Skilled athletes have different and more economical brain activity while performing their sport.
You would like to think that when an athlete runs faster or jumps higher after training that it is due to the improvement of larger muscle mass. However, functional and athletic improvements are actually due to changes in the way the nervous system controls the muscular system involved in your movement. Muscle bulk gains and body building rarely lead to improved power and being able to run and move faster or jumping higher.
All training and corrective exercise movements are built upon the science of nervous system adaptation to positive stress in exercise and training.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to re-organise itself by forming new neural (nerve) connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
Brain re-organisation takes place by mechanisms such as “axonal sprouting” (nerve growth) in which undamaged axons grow new nerve endings to connect with other undamaged nerve cells, forming new neural pathways to accomplish a needed movement.
With respect to the brains of athletes, structural differences have been found between experienced athletes and novices. An Australian study of skilled racket-sport players found that brain areas associated with the racket arm were larger than in a matched group of non-athletes. Along the same lines, a chinese study of expert divers found increased gray matter volume in brain areas associated with skilled motor control. Skilled athletes have also been found to exhibit different and more economical brain activity while performing their sport.
The overarching theme here is that the brain is malleable, ‘neuroplastic’, and it develops with training. It is an interesting concept to keep in mind, especially with respect to sports and athletic performance.It’s easy and natural to think about training in terms of muscles, the body and physical skills. But every new skill that an athlete learns is accompanied also by brain and neural changes that may be harder to see, but are equally important.