Nerves and Working Out

What Do Nerves Have to Do with Working Out?

Here, I am not talking about the kind of nerves that make you nervous.

It’s about the nerves that make your muscles work. Turns out that your nerves are a key component to any exercise you do. It is important to figure out what they are doing for you so that your workouts can have more clarity and direction.

You will be able to work the system because you know what to expect from your nerves AND you will know how to train them along with your movements and muscles.

Here’s a few basic things to know:

Your nerves adjust to what you are doing.

When you start an exercise program, particularly one that involves getting stronger, the first six weeks of improvement are because your NERVES are adjusting to what you are doing. How do they do this? By adapting to the movement you are doing. That means they are recruiting your muscles appropriately to help you lift, move, or do something that may be new to you. And, they are starting to groove that pattern of firing up your muscles. It takes your muscle fibers longer than six weeks to get with the program. They have to build, repair, and add in more protein and aerobic capacity. This takes 6 weeks and beyond.

There are basically two kinds of muscle fibers.

One is called slow twitch, and the other is called fast twitch. There is actually a continuum here, but for simplicity we will stick with the two kinds. Slow twitch are the muscle fibers that help you maintain posture, lift low weight, and do endurance-type activities.

The other type, fast twitch, is used when you need some extra power. That would include lifting a heavy weight, sprinting to catch a train, or hurrying up a flight of stairs.

Fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited by your nervous system AFTER they have called in the slow twitch to help you move. They are thicker and fire off more quickly than slow twitch nerves. In other words, there is a hierarchical system for this. It is organized. When you think about it, your body is being very efficient here. Can you imagine if you called in a ton of muscle power to lift a pencil? It would be ridiculous, if not embarrassing!

What does this have to do with how to train?

If you have hung around athletes or watched enough pre-season training on TV, you will see the professionals sprinting, pushing, and lifting heavy weights using their whole bodies (lifts like squat to press, clean and jerk, etc.) Why? Because those moves involve using many muscles all at once in compound moves in order to produce a lot of power.

That’s nice, you might say, but I am not a professional athlete. Not even close. What does this have to do with me?

Here is what it has to do with you.

We all need power from time to time. You may need to lift something heavy, brake suddenly in your car, or be able to make a quick adjustment to correct your balance. I would put it to you that these are the types of activities that make us vulnerable to injury. You are actually training for these types of scenarios when you use total body moves in your workouts, when you progress to a heavy weight for you, or train for quickness, as in high intensity interval training (HIIT). Not only are you doing yourself a service, but you are also getting more work done in a shorter period of time. Good stuff, yes?

So there you are. Once you understand how your nerves work, and how they innervate different types of muscles and responses, you can incorporate some of these things into your exercise and workouts. Just be aware that you need to work up to many of these moves by creating a base of strength and fitness before you start doing anything with more complexity and intensity.

All the best,

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