Our bodies are designed to allow us to do amazing things, and we often forget that the results we see in a mirror, are only the icing on the cake to what is happening internally. Intrinsically our brain is communicating with our muscles and joints through our central and peripheral nervous systems. These communication outlets allow our body to walk, run and lift stuff off the ground without having to sit down and map out a strategy to accomplish it. What we often do not realize is that when we stand up, sit down, take a breath of fresh air, etc., our neurological system is sending signals throughout the body to allow us to accomplish this without us even thinking twice. When is the last time you stood up and actually thought about where you were disbursing your weight and what muscles you were going to use to get up? It does not always happen, but your neurological system does not always need conscious communication to perform a task. You could literally sit back and relax and end up on the other side of the room without knowing how you go there. I know that has happened to me before.
These situations and scenarios come from your nervous systems ability to understand, recruit and adapt through a 3-dimensional world. Improving our nervous system throughout space intrinsically and extrinsically, allows the body to adapt and learn at the bodies highest level. Often times, exercises that demand more from us, such as a heavy deadlift, are difficult to do because it looks like we lack the strength to pick it up. However, often times it is a neurological desynchronization and lack of proper communication between our central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) that is keeping us from completing the task.
This is why performing a proper warm up, or what I like to call, “movement preparation series,” before you work out is vital. Research has shown that resistance and cardiovascular training increases adaptive changes in skeletal muscle, leading to adaptive changes in neurological function and motor unit recruitment. These motor unit recruitments, as well as sensory recruitments, allow our bodies to lift heavier, move faster, decrease body fat and reduce our mile times.
The bigger question often arises on when should someone work on more specific neurological recruitment. It always goes back to it all depends, such as what your goal is and where your gaps might be in your program. What I have seen over the years of training many different subgroups are that by performing a static exercise that locks in your pelvis and ribcage (some may call this your core) before a lift has shown great results.
Completing a 5-breath plank before you deadlift can help increase motor unit recruitment at the muscles that need the extra reinforcement of stabilization. I like breaths instead of using time for isometric core exercises because your core muscles are breathing muscles, and it also limits you to hold your breath and use secondary muscles to help hold yourself up. You can even get creative and do a unilateral core exercise, like a side plank and a bilateral strength exercise like the deadlift, to work multiple planes of motions. I have programmed unilateral core with bilateral strength circuits and bilateral core (plank) with unilateral strength (single leg deadlifts) to give variety and enrich the neuromuscular systems awareness during training.
Time and our environments are constantly causing you to adapt your posture, which can further start to diminish your movement quality. These adaptive changes cause your neurological recruitment and feedback to change based on what you subconsciously and consciously tell and allow your body to do. So, when we think we are warmed up and ready to go, we often may not be fully engaged. Adding a set or two of some form of bracing exercise, such as planks or side planks, before a heavy lift, such as a deadlift, can help increase recruitment so the whole system is on the same page. The goal isn’t to crush the neurological system, but to wake it up and guide it to the right destination so it can do what it does best, thrive and survive.
Increasing the body’s ability to move is beyond getting the heart, lungs and skeletal muscles stronger. You need to get the neurological system to understand and synchronize with what you want the body to do. Research has shown that resistance and cardiovascular training increases adaptive changes in skeletal muscle, leading to adaptive changes in neurological function and motor unit recruitment. These adaptive changes in neuromuscular function have been linked to increased maximal contractile forces power output and increased postural control.
With the increased motor unit recruitment and mechanical skeletal muscle function, our body increases its proprioceptive awareness (where our body is in space) and comfortability, decreasing intrinsic and extrinsic stress during daily activities. This can lead to increased energy levels and improved quality of life.
Why not add a 5-breath plank in before a heavy lift?
It may fill that gap you have been looking for.