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5 Things Every Athlete NEEDS to Know About the Nervous System (CNS)

When it comes to training and athletics, one of the biggest misunderstandings comes from a lack of knowledge about the body. Most young athletes only think in terms of muscles. If my legs move me and I do lots of leg extensions, I’ll get better at moving. This is a completely ignorant and misinformed train of thought. When it comes to athletics, we are trying to manipulate the central nervous system [CNS]. Think of the central nervous system as the control board, which tells the muscles when to turn on (how many, what order, how fast, etc.) and what to do. If the control board is turning on the wrong things, we’ll be inefficient, and if the board won’t turn off, we’ll get burnt out. Although the CNS is extremely complex, here are 5 tips to help plan better workouts for actually improving performance.


Jumping utilizes the nervous system

1. Train movements over muscles

I’ve written about this topic before HERE, but it’s a very simple concept. Our body is smart and efficient, training movements will make them better than the sum of their parts. For example, to jump higher you need to jump, don’t expect to see the same improvements by doing calf raises and leg extensions. Try to minimize isolated exercises and prioritize more multi joint movements: squats, running, jumping, pull ups, etc. Your nervous system will get better at optimizing movements which will better translate to sport.

2. You need to REST

The more intense and coordinated a movement, the more the nervous system is working. A sprint is more physically draining than isolated exercises. The more the nervous system works, the more you need to rest. This goes for both in a workout and between workouts. Trying to repeat jumps or Olympic lifts with minimal rest will result in a massive performance decrease; the same can also be said for trying to do extremely intense workouts between days. Use rest wisely to optimize the output in your movements, after all that’s what we are trying to improve as athletes.

3. Set your workouts up accordingly

Just as your body needs more rest to do more intense work, it only makes logical sense to do your most intense work while you have the most energy. If you need to sprint maximally or jump or Olympic lift, these should be near the beginning of your workout. If you need to do conditioning, that can be done at the end. If you try and do explosive or powerful work near the end, the output will be significantly decreased.


4. Prime the Nervous System

The nervous system doesn’t just operate all out all of the time. The nervous system needs to be primed to perform optimally. If you want to try a near max squat, it would be more efficient if the nervous system were working optimally. Using a stimulant like caffeine can aid to prime the nervous system, but so can an appropriate warm up. If attempting a heavy squat, you should add a lower body explosive movement before that. Since it will require great use of the nervous system, it will be primed (activated) for your squat.

5. Recover the Nervous System

Just like muscles (only more so), your nervous system needs to recover in order to be optimal for the next training session. Getting adequate recovery between sessions is imperative. Since the nervous system is active when we are active, recovering your nervous system requires a certain level of inactivity. What I mean by that is, if you already trained this morning and have an important session tomorrow, don’t go on a hike this afternoon. Try to unwind the best you can and optimize your sleep. Adding the mineral magnesium, through a supplement or epsom salt bath, can really help calm down the nervous system and allow it to recover. Proper hydration and adequate nutrition are also extremely important but should have already been taken care of in advance.

Most young athletes these days follow training advice from bodybuilding websites, magazines or other non-athletes. In order for an athlete to take their training to the next level, they need to start training the right way. Incorporate these 5 tips into your training to really see some performance improvements!

It’s About Getting Better!

2 comments on “5 Things Every Athlete NEEDS to Know About the Nervous System (CNS)”

  1. great tips, super important for athletes to keep these things in mind. recovery is so key and most athletes are not over-training they are under-recovering. Thanks for the information

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