Neuromuscular Training; the answer to all ills..?
‘Neuromuscular training’ has received a lot of attention in the media recently, especially with reference to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee and how to avoid injury. What’s an ACL? See here for an article on the ACL and how you injure it.
In this Get Back To Sport article I’m going to tell you the best way to focus your neuromuscular training to increase muscle contraction speed and force production. Whilst you can do these types of exercise using just your body weight, to be most effective you need a much heavier load.
What is it?
Neuromuscular literally means ‘nerves’ and ‘muscles’. The muscles in the body contract as a result of the signals it receives from the nerves that supply it. And THAT’s about as scientific as I’m going to get here.
Neuromuscular training is not a new concept, far from it. The focus of my PhD was actually ‘neuromuscular’ and how neuromuscular performance of the muscles of the knee joint influences the risk of ACL in injury; I completed this 10 years ago! Likewise, scientists have been researching this topic for years.
See here for an exceptionally small sample of neuromuscular research:
We just need to be a little bit careful with the term ‘neuromuscular training’ as it’s morphed to mean a few different things.
Within Physiotherapy settings and related research it might be used interchangeable with ‘proprioception training’. This is a type of training that involves challenging balance exercises. Proprioception-type training has also shown to be effective in reducing the incidence of ACL injuries, but I’ll focus on that another time.
Whilst in the Strength and Conditioning and scientific World it’s likely to represent high intensity, explosive, high force training. And it can mean all manner of things in between.
Why is it effective?
Neuromuscular training – definition : high intensity, high force, explosive muscle contractions – when performed properly is effective at increasing the speed your muscles can respond and produce force. Notice that I’ve not said anything about strength here? Whilst strength may improve, the main focus is elsewhere.
Injuries happen very quickly. Have you ever been injured, do you remember how fast it happened? ACL injuries happen in less time than it take to blink! Thus the ability of your muscles to contract exceptionally quickly and with adequate force is more important to stabilise your joints and resist injury than how much you can lift for 1 rep in the gym.
How do you do it?
Right, we need to get just a wee bit little technical here.
To condition your muscles most effectively to contract and produce force quickly, you need to provide the right stimulus. This inevitably involves resistance training in most circumstances. So you lift weights already? Great. But how do you do it?
The aim here is to preferentially target the fast twitch muscle fibres and not the slow twitch endurance type muscle fibres. Fast twitch fibres have the quickest response time, highest strength and power capabilities. Here’s what you need to do:
- High force: 3-5 repetitions maximum (a weight where you definitely can’t lift 6 times!)
- Be ‘explosive’ in your lift. Grunt if you need to!
- Rest 2 minutes between sets (fast twitch fibres tire very easily)
- 3-5 sets per exercise
- Eccentric, or ‘negative’ muscle contractions are good advancement (high-force plyometrics, negative reps at the gym)
Do this a couple of times a week and you’ll start to build your injury shield in a matter of weeks.