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Neural Processes Distinguishing Elite from Expert and Novice Athletes

  • Center for Information and Neural Networks, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology


This commentary builds on a companion article in which Kim et al compare brain activation in elite, expert, and novice archers during a simulated target aiming task (Kim et al. 2014. Cogn Behav Neurol. 27:173-182). With the archery study as our starting point, we address 4 neural processes that may be responsible in general for elite athletes' superior performance over experts and novices: neural efficiency, cortical expansion, specialized processes, and internal models. In Kim et al's study, the elite archers' brains showed more activity in the supplementary motor area and the cerebellum than those of the novices and experts, and showed minimal widespread activity, especially in frontal areas involved with executive control. Kim et al's results are consistent with the idea of specialized neural processes that help coordinate motor planning and control. As athletes become more skilled, these processes may mediate the reduction in widespread activity in regions mapping executive control, and may produce a shift toward more automated processing. Kim et al's finding that activity in the cerebellum rose with increasing skill is consistent both with expansion of the finger representational area in the cerebellum and with internal models that simulate how archers manipulate the bow and arrow when aiming. Kim et al prepare the way for testing of neuromodulation techniques to improve athletic performance, refine highly technical job skills, and rehabilitate patients.
Neural Processes Distinguishing Elite
from Expert and Novice Athletes
Daniel E. Callan, PhD*
and Eiichi Naito, PhD*
Abstract: This commentary builds on a companion article in which
Kim et al compare brain activation in elite, expert, and novice
archers during a simulated target aiming task (Kim et al. 2014.
Cogn Behav Neurol. 27:173-182). With the archery study as our
starting point, we address 4 neural processes that may be respon-
sible in general for elite athletes’ superior performance over experts
and novices: neural efficiency, cortical expansion, specialized pro-
cesses, and internal models. In Kim et al’s study, the elite archers’
brains showed more activity in the supplementary motor area and
the cerebellum than those of the novices and experts, and showed
minimal widespread activity, especially in frontal areas involved
with executive control. Kim et al’s results are consistent with the
idea of specialized neural processes that help coordinate motor
planning and control. As athletes become more skilled, these pro-
cesses may mediate the reduction in widespread activity in regions
mapping executive control, and may produce a shift toward more
automated processing. Kim et al’s finding that activity in the cer-
ebellum rose with increasing skill is consistent both with expansion
of the finger representational area in the cerebellum and with in-
ternal models that simulate how archers manipulate the bow and
arrow when aiming. Kim et al prepare the way for testing of neu-
romodulation techniques to improve athletic performance, refine
highly technical job skills, and rehabilitate patients.
Key Words: functional magnetic resonance imaging, supple-
mentary motor area, cerebellum, athlete, neural efficiency
(Cogn Behav Neurol 2014;27:183–188)
fMRI = functional magnetic resonance imaging. GABA =
gamma-aminobutyric acid. M1 = primary motor cortex.
SMA = supplementary motor area.
In a companion article in this issue, Kim et al (2014) report
using a simulated aiming task to explore the neural pro-
cesses underlying archery skill in elite, expert, and novice
archers. The study is unique, first in having recruited as its
elite group some of the world’s best archers: 13 medalists
from the Olympics, Asian Games, and/or World Cham-
pionships. The expert group was college students from the
Korean Archery Association. The novice group was college
students with no archery experience. Previous studies have
focused only on comparing experts with novices. The second
unique feature of this study is that it sought differences in
neural mechanisms between elite and expert athletes, all of
whom had considerable archery experience.
Elite athletes possess greater speed, strength, en-
durance, coordination, accuracy, consistency, automa-
ticity, and efficiency than less proficient athletes (Nakata
et al, 2010). Depending on the requirements of the sport,
these abilities account for the elites’ superior perfor-
mance. Together with muscle and cardiovascular fitness,
differential and specialized neural processing contributes
to their exceptional abilities.
Four neural processes may enhance performance in
Neural efficiency can reflect 2 different processes. The
first is a reduction in neural activity in certain brain
regions as a particular skill becomes more automated
and less controlled (Debarnot et al, 2014). The second
is a reduction of activity in sensory and motor cortex,
reflecting more efficient processing made possible by
less energy expenditure (Naito and Hirose, 2014;
Nakata et al, 2010).
Cortical expansion refers to a progressively larger area
of cortex being used for topographic representation as
a result of training in motor skills (Nudo et al, 1996)
and/or sensory discrimination (Recanzone et al, 1993).
Specialized processing refers to a specific brain region
(or network of regions) carrying out processes related
to some aspect of a task through experience-dependent
learning, thus allowing for better performance.
Internal models simulate the input and output charac-
teristics of the relevant control system (Kawato, 1999).
With archery, an internal model would simulate the
dynamics of the bow, including the tension, visual
aiming angle, and distance to the target. Error-
feedback learning based on the distance between where
the arrow hits and the center of the target can be used
to train the internal model.
Received for publication November 18, 2014; accepted November 18,
From the *Center for Information and Neural Networks (CiNet), Na-
tional Institute of Information and Communications Technology
(NICT), Osaka University, Osaka, Japan; and wMultisensory Cog-
nition and Computation Laboratory, Universal Communication
Research Institute, National Institute of Information and Commu-
nications Technology (NICT), Kyoto, Japan.
Supported in part by JSPS KAKENHI, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific
Research on Innovative Areas (No. 26120003) and Grant-in-Aid for
Specially Promoted Research (No. 24000012).
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
Reprints: Daniel E. Callan, PhD, Center for Information and Neural
Networks (CiNet), National Institute of Information and Commu-
nications Technology (NICT), Osaka University, 2A6, 1-4 Yama-
daoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan (e-mail:
Copyright r2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Cogn Behav Neurol Volume 27, Number 4, December 2014 |183
For an extensive overview of neural processes in-
volved with skill learning in athletics, see Chang
(2014), Debarnot et al (2014), and Nakata et al (2010).
These 4 neural processes are relevant to discussing the
differences and similarities in brain activity among the elite,
expert, and novice archers in Kim et al’s study. In their
experimental task, participants inside a functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner were shown a projected
image of a static archery target. The image was the same
size as it would look from 70 meters away, the distance of a
regulation archery range. Within 10 seconds of first seeing
the target, participants went through the mental prepara-
tions of aiming an arrow at the target, and they pushed a
button to signal the moment that they felt most ready and
they mentally released the bowstring.
One advantage of using such a simple task is that
the stimulus and motor response characteristics were the
same for the elite, expert, and novice groups. The ex-
perimental design ensured that differences in brain ac-
tivity among the groups did not arise from differences in
task difficulty. The primary difference among the groups
was their mental imagery concerning the timing of imag-
ined shooting. Because no one actually shot an arrow, the
authors could not measure the participants’ accuracy at
hitting the target in relation to the time that they released
the bowstring. Thus, we cannot judge how closely the
participants’ own beliefs about their optimal timing of
bowstring release would have matched their performance
at hitting the target.
Constraints on body movement are an inherent
problem in assessing brain activity during athletic tasks
using fMRI and magnetoencephalography scanners. The
tight space and recording requirements of scanners pre-
vent participants from shooting real arrows, playing golf,
and dancing. However, for tasks such as piloting an air-
plane using a flight simulator, the controls and visual
stimuli used in fMRI and magnetoencephalography can
be the same as in the real world (Callan et al, 2012, 2013).
When the fMRI scanner does not let participants
perform an athletic skill, as in Kim et al’s archery study, the
researchers often use mental imagery tasks (Calvo-Merino
et al, 2006; Chang et al, 2011; Kim et al, 2008; Milton et al,
2007; Ross et al, 2003). Because Kim et al’s elite and expert
archers had extensive experience using a real bow and
arrow, they could probably imagine realistically, ie, men-
tally simulate, the process of releasing the bowstring at the
time they considered optimal. The novice group, however,
did not have any archery experience, and so they were
unlikely to have been able to imagine realistically holding,
aiming, and releasing the bowstring. Even though all par-
ticipants reported at the end of the experiment that they
had been aiming and not just looking at the targets, the
novice group likely required more planning and cognitive
processing to accomplish the task.
The brain imaging results of Kim et al’s study agree
with many other studies (Chang et al, 2011; Haier et al,
1992; Jancke et al, 2000; Milton et al, 2007) that showed
more widespread brain activity, indicating less neural ef-
ficiency, in novices than experienced performers. This
type of neural efficiency is a reduction in neural activity in
certain brain regions as a particular skill becomes less
controlled and more automated (Debarnot et al, 2014).
For example, in Kim et al’s study, the novices had
greater activity than the expert and elite archers in the
superior frontal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, and ventral
prefrontal cortex. This difference likely reflects the nov-
ices’ greater need for controlled (executive) motor plan-
ning to carry out the simulated archery task. The skilled
archers, by contrast, performed more automatically.
Based on these results, we may conjecture that 1 charac-
teristic of expert and elite athletes is greater use of auto-
mated neural processes attained through extensive
experience. This means less use of executive control pro-
cesses, which may reduce efficiency.
While moving from executively controlled to more
automated processing can be considered a way to enhance
neural efficiency (Debarnot et al, 2014), another way is to
lessen energy expenditure. Energy can be saved by re-
ducing activity in the sensory and motor cortex in re-
sponse to familiar stimulus or movement parameters or
demands. This form of neural efficiency has been reported
in athletes (Bernardi et al, 2013; Naito and Hirose, 2014)
and skilled musicians and ballet dancers (Hanggi et al,
2010; Haslinger et al, 2004; Jancke et al, 2000; Koeneke
et al, 2004; Krings et al, 2000).
For example, Naito and Hirose (2014) used fMRI to
compare brain activity during a foot rotation task in 7
athletes: the elite football (soccer) player Neymar da Silva
Santos Ju´ nior, 3 other professional and 1 amateur foot-
ball players, and 2 professional swimmers. Of all the
participants, Neymar had the least activity in the foot
area of the primary motor cortex (M1). The authors
proposed that his low activity and high neural efficiency
resulted from many years of rich and dynamic use of the
ankle joints (Naito and Hirose, 2014).
The authors’ conclusion was supported by their
finding that all 4 of the professional footballers had a
smaller area of activity in the foot region of M1 than did
the professional swimmers, who also use their feet ex-
tensively but in a more highly patterned manner (Naito
and Hirose, 2014).
This energy-saving form of neural efficiency may al-
low higher reproducibility with less effort, in addition to
expanding the control capacity needed to produce a wide
variety of foot movements. Just as with professional key-
board musicians (Ga
¨rtner et al, 2013), professional football
players may have an experience-enabled expansion of gray
matter in M1. A professional footballer like Neymar may
need to recruit only a limited portion of his expanded
motor-cortical neuronal networks to control simple foot
movements. This leaves considerable resources in his re-
maining neural networks that he can assign to controlling
elaborate foot movements (Naito and Hirose, 2014).
Elite and expert archers might be expected to show
this same energy-saving form of neural efficiency in
Callan and Naito Cogn Behav Neurol Volume 27, Number 4, December 2014
184 | r2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
cortical sensory and motor areas representing the fingers,
hand, and arm, all of which are required for bowstring
release. This, however, is not what Kim et al found.
Rather, only their elite group showed significant activity
in the finger, hand, and arm representation area of M1.
We determined this from the activity listed in Kim et al’s
Table 1 and Supplemental Digital Content 2 (http://links., in reference to the somatotopic
representation center in M1 reported by Indovina and
Sanes (2001). Kim et al found no activity in this region for
the expert or novice archers. It is possible that the bi-
lateral M1 representation that Kim found merely reflected
the button press, but if this were so, Kim et al would have
seen the activity in all 3 groups.
Another possibility put forward by Kim et al is that
the elite archers’ activity in the finger, hand, and arm
representation area of M1 reflects automated processes
related to movement planning and execution that the elite
archers attained through extensive experience and that
improved their aiming capabilities. While increased M1
activity in the archers with extensive experience may seem
at odds with the processes of neural efficiency, it is con-
sistent with the processes of cortical expansion. As de-
fined earlier, cortical expansion is a progressively larger
area of cortex used for topographic representation as a
result of training in motor skills (Nudo et al, 1996) and
sensory discrimination (Recanzone et al, 1993).
Several studies have shown unusually strong corti-
cal representation in M1 in athletes and musicians as a
result of their skill learning (Bangert and Schlaug,
2006; Elbert et al, 1995; Gaser and Schlaug, 2003; Meister
et al, 2005; Pearce et al, 2000). For example, elite rac-
quetball players have a larger cortical representation of
the hand than do novices (Pearce et al, 2000). The so-
matotopic representation of the left-hand fingers of
stringed instrument players has been reported to be ex-
perience-dependent and larger than that of nonmusicians
(Elbert et al, 1995). Furthermore, the location of cortical
expansion corresponds to the hand or fingers required to
play a particular instrument (Bangert and Schlaug, 2006).
In the Kim et al study, only the elite archers had
activity in the finger, hand, and arm representation area
of M1 (see Kim et al’s Table 1 and Supplemental Digital
Content 2 [ ]). However,
the activity difference between the elite archers and the
expert and novice groups was not significant, as shown by
the lack of differential activity for this region in Kim
et al’s Table 2 and Supplemental Digital Content 3
It is unclear under what conditions the brain uses
cortical expansion or neural efficiency. While Hanggi et al
(2010) have made some suggestions, further research is
needed to explain how these 2 apparently contradictory
processes relate to athletes’ skill. Continuing research should
consider factors such as type and complexity of the task,
whether the movement is imagined or actually executed,
anatomic versus functional expansion and contraction, and
the participants’ experience with the skill.
According to a broad survey of the literature on motor
skill learning, the brain begins to acquire a new motor skill—
during the first week or so of learning—by expanding the
motor representation in M1 (Floyer-Lea and Matthews,
2005; Karni et al, 1995; Pascual-Leone et al, 1995). This
“functional field” may expand at least in part because a
decrease in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) inhibition
unmasks pre-existing synaptic connections (Floyer-Lea et al,
2006). When a person has trained extensively in the motor
skill over many years, the motor representations shrink as
the brain becomes able to control the skill more and more
efficiently (Krings et al, 2000). The greater efficiency could
result from improved function of motor-cortical synapses
(Picard et al, 2013). Thus, the brain’s self-reorganization
function, eg, expanding and shrinking central motor repre-
sentations, is essential when people learn new motor skills
and remains essential in promoting efficient control over
those skills throughout people’s lifespan.
This process—of cortical expansion followed by
shrinking because of greater neural efficiency—can also
be seen to apply to damaged brains. For example, after
focal damage in the M1 hand section, the brain recruits
contralesional M1 (ipsilateral to the hand) to control
hand movements for the first month, but after 6 months
the brain uses only the undamaged section of M1 that is
contralateral to the hand (Jang et al, 2004). Likewise,
within a year after the internal capsule has been injured,
vicarious activity in the broader bilateral motor regions
diminishes as motor functions recover (Ward et al, 2003).
In people with brain damage, GABA seems to be a key
transmitter allowing the short-term expansion of cortical
representation (Glodzik-Soban
´ska et al, 2004). Finally,
synaptic scaling (Turrigiano, 1999, 2011), a homeostatic
mechanism that may stabilize plasticity in the nervous
system, could be key in consolidating a motor skill and
shrinking central motor representation by increasing
synaptic efficiency. Learning more about how the brain
repairs itself after injury could help explain the neural
processes underlying elite athletic performance.
Breaking new ground, Kim et al sought to answer the
question of what brain processes differentiate elite from
expert archers, even though both groups have considerable
experience. The authors found that the elite archers had
significantly greater activity in 2 brain regions: the supple-
mentary motor area (SMA) and the cerebellum.
The SMA is thought to mediate planning and in-
tegration in executing complex motor tasks (Lotze et al,
1999). As Kim et al point out, the SMA may facilitate the
movement planning and aiming that enhance elite archers’
targeting abilities. The results support the idea that in-
creasing activity in the SMA aids in the specialized pro-
cessing, acquired through experience, that facilitates
performance. In part, processing in the SMA may explain
Cogn Behav Neurol Volume 27, Number 4, December 2014 Distinguishing Elite from Expert and Novice Athletes
r2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins |185
why skilled athletes and performing artists do not require
the same extensive use of the frontal regions as do novices.
Consistent with this hypothesis is the authors’ earlier
finding that during the mental imagery of aiming, elite
archers had their predominant activity in the SMA, while
novice archers had widespread activity in the SMA, pre-
motor cortex, inferior frontal region, basal ganglia, and
cerebellum (Chang et al, 2011). Similarly, professional
musicians have been shown to have greater activation in the
SMA than do novice musicians, whose activity is wide-
of these studies as well as the Kim et al study, Ross et al
(2003) reported an inverse relationship between SMA ac-
tivity and skill in a mental imagery task of a golf swing.
This apparent discrepancy between findings about
the influence of SMA activity and mental imagery may be
explained by Kasess et al (2008). They found that SMA
activation during motor imagery suppresses M1 activa-
tion. Their results show the importance of the SMA not
only in preparing and executing intended movements, but
also in suppressing movements that are represented in the
motor system though not performed. Thus, how deeply
the SMA is engaged in suppressing movements may de-
pend largely on the type of motor task. Archery mainly
requires small finger movements, while a golf swing re-
quires full-body movements.
The cluster of activity that Kim et al found in the
SMA may also have included portions of the rostral cin-
gulate motor area. Greater activation in this area for elite
than expert and novice archers is noteworthy in that this
area has been linked to processes governing self-monitoring
of internal status (Yamagishi and Anderson, 2013). In
Yamagishi and Anderson’s study, participants pressed a
button to start the presentation of a visual stimulus when
they felt that their attentional focus was optimal. This task
was similar to that in the Kim et al study, in which par-
ticipants pressed a button when they had mentally taken
optimal aim at the target and were ready to release the
bowstring. It is entirely possible that the neural activity that
Kim et al found reflects specialized processes that govern
the self-monitoring of internal status. That these processes
are improved by extensive experience in elite athletes may in
part explain their extraordinary abilities.
The cerebellum is the other brain region in which
Kim et al found greater activity for elite than expert and
novice archers. Many studies have shown that athletes
and performing artists with extensive experience have
significant expansion and activity in the cerebellum. These
increases have been noted in musicians (Gaser and
Schlaug, 2003; Lotze et al, 2003), rock climbers (Di Paola
et al, 2013), basketball players (Park et al, 2009), bad-
minton players (Di et al, 2012), and short-track speed
skaters (Park et al, 2012). However, some studies report
less activity in the cerebellum with greater expertise in golf
(Ross et al, 2003) and archery (Chang et al, 2011). Kim
et al also report less activity, though in a different region
of the cerebellum.
The cerebellum is thought to sharpen sensory input,
temporal coordination, processing of motor articulation and
perception, and representation of internal models (Callan
et al, 2007). Kim et al report that right cerebellar dentate
activity correlates with archery skill level (see Kim et al’s
Tables 1 and 2, Supplemental Digital Content 2 [http://] and Supplemental Digital Content
3 [ ]). Interestingly, the right
cerebellar dentate represents the right hand and fingers
(Grodd et al, 2001). This region is also known to have pro-
jections to the contralateral M1 (Dum and Strick, 2003).
The high cerebellar activity may follow processes
like those of cortical expansion seen in the motor (Nudo
et al, 1996) and sensory cortices (Recanzone et al, 1993).
It is also possible that the cerebellar activity that Kim et al
found to be greater for elite than expert and novice
archers reflects an internal model that simulates how
archers manipulate the bow and arrow when aiming. One
way to test this hypothesis would be to use a task that
gives error-feedback and see if the error correlates with
activity in the cerebellar region that is thought to in-
stantiate the internal model.
In any case, specialized processing in the cerebellum
may allow elite athletes better performance and more
efficient processing than in novices by making many of
the planning and control processes automated rather than
executively controlled. In Kim et al’s study, this special-
ized processing may account in part for the elite archers’
lower activity in brain regions involved with executive
control, such as the superior frontal gyrus, inferior frontal
gyrus, and ventral prefrontal cortex.
The strength of Kim et al’s archery study is in elu-
cidating neural processes that may be responsible for
performance differences between elite and expert athletes
in many sports. The authors’ elite archers had strong
activation in both the cerebellum and the SMA. In the
cerebellum, the authors found a correlation between ac-
tivation and archery skill level. Specialized processing in
the SMA and cerebellum may account not only for elite
athletes’ high performance but also for their low reliance
on executively controlled motor planning and execution.
By contrast, Kim et al’s novice archers had strong activity
in frontal executive and motor planning areas.
Why do some athletes develop certain specialized
neural processes? Likely from a genetic predisposition
combined with extensive training. Given new discoveries
in neuromodulation methods, we can imagine a future in
which elite athletic performance could be facilitated by,
eg, transcranial direct current stimulation of targeted
brain regions to increase learning via enhanced long-term
potentiation (Coffman et al, 2014; Floel, 2014; Prichard
et al, 2014). We can already enhance performance
through reinforcement learning based on feedback of
one’s own activity in a specific brain region (Shibata et al,
2011). Techniques like these can be extended to help re-
habilitate ill or injured patients, as well as to advance the
specialized skills of workers in hazardous operations such
Callan and Naito Cogn Behav Neurol Volume 27, Number 4, December 2014
186 | r2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
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... It is well known that intense limb use induces structural and functional plasticity (ie, use-dependent/learninginduced plasticity), and such plasticity has been associated with motor performance. [25][26][27] Thus, it is hypothesized that intense limb use after amputation would induce the involvement of the ipsilateral motor pathway descending from the ipsilateral M1 on the amputated side to optimize the motor function for precise prosthesis control. Nonetheless, whether long-term para-sports are associated with ipsilateral M1 reorganization remains unclear since only 1 amputee athlete and 4 amputee non-athletes were evaluated in our previous study. ...
... Note, 6 of those 8 participants also used the residual limb a lot in sports scenes such as swimming, soccer, and sitting volleyball (Sub. 5,9,11,22,25,27). One person (Sub.10) ...
... Reorganization in the contralateral SM1 appeared to be a natural consequence because it was previously reported that cortical expansion accompanies intense limb use and motor learning. 27 In contrast, although there is no direct anatomical connection between the DLPFC and M1, 42,43 DLPFC activation decreases ipsilateral M1 corticospinal excitability. 42,44 In fact, the DLPFC is known to be involved in motor control, for example, in force control 45 and motor memory maintenance, 46 which might have contributed to the task of regulating force to 20% MVC in this study. ...
Background. Drastic functional reorganization was observed in the ipsilateral primary motor cortex (M1) of a Paralympic long jumper with a unilateral below-knee amputation in our previous study. However, it remains unclear whether long-term para-sports are associated with ipsilateral M1 reorganization since only 1 athlete with amputation was investigated. Objective. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between the long-term para-sports and ipsilateral M1 reorganization after lower limb amputation. Methods. Lower limb rhythmic muscle contraction tasks with functional magnetic resonance imaging and T1-weighted structural imaging were performed in 30 lower limb amputees with different para-sports experiences in the chronic phase. Results. Brain activity in the ipsilateral primary motor and somatosensory areas (SM1) as well as the contralateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, SM1, and inferior temporal gyrus showed a positive correlation with the years of routine para-sports participation (sports years) during contraction of the amputated knee. Indeed, twelve of the 30 participants who exhibited significant ipsilateral M1 activation during amputated knee contraction had a relatively longer history of para-sports participation. No significant correlation was found in the structural analysis. Conclusions. Long-term para-sports could lead to extensive reorganization at the brain network level, not only bilateral M1 reorganization but also reorganization of the frontal lobe and visual pathways. These results suggest that the interaction of injury-induced and use-dependent cortical plasticity might bring about drastic reorganization in lower limb amputees.
... Same differences in the α/β ratio were also reported by Ludyga et al., (2016) between athletes with higher V O 2 max (55.6 ± 2.8 ml min −1 kg −1 ) and low V O 2 max (46.4 ± 4.1 ml min −1 kg −1 ) during an incremental cycling exercise until exhaustion. They explained that cycling becomes automatic for highly trained athletes, leading to a decrease in the degree of arousal by inhibiting cognitive activity that is not involved with the cycling task (Hüttermann & Memmert, 2014), and therefore optimizing the motor execution (Callan & Naito, 2014). Moreover, Callan and Naito (2014) explained that the neural efficiency could be also due to a reduction in the sensory and motor cortex activity. ...
... They explained that cycling becomes automatic for highly trained athletes, leading to a decrease in the degree of arousal by inhibiting cognitive activity that is not involved with the cycling task (Hüttermann & Memmert, 2014), and therefore optimizing the motor execution (Callan & Naito, 2014). Moreover, Callan and Naito (2014) explained that the neural efficiency could be also due to a reduction in the sensory and motor cortex activity. Such inter-participant variability in these cognitive abilities could be due to an improvement in cognitive abilities, such as memory, learning, attention, or processing information (Comani et al., 2014;Groslambert et al., 2020;Wagner et al., 2017;Won et al., 2019) with moderate and high-intensity cycling exercises. ...
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Mountain bikers often report impaired finger sensitivity caused by mechanical vibrations and misalignment between the wrist and the forearm when using traditional (cylindrical) handles. The aim of this study was to evaluate the acute effects of ergonomic clip-on handles that allowed the hand to rest on the medial carpal bone, on muscular activity, vibration transmissibility between the cycle ergometer and body segments, and handgrip strength. Sixteen cyclists performed two pedalling exercises at ~200 W lasting 20 minutes on a cycle ergometer that delivered vibrations under the fork (vertical amplitude: 4-25 mm; frequency: 4-17 Hz) whilst using cylindrical handles and ergonomic clip-on handles with a randomized order. Compared to cylindrical handles, ergonomic clip-on handles decreased significantly vibration transmissibility to the extensor digitorum, triceps brachii and flexor carpi radialis muscles by 10, 10 and 7%, respectively. The surface electromyography activity of the flexor carpi radialis decreased by 45%, while that of the triceps brachii increased by 12% (both significantly). Unlike the cylindrical handles, the ergonomic clip-on handles did not involve a significant decrease in the maximal handgrip force after the pedalling exercise. The ergonomic clip-o handles may prevent symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome in mountain bikers and could preserve their ability to effectively manoeuvre and brake the bike.
... The neurocognitive mechanisms in sport and the motor skills developed involve several neural processes, in addition to the learning of sport techniques. There are four elements that stand out with the development and neural adaptations of elite athletes [7]. (1) neural efficiency, which in turn is linked to a smaller amplitude in relation to the neuroelectric activity, causing a lower brain energy expenditure (2) referring to a larger cortical expansion, which is linked to motor and sensorial skills (3) specialized processing occurs in specific brain regions, which are developed through sports experiences lived by athletes, which induces the automation of neuroelectric connections (4) internal models, which cause the athlete to mentally simulate sports situations to which he/she will be submitted [7,8]. ...
... There are four elements that stand out with the development and neural adaptations of elite athletes [7]. (1) neural efficiency, which in turn is linked to a smaller amplitude in relation to the neuroelectric activity, causing a lower brain energy expenditure (2) referring to a larger cortical expansion, which is linked to motor and sensorial skills (3) specialized processing occurs in specific brain regions, which are developed through sports experiences lived by athletes, which induces the automation of neuroelectric connections (4) internal models, which cause the athlete to mentally simulate sports situations to which he/she will be submitted [7,8]. These adaptations, for the most part, are considered to be motor areas, in brain regions that aid sport development, especially the cognitive engagement that is involved in sporting actions [9]. ...
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To compare the anthropometric profile and cognitive performance of elite and non-elite beach volleyball athletes. Comparative and descriptive study. The sample was composed by 8 athletes, divided in 2 groups: elite (n = 4) and non-elite (n = 4). They were evaluated in anthropometric parameters age, weight and height, and the variables of the cognitive performance evaluated by the battery of computerized tests CogState® (Brief Battery): Detection (Simple Reaction Time); Identification (Choice Reaction Time); One Back Speed (Working Memory); One Back Acuracy (Short Term Memory). Data were classified as non-parametric with the dispersion curve analysis performed by the Shapiro Wilk test. Anthropometric profile and cognitive performance variables were compared with the Mann Whitney U test between the groups. The procedures were performed with a significance level of p < 0.05 using the Statistical Package for the Social Science - SPSS®, Version 25.0. It was observed that there was significant difference in the anthropometric profile in the variable age (sig = 0.029) and in the cognitive performance significant differences occurred in the variables Detec (sig = 0.029) and Indent (sig = 0.029) of elite and not elite athletes of the beach volleyball modality. Elite and non-elite beach volleyball athletes present significant differences in the anthropometric variable (Age) and in the variables of cognitive performance (Detection and Identification) where elite athletes have a better cognitive performance than the non- elite athletes.
... Similarly, when cycling intensity increased from 20% to 40% and from 40% to 60% of peak power output, the HHb increased in the MC and premotor cortex, which attests to the growing demand for motor output with intensity [95]. Using fMRI during a lowintensity cycling exercise, [72] the cerebellum plays a role in motor function as motor planning, motor execution or coordination, and cognitive function as attention, sensory input sharpening, and perception [10,11,27,28]. Indeed, its activity increased with pedaling cadence (CAD). ...
Performance in cycling is frequently related to metabolic or biomechanical factors. Overall, the contribution of the neurophysiological system during cycling is often poorly considered in performance optimization. Yet, cycling is a complex whole-body physical exercise that necessitates specific coordination and fine control of motor output to manage the different intensities. The ability to produce different levels of intensity of exercise would require optimizing many functions of the central nervous system from the brain’s treatment of sensory signals to complex motor command execution via the corticospinal pathway. This review proposes an integrative approach to the factors that could influence cycling performance, based on neurophysiological and cognitive markers. First, we report data relying on brain activity signals, to account for the different brain areas and cognitive functions involved. Then, because the motor command is highly dependent upon its regulation along the corticospinal pathway, we expose the modulation of corticospinal and spinal excitabilities during cycling. We present these later by reviewing the literature of studies using transcranial magnetic or percutaneous nerve stimulations. Finally, we describe a model of neural and cognitive adjustments that occur with acute and chronic cycling practices, with several areas of improvement focusing on these factors, including mental and cognitive training.
... As dotações físicas -com fortes raízes biológicas -são necessárias para a efetivação do talento esportivo e, consequentemente, possuem papel de destaque no DMGT 2.0. Diversas pesquisas (por exemplo, Callan & Naito, 2014;Carling et al., 2012;Di Cagno et al., 2014;Naito & Hirose, 2014;Roczniok et al., 2013;Vandorpe et al., 2012) ...
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As altas capacidades existem em todas as classes sociais. Muitas vezes, os preconceitos sobre as classes desprivilegiadas estagnam as oportunidades, associando a pobreza à baixa capacidade intelectual. Neste sentido, deve haver uma preocupação com as pessoas que apresentam altas capacidades e em condições de desvantagens sociais, pois, lhes são ofertadas menos oportunidades de desenvolvimento. O objetivo desta pesquisa foi buscar na base de dados TESEO (Base de Datos de Tesis Doctorales) teses que abordassem sobre altas capacidades e vulnerabilidade social. A pesquisa foi documental. A partir dos resultados obtidos, fez-se uma análise de dados na perspectiva quali-quantitativa. A busca com o tema altas capacidades e vulnerabilidade social, na citada Base, retornou em zero resultado. Buscou-se, todavia, nessa base de dados, teses que se relacionassem à temática de altas capacidades e foram encontradas 34 teses. Ostemas mais predominantes foram: identificação, professores, aspectos emocionais, talento matemático e criatividade. O tema identificação apareceu em 30% das teses encontradas. Desta forma, foi possível concluir que, apesar das teses explorarem temas diversos, bem específicos e importantes para a área, altas capacidades e vulnerabilidade social ainda não é estudo explorado em teses espanholas. Assinala-se, a importância da identificação e do atendimento às capacidades desse público, pois há uma vulnerabilidade no meio que eles estão inseridos, o que acarreta pré-conceito e pode estigmatizá-los. Cabe assim, aos pesquisadores, não somente na Espanha, um olhar atencioso, pois, essas pessoas necessitam ser reconhecidas em suas necessidades. Espera-se, portanto, que esta pesquisa possa nortear futuros estudos e beneficiar a população mais vulnerável. Palavras-chave: Altas Capacidades; Vulnerabilidade Social; Teses Espanholas.
... However, two fMRI studies (Abernethy and Russell, 1987;Wong and Gauthier, 2010) showed that expert players were able to pick up more relevant information than novices in a selective decision-making task, electrophysiological data indicated more prefrontal positive activities in experts (Javier et al., 2014). Several recent studies have found that experts compared with novices could quickly perceive the actions of opponents and successfully respond, and the frontal areas were more activated, which might be related to the expert's better ability in action planning and action understanding (Callan and Naito, 2014;Okazaki et al., 2015;Vernon et al., 2018). A randomized controlled trial recruited 15 basketball expert athletes and 15 novices to participate in an action decision-making task to analyze the correlation between gaze behavior and decision-making. ...
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Decision-making is an advanced cognitive function that promotes information processes in complex motor situations. In recent years, many neuroimaging studies have assessed the effects of long-term motor training on athletes’ brain activity while performing decision-making tasks, but the findings have been inconsistent and a large amount of data has not been quantitatively summarized until now. Therefore, this study aimed to identify the neural mechanism of long-term motor training affecting the decision-making function of athletes by using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis. Altogether, 10 studies were included and comprised a total of 350 people (168 motor experts and 182 novices, 411 activation foci). The ALE meta-analysis showed that more brain regions were activated for novices including the bilateral occipital lobe, left posterior cerebellar lobe, and left middle temporal gyrus (MTG) in decision-making tasks compared to motor experts. Our results possibly suggested the association between long-term motor training and neural efficiency in athletes, which provided a reference for further understanding the neural mechanisms of motor decision-making.
... In the history of sports science, exploring the physiological differences among athletes at different competitive levels has always been a topic of interest (Doppelmayr et al., 2008;Luchsinger et al., 2016;Lu et al., 2020). From the perspective of "neural efficiency, " several studies have demonstrated that professional athletes can perform better with less energy expenditure on neural activity (Neubauer and Fink, 2009;Callan and Naito, 2014;Chang, 2014). This is manifested as reduced neural activity in specific brain regions, thereby making the brain less controlled and more automated (Debarnot et al., 2014). ...
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It is not only difficult to be a sports expert but also difficult to grow from a sports expert to a sports elite. Professional athletes are often concerned about the differences between an expert and an elite and how to eventually become an elite athlete. To explore the differences in brain neural mechanism between experts and elites in the process of motor behavior and reveal the internal connection between motor performance and brain activity, we collected and analyzed the electroencephalography (EEG) findings of 14 national archers and 14 provincial archers during aiming and resting states and constructed the EEG brain network of the two archer groups based on weighted phase lag index; the graph theory was used to analyze and compare the network characteristics via local network and global network topologies. The results showed that compared with the expert archers, the elite archers had stronger functional coupling in beta1 and beta2 bands, and the difference was evident in the frontal and central regions; in terms of global characteristics of brain network topology, the average clustering coefficient and global efficiency of elite archers were significantly higher than that of expert archers, and the eigenvector centrality of expert archers was higher; for local characteristics, elite archers had higher local efficient; and the brain network characteristics of expert archers showed a strong correlation with archery performance. This suggests that compared with expert archers, elite archers showed stronger functional coupling, higher integration efficiency of global and local information, and more independent performance in the archery process. These findings reveal the differences in brain electrical network topologies between elite and expert archers in the archery preparation stage, which is expected to provide theoretical reference for further training and promotion of professional athletes.
... fMRI has high spatial resolution and has been widely used in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and sports science. In order to explore exercise-induced brain plasticity, researchers have done many experiments with elite athletes as subjects (Babiloni et al., 2010;Pezzulo et al., 2010;Chang et al., 2011;Bishop et al., 2013;Callan and Naito, 2014;Kim et al., 2014;Naito and Hirose, 2014). Most of these studies adopt the expert-novice paradigm, aiming to compare the differences in brain plasticity between athletes and non-athletes or novices. ...
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This study investigated the differences in morphometry and functional plasticity characteristics of the brain after long-term training of different intensities. Results showed that an aerobic group demonstrated higher gray matter volume in the cerebellum and temporal lobe, while an anaerobic group demonstrated higher gray matter volume in the region of basal ganglia. In addition, the aerobic group also showed significantly higher fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (fALFF) and degree centrality (DC) in the motor area of the frontal lobe and parietal lobe, and the frontal gyrus, respectively. At the same time, the anaerobic group demonstrated higher fALFF and DC in the cerebellum posterior lobe (family-wise error corrected, p < 0.01). These findings may further prove that different brain activation modes respond to different intensities of physical activity and may help to reveal the neural mechanisms that can classify athletes from different intensity sports.
... The better visuomotor reactive actions may be related to higher cortical activations in primary visual cortex facilitating visual perception (Jin et al., 2010); (Zwierko et al., 2011). In archery players, prior findings reported greater cortical activation across prefrontal and motor cortical areas related to working memory, attention, and motor planning and execution supporting visuomotor transformation processes (Callan and Naito, 2014); (Kim et al., 2014); (Seo et al., 2012). Presumably, advanced visuomotor processing capabilities in the athletes may be associated with neural plasticity across important cerebral cortical regions. ...
This study investigated continuous visuomotor tracking capabilities between athletes and non-athlete controls using isometric force control paradigm. Nine female athletes and nine female age-matched controls performed unilateral hand-grip force control tasks with their dominant and non-dominant hands at 10% and 40% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), respectively. Three conventional outcome measures on force control capabilities included mean force, force accuracy, and force variability, and we additionally calculated two nonlinear dynamics variables including force regularity using sample entropy and force stability using maximal Lyapunov exponent. Finally, we performed correlation analyses to determine the relationship between nonlinear dynamics variables and conventional measures for each group. The findings indicated that force control capabilities as indicated by three conventional measures were not significantly different between athlete and non-athlete control groups. However, the athletes revealed less force regularity and greater force stability across hand conditions and targeted force levels than those in non-athlete controls. The correlation analyses found that increased force regularity (i.e., less sample entropy values) at 10% of MVC and decreased force regularity (i.e., greater sample entropy values) at 40% of MVC were significantly related to improved force accuracy and variability for the athlete group, and these patterns were not observed in the non-athlete control group. These findings suggested that the athletes may use different adaptive force control strategies as indicated by nonlinear dynamics tools.
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Different functional connectivities in the brain, specifically in the frontoparietal and motor cortex–sensorimotor circuits, have been associated with superior performance in athletes. However, previous electroencephalogram (EEG) studies have only focused on the frontoparietal circuit and have not provided a comprehensive understanding of the cognitive–motor processes underlying superior performance. We used EEG coherence analysis to examine the motor cortex–sensorimotor circuit in golfers of different skill levels. Methods: Twenty experts, 18 amateurs, and 21 novices performed 60 putts at individual putting distances (40–60% success rate). The imaginary inter-site phase coherence (imISPC) was used to compute 8–13 Hz coherence that can be used to distinguish expert-novice and expert-amateur differences during motor preparation. We assessed the 8–13 Hz imISPC between the Cz and F3, F4, C3, C4, T3, T4, P3, P4, O1, and O2 regions. Results: (1) Amateurs had lower 8–13 Hz imISPC in the central regions (Cz–C3 and C4) than novices and experts, but experts had lower 8–13 Hz imISPC than novices. (2) Skilled golfers (experts and amateurs) had lower 8–13 Hz imISPC in the central–parietal regions (Cz–P3 and P4) than novices. (3) Experts had lower 8–13 Hz imISPC in the central–left temporal regions (Cz–T7) than amateurs and novices. Discussion: Our study revealed that refinement of the motor cortex–sensorimotor circuit follows a U-shaped coherence pattern based on the stage of learning. The early learning stage (i.e., novice to amateur) is characterized by lower connectivity between the regions associated with motor control and visuospatial processes, whereas the late learning stage (i.e., amateur to expert) is characterized by lower connectivity in the regions associated with verbal–analytic and motor control processes.
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A number of internal model concepts are now widespread in neuroscience and cognitive science. These concepts are supported by behavioral, neurophysiological, and imaging data; furthermore, these models have had their structures and functions revealed by such data. In particular, a specific theory on inverse dynamics model learning is directly supported by unit recordings from cerebellar Purkinje cells. Multiple paired forward inverse models describing how diverse objects and environments can be controlled and learned separately have recently been proposed. The 'minimum variance model' is another major recent advance in the computational theory of motor control. This model integrates two furiously disputed approaches on trajectory planning, strongly suggesting that both kinematic and dynamic internal models are utilized in movement planning and control
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How very long-term (over many years) motor skill training shapes internal motor representation remains poorly understood. We provide valuable evidence that the football brain of Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (the Brasilian footballer) recruits very limited neural resources in the motor-cortical foot regions during foot movements. We scanned his brain activity with a 3-tesla functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while he rotated his right ankle at 1 Hz. We also scanned brain activity when three other age-controlled professional footballers, two top-athlete swimmers and one amateur footballer performed the identical task. A comparison was made between Neymar's brain activity with that obtained from the others. We found activations in the left medial-wall foot motor regions during the foot movements consistently across all participants. However, the size and intensity of medial-wall activity was smaller in the four professional footballers than in the three other participants, despite no difference in amount of foot movement. Surprisingly, the reduced recruitment of medial-wall foot motor regions became apparent in Neymar. His medial-wall activity was smallest among all participants with absolutely no difference in amount of foot movement. Neymar may efficiently control given foot movements probably by largely conserving motor-cortical neural resources. We discuss this possibility in terms of over-years motor skill training effect, use-dependent plasticity, and efficient motor control.
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Skill learning is the improvement in perceptual, cognitive, or motor performance following practice. Expert performance levels can be achieved with well-organized knowledge, using sophisticated and specific mental representations and cognitive processing, applying automatic sequences quickly and efficiently, being able to deal with large amounts of information, and many other challenging task demands and situations that otherwise paralyze the performance of novices. The neural reorganizations that occur with expertise reflect the optimization of the neurocognitive resources to deal with the complex computational load needed to achieve peak performance. As such, capitalizing on neuronal plasticity, brain modifications take place over time-practice and during the consolidation process. One major challenge is to investigate the neural substrates and cognitive mechanisms engaged in expertise, and to define "expertise" from its neural and cognitive underpinnings. Recent insights showed that many brain structures are recruited during task performance, but only activity in regions related to domain-specific knowledge distinguishes experts from novices. The present review focuses on three expertise domains placed across a motor to mental gradient of skill learning: sequential motor skill, mental simulation of the movement (motor imagery), and meditation as a paradigmatic example of "pure" mental training. We first describe results on each specific domain from the initial skill acquisition to expert performance, including recent results on the corresponding underlying neural mechanisms. We then discuss differences and similarities between these domains with the aim to identify the highlights of the neurocognitive processes underpinning expertise, and conclude with suggestions for future research.
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Novel experience and learning new skills are known as modulators of brain function. Advances in non-invasive brain imaging have provided new insight into structural and functional reorganization associated with skill learning and expertise. Especially, significant imaging evidences come from the domains of sports and music. Data from in vivo imaging studies in sports and music have provided vital information on plausible neural substrates contributing to brain reorganization underlying skill acquisition in humans. This mini review will attempt to take a narrow snapshot of imaging findings demonstrating functional and structural plasticity that mediate skill learning and expertise while identifying converging areas of interest and possible avenues for future research.
We investigated the cortical activation changes associated with motor recovery in six hemiparetic patients with precentral knob infarct. fMRI at 1.5 T with finger movements at a fixed rate was performed twice in each patient, 1 and 6 months after stroke onset. From the images obtained, the LI (laterality index) for the primary sensorimotor cortex (SMI) was calculated to measure the degree of the cortical activity concentration in the contralateral hemisphere. Our results showed that a greater improvement in motor function scores was significantly correlated with a greater increment in LI induced by affected finger movements (p<0.05). Motor recovery after precentral knob infarct was found to be positively related with the concentration of SMI activity in the ipsilesional hemisphere. This finding may imply motor recovery through cortical reorganization after precentral knob infarct in the human brain.
We investigated brain activity in elite, expert, and novice archers during a simulated archery aiming task to determine whether neural correlates of performance differ by skill level. Success in shooting sports depends on complex mental routines just before the shot, when the brain prepares to execute the movement. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, 40 elite, expert, or novice archers aimed at a simulated 70-meter-distant target and pushed a button when they mentally released the bowstring. At the moment of optimal aiming, the elite and expert archers relied primarily on a dorsal pathway, with greatest activity in the occipital lobe, temporoparietal lobe, and dorsolateral pre-motor cortex. The elites showed activity in the supplementary motor area, temporoparietal area, and cerebellar dentate, while the experts showed activity only in the superior frontal area. The novices showed concurrent activity in not only the dorsolateral pre-motor cortex but also the ventral pathways linked to the ventrolateral pre-motor cortex. The novices exhibited broad activity in the superior frontal area, inferior frontal area, ventral prefrontal cortex, primary motor cortex, superior parietal lobule, and primary somatosensory cortex. The more localized neural activity of elite and expert archers than novices permits greater efficiency in the complex processes subserved by these regions. The elite group's high activity in the cerebellar dentate indicates that the cerebellum is involved in automating simultaneous movements by integrating the sensorimotor memory enabled by greater expertise in self-paced aiming tasks. A companion article comments on and generalizes our findings.
The present study was designed to investigate the brain functional architecture that subserves visuo-spatial and motor processing in highly skilled individuals. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured brain activity while eleven Formula racing-car drivers and eleven 'naïve' volunteers performed a motor reaction and a visuo-spatial task. Tasks were set at a relatively low level of difficulty such to ensure a similar performance in the two groups and thus avoid any potential confounding effects on brain activity due to discrepancies in task execution. The brain functional organization was analyzed in terms of regional brain response, inter-regional interactions and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal variability. While performance levels were equal in the two groups, as compared to naïve drivers, professional drivers showed a smaller volume recruitment of task-related regions, stronger connections among task-related areas, and an increased information integration as reflected by a higher signal temporal variability. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that, as compared to naïve subjects, the brain functional architecture sustaining visuo-motor processing in professional racing-car drivers, trained to perform at the highest levels under extremely demanding conditions, undergoes both 'quantitative' and 'qualitative' modifications that are evident even when the brain is engaged in relatively simple, non-demanding tasks. These results provide novel evidence in favor of an increased 'neural efficiency' in the brain of highly skilled individuals.