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The central nervous system and your training

The Central nervous system (CNS) is the most complicated part of you nervous system. Your spinal cord receives information from your senses and muscles, The CNS then uses this information to help you react, remember it and then sends the appropriate instructions to your body. So as you can tell, it is vital part of training. If you get your CNS firing right, all your lifts and speed will increase dramatically.
The best way to train the CNS is with power movements, however before you start training you need to wake everything up. Once you have done your mobility work, the best way to wake the CNS up is with a good dynamic warm up. At Fitness Wild a couple of our favourite ways to this is with tuck jumps and light running building up into short sprints. Warming up in this way allows us to work all of our muscle fibres; Slow twitch, Fast twitch type 1, fast twitch type 11. This in turn sets the body up so that is ready to recruit as much motor units as possible.

Now that your body is awake we need to get it firing properly. Maximal to sub maximal lifts using movements such as Olympic lifts, deadlifts and squats. These not only recruit the most motor units for maximal contraction and stress on you CNS but also have a huge psychological drain on it to. We have all felt it, the fear before a lift and talking yourself out of a lift before the bar has even been un-racked. Another emotion people often feel is the ‘butterflies in the belly’ this is where all the blood is being taken from your stomach to your brain, in order to really fire the CNS. However your stomach has the same intelligence as a squirrel, being part of the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is a part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) something I won’t go into too much detail about in this article, ENS in short are the nerves that control your nerves.

When this happens and the lift is a fail, in power lifting they call it bombing out. How to overcome this is all part I believe of training your CNS to fire to its optimum. A good friend and training partner has devised a great way to help with ‘bombing out’, to help his CNS learn a movement and to keep his calm he has the exact same set up for each lift. For example on the bench we will set his legs right back so he is right on his toes, he makes it look like yoga! He will then set his shoulders and wind himself tightly down so his gluteus and shoulders are glued to the bench before creating talk in the shoulders. Having the same set up allows the CNS to learn the movement and to know what’s coming, the body is ready to fire all of those important motor units for you to accomplish the lift. It also brings a sense of Zen, a focus on the lift, having a ritual like this really does help to avoid ‘bombing out’.

When training the CNS you really do have to be careful not to fatigue. The best way to test for this is with grip, if you don’t have access to a dynamometer (a simple device that tests your grip strength) a simple but effective way is to deadlift. If a reasonably light weight feels heavy in your hands and nothing about it feels right this is an indicator that your CNS is fatigued. Another effective way is the vertical jump, one of the first things to go when CNS is fatigued is power. The problem with this is that the vertical jump is very hard to get a true test from. At Fitness Wild we like to use the horizontal jump as a way of testing, again a massive power movement and easier on to measure fairly anywhere.

If the CNS is fatigued don’t stop your training, just drop number of sets and work sub maximal. One of the best ways to help CNS recovery is sleep. Make sure you get a good quality night’s sleep, I use magnesium to help my sleep / recovery, it calms the nervous system and is a relaxing agent for the body. I recommend anyone who trains should take magnesium. Another important component is to stretch a good 8 hours after lifting, allow the blood to leave the muscles and helps you to relax. Lastly I suggest you monitor your glycogen levels. If eating a very low crab diet (ie: most carbohydrates from green vegetables) like most of the Fitness Wild crew do you will have a glycogen crash, a good tip is every few weeks after lots of training eat a pizza!