Carlos’s Tip # 202: Do you want to row better? Improve your rowing coordination

Coordination happens in the brain not the body. Some key networks in the brain that sense and coordinate the muscles are called the body maps. The body maps are discrete parts of the brain that are organized in such a way as to represent the different body parts, just as lines on a map represent roads. Each part of the body has a separate area of the brain dedicated to moving and sensing that body part.

Body parts that have greater sensory motor demands have bigger maps. Not surprisingly, the map for the hand is significantly larger than the map for the elbow. Thus, larger and more detailed maps means better coordination. The information necessary to maintain and build the maps is provided by proprioceptive signals from the body.

One of the reasons why rowing well is so complex is because the whole body is involved on it. Also the body is connected to a boat and oars and moving on water. If all the information necessary to build the body maps is provided by proprioceptive signals from the body, think about how complex and multiple are those multiple movements of our body parts that stimulate the nerves mechanoreceptors that are located all over the body and primarily in joints.

You can sense the effects of mechanoreception on your maps instantly by doing a simple experiment. Try to imagine or sense the exact shape and position of your ears. Now rub just the left ear for a few seconds and then compare your ability to sense the left ear and the right. You will note that it is much easier to form a clear picture of the left ear. The simple reason is that touching the ear activated its mechanoreceptors, which sent a signal to the brain, which excited the neurons in the map for that area. Of course, the additional clarity in the map is only temporary, and after a minute your ears will feel the same.

In order to make long term changes in the maps, you need to place demands on them consistently over a long period of time. When a certain movement is used repeatedly in a coordinated and mindful fashion, there are actual physical and observable changes in the part of the brain that controls that movement.

I coach rowers on the Rowperfect3 to don’t confuse their propiocetion. If Proprioception occurs when movement or touch stimulates nerve mechanoreceptors, which are located all over the body and primarily in joints, how are these nerves mechanoreceptors to react if we confuse them by rowing on the water and on a Concept2?

While movement will clarify maps, lack of movement will tend to blur them. In a famous experiment, researchers found that sewing a monkey’s fingers together for a few weeks caused its brain to map the fingers as one unit, not as two separate parts capable of individual movements. We would expect similar map blurring to occur when any joint movement is neglected for a certain period of time. This loss of control over previously accessible movements is the neural version of the “use it or lose it” principle, and is sometimes called sensory motor amnesia.

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