Category Archives: Working the Brain

Super Brain Yoga

Print Friendly

Peripheral Heart Action Training

Print Friendly

I first read about peripheral heart action training in a booklet I bought from MuscleMag International. Dr. Fred Hatfield PhD (known as Dr. Squat for squatting an enormous 1014 lbs in competition) and his son, also wrote about it in their ebook Getting Start with a Weight Training and Nutritional Approach to Fitness, an excerpt from a text of the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).

 ”The (peripheral heart action) PHA system developed by Chuck Coker, inventor of the “Universal” machine, constitutes the single-most efficient method of deriving general fitness we have ever come across. Nearly all of the components of fitness are served, depending on how the sets and reps are arranged.” Hatfield and Hatfield. Getting Start with a Weight Training and Nutritional Approach to Fitness, pg. 30.

That says a lot about a system of weight training whose name most people never heard.

The system itself is quite simple. Perform a rotating pool of exercises on a given training day and repeat the cycle if necessary. One could think of it as a system of circuit training with a twist. What’s special about the PHA system is that the exercises are arranged in a way that blood flow is directed to distant bodyparts as opposed to a specific area of the body. For example, instead of doing back to back exercises of an upper body movement (eg. overhead press, bench press, and bent over row), a PHA routine might have the following body part order:

1. Lower limb (feet, legs, thighs, and hips)

2. Upper limb (hands, forearms, arms, and shoulders)

3. Midsection/lower torso (abdominals and low back)

4. Upper torso (chest, middle and upper back, neck)

That’s a wide distribution of body parts with exercises that when properly executed recruit more total muscle mass than training an isolated bodypart. Local muscular fatigue is minimized and cycling of blood flow through wider regions of the body provides greater opportunity for recovery because lactic acid (lactate) is not allowed to pool in an isolated muscle. Improved lactate clearance translates to improved muscular endurance. Ultimately, the aim of PHA training is to change the distribution of blood flow with each exercise so that fatigue and muscle pump are reduced. This is a great way for athletes to train in the gym as opposed to following a typical bodybuilding routine or cookie cutter strength routine.

Table 1 gives three example cycles that could be used for a PHA routine.

Table 1: Example cycles for Peripheral Heart Action training.

Cycle 1

Cycle 2

Cycle 3

1. Barbell back squat

2. Chinup

3. Leg Raise

4. Dumbell press

1. Toe raise with bar on shoulders

2. Back raise

3. Kelso shrug

4. Overhead shrug

1. Front squat

2. Bench press

3. Situp

4. Bent over row

 The cycles shown in the above table can be altered in many different ways to produce results even if the exercises are kept the same.  The main variables that can be adjusted are:

  1. exercise order (as long as PHA training principles are maintained)
  2. the total number of reps per cycle
  3. the total repetitions of a cycle
  4. weight lifted for a specific exercise
  5. tempo and lifting velocity.

In general, repetitions should be performed with a controlled rhythmic pace. Tempo could be adjusted to  changing the duration of each phase of the lift. So, the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering or yielding) phases of an exercise in addition to changing the duration of the static contraction at the end of concentric and eccentric phases. You can pause between reps but avoid pausing the lockout of each rep in order to keep a dynamic pace required for an effective PHA workout.

I suggest starting off with 50% to 60% intensity (intensity is defined as a percentage of a barbell exercise’s 1 rep max) to establish your fitness baseline for that routine, working up to an average training intensity of 70% per workout. If you’re unsure of your 1 rep max, then use a weight that will allow to do 10 to 15 reps to get a slight pump. Another way to think of PHA is a training a bodypart to get it slightly pumped then switching exercises to get a pump in a distant part of the body. A great training rule to follow is to leave some energy in the tank, so stop your sets 1 to 2 reps short of failure and finish your workout feeling stronger and more energized than you started.

The routine can be programmed for three day per week, say Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. Eventually more cycles can be added to each training day and more training days can be added.

This type of workout is ideal for the weekend warrior who has a tendency to get injured because of inadequate exercise during the week.

So, try this old but effective training system as a compliment to your current strength and health lifestyle.


Meet Your Memory: What Is It?

Print Friendly

People can learn anamazing number of different things. We can learn to walk, dance, and swim. We can learn to type, repair watches, and program computers. We can learn to drive cards, ride bikes, and fly airplanes. We can learn languages, chemical formulas, and mathematical proofs. We can learn to read road maps, make out income tax returns, and balance checkbooks. The list of things we can learn todo could be continued almost indefinitely.

Of course, all this learning would be useless if we could not remember. Without memory we would have to respond to every situation as if we had never experienced it. The value of memory is also shown by the fact that we reason and make judgments with remembered facts. In addition, we are able to deal with time, relating the present to the past and making predictions about the future, because of what is stored in the our memories. Even our own self-perceptions depend on our memories of the past.

The uses and the capacity of the human memory are indeed amazing. You can store billions of items of information in your memory. Your two-pound brain can store more than today’s more advanced computers. But people also forget. We forget things we would like to remember. We forget names, anniversaires, birthdays, and appointments. We forget what we learned for an exam in school (usually within a short time after the exam, and sometimes before the exam).

What is your memory? How does your memory work? Some understanding of the theories underlying memory techniques can help in using the techniques more effectively and also in being motivated to use them.

What are the stages and processes of memory?

Remembering is generally viewed as consisting of three stages:

  1. Acquisition or encoding is learning the material in the first place.
  2. Storage is keeping the material until it is needed.
  3. Retrieval is finding the material and getting it back out when it is needed.

To help remember these three stages, we can refer to them as the “Three Rs of Remembering”: Recording (acquisition), Retaining (storage), and Retrieving (retrieval).

Another way to remember the three stages of memory is by referring to the “Three Fs of Not Forgetting”. Corresponding with Fixating, Filing, and Finding.

The three stages of memory can be illustrated by comparing the memory to a file cabinet. You first type the desired information on a piece of paper (Recording). Then you put it in a file cabinet drawer under the appropriate heading (Retaining). Later you go to the file cabinet, find the information, and get it back out (Retrieving).

Sometimes when a person cannot locate what he wants in a file cabinet it may be because the information was never recorded; sometimes it may be because the recorded information was never put into the cabinet; but often it is because the information was not put in the cabinet in such a way as to be easy to find. Suppose a person using the file cabinet throws letters and documents haphazardly into the drawers. A few months later he goes to the cabinet to retrieve a specific document. He would likely have a problem getting it. Why? Because it was not recorded? No, the document had been typed. Because it was not retained? No, the document had been put in the cabinet. How the document was stored is the problem.

Similarly, most problems in remembering come at the retrieval stage than the storage stage. We are all every aware that memory is limited more in getting things out than getting them in. More can be stored in memory than can be retrieved. There is not much we can do to improve retrieval directly, but retrieval is a function of how the material is recorded and retained. Therefore, improved  methods of recording and retaining will improve retrieval, both from a file cabinet and from your memory. The principles and methods discussed in this book will help you record and retain information in such a way as to be able to retrieve it more effectively.

It is useful to distinguish between material in memory that is accessible and material that is available. This distinction can be illustrated by the boy who asks his father, “Dad is something lost when you know where it is?” His father replies, “No, son.” Clearly relieved, the boy responds, “Good, your car keys are at the bottom of the well.” The keys were available but they were not accessible. Similarly, material that is misplaced in a file cabinet is available because it is stored, but it is not accessible because it cannot be retrieved. However, if the material is not even in the file cabinet  then it is neither accessible nor available. Likewise, material that is recorded and retained in your memory may not be accessible even if it is available; you know it is in there somewhere, but you just cannot find it. In this siuation, the answer to the boy’s question may be, “Yes, something can be lost even when you know where it is.”

In addition to the three stages of memory there appear to be at least two different processes involved in memory - short-term memory (also called primary memory and working memory) and long-term memory (also called secondary memory). The distinction between short-term memory and long-term memory is more than just a semantic distinction between remembering for a short time and remembering for a long time. Most psychologists view short-term memory and long-term memory as being two separate storage mechanisms that differ in several ways, although some psychologists have suggested that they are not really different mechanisms but merely different manifestation of the same mechanism (such as different levels of processing).

Memory Myths

Print Friendly

For years, claims like the one to follow have been in advertisements for memory-training books and courses.

You, too, can have a photographic memory! With this new miracle memory system, you will never again forget anything. It requires no work or willpower, and anyone can use it immediately. Once you learn this secret of a super-power memory you will be able to learn everything perfectly and effortlessly!”

If you think such claims are too good to be true, you’re right. Yet these claims continue to attract people because they play on the myths of memory that govern people’s understanding of memory.

The following myths are excerpted from “Your Memory: How It Works and How to Improve It”

Myth 1: Memory is a Thing

Myth 2: There is a Secret to Good Memory

Myth 3: There is an Easy Way to Memorize

Myth 4: Some People are Stuck with Bad Memories

Myth 5: Some People are Bless with Photographic Memories

Myth 6: Some People are too Old (or Young) to Improve their Memories

Myth 7: Memory, Like a Muscle, Benefits from Exercise

Myth 8: A Trained Memory Never Forgets

Myth 9: Remembering Too Much Can Clutter Your Mind

Myth 10: People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brain Potential

Bright Screens Could Delay Bedtime

Print Friendly

Using a tablet or computer in the late evening disrupts the body’s melatonin production.

If you have trouble sleeping, laptop or tablet use at bedtime might be to blame, new research suggests. Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center at Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute and her team showed that two hours of iPad use at maximum brightness was enough to suppress people’s normal nighttime release of melatonin, a key hormone in the body’s clock, or circadian system. Melatonin tells your body that iti is night, helping to make you sleepy. If you delay that signal, Figueiro says, you could delay sleep. Other research indicates that “if you do that chronically, for many years, it can lead to disruption of the circadian system,” sometimes with serious health consequences, she explains.

The dose of light is important, Figueiro saysl the brightness and exposure time, as well as the wavelength, determine whether it affects melatonin. Light in the blue-and-white range emitted by today’s tablets can do the trick – as can laptops and desktop computers, which emit even more of the disrupting light but are usually positioned farther from the eyes, which ameliorates the light’s effects. The team designed light-detector goggles and had subjects wear them during late-evening tablet use. The light dose measurements from the goggles correlated with hampered melatonin production.

On the bright side, a morning shot of screen time could be used as light therapy for seasonal affective disorder and other light based problems. Figueiro hopes manufacturers will “get creative” with tomorrow’s tablets, making them more “circadian friendly,” perhaps even switching to white text on a black screen at night to minimize the light dose. Until then, do you sleep schedule a favour and turn down the brightness of your glowing screens before bed – or switch back to good old-fashioned books.

-Sephani Sutherland


The Gift of Mimicry

Print Friendly

Brains brim with original ideas, but they also love to imitate. Neurons constantly watch what other people are doing and mime it themselves. That’s how we learn. 

Once you’ve seen a tarantula crawl along the skin of James Bond’s shoulder, you’re not likely to forget it. Even if you’ve never squirmed through the iconic scene in the classic Dr. No, the mere description of it is likely to make your skin crawl just a little.

That oddly personal, oddly tactile reaction is not only the result of deft moviemaking; it’s also the haniwork of your somatosensory cortex – the place in brain where real tickles are processed. As Bond feels that tarantula, his somatosensory cortex crackles with nasty signals and, ina  smaller way, yours does too. Such neurological empathy would not be possible without the help of specialized brain cells known as mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons are found all over the brain, and they’re responsible for a whole range of phenomena. When a mother opens her mouth and a newborn imitates her, mirror neurons are at work. When someone finds forgotten leftovers in the refrigerator and recoils at the sight and smell of them and you recoil too, that’s also mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are even involved when you look at a sculture like Berninni’s Rape of Prosperina in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. “Even though the statue is made of marble, one of the coldest materials on earth, it conveys a vivid impression of carnality.” says neuroscientist Vitorio Gallese of the University of Parma.

Under a microscope, mirror neurons look like other neurons. What makes them special is the web of connections that links these neurons in the motor and sensory systems to the limbic centers that process visceral and emotional reactions. And hilw some of the connections may well be in place at birth, they are, neuroscientists think, vastly expanded through experience. A baby smiles. Her mother smiles back. Click. The brain sets up the circuit.

Gallese was part of a team that published some of the earliest work on mirror neurons back in the 1990s, when he and his colleagues were conducting brain studies on macaques and noticed something off: the monkeys would be sitting still, doing nothing in particular, when a researcher would pick up raisins or sunflower seeds. At that point, the neurons the monkeys would use if they were engaging in the same task began buzzing. It was as if the macaques were mentally mirroring the action they observed.

All manner of experiments have yeileded similar results. A study conducted in the Netherlands revealed that a discrete patch of the somatosensory cortex lit up both when human subjects felt their legs being brushed by a glove and when they watched a video in which an actor’s legs were brushed. A British study showed that the mere thought that  loved one’s hand is receiving an electric shock lights up many of the same brain areas as shocks that are directly experienced. A U.S. study revealed that mirror neurons can even calibrate their responses up and down: volunteers watched a pair of videos, one showing a hand reaching for a brimming teacup next to a plate of cookies, another showing a hand reaching for an empty cup surrounded by crumbs. In both cases, mirror neurons fired in the parietal cortex, where motor control is processed, but in the first case they fired more powerfully, since the goal – fresh cookie, hot tea – was more appealing.

All this mimcry inside our heads is much more than a neural party trick. Researchers believe mirror neurons may be a key to the way human beings learn speech, signal meaning to one another and develop primal feelings of empathy. “When you watch a movie,” says neuroscientist Christian Keysers of University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, who, along with his colleagues, conducted the glove-brushing study, “you don’t think to yourself, Now the hero is smiling, so he must be happy. Through the mirror system, you just know it.”

-By J. Madeleine Nash

Inheriting Stress

Print Friendly

How your grandpa’s rough life might make you more anxious.


Stressful events early in a person’s life, such as neglect or abuse, can have psychological impacts into adulthood. New research shows that these effets may persist in their children and even their grandchildren.

Larry Feig and Lorena Saavedra-Rodriguez, biochemists at the Tufts University School of Medicine, cause chronic social stress in adolescent mice by regularly relocating them to new cages over the course of seven weeks. The researchers then tested these stressed mice in adulthood using a series of standard laboratory measures for rodent anziety, such as how long the mice spent in open areas of a maze and how frequently they approached mice they had never met before.

Female mice showed more anxious behaviours compared with control animals, whereas the males  did not. Both sexes’ offspring displayed more anxious behaviours, however, and the males who had been stressed as adolescents even transmitted these behaviour patterns to their female grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

These results, they say, confirm previous studies that demales seem to be at higher risk for anxiety,k which could be the result of a variety of social or biochemcial factors. “Males and females might have the same abnormality at the molecular level,” Feing notes, “[but] as males, it doesn’t really affect their behaviour.”

Although Feig does not yet know how the males transmit vulnerability to anxiety – he suspects biochemical changes in sperm – he believes that the effects will most likely be more muted in humans. The mice were raised in simple cages with a limited number of environmental influences. Humans, of course, have a much richer environment, along with the ability to learn new coping skills.

-Carrie Arnold