Get Turned On: The role of the nervous system in training

by Feb 15, 2019Blog, Muscle Gain, Strength and Conditioning

Get turned on

Every now and then go heavy. When we lift weights an electrical impulse travels from our brain, through our spinal chord, along nerves and to the muscle.

The muscle is made up of different types of motor unit (made up of a motor Neuron and its muscle fibres). When we want to perform a task like lifting a heavy weight the brain sends a signal to the muscle through an electrical impulse.

The signal and the magnitude of the resulting activation of muscle fibres is dictated by the demands the task requires. The heavier the weight the more of your muscle is recruited. Loads of 90% and above show the biggest activation- (one point here is that the average personal training client may need significant time under the barbell before they are ready to tackle weights close to maximum safely though).

Faster is better

When we try to shift weights quickly we increase the rate at which motor units within the muscle are discharged in contraction in a process known as “Rate Coding”.

There is of course a genetic factor where some folks will always have a greater potential for explosiveness (case in point Storm trainer Lomé Faatau) however rate coding is also a trainable attribute so there’s hope for the rest of us!

Get good at it

When performing any movement a number of the available motor units are activated.

When your nervous system “learns” the movement the number of motor units involved in the movement is decreased whilst using the same weight.

This means you now have more motor units available for activation providing the potential to again get stronger!


Most effective strength training programs are systematically programmed so that the lifter:

  • Activates high threshold motor units – lift heavy with loads over 80% of your maximum (and over 90% when skilled).
  • Has opportunity to lift fast! – loss of 70-80% work well here as do jump variations and banded jumps.
  • Has ample opportunity to hone technique. My personal opinion based on what I have read and experienced here is that the load on the bar needs to be sufficient in order to see improvement in your heavier lifts. Loads of 55-70% for 3-6 reps work well – endless sets of empty barbell, whilst good for warm ups won’t make you stronger.

If you’d like to start a training that will deliver results safely, get in touch using the form below today.


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