Our bodies react to different stimuli and activities in surprising ways — ways that scientists and trainers continue to probe in an effort to understand the human body better, and mold the greatest athletes of the future.
Below are some of the most surprising activities that can boost athletic performance.
Squeeze with your left, not with right
In perhaps one of the strangest studies ever conducted — one from which you would expect absolutely no conclusive or meaningful results to come — it was discovered that clutching something in your left fist (or even just clenching your empty left fist) increased athletic performance in pressure situations and prevented “choking.”
Clenching the right fist rendered the opposite result, however. It had a negative impact on athletic performance.
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The reason behind this surprising result is that the left hemisphere of the brain, which is devoted to rumination (in other words, potentially over-thinking during critical moments), becomes activated when the right fist is clenched, and that may increase tension and introspection. By contrast, clenching your left fist activates the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with movement and motor functions, thereby improving physical functioning.
Sniff some jasmine
We know scents can have a powerful psychological effect on the body. It has recently been discovered that certain scents can even improve concentration and athletic performance.
A study of six Major League baseball players suggested that the ones who sniffed a jasmine-scented armband before each swing during batting practice greatly increased their hitting performance compared to those who sniffed an unscented armband.
The results showed that any activity involving hand-eye coordination or precise muscle movements could be enhanced by surrounding oneself with the sweet smell of jasmine.
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Believe in something positive
Many athletes swear by visualization and positive reinforcement techniques to improve their performance, and science has backed them up on at least one aspect of this belief. In an experiment reported in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, white basketball players were better at shooting free throws after watching videos that portrayed white basketball players as the best free throw shooters.
Caucasian players who watched videos that depicted black players as the best shooters experienced a decreased performance. The study showed that believing in one’s own ability to perform a task, even when that belief stems from nothing but a generality regarding their race, can have a positive effect on performance.
So if you’re an athlete who’d like to fill your trophy cases with trophies and awards, consider sniffing some jasmine, filling your mind with positive reinforcements, and clenching a ball in your left hand when the pressure begins to mount.