THE CNS – YOUR MUSCULAR COMPUTER
The next step towards maximum strength and force involves manipulating the central nervous system (CNS). You might know that the central nervous system basically connects your brain through a neurological network to all of your muscles. Your central nervous system is like the computer that controls all of your muscles. Your mind is like a central computer and your CNS carries out what you tell it to do. When you decide to move in any fashion your brain sends a message telling your muscles to contract. The more efficient your CNS operates, the more muscle cells you can use, the better you can control your muscles, and the greater your potential levels of strength and force development. Imagine if you could supercharge your CNS so that the signals you send your muscles are sent faster and with more precision? Fortunately you can impact this through correct training.
Step one is optimizing the mind/muscle connection and learning how to activate a large number of fast twitch muscle fibers. Through correct training methods - using the correct loads, speed of force application, and rest intervals between sets; you will be able to supercharge your central nervous system and be able to call upon and use muscles you’ve never used before. You’ll also increase your muscular control and coordination and move not only in a powerful manner but also an effortless manner. Before talking about what to do to improve this aspect of your performance let’s talk about what not to do!
A Word On Fatigue
Training programs should not call for repetitions of weight training, drills, or plyometrics to be performed under conditions of muscular exhaustion or extreme fatigue as in bodybuilding or endurance training. Doing so would inhibit the central nervous system and dampen FT fiber recruitment and basically amount to a waste your time. Imagine trying to run as fast as you can for 30 seconds and then having to perform a maximal vertical jump. Try it sometime if you haven’t! You’ll probably find you don’t get very high. The reason for this is that optimal speed and power can only be maintained for about 6 seconds. After this, lactic acid begins to accumulate along with hydrogen in the muscles and this is what gives the “burn” feeling after a long set. This lactic acid interferes with the contraction of the fast twitch muscle fibers. If you train with elevated lactate frequently enough you will interfere with power production as your muscles adapt to endurance.
If you’re training with higher repetitions and getting a humongous “burn” from your training, then you’re probably not able to use enough weight or put enough intensity into the exercises you’re doing to create the adaptations or affect the muscle fibers that you want. Likewise, when performing plyometric drills, some of the goals are to increase the efficiency of the nervous system, improve rate of force development, and increase muscular recruitment. To accomplish this, the rep range needs to be fairly low so that each repetition can be performed with nearly 100% intensity and power.
Some programs out there use repetitions of 100-500 per exercise! This is training muscular endurance, not muscular strength or power! Any gains made on these programs are made in novice athletes mainly because technical abilities were lacking. If you think training for endurance is all well and dandy realize the average marathon runner has a vertical leap of about 12 inches!! Any high volume endurance training you do will tend to interfere with power development. The body can be trained to be fast, quick, strong, and powerful at the same time, or it can also be trained to have a lot of endurance. It does not do both (gain power and endurance) at the same time very effectively. I realize that athletes do need to maintain a level of conditioning but it needs to be the right kind of conditioning that develops the endurance specific to the sport.
There definitely is a time and place for the right type of conditioning and endurance training but unless you’re very out of shape ideally you should not try to train for vertical jump improvements along with endurance at the same time. If you want to train for strength and power in a workout then focus on that. If you want to train for conditioning and endurance don’t try to do it with your strength and power program by doing high reps of exercises designed to increase your power. Ideally you should focus on boosting your power and jumping capacities while maintaining general fitness. Once you have your power capacity in place you can then focus more on endurance and conditioning.