The rising popularity of hammocks is rapidly making the urge to "Netflix and chill" a fad of the past. Many folks are finally embracing the beauties and intricacies of nature and are heading outdoors to seek novelty. This phenomenon has become so widely popular that scientists have even identified a specific (beneficial) genetic conformation--known as a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)--related to the constant urge and need to seek out novelty in nature and in life. This genetic conformation, or SNP, to no surprise relates to dopamine: a neurochemical that I felt compelled to get tattooed on my arm after completing my PhD in neuroscience.
As I've written about previously, dopamine is the neurochemical of pleasure and pain. Pleasure can be any type of chemical (i.e. alcohol) or natural (i.e. exercise) reward. The extent of dopamine release is proportional to the extent of pleasure or pain. This can be problematic at times, leading to overtraining or drug addiction. As I've extensively outlined in my popular science book, Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain, the release of dopamine is immediate and sustained with exercise. This has been studied in both mice and men. The release of dopamine from exercise or alcohol also makes it possible for one reward to substitute for another: a phenomenon known as hedonic substitution. You can read more about the fascinating study on hedonic substitution that I worked on with another "meathead" in graduate school in this previous post. Now that I've covered the basic science of dopamine, I'd like to chronicle a recent sporting experience that truly provided an immediate and sustained dopamine pump: in fact, I'm still feeling it four days later.
Every year, the Crossfit community honors the life of Navy Seal LT Michael Murphy by completing his favorite workout called "Body Work" on Memorial Day weekend. The workout is 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats (partitioned anyway), 1 mile run with or without a military plate vest. The first four times that I've completed "Body Work" renamed "Murph," I wore a vest and partitioned it. This year, however, I decided to challenge myself more. Fortunately, one of the local sponsors of Team Terminus, LYNX Barbell, had the same idea.
Ro Asgari of LYNX Barbell--a long-time skydiver--teamed up with Skydive Atlanta to organize "Skydive Murph." The occasion even made it onto CrossFit HQ's Instagram. The workout begins with an airplane jump (single or tandem) from 15,000 feet followed by "Murph" in the middle of an airfield. By the time many of us got to "Murph," it was 91 degrees. As a side note, the rig that Ro and LYNX designed and built was truly inspiring and is available for rent (See pic below).
If the jump wasn't challenging enough to body and brain, I decided to: 1. wear a standard military plate vest that weighs about 25 pounds instead of a cheap 10 pound fitness vest; 2. not partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats; and 3. do all my pull-ups military-style (i.e. strict). However, I'm positive that the dopamine pump that I got from skydiving coupled with the history behind "Murph" was what kept me moving. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Many of the folks who did "Skydive Murph" with me are regular aerialists. Ro said that it's an addiction and that you'll experience many classic symptoms of physiological withdrawal much like drug addicts if it's been weeks since the last jump. I believe him. The endorphin rush and physiological stress and pump that I experienced during the initial jump, the free-fall, and the parachute gliding were so intense yet simultaneously peaceful. I would not be surprised if there was some short-term rewiring to my dopamine system from that single jump. In fact, I talk about rewiring and unique genetic conformations of extreme winter sport athletes in Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain. Many of these athletes have heightened dopamine release (i.e. tone) and have genetic conformations or SNPs to the dopamine receptor sub-type 4 (DRD4): the same SNP identified in "wanderlusts."
Needless to say, I'm still physiologically and psychologically high from my first skydive experience. I know I'll go again. Even more so, the experience has given me extreme respect for those who compete in it as the sport for a living. Hats off to all you GoPro wearing, dopamine loving aerial daredevils. You guys are helping to kill Netflix addictions one jump at a time.
Professional: Academic Researcher with a focus on neurobiology @ Morehouse School of Medicine and professor at Morehouse College
PHD Info: Kent State with a focus on neurobiology (PHD from Department of Biological Sciences)
CrossFit Games Experience: 2015 Regionals - Team, 2014 Regionals Athlete, 2013 CrossFit Games - Team, 2012 Regionals Athlete
Collegiate Athletic Background: Brown University Track & Field, 4 year varsity letterman, specialist in pole vault and hurdles
Facebook: Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain
Allison's Blog: www.dormivigilia.com
Instagram and Twitter: @beastlyvaulter
Like this article? Check out Allison's book Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain