• Isaac J. Wedig MS, CSCS

An Introduction to the Nervous System During Training

A guest article by Ryan L. Meidinger

The nervous system is the first reason we move, the way we sense movement, and the first line of defense to avoiding injury while training. The nervous system is made of neurons, which are a specialized cell used to transfer an electrical current that stimulates release of specialized compounds called neurotransmitters from a synapse. A synapse is a specialized ending to a neuron that holds and releases said neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters pass from one synapse to another through a synaptic junction, causing a response. A synaptic junction is the space between a neuron and the cell it is targeting for a response. Neurons can be short, long, wide, thin, and have few or many synaptic junctions with other cells. The length and width of neurons decides how quickly information can be transferred through a neuron. The number of synaptic junctions, from and on a neuron, contributes to the specificity and broad nature of the information transferred. The network of these connections is called a neural network, or activation pattern, and has been suggested to be the reason for personalities.

The interconnections of these neural networks, within the brain, also lead to movement patterns. A movement pattern refers to the organized and sometimes rhythmic nature of organic life’s movement. Movement patterns are things such as walking, sitting, standing, running, pressing, pulling, and much more. Movement patterns are set and reset many times over during our lifetime.

The way that movement patterns are thought to be changed are through two forms of plasticity. Plasticity is the name of the brains process of changing connections, changing strength of information transferred, and changing effectiveness of information transferred. The two forms of plasticity are potentiation and depression. Potentiation is the increase in strength, effectiveness, and connections of synapses between neurons. Depression is the decrease in strength, effectiveness, and connections of synapses between neurons. Both forms of plasticity have sub sets of plasticity that I will not get into in this article but will cover in other articles. The plastic changes that happen within the brain lead to effective and sometimes ineffective movement patterns we all learn to know and love.

The thought that movement patterns are plastic in nature, means that we can change them if they are ineffective and if they are effective. In the sense of human movement and training, it is important that you think of effectiveness in the sense of outputting force in the correct quantity and time, as well as the effective coordinated positioning of joints while moving and training. Effective movement patterns will decrease injury and non-injury related pain. With both injury and non-injury related pain it is important to know that pain is a perception and can warn us of something bad happening, tell us something bad happened, or the perceived fear of injury. Injuries can also change movement patterns, but that will be covered in a future article.

To avoid injury effective movement patterns are needed and for your entire life your brain has been trying to create effective movement patterns. In this context, it is important to know that the brain can only perceive needed movement patterns and it cannot truly see your movements. This may confuse you, but even though we have eyes we cannot truly see. However, we can perceive what information is being reflected through light onto the back of our eye leading to a transfer of electrical signal through a neuron into our brain. Once our brain has received this input it will decide what that information means and you will perceive what you see. If you have ever seen a visual illusion and then had the illusion explained to you, you fully understand that what you see is not always reality. This same issue can happen when you attempt to move, which can cause you to trip or sit on air.

To move more effectively, you must train your brain to effectively integrate and perceive information from your senses and cause effective movement based on these senses. Every day, during every second of the day, you train your brain perceives movement and this leads to stronger movements, more effective movements, and tone. Tone is the base amount of contraction in a muscle caused by continuous levels of neural activation. Resistance training can be one of the most potent motor pattern and tone manipulators, and it is often in a slower, more controlled situation, making it safer. When squatting you can train effective extension of the ankle, knee, and hip. In the squat you should also train tone of the back and shoulder muscles (I will not get into all of them in this article). When doing lunges, you can train opposition movements, such as would be done in running. When overhead pressing you can train stabilization of the body from the feet to the shoulder, and free movement of the limbs. Many people call this proximal stability and distal mobility, and is considered a safe way to produce and transfer force into a movement, which will be explained further in other articles. If tone is changed and movement patterns are changed in an ineffective manner it can lead to ineffective transfer of force and injury.

To avoid this, you need to train to move better first, then train to move more. To train to move better you must leave your ego at home, continuously learn the movements or train someone who knows and is learning more about the movements, practice them when you train, place all your attention on your movement, and use them when you are not training. Training to move better decreases the chance and severity of injuries, and increases the possibility to move more often. Once able to move more, you can lift more weight, train for longer periods of time, have more leisure time activity, and feel better. So always remember to learn how to move better, practice moving better, and move more often. This will give you greatest benefits, not only from the neural perspective but also from a general health perspective. Look for future articles on the nervous system, how it adapts to training, and what you can do to help it adapt.

About Ryan

I was born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota. I have always had an interest in exercise and human movement, which began with sports, trying to optimize my movements, and working to become stronger. My favorite sports growing up were basketball, football, and track & field. My best sport was track & field, where I was a discus and shotput thrower. My best and favorite throwing event was discus, which led to me being a 6-time North Dakota state qualifier, 5-time state placer, 4-time collegiate conference placer, and RMAC runner-up. I began college with no interest in learning, in fact I only wanted to throw the discus. In my third year of college I transferred from University of Mary in Bismarck to Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado.

Once I transferred universities I gained a greater interest in biomechanics, which is the physics of biological organisms. My focus in biomechanics is in motor control, which is the interaction of the nervous system and the physics of biological organisms. As far as biological organisms go, I mostly have an interest in humans. Once done at Adams State University I was accepted to Northern Michigan University. Northern Michigan University gave me the opportunity to learn many different areas in motor control. These areas included mechanical kinesiology, neuroscience, endocrinology, physiology of training, and conducting a thesis on post-activation potentiation and fatigue.

I finished my Masters and moved back to Bismarck in August. I am currently a personal trainer, fitness instructor, and front desk associate at Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center. I am also opening a new online and travelling fitness business called F.R.E.E.D.O.M. LLC. In my time as a personal trainer and through my masters I have developed and improved a system based on motor control, biomechanics, endocrinology, and neuroscience research. I have and want to use this system to help all people move as effectively as possible and gain the movement freedom (get it?) they deserve.

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