How Many Reps Does It Take?

My last couple of posts have been based around this idea of sleep and/or meditation being utilized to improve motor skill acquisition.  Scientific evidence exists to support the theory, and I’ve now been religiously meditating for 20-ish days and have made some interesting discoveries, which I’ll talk about next week.

But I want to know what’s going on in my brain.  What happens to the brain as we learn stuff?  Why is it that sleep or meditation seems to improve this process?  This week, lets take a look at what I’ve learned.

It All Comes Down To Myelination

And actually we can back up a step.  Myelination is related in some way to practice.  Brain scans of master musicians (those who’ve practiced for 10,000+ hours) show they possess lots of myelin.  Is the myelin causal of the practice or coincidental?  Of this I am not sure, but I’ll be looking into those studies.

What is myelin you ask?  Here’s what wiki says:

Myelin is a dielectric (electrically insulating) material that forms a layer, the myelin sheath, usually around only the axon of a neuron. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It is an outgrowth of a type of glial cell. The production of the myelin sheath is called myelination. In humans, myelination begins in the 14th week of fetal development, although little myelin exists in the brain at the time of birth. During infancy, myelination occurs quickly and continues through the adolescent stages of life.

Here’s a really good description of the neuroscience of nerve signals if you’re interested.  It’s worth a read.  I’ll boil the neuroscience down to keep things moving.

Lets say we’re learning a new movement for the first time.  At first, we feel awkward, stiff, and painfully aware of how inadequate we are.  But as we practice the movement gets smoother, easier, and we don’t even have to think about it anymore.

Different parts of our brain’s circuitry are turning on and off and communicating with each other.  Our brains are sending “signals” across “signal wires” during this time.  At first, the signals are weak.  But as we practice something happens.

Increased Neural Activity

It is believed that increased neural activity causes myelin to grow.  A lot of this happens naturally in our childhood and slows as we age.  Myelin is good, because myelin increases the speed and strength of the “signal” over the “signal wires” in our brains.

If more myelin equals better and fast signals, does it also mean that our performance will improve?

Conclusions Are Difficult to Draw

It is difficult to place causality on myelin being responsible for better learning or better performance.  The study of the musicians brains show a direct correlation between amount of practice and myelin.  This must then be strongly correlated with the mastery of finger motor control skills, as well as the musicians visual and auditory skills.  For the myelin to be the conclusive factor is difficult to say.

Watch out for Practice

So we know practice is correlated to myelin, and that’s good.  But what if the practice we’re doing is bad?  The wrong “signal wires” get myelinated and we get better at doing something the wrong way!

NOT COOL!  This process is correctible through de-myelination.  De-myelination takes some serious time though.

We have to watch out and make sure that we’re getting quality practice in.  So that we don’t have to undo a bunch of work down the road.

How Much Practice You Ask

Good question.  How many reps do I have to perform in order to cause myelination?  How long does it take?  We’re going to look at this next week.

Big Time Announcement

The next nutrition challenge is happening.  Want the details?  Get on this list:

The O-Board Says…

A. 30 minute PT Grind

B. For Time
50 – 40 – 30 – 20 – 10
Seconds in a handstand hold
Goblet squats

Posted by: Stets