get it wrong, you will immediately know.
If you get it right, you’ll immediately know.
Please don’t go out and try and do a backflip
on the solid ground or even on a trampoline
if you don’t know what you’re doing
because very likely you’ll get it wrong
and you’ll get injured.
But if it’s something that is closed loop
where you can repeat again and again and again and again,
that is advantageous
because you can perform many, many repetitions
and you can start to focus
or learn to focus your attention
just on the pattern of movement.
In other words, you can learn to play the piano
just as fast or maybe even faster
by just focusing on the sequence
that you are moving your digits,
your fingers and not the feedback.
Now, I’m sure there are music teachers out there
and piano teachers that are screaming,
no, you’re going to ruin the practice
that all of us have embedded in our minds
and in our students.
And I agree, at some point,
you need to start including feedback
about whether or not things sound correct.
But one of the beauties of skill learning
is that you can choose to parameterize it,
meaning you can choose to just focus on the motor sequence
or just focus on the sounds that are coming back
and then integrate those.
And so we hear a lot about chunking,
about breaking things down into their component parts.
But one of the biggest challenges for skill learning
is knowing where to place your attention.
So to dial out again,
we’re building a protocol across this episode,
early sessions, maybe it’s the first one,
maybe it’s the first 10, maybe it’s the first 100.
It depends on how many repetitions you’re packing in.
But during those initial sessions,
the key is to make many errors,
to let the reward process govern the plasticity,
let the errors open the plasticity.
And then after the learning sessions,
to let the brain go idle,
at least for a short period of time.
And of course, to maximize sleep.
As you start incorporating more sessions,
you start to gain some skill level.
Learning to harness and focus your attention
on particular features of the movement,
independent of the rewards and the feedback, right?
So the reward is no longer in the tone
coming from the piano,
or whether or not you struck the target correctly,
but simply the motor movement.
Focusing your, for instance, in a dart throw
on the action of your arm,
that is embedding the plasticity
in the motor pattern most deeply.
That’s what’s been shown by the scientific literature.
I’m sure there are coaches and teachers out there
that will entirely disagree with me.
And that’s great.
Please let me know what you prefer.
Let me know where you think this is wrong.
And it rarely happens,
but let me know where you think
this might be right as well.
So we’re breaking the learning process
down into its component parts.
As we get more and more skilled,
meaning as we make fewer and fewer errors
per a given session per unit time,
that’s when attention can start to migrate
from one feature, such as the motor sequence,
to another feature, which is perhaps one’s stance.
And another component of the sequence,
which would be the result that’s one getting
on a trial to trial basis, right?
So changing it up each time.
So maybe I serve the tennis ball
and I’m focusing on where the ball lands.
And then I’m focusing on the speed.
Then I’m focusing on my grip.
Then I’m focusing on my stance from trial to trial.
But until we’ve mastered the core motor movements,
which is done session to session,
that, at least according to the literature
that I have access to here, seems to be suboptimal.
So hopefully this is starting to make sense,
which is that these connections between upper motor neurons,
lower motor neurons, and central pattern generators,
you can’t attack them all at once.
You can’t try and change them all at once.
And so what we’re doing is we’re breaking things down
into their component parts.
Some of you may be wondering about speed of movement.
There are some data, meaning some decent papers out there,
showing that ultra slow movements,
performing a movement essentially in slow motion,
can be beneficial for enhancing the rate of skill learning.
However, at least from my read of the literature,
it appears that ultra slow movements should be performed
after some degree of proficiency has already been gained
in that particular movement.
Now, that’s not the way I would have thought about it.
I would have thought, well, you know,
if you’re learning how to do a proper kick
or a punch in martial arts
or something that ultra slow movements at first
are going to be the way that one can, you know,
best learn how to perform a movement.
And then you just gradually increase the speed.
And it turns out that’s not the case.
And I probably should have known that.
And you should probably know that
because it turns out that when you do ultra slow movements,
two things aren’t available to you.
One is the proprioceptive feedback is not accurate
because fast movements of limbs are very different
than slow movements of limbs.
So you don’t get the opportunity
to build in the proprioceptive feedback.
But the other reason why it doesn’t work
is that it’s too accurate.
You don’t generate errors.
And so the data that I was able to find
showed that very slow movements can be beneficial
if one is already proficient in a practice,
but very slow movements at the beginning
don’t allow you to learn more quickly
because you never generate errors.
And therefore the brain doesn’t, it’s not open for change.
The window for plasticity is never swung open, so to speak.
So brings us back to this theme
that errors allow for plasticity,
correct performance of movements
or semi-correct performance of movements
cues the synapses in the brain areas
and spinal circuits that need to change.
And then those changes occur in the period
immediately after skill learning and in sleep.
So super slow movements can be beneficial
once you already have some proficiency.
So this might be standing in your living room
and just in ultra slow motion,
performing your tennis serve,
learning to or thinking about how you’re adjusting
your elbow and your arm and the trajectory
exactly how you were taught by your tennis coach.
But trying to learn it that way from the outset
does not appear to be the best way to learn a skill.
When should you start to introduce slow learning?
Well, obviously talk to your coaches about this,
but if you’re doing this recreationally
or you don’t have a coach,
I realize many of you don’t.
I don’t have a coach for anything that I do.
I’m going to just navigating it
by using the scientific literature.
It appears that once you’re hitting success rates
of about 25 or 30%,
that’s where the super slow movements
can start to be beneficial.
But if you’re still performing things at a rate of,
you know, five or 10% correct and the rest are errors,
then the super slow movements
are probably not going to benefit you that much.
Also, super slow movements are not really applicable
to a lot of things.
For instance, you could imagine throwing a dart
super slow motion,
but if you actually try and throw an actual dart,
the dart’s just going to fall to the floor, obviously.
So there are a number of things like, you know,
baseball bat swing,
which you can practice in super slow motion.
But if you try and do that with an actual baseball
or softball or something like that,
that’s not going to give you any kind of feedback
about how effective it was.
So super slow movements or a decelerated movement
has its place,
but once you’re already performing things reasonably well,
like maybe 25 to 30% success rate.
You know, and I’ve tried this.
I actually, I struggle with basketball for whatever reason,
and my free throw is terrible.
So I’ve practiced free throws in super slow motion
and I nail them every time.
The problem is there’s no ball.
Some of you already have a fair degree of proficiency
of skill in a given practice or sport or instrument.
And if you’re in this sort of advanced intermediate
or advanced levels of proficiency for something,
there is a practice that you can find interesting data for
in the literature, which involves metronoming.
So this you’ll realize relates to generating repetitions
and it relates to the tone experiment
where it doesn’t really matter
what your attention is cued to,
as long as you are performing many, many reps
of the motor sequence.
You can use a metronome and obviously musicians do this,
but athletes can do this too.
You can use a metronome to set the cadence
of your repetitions.
Now for swimmers, there’s actually a device
I was able to find online.
I forget what the brand name was
and that’s not what this is about,
but that actually goes in the swim cap
that can cue you to when you need
to perform another stroke.
And for runners, there are other metronome type devices
that through headphones or through a tone in the room,
if you’re running indoors or on a treadmill,
will cue you to when you basically
you need to lift your heels.
And if you do that, what athletes find
is they can perform more repetitions,
they can generate more output, you can increase speed.
A number of really interesting things are being done
with auditory metronoming.
And then I’m involved in a little bit of work now
that hopefully I’ll be able to report back to you
about using stroboscopic metronoming.
So actually changing the speed of the visual environment.
These are fun experiments,
basically changing one’s perception
of how fast they’re moving through space
by playing with the visual system,
something for a future discussion.
But you can start to use auditory metronoming
for generating more movements per unit time
and generating more errors and therefore more successes
and more neuroplasticity.
There are a number of different apps out there.
I found several free apps
where you can set in a metronome pace.
So it might be tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
That’s a little fast for most things,
but you can imagine if this were darts
or this were golf swings,
that it might be tick, tick, tick, tick,
or something more like tick, tick.
And every time the metronome goes, you swing.
Every time the metronome goes, you throw a dart.
There are actually some wild experiments out there.
You know, there’s a world championship of cup stacking.
There’s a young lady who I saw could take
all these cups spread out on a table
and basically just stack them into the perfect pyramid
and the least amount of times all the kids go wild.
This is something I’d never thought to pursue
and frankly never will pursue
unless my life depends on it for some reason,
but it’s really impressive.
And if you look at the sequence,
because these have been recorded,
you can look this up on YouTube.
What you’ll find is that these expert cup stackers,
it’s just all about error elimination.
But there too, metronoming and auditory cues
can actually cue them to pick up the cups
faster than they would ordinarily and to learn to do that.
You can do this for anything.
I think cup stacking is probably not a skill
most of you are interested in doing,
but for any skill, if you figure out
at what rate you are performing repetitions per unit time
and you want to increase that slightly,
you set a metronome,
which is slightly faster than your current rate
and you just start generating more repetitions.
Now, what’s interesting about this and is cool
is it relates back to the experiment
from Lappe and colleagues,
which is your attention is now harnessed to the tone,
to the metronome,
not necessarily to what you’re doing
in terms of the motor movement.
And so really you need a bit of proficiency.
Again, this is for people who are intermediate
or advanced, intermediate or advanced.
But what you’re essentially doing
is you’re creating an outside pressure, a contingency,
so that you generate again, more errors.
So it’s all about the errors that you get.
Now, these aren’t errors where all the cups tumble
or you have to stop or you can’t keep up.
You have to set the pace just a little bit
beyond what you currently can do.
And when you do that,
you’re essentially forcing the nervous system
to make errors and correct the errors
inside of the session.
I find this really interesting
because what it means is again,
you’ve got sensory perception,
what you’re paying attention to,
proprioception, where your limbs are
and the motor neurons in your upper,
lower motor neurons and central pattern generators.
And you can’t pay attention to it.
Well, they’re my upper motor neurons.
They’re my lower motor neurons.
Forget that, you’re not going to do that.
You can’t pay attention to your proprioception too much.
That would be the super slow motion
would be the proprioception.
But you have to harness your attention to something.
And if you harness your attention
to this outside contingency,
this metronome that’s firing off and saying,
now, go, now, go, now, go.
Not only can you increase the number of repetitions,
errors and successes, but for some reason,
and we don’t know why,
but the regular cadence of the tone of the metronome
and the fact that you are anchoring your movements
to some external force, to some external pressure or cue
seems to accelerate the plasticity
and the changes and the acquisition of skills
beyond what it would be
if you just did the same number of repetitions
without that outside pressure.
We don’t know exactly what the mechanism is.
Presumably it’s neurochemical.
Like there’s something about keeping up with a timer
or with a pace that presumably, and I’m speculating here,
causes the release of particular chemicals.
But I think it’s really cool.
Metronomes, they’re totally inexpensive.
At least the ones that you use outside of water
are very inexpensive.
You can find these free apps.
You can use a musical metronome.
So metronomes are a powerful tool as well,
in particular for speed work.
So for sprinting or swimming or running
where the goal is to generate more strokes
or more efficient strokes or more steps, et cetera,
the rate of the metronome, obviously,
is going to be very important.
Sometimes you’re trying to lengthen your stride.
Sometimes you’re trying to take fewer strokes
but glide further in the pool, for instance.
But the value of occasionally
just increasing the number of repetitions,
the number of strokes or steps, et cetera, per unit time
is also that you’re training the central pattern generators
to operate at that higher speed.
One of the sports that’s kind of interesting to me
is speed walking.
It’s not one I engage in or ever plan to engage in.
But if you’ve ever tried to really speed walk,
it’s actually difficult to walk very, very fast
without breaking into a run.
All animals have these kind of crossover points
where you go, you know, I think of horses,
it’s like, what is it?
They trot, then they gallop.
I don’t know what’s the next thing.
I don’t know anything about horses
except that they’re beautiful and I like them very much.
But they break into a different kind of stride.
And that’s because you shift over
to different central pattern generators.
So when you’re walking or a horse is moving very slowly
and then it breaks into a jog and then into a full sprint
or I got to get gallop for the horse,
you’re actually engaging
different central pattern generators.
And those central pattern generators
always have a range of speeds
that they’re happiest to function at.
So with the metronoming for speed purposes,
what you do is you can basically bring the activity
of those central pattern generators
into their upper, upper range
and maybe even extend their range.
And there’s a fascinating biology
of how central pattern generators work together.
There’s coupling of central pattern generators, et cetera,
in order to achieve maximal speeds and et cetera.
It’s a topic for kind of an advanced session.
Costello loves this topic.
He just barked and he loves it so much he barked again.
In any event, the metronome is a powerful tool,
again, for more advanced practitioners
or for advanced intermediate practitioners.
But it’s interesting because it brings back the point
that what we put our attention to
while we’re skill learning is important
to the extent that it’s on one thing,
at least for the moment or trial to trial,
but that what we focus our attention on can be external,
it can be internal,
and ultimately the skill learning
is where all that is brought together.
So let’s talk about where skill learning occurs
in the nervous system.
And then I’m going to give you a really,
what I think is a really cool tool
that can increase flexibility and a range of motion
based on this particular brain area.
It’s a tool that I used.
And when I first heard about it,
I did not believe would work.
This is not a hack.
This is actually anchored deeply in the biology
of a particular brain region that we all have,
whose meaning is mini brain.
And that mini brain that we all have
is called your cerebellum.
The cerebellum is called the mini brain
because it’s in the back of your brain.
It looks like a little mini version
of the rest of your brain.
It’s an absolutely incredible structure
that’s involved in movement.
It also has a lot of non-movement associated functions.
In brief, the cerebellum gets input from your senses,
in particular your eyes,
and pays attention to where your eyes are in space,
what you’re looking at.
It basically takes information about three aspects
of your eyes and eye movements,
which are occurring when your head goes like this,
which is called pitch.
Okay, so this is pitch.
For those of you that are listening,
I’m just nodding up and down.
Then there’s yaw, which is like shaking your head no
from side to side.
And then there’s roll,
which is like sometimes if you see a primate,
like a marmoset or something,
they will roll their head when they look at you.
Actually, the reason they do that
is it helps generate depth perception.
It’s a kind of form of motion parallax
if you’re curious why they do that.
It’s not to look cute.
They do it because when they do that,
even if you’re stationary and they’re stationary,
they get better depth perception
as to how far away from them you are.
So you’ve got pitch, yaw, and roll.
And as you move your head and as you move your body
and you move through space,
the image on your retina moves,
pitch, yaw, and roll in some combination.
That information is relayed to your cerebellum.
So it’s rich with visual information.
There’s also a map of your body surface
and your movements and timing in the cerebellum.
So it’s an incredible structure
that brings together timing of movements,
which limbs are moving,
and has proprioceptive information.
It really is a mini brain.
It’s just the coolest little structure back there.
And in humans, it’s actually not that little.
It’s just an incredible structure.
Now, all this information is integrated there,
but what most people don’t tell us
is that a lot of learning of motor sequences,
of skill learning that involve timing
occurs in the cerebellum.
Now, you can’t really use that information
except to know that after you learn something pretty well,
it’s handed off or kind of handled by your cerebellum.
But there is something that you can do with your cerebellum
to increase range of motion and flexibility.
Much of our flexibility, believe it or not,
is not because our tendons are a particular length
or elasticity, although that plays some role.
It’s not because our muscles are short.
I don’t know what that would even mean.
Some people have longer muscle bellies
or shorter muscle bellies,
but your muscles always essentially span the entire length
of the bone or limb or close to it,
along with your tendons.
But it has to do with the neural innervation of muscle
and the fact that when muscles are elongated,
there’s a point at which they won’t stretch out any longer
and the nerves fire and they shut down.
You actually have inhibitory pathways
that prevent you from contracting the muscles
or from extending them, from stretching them out anymore.
So you can do this right now.
If you’re driving, don’t do it
because unless you have a self-driving car,
you’ll need to take your hands off the steering wheel.
But because of the way that vision
and your muscles are represented in your cerebellum,
it turns out that your range of visual motion
and your range of vision,
literally how wide a field of view you take,
impacts how far you can extend your limbs.
Okay, so we’ll talk about this in a second,
about exactly how to do this and explore this.
But as you move through space, as you walk forward,
or you walk backward, or you tilt your head,
or you learn a skill,
or you just operate in the normal ways throughout your day,
driving, biking, et cetera,
your eyes are generating spontaneous movements
to offset visual slip.
In other words, you don’t see the world as blurry
even though you’re moving
because your eyes are generating
low compensatory eye movements to offset your motion.
So if I spin, we could do this experiment.
There’s a fun experiment we do with medical students
where you spin them around in a chair
with their eyes closed,
and then you stop and you have them open their eyes
and their eyes are going like this,
doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, a nice stagmas.
I don’t suggest you do this experiment.
When we were kids, we did a different experiment,
which was to take a stick
and to look at the top of the stick
and to spin around on the lawn,
looking at the top of the stick,
then put it down on the ground and try and jump over it.
And you end up like jumping to the side,
you miss the thing entirely.
The reason those two quote unquote experiments,
which I hope you don’t do or force somebody else to do,
the reason they work is because normally your eye movements
and your balance and your limb movements are coordinated.
But when you spin around looking up at the stick,
what you’re doing is you’re fixating your eyes
on one location while you’re moving.
And then when you stop,
those two mechanisms are completely uncoupled
and it’s like being thrown into outer space.
Never been to outer space,
but probably something like that,
low gravity, zero gravity.
If you spin around in your chair with your eyes closed,
you’re not giving the visual input that you’re spinning.
And then you open the eyes
and then the eyes only have the,
what we call the vestibular signal,
your eyes jolting back and forth, back and forth.
Again, these aren’t experiments you need to do
because I just told you the result.
However, if you want to extend your range of motion,
you can do that by, these things always look goofy,
but at this point,
I’m just kind of used to doing these things.
If I want to extend my range of movement,
first, I want to measure my range of motion.
So I’m trying to, if you’re listening,
what I’m doing is I’m stretching out my arms
from like a T on either side,
and I’m trying to push them as far back as I can,
which for me is, feels like it’s in line with my shoulders
and I can’t get much further.
I’m not really super flexible,
nor am I particularly inflexible, at least physically.
So what I would then do is stop.
I would move my eyes to the far periphery, right?
So I’m moving my eyes all the way to the left
while keeping my head and body stationary.
I’m trying to look over my left shoulder as far as I can,
then off to the right.
It’s a little awkward to do this.
Then up, then down,
but I’m mostly going to just focus on left and then right.
Now, what that’s doing is it’s sending a signal
to my cerebellum that my field of view
is way over to there and way over to there.
Remember, your visual attention has an aperture.
It can be narrow or it can be broad.
And I’ve talked about some of the benefits
of taking a broad visual aperture
in order to relax the nervous system.
This is just moving my eyes, not my head,
like I just did for a second, from side to side.
Now I can retest, and actually you get about
a five to 15 degree increase in your range of motion.
Now I’m doing this for you.
You can say, well, you know, he gamed it
because he knew the result that he was hoping for,
but you can try this, okay?
So, and you can do this for legs too, right?
You can do this for any limb essentially.
And that’s, it’s purely cerebellar.
And it’s because the proprioceptive visual
and limb movement feedback converge in their,
in the ways that we control our muscle spindles
and the way we control the muscle fibers and the tendons.
And essentially you can get bigger range of motion.
So I actually will warm up before exercise
or for before skill learning
by both doing movements for my body,
but also moving my eyes from side to side
in order to generate larger range of motion.
If range of motion is something that I’m interested in.
So that’s a fun one that you can play with a little bit.
And it’s purely cerebellar.
Some other time we’ll get back into cerebellar function.
There’s all sorts of just incredible stuff
that you can do with cerebellum.
I talked in an earlier episode on neuroplasticity
about how you can disrupt your vestibular world.
In other words, by getting into modes of acceleration,
moving through space where you’re tilted in certain ways,
it can open up the windows for plasticity
and yet other ways.
So you can check that out.
It’s one of the earlier episodes on neuroplasticity.
But meanwhile, if you want to expand your range of motion
before doing skill learning or afterward,
this is a fun one.
It’s also kind of neat
because I have this kind of aversion to stretching work.
It never seems like something I want to do.
And so I always put it off.
So if I start with the visual practice
of expanding my field of view
off to one side or the other side or up or down,
then what I find is I’m naturally more flexible.
I’m not naturally more flexible.
What’s happened is I’ve expanded my range of motion.
Let’s talk about visualization and mental rehearsal.
I’ve been asked about this a lot.
And I think it relates back to that kind of a matrix
Hollywood idea that we can just be embedded with a skill.
Although in this case, in fairness,
visualization involves some work.
And I’ve talked about this on an earlier episode
that some people find it very hard
to mentally visualize things.
And some people find it very easy.
There was great work that was done in the 1960s
by Roger Shepard at Stanford and by others,
looking at people’s ability
to rotate three-dimensional objects in their mind.
And some people are really good at this
and some people are less good at this.
And one can get better at it by repeating it.
But the question we’re going to deal with today is,
does it help?
Does it let you learn things faster?
And indeed the answer appears to be yes, it can.
However, despite what you’ve heard, it is not as good.
It is not a total replacement
for physical performance itself.
Okay, so I’m going to be really concrete about this.
I hear all the time that just imagining contracting a muscle
can lead to the same gains
as actually contracting that muscle.
Just imagining a skill can lead to the same increases
in performance as actually executing that skill.
And that’s simply not the case.
However, it can supplement or support physical training
and skill learning in ways that are quite powerful.
One of the more interesting studies on this
was from Ranganathan et al.
Forgive me for the pronunciation.
This was a slightly older paper, 2004,
but nonetheless was one that I thought
had particularly impressive results
and included all the appropriate controls, et cetera.
And what they did is they looked at 30 subjects.
They divide them into different groups.
They had one group perform essentially finger flexion.
So it was actually just sort of the,
imagine if you’re just listening to this,
the, you know, come here, finger movement.
They also had elbow flexion.
So it’s a bicep curl type movement.
And they either had subjects
do a actual physical movement against resistance
or to imagine moving their finger
or their wrist towards the shoulder,
meaning at the bending at the elbow
towards actual resistance.
Just to make a long story short,
what they found was that there were increases
in this finger adduction strength,
abduction, excuse me, strength of about 35%
and the elbow flexion strength by about 13.5%,
which are pretty impressive
considering that it was just done mentally.
So they had people imagine moving against a weight,
a very heavy weight,
or had imagined people moving their wrist
towards their shoulder against a very heavy weight.
But again, they weren’t doing it.
They were just imagining it.
Other experiments looked at the brain
and what was happening in the brain during this time.
So we’ll talk about that in a moment.
But essentially what they found were
improvements in strength of anywhere from 13.5 to 35%.
However, the actual physical training group,
the groups that actually moved their wrist
or move their finger against an actual physical weight
had improvements of about 53%.
So this repeats over and over throughout the literature.
Mental rehearsal can cause increases in strength.
It can create increases in skill acquisition and learning,
but they are never as great
if done alone as compared
to the actual physical execution of those movements
or the physical movement of those weights,
which shouldn’t come as so surprising.
However, if we step back and we say,
well, what is the source of this improvement?
You might not care what the source is
because I could tell you it’s one brain area
or another brain area, what difference would it make?
But again, if you can understand mechanism a little bit,
you’re in a position to create newer
and even better protocols.
What mental rehearsal appears to do
is engage the activity of those upper motor neurons
that we talked about way back
at the beginning of the episode.
Remember, you have upper motor neurons
that control deliberate action.
You’ve got lower motor neurons
that actually connect to the muscles
and move those muscles
and you have central pattern generators.
Mental rehearsal, closing one’s eyes typically
and thinking about a particular sequence of movement
and visualizing it in one’s quote unquote mind’s eye
creates activation of the upper motor neurons
that’s very similar if not the same as the actual movement.
And that makes sense because the upper motor neurons
are all about the command for movement.
They are not the ones that actually execute the movement.
Remember, upper motor neurons are the ones
that generate the command for movement,
not the actual movement.
The ones that generate the actual movement
are the lower motor neurons
and the central pattern generators.
So visualization is a powerful tool.
How can you use visualization?
Well, in this study,
they had people perform this five days a week.
I believe that it was 15, yes,
it was 15 minutes per day, five days a week for 12 weeks.
So that’s a lot of mental rehearsal.
It’s not a ton of time each day, 15 minutes per day,
but sitting down, closing your eyes
and imagining going through a particular skill practice
or moving a weight.
Maybe it’s playing keys on a piano,
if that’s your thing, or strings on a guitar.
For 15 minutes a day, five days per week for 12 weeks
I think most people,
given the fact that the actual practice,
the physical practice is going to lead
to larger improvements, greater improvements
than would the mental training
would opt for the actual physical training.
But of course, if you’re on a plane
and you don’t have access to your guitar
and you’re certainly not going to be sprinting
up and down the aisle,
or you are very serious about your craft
and you want to accelerate performance of your craft
or strength increases or something of that sort,
then augmenting or adding in the visualization training
very likely will compound the effects
of the actual physical training.
There are not a lot of studies looking at how visualization
on top of pure physical training
can increase the rates of learning
and consolidation of learning, et cetera.
It’s actually a hard study to do
because it’s hard to control for,
because what would you do in its place?
You would probably add actual physical training
and then that’s always going to lead to greater effects.
So the point is,
if you want to use visualization training, great,
but forget the idea that visualization training
is as good as the actual behavior.
You hear this all the time.
People say, do you know that if you imagine an experience
to your brain and to your body,
it’s exactly the same as the actual experience.
This is not the way the nervous system works.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to burst anybody’s bubble,
but your bubble is made of myths.
And the fact of the matter is that the brain,
when it executes movement,
is generating proprioceptive feedback.
And that proprioceptive feedback is critically involved
in generating our sense of the experience
and in things like learning.
So I don’t say this because I don’t like the idea
that visualization couldn’t work.
In fact, visualization does work,
but it doesn’t work as well.
It doesn’t create the same milieu,
the same chemical milieu, the same environment
as actual physically engaging in the behavior,
the skill, the resistance training, et cetera.
And I’d be willing to wager that the same is true
for experiences of all kinds.
PTSD is this incredibly unfortunate circumstance
in which there’s a replay often of the traumatic event
that feels very real.
But that’s not to say that the replay itself
is the same as the actual event.
And of course, PTSD needs to be dealt with
with the utmost level of seriousness.
It should be treated.
In fact, my lab works on these sorts of things.
But my point about visualization and imagining something
not being the same as the actual experience
is grounded in this idea of proprioception
and the fact that feedback to the cerebellum,
the cerebellum talking to other areas of the brain
are critically involved in communicating
to the rest of our nervous system
that not just that we believe something is happening,
but something is actually happening.
And in the case of muscle loads,
muscles actually feeling tension,
the actual feeling of tension in the muscle,
the contracting of the muscle under that tension
is part of the important adaptation process.
In a future episode, we’ll talk about hypertrophy
and how that works at the level of upper motor neurons,
lower motor neurons, and muscle itself.
But for now, just know that visualization can work.
It doesn’t work as well as real physical training
and practice, but these effects of 35% or 13.5% increases
are pretty considerable.
They’re just not as great as the 53% increases
that come from actual physical training.
For those of you that are interested
in some of the skill learning
that more relates to musical training,
but also how cadence and metronoming and tones, et cetera,
can support physical learning.
If you’re interested in that, you aficionados,
there is a wonderful review
also published in the journal, Neuron.
Again, excellent journal by Herholtz and Zatore.
That’s H-E-R-H-O-L-Z and Zatore, Z-A-T-O-R-E-T-O-R-E.
That really describes in detail how musical training
can impact all sorts of different things
and how cadence training, whether or not with tones
or auditory feedback and things of that sort,
carries over to not just instrumental music training,
but also physical skill learning of various kinds.
So if you want to do the deep dive,
that would be the place.
You can find it easily online.
It’s available as a complete article free of charge,
Many of you are probably asking what can I take
in order to accelerate skill learning?
Well, the conditions are going to vary,
but motivation is key.
You have to show up to the training session
motivated enough to focus your attention
and to perform a lot of repetitions
in the training sequence.
That’s just a prerequisite, all right?
There’s no pill that’s going to allow you
to do fewer repetitions
and extract more learning out of fewer repetitions.
It’s actually more a question of what are the conditions
that you can create for yourself
such that you can generate more repetitions per unit time?
I think that’s the right way to think about it.
What are the conditions that you can create for yourself
in your mind and in your body
that are going to allow you to focus?
And I’ve talked about focus and plasticity and motivation
in previous episodes.
Please see those episodes if you have questions about that.
I detail a lot of tools and the underlying science.
So for some people, it might be drinking a cup or two
of coffee and getting hydrated before the training session.
For some of you, it might be avoiding coffee
because it makes you too jittery
and your attention jumps all over the place.
It’s going to vary tremendously.
There’s no real, there is no magic pill
that’s going to allow you to get more out of less.
That’s just not going to happen.
It’s simply not going to happen.
You’re not going to get more learning
out of fewer repetitions or less time.
However, there are a few compounds
that I think are worth mentioning
because of their ability to improve
the actual physical performance,
the actual execution of certain types of movements.
And some of these have also been shown
to improve cognitive function,
especially in older populations.
So I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention them.
I’m only going to mention one today.
In fact, the one that’s particularly interesting
and for which there really are a lot of data is alpha-GPC.
And I’m going to attempt to pronounce
what alpha-GPC actually is.
It’s alpha-glycerophospho-choline, right?
See, if I keep doing it over and over repetitions,
There, I made an error.
Okay, so the point is that alpha-GPC,
which is at least in the United States
is sold over the counter,
typically is taken in dosages of about 300 to 600 milligrams.
That’s a single dose or have been shown
to do a number of things that for some of you
might be beneficial.
One is to enhance power output.
So if you’re engaging in something like shot put throwing
or resistance training or sprinting
or something where you have to generate a lot of power,
maybe you’re doing rock climbing,
but you’re working on a particular aspect
of your rock climbing that involves
generating a lot of force, a lot of power.
Well then, in theory, alpha-GPC could be beneficial to you.
For the cognitive effects, the dosages are much higher,
up to 1200 milligrams daily divided into three doses
of 400 milligrams is what the studies
that I was able to find show or used.
The effects on cognitive decline are described as notable.
Notable meaning several studies showed a significant
but modest effect in offsetting cognitive decline,
in particular in older populations and some populations
even with some reported neurodegeneration.
Power output was notable.
What does that mean, notable?
A study noted a 14% increase in power output.
That’s pretty substantial, 14% if you think about it,
but it wasn’t like a doubling or something of that sort.
Believe it or not, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s
have been shown at least among the nutraceuticals
of which alpha-GPC is to significantly improve cognition
in people with Alzheimer’s.
Now, this episode isn’t about cognitive decline
and longevity, we will talk about that,
but this is a so-called another effect of alpha-GPC.
Fat oxidation is increased by alpha-GPC,
growth hormone release is promoted by alpha-GPC,
although to a small degree.
So as you can see, things like alpha-GPC in particular
when they are combined with low levels of caffeine
can have these effects of improving power output,
can improve growth hormone release,
can improve fat oxidation.
All these things in theory can support skill learning,
but what they’re really doing
is they’re adjusting the foundation
upon which you are going to execute
these many, many repetitions, okay?
The same thing would be said for caffeine itself.
If that’s something that motivates you
and gets you out of a chair
to actually do the physical training,
then that’s something that can perhaps improve
or enhance the rate of skill learning
and how well you retain those skills.
Now, on a previous episode, I talked about,
and this was the episode on epinephrine, on adrenaline,
I talked about how for mental, for cognitive learning,
it makes sense to spike epinephrine,
to bump epinephrine levels up,
adrenaline levels up after cognitive learning.
For physical learning, it appears to be the opposite,
that if you are, if caffeine is in your practice
or if you decide to try alpha-GPC,
that you would want to do that before the training,
take it before the training, use it,
its effects should extend into the training,
and then afterward, if you’re thinking about following
some of the protocols that we discussed today,
that you would use some sort of idle time
where the brain can replay these motor sequences in reverse,
and then of course, you want to do things
to optimize your sleep.
A lot of the questions I get are about
how different protocols and things that I describe
start to collide with one another.
So let’s say, for instance, you go to bed at 10.30
and you’re going to do your skill training at 9.30,
well, taking a lot of caffeine then
is not going to be a good idea
because it’s going to compromise your sleep.
So I’m not here to design the perfect schedule for you
because everyone’s situations vary.
So the things to optimize are repetitions, failures,
more repetitions, more failures,
at the offset of training, having some idle time
that could be straight into sleep,
or it could be simply letting the brain just go idle
for five to 10 minutes,
me not focusing on anything, not scrolling social media,
not emailing, ideally not even talking to somebody,
just lying down or sitting quietly with your eyes closed,
letting those motor sequences replay.
Then we talked about how one can come back
for additional training sessions,
use things like metronoming,
where you’re cueing your attention to some external cue,
some stimulus, in this case,
an auditory stimulus most likely,
and trying to generate more repetitions per unit time.
So again, it’s repetitions and errors, that’s key.
And then we also talked about some things that you can do
involving cerebellar neurophysiology
to extend range of motion,
if that’s what’s limiting for you,
or to use visualization to augment the practice,
or let’s say your particular skill involves nice weather
and it’s raining or snowing outside
and you can’t get outside, a thunderstorm,
then that’s where visualization training
might be a good replacement under those conditions,
or in most cases is going to be the kind of thing
that you’re going to want to do
in addition to the actual physical skill
or strength training session done,
at least in the study that we described,
for 15 minutes a day, five days a week,
over a period of 10 to 12 weeks or so.
So hopefully that makes it clear.
Today, we’ve covered a lot of mechanism.
We talked so much about the different motor pathways,
central pattern generators.
So you now are armed with a lot of information
about how you generate movement.
And I like to think that you’re also armed
with a lot of information about how to design protocols
that are optimized for you,
or if you’re a coach for your trainees
in order to optimize their learning
of skills of various kinds.
Today, we focused almost entirely on motor skills,
things like musical skills or physical skills.
These have some overlap.
They’re partially overlapping with neuroplasticity
for learning things like languages, or math,
or engineering, or neuroscience for that matter.
Before we depart,
I just want to make sure that I return to a concept,
which is the ultradian cycle.
Ultradian cycles are these 90-minute cycles
that we go through throughout sleep and wakefulness
that are optimal for learning and attention
in the waking state.
They are the stages of sleep
in which we have either predominantly slow-wave sleep
or REM sleep.
Some of you who have been following this podcast
for a while might be asking,
well, should a physical practice be 90 minutes?
That’s going to depend because with physical practices,
oftentimes, for instance, with strength training,
that might be too long.
You’re not going to be able to generate enough force output
for it to be worthwhile.
For golfing, I don’t know.
I’ve never played golf,
although my friends that play golf,
they disappear onto the golf course for many hours.
So I know there’s a lot of walking and driving
and other stuff.
I even hear that somebody carries your stuff around for you.
Sometimes, not always, but it’s going to differ.
A four-hour golf game,
you’re probably not swinging the golf club for four hours.
So it’s going to depend.
I would say that the ultradian cycle
is not necessarily a good constraint
for skill learning in most cases.
And I should say that for those of you
that are short on time or have limited amounts of time,
10 minutes of maximum repetitions,
maximum focus skill learning work
is going to be very beneficial.
Whereas two hours of kind of haphazard,
not really focused work
or where you’re not generating very many repetitions
because you’re doing a few repetitions,
then you’re texting on your phone
or paying attention to something else,
that’s not going to be beneficial.
It’s really about the density of training
inside of a session.
So I think you should let the,
work toward maximal or near maximal density of repetitions
and failures, provided they’re failures
you can perform safely
in order to accelerate skill learning.
And don’t let some arbitrary,
or in this case, the ultradian constraint
prevent you from engaging in that practice.
In other words, get the work in,
get as much work done as you can per unit time.
And based on the science,
based on things that I’ve seen,
based on things that I’m now involved in
with various communities,
you will see the skill improve vastly at various stages.
Sometimes it’s a little bit stutter start.
It’s not always a linear improvement,
but you will see incredible improvement in skill.
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Today, we talked all about skill learning.
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