From sleepy to stressed- how does brain arousal impact workout & recovery?
I often evaluate athletic arousal levels on a scale from 0-5:
At Level 0, mental thoughts are sleepy, reaction time is extremely slow and muscle tone is soft. On the other end of the spectrum (Level 5), mental thoughts veer towards unfocused & easily distracted, reactions sometimes occur before the prompt & are often exaggerated, and muscle tone is taut & mostly unpliable.
Most of the time, we prefer a middle of the road, level 3 or 4, with the goal of "Calm but Focused", or "On but Smooth" to accomplish performance tasks. This works best for athletics, but also for "Flow" when at the office. It correlates with the top of the bell curve in the picture above, and it has been shown to be the most optimal state in order to perform at your best.
However- in my practice, I've found many people like one arousal level and try to use that one for all types of activity- either using slow & calm, or extremely excitable for all athletic activities.
But learning to experience all levels of the arousal scale can help you stay in control of your mental & physical body both during and AFTER exercise. The proper level needs to change depending on the situation- getting a massage, doing yoga, going for a walk, learning a new sport, strength training, taking HIIT classes, going to Crossfit all require different arousal levels.
If you can ramp it up and you can ramp it down, you can also stay at the level of excitability you feel is most appropriate for that moment, becoming more adaptable to life's demands. There are many techniques to move from level to level, but the first step is awareness of your own response.