Train for neural efficiency

November 24, 2010

There are several reasons to pursue physical activity, whether it is an athlete preparing for their sport or someone in the general population simply looking to lose weight and feel better after a good workout. Most athletes don’t realize it, but they’re really training to be more neurally efficient, to reduce the activity of their nervous system.

The nervous system, as previously explained (see Sparta Point 10/8/09), is a network of specialized cells called neurons that coordinate actions and transmit signals between different parts of the body. Think of your body as the car, and the nervous system as the driver. A 2010 study out of Sapienza University in Rome found elite athletes are characterized by neural efficiency, or reduced brain activity during voluntary movement. Several other previous studies have supported these findings that the brain is “quieter”, or more efficient in trained individuals such as athletes.

This research is important because the brain is often the initiator of the nervous system’s signals, or at the very least, the relay center for signals from the environment back to the muscles that produce movement. The above study, and most research in this area, measured alpha signals, which are the normal brainwave of a person who is awake but relaxed, and such alpha signals are the main indicator of neural efficiency.

Neural efficiency can make movements more powerful by relaxing the body prior to explosive activity (see Sparta Point 11/10/10), as well as increasing the speed and precision of the finely tuned motor programs (see Sparta Point 2/24/10) required for high level athletes. Such efficiency will also increase more global physical capabilities such as the endurance in a soccer match because each movement will require less energy to produce.

So pursue those aspects of movement that will make you more neurally efficient by working on one of three major avenues; quickness through Olympic weightlifting, speed from squats, or stability from single leg lifting. Sparta uses a force plate to quickly diagnose and monitor these needs, but your instincts can also serve you well.

After all, can’t we become better in our car by just being smarter drivers?

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