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This past weekend, MPC worked with athletes from across Ontario who were taking part in the Kingston Aero’s Trampoline Club training camp. The focus of the workshop we hosted was to teach the athletes how to incorporate neural activation and speed drills into their training. When we hear the word neural we automatically connect it to our brain. The brain is the control centre for all force which is why training the brain in conjunction with the body can take athletic performance to an entirely new level.

Neural activation drills are typically performed after our movement preparation (commonly known as warm up). Incorporating these drills allows us to wake up our nervous system before we start strength training. In order to activate a muscle, a neuron must fire a signal to our brain. Neurons are nerve cells that build up our nervous system; hence why the brain is equally as important as muscles when it comes to strength.

A study by Dr. David Gabriel published a review in Sports Medicine showing that neural output from the central nervous system (CNS) to activate muscle fibers increases when an athlete adheres to an effective and focused strength training program. In scientific terms, muscle training strengthens neuromuscular circuitry, which allows muscles to produce even more force (Gabriel, 2006). Thus, resistance training is as much brain training as it is muscle building (Gabriel, 2006).

There is continuous research in the field of neuroscience that tries to validate the role of neural activation and repetition in strength training. Athletes naturally train their brain during a workout. However, athletes who fail to focus specifically on neurological training are limiting their athletic potential (Gabriel, 2006). According to another study published in Sports Medicine by Dr. Anthony Shield, the brain rarely activates all motor units in a muscle group at once, even if the individual is pushing his or her muscles to their maximum. However, with repetitive strength training, the brain does learn to activate motor units in a more synchronous manner (Shield, 2004).  Hence why if athletes ever wish to come close to their true athletic potential, they must find methods to more thoroughly activate motor units.

There are many neural activation exercises. The following video demonstrates an example of a neural activation drill that we would use with our athletes to help increase their speed. A 2” Run wakes up our nervous system by stimulating our sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight response). By performing the 2” Run our brain sends a fast signal to our limbs to generate more force than we would normally do.

Author: Megan Cook

References

Gabriel, D. D. (2006). Neural adaptations to resistive exercise: mechanisms and recommendations for training practices. Sports Medicine, 133-149.

Shield, D. A. (2004). Assessing voluntray muscle activation with the twitch interpolation technique . Sports Medicine, 253-267.