Deathstroke Training: Building Intelligent Muscle

By on April 9, 2021
Deathstroke Training

Physical training and cognitive training should go hand-in-hand. There is little use being packed with muscle if you can’t put that power to good use. Moreover, mental prowess actually translates to better physical strength and power – and vice versa. Few characters in fiction embody this philosophy like Deathstroke the Terminator. And so, in this post, I shall explore what Deathstroke training might look like.

Background

Slade Wilson has seen his origin story tweaked over the years, but certain fundamentals have always remained true: he was enlisted in the US army at a young age, where he excelled thanks to his uncanny ability to pick up new skills, tactics, and fighting styles (we’ll be focussing on this for our Deathstroke training). After falling in love with Adeline Kane, he would be privately trained in guerrilla warfare.

See also: Batman Training 2021 – How Would Batman Really Train?

In Steve Rogers fashion, though, he would also be enlisted into a super soldier program and given an experimental drug. Why does no one ever give me an experimental drug?

Deathstroke Workout

This had many effects: giving Slade heightened reflexes, super strength, regenerative capabilities, and more. But perhaps the most pronounced and interesting of his abilities is his enhanced cognition. This is what I want to focus on here.

See also: Metabolically Dominant Soldiers: The Real Captain America Program

While the explanations have been pseudoscientific at times, Slade is generally said to be able to think “nine times faster” than a normal human. This is what allows him to go toe to toe with the likes of Batman. He is a master tactician, he picks up new martial arts with ease, and he has heightened speed and decision making in combat.

And this is where things get really interesting. Because if you could increase your working memory – a core component of IQ – then it actually could help you become a movement and combat prodigy.

Deathstroke brain training

This is something that can be achieved, to a more subtle degree, with the right kind of training. In this post, I will argue that anyone can benefit from a “cognitive skills training” day in their routine. Here’s what that should look like, inspired by the calculating mercenary.

Deathstroke Training: Working Memory is More Crucial Than You Think

This take on Deathstroke training is going to focus on building working memory for fluid movement.

Working memory is your capacity to store and manipulate information in the short-term. When performing math, for example, you use your working memory to carry numbers or keep the question in mind while working. We often hear that working memory has a span of 7 +/- 2. This means that a great working memory is capable of storing 9 digits and a poor one is capable of storing 5. This is what much of the research focussed on for years, along with the “phonological loop” that allows us to repeat phrases to ourselves, and the “visuospatial scratchpad” for maintaining visualizations in the mind’s eye.

Working Memory

But working memory is also what we use to store information about the world around us. When playing sports, we use WM to remember where the other players are on the pitch.

But something similar occurs when you are moving normally through space. Because you can only focus on a narrow amount of information at any given time, you therefore need to “build up” a picture of the world around you that is constantly updated. See my recent post on training reflexes, focus, and decision making like John Wick.

See also: How to Train Reflexes, Focus, and Decision Making

This way, working memory can improve your vision for driving and sports, as well as your ability to react to dynamically changing scenes. All this is critical in combat. If Deathstroke could hypothetically attend to more information at once, he might be able to maintain a more complete picture of his current situation and react to small changes, more rapidly. This could, of course, make him a far more lethal combatant.

Working Memory for Motor Learning

What’s more, is that working memory helps you to move your body AND learn new skills (motor learning).

Deathstroke Martial Arts Training

If you’ve ever been taught how to punch, or how to swing a golf club, you will likely remember being given lots of instructions about how to move. When punching, you need to rotate the hip and the shoulder. You need to keep lose until the last minute. Depending on the style of martial art, you must also rotate the fist as it travels. The other hand needs to come back, and you need to maintain your guard as much as possible.

This is a lot to remember – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Keeping all of this in mind during the early stages of motor learning requires working memory and attention. You must be able to remember each of those instructions to execute on them at once. This is what P. Fitts and M. Posner described as the “cognitive phase” of learning motor skills: the point at which you still need to consciously control your movements.

Stages of Motor Skill Learning

So, if Slade has a greater working memory, he can increase the awareness of his own body and thereby move each limb and muscle as instructed. This would help him to rapidly learn new martial arts and to deliver more power with each strike.

This is not hypothetical. In one study, it was found that children with greater working memories responded better to instruction when learning basketball shooting (study) – learning faster and to greater effect.

Cognitive Training for Martial Arts

Several more studies have shown similar results (study). In one, it was found that the performance of karateka in sparring could be significantly improved with an intervention involving working memory training. That’s right: specifically training working memory with a battery of computer tests could improve fighting ability (study).

Deathstroke Training

The study authors hypothesized that the gains in performance were due to improved skill acquisition during training between tests. However, they also explained that it could be due to improved awareness and decision-making and awareness during contests.

That’s right: specifically training working memory with a battery of computer tests could improve fighting ability.

Even when moving in an unstructured way, a better working memory would theoretically allow you to maintain a more “complete” image of your own body – to attend to greater proprioception. Therefore, you could more with more speed, power, grace, and control.

In another study, it was shown that improving working memory (using a computer game called “Musical Catch”) could reduce falls in participants aged 60-80 (study). Working memory has also been implicated in motor skills that involve a “dual task” element – an example might be running while dribbling a ball (study).

How to Train for Smarter Muscle

By focussing in on the role of working memory in movement, I hope I have demonstrated the clear role for cognitive training for any serious athlete or anyone looking to improve their general performance. And that this is what Deathstroke training should look like.

But how do we incorporate this? Unfortunately, sitting in front of n-back tests will only help so much. It turns out that activities such as dance – which require lots of body awareness – have little transfer to other cognitive abilities such as WM span tasks (study). There is definitely some transfer, but it’s not always present to the extent you might expect.

See also: The Brain, Movement, and Training

As with functional training, it appears we need more specificity. To improve movement and motor skill acquisition, specifically, we need more multisensory, proprioceptive training for working memory.

Deathstroke Balance Training

Fortunately, there are countless options for our Deathstroke training when it comes to complex and proprioceptively demanding movement that can reliably benefit executive function and working memory. One example is balance training – or unstable surface training combined with resistance training. The effectiveness of such training methods for building dynamic athleticism is the subject of much debate; but the cognitive benefits have been demonstrated repeatedly. In one study, movements such as squats on a Bosu ball were shown to improve working memory, processing speed, response inhibition, and set-shifting in healthy older adults (study).

Unstable Surface Training

But these benefits likely have more to do with the balance and coordination than the weights themselves. Adults that undertake “acute, proprioceptively demanding training” enjoy an improved working memory, according to one study (study). Examples include crawling along beams, climbing trees, and running barefoot. While all physical training is good for the brain, the results are significantly more pronounced for balance training. And the clue comes from the phrase “proprioceptively demanding.” By requiring the individual to focus on input and control across the body, these exercises require sharp focus and the juggling of information.

UST

In another study, an intervention including balance training and postural control was shown to improve working memory and executive function in school children (study).

Alternative Options

You don’t necessarily need to buy a balance board to enjoy these benefits. And it’s hard to imagine Deathstroke’s training incorporates one…

While I couldn’t find any specific studies confirming the theory, it follows that hand balancing would offer similar advantages. The same should certainly be true for gymnastics rings.

Handbalancing

The benefits of slacklining appear to be even more pronounced, as this is an extremely challenging form of balance training. In one study, it was found that slacklining could improve jump performance and postural control. Moreover, brain scans revealed enhanced efficiency in the striatal network of the brain: a region responsible for motor-learning, self-initiated movements, and the execution of complex action sequences (study, report).

Quadrupedal movements, especially combined with balancing, are also effective for improving joint repositioning and “markers of cognition” (study).

Quadrupedal Movement for Working Memory

Juggling is a slightly different example that has also been shown to boost working memory and many other cognitive skills (study). Juggling has this effect as you must not only consider the movement of your own hands, but also the movement of the balls in the air.

Juggling

But this also explains why 3D object tracking tools are so effective for developing forms of working memory. I’ve spoken before about how much I have personally benefited from the Oculus Quest app called REAKT: Performance Trainer. In fact, this experience was partly what inspired this post: since regularly training I’ve noticed significant improvements in my hand balancing, martial arts, juggling, and more.

See also: REAKT Performance Trainer Review (for Oculus Quest)

Training with a battery of virtual reality scenarios sounds like Deathstroke training to me!

Focus

Moreover, we need to focus on focus. Focus is, most likely, the gatekeeper of working memory. Our working memory is born from our ability to sustain activation in certain neural networks so that a lasting impression remains.

REAKT

In fact, the controlled attention model of working memory suggests they are effectively one and the same. And studies demonstrate this clearly. When we are mindful of our movement, we move faster and more accurately. When we are distracted, our movement becomes sloppy (study).

This is where exercises like dual n-back can be beneficial and have some transfer. Even more effective, however, is meditation. Specifically, directive forms of meditation that involve focussed attention.

In one cool study, it was shown that meditation could reduce a phenomenon known as attentional blink. This describes the lull between attentional shifts – the psychological refractory period (PRP) (report). In other words, it can directly affect your ability to switch between tasks and therefore improve the OODA loop. This would have huge tactical advantages in combat. That study used a form of meditation called integrative mind-body meditation.

Meditation can increase general awareness.

Anecdotal reports describe how meditation can increase general awareness. Colors look brighter and even the taste and smell of a glass of whiskey is felt more vividly. This makes sense in the context of everything we’ve discussed: you are now able to take more information in from the world around you and hang onto it as you examine and disseminate it.

I can’t imagine that meditation wouldn’t play a part in Deathstroke’s training, as it does Batman’s.

Computational Meditation

Computational Meditation

Many people struggle with directive meditation, because they lack immediate feedback. The mind wanders and they may not even realize it. My solution is to replace traditional forms of meditation with focussed mental arithmetic, counting exercises, or specific visualization. For instance, I’ll close my eyes for ten minutes and increase two or three numbers by different steps. This is surprisingly hard to do as you catch your mind wandering. I call this computational meditation. And while there are no studies about this – seeing as I just made it up – there is evidence that focussing on mental arithmetic can provide similar benefits to meditation; such as heightened emotional control. When you get good at focussing on numbers, you can eventually choose not to focus on negative thoughts (study). It’s working for me, so give it a try and let me know how you get on.

Another cool option is any form of moving meditation – such as Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a controlled, meditative movement that places the focus acutely on proprioception. This could theoretically have even more direct transfer to motor skill.  Unsurprisingly, Tai Chi has been shown to have direct benefits for working memory (study).

Clubbell Movement Flow

You may be wondering why you can’t just focus on a computer game. The answer may have to do with stimulus intensity. It is much easier for us to focus on something that is loud and explosive, which may also take advantage of the ventral attention network. Conscious, sustained attention on something non-stimulating is effectively a different skill. In one study, it was found that just 80 minutes of meditation (in four, 20-minute stints) was enough to significantly improvements to their working memory, verbal fluency, and visuo-spatial processing (study). The same effect was not found for the control group that spent the same time listening to The Lord of the Rings on audiobook. 

Deathstroke Training

Deathstroke Workout

My recommendation for Deathstroke training then, is to incorporate a day of more cognitively demanding, proprioceptively complex, focussed training. That can include:

  • Unstable surface training
  • Hand balancing
  • Tai Chi
  • Slacklining
  • Yoga
  • Juggling
  • Martial arts
  • Object tracking
  • Dual N-Back training
  • Directive meditation

This should be combined with a training program designed to help us act on those rapid decisions. That means fast, explosive training combined with a high work capacity for endurance.

Proprioceptively Demanding Movement

You might be rolling your eyes and thinking this all sounds a bit silly. A Deathstroke workout that concludes you should take up toss juggling?

On the contrary, I think it’s awesome. Meditation, concentration drills, and holding crisp handstands sounds exactly like the sort of thing an experienced mercenary at the top of their game should be doing. They sound exactly like they belong in Deathstoke’s training.

This is refined, intelligent, training.

Deathstroke Training for Everyone!

Why do you need to train your proprioception and awareness? I’d argue this is every bit as useful as training max strength. For the average Joe, it can prevent falls and accidents. Juggling, for example, develops the brain in regions relating to peripheral vision. Imagine what that could do for your driving, your sports, or anything else.

We should think of this as a crucial pillar of general preparedness.

We should think of this as a crucial pillar of general preparedness. An athlete with greater proprioception, and an increased ability to consider all this information at once, will acquire any new skill more quickly. And all of us can benefit from gaining greater control and awareness of our own movement.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

7 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Awesome article man, really enjoying your stuff 🙂

  2. Hugh says:

    How about a Doc Savage trading program?

  3. Isaac says:

    Do you think that using a Ripstik would help develop proprioception?

  4. Martín Lazarini says:

    It’s an awesome concept, how to counteract over specificity with functional muscle, yet your mind has a limited(though) huge movement memory, at some point you will react with what you learned and not the most optimal way, so it’d be about how to train your body to learn the most bang for your bank movement patterns according to your anatomy, instead of trying to learn everything and producing the interference principle, you train the most versatile style for you, take what’s useful and disregard what’s not, just like you mentioned in your Batman videos how he didn’t master 100 martial art styles. I sent you an email about a video idea if you are interested to discuss, I really think it’s a very fun subject(HINT: Strength improves Stamina and Stamina Improves Strength)

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