Honors Program Theses


Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Terence Moriarty, Honors Thesis Advisor, Department of Kinesiology


Previous research has shown that an acute (single) bout of aerobic exercise performed immediately before a fine motor task can improve the performance of that particular task as well as alter motor cortex (M1) activation. However, the intensity of exercise may influence the extent of motor skill acquisition and M1 activation. The primary aim of the current investigation was to compare the impact of moderate-intensity training (MIT) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on whole-body motor skill acquisition via a piano task. We also aimed to determine if M1 activation was a potential mechanism for any changes in piano performance. Nine participants (F = 7, M = 2) completed a control, MIT, and HIIT trial followed by a wholebody piano task in a randomized order. M1 activation (as measured by the difference in oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin (Hbdiff)) was measured by functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) during the post-exercise piano task. The results show that piano performance scores were significantly higher following MIT, but not HIIT, compared to control. M1 activation was significantly higher following HIIT, but not MIT, compared to control. These results suggest that MIT may be the optimal intensity of exercise to prime the nervous system for enhanced performance of a whole-body motor skill, while higher-intensity exercise may be most optimal to increase M1 activation. These findings suggest that similar exercise protocols may also be effective in improving the performance of other activities of daily living (e.g., woodworking, painting, showering, and shooting a basketball). This study also highlights the need to explore the longer-lasting effects and mechanisms associated with whole-body motor priming.

Year of Submission



Department of Kinesiology

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

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