You probably do not give much thought to Neuromuscular Coordination during your training. You will never hear a coach ask: "How fast do your neurons go?" or "How strong are your neurons?" A lot of coaches probably do not understand Neuromuscular Coordination and how it relates to training. I think this newsletter is going to be educational for us both, so first I must review the research of this topic and define Neuromuscular Coordination for you.
Neuromuscular Coordination is the function of the body to learn, rehearse and refine different movement patterns. This learning, rehearsing and refining can take place during training and/or the rehab process. Remember the first time you learned how to write in cursive, in elementary school, it looked like chicken scratch, right? (Mine still does!) After learning and progressing from the examples in your writing book, you began rehearsing and refining that skill so that it became more legible. That is exactly how athletic movements should be taught and learned. When performing different athletic movements, a wide range of forces are required depending on the movement and the situation (1). In strength training, youth athletes (7-13 years) or beginning athletes often lack strength-related motor skills and muscle coordination, thus hypertrophy cannot be expected immediately (2). Therefore, strength improvements in the first 4-6 weeks are increased due to the fact that the athlete has learned how to use his/her muscles in a more efficient, effective and economical way (2). This neural adaptation to strength training is evidenced by the improved ability to activate and coordinate between the chain of muscles involved.
In order to increase any type of strength/power quality, the body undergoes a neurological adaptation that deals with force application and proper movement. The two primary neural adaptations by which we get stronger are improvements in Intramuscular Coordination and Intermuscular Coordination.
Intramuscular Coordination is the nervous system's control over the number of motor units involved and the frequency at which the motor nerves fire. So, the more motor units you recruit and the faster you recruit them, the higher your force output will be. Think about this example: Highly trained power athletes, such as weightlifters, are able to activate or recruit a high level of their available motor units in a short period, thus generating a greater force than an untrained individual (1). Untrained individuals may only be able to recruit up to 60% of their motor units (1).
Intermuscular Coordination is the nervous system's ability to communicate and coordinate an efficient movement between agonists, antagonists, and prime movers. When performing an athletic movement at a very high speed, such as sprinting, we need to have precisely timed contraction and relaxation of opposing muscle groups to provide a smooth and fluid movement.
The improvement of Intramuscular Coordination (frequency and recruitment) and Intermuscular Coordination (synchronization) results in the ability to access and apply high levels of force output that, in turn, result in a safe efficient movement. This is why technique is so important in your training. From performing a Power Clean to acceleration mechanics, Neuromuscular Coordination plays a vital role in your training and development as an athlete.
Proper training and attention to details will help you achieve
the "Big Four"
1. Apply greater force.
2. Apply force in less time.
3. Apply force in the proper direction.
4. Apply force through the proper range of motion.
(1) USA Weightlifting. "Sports Performance Coach Manual". USA
(2) Bompa, Tudor O. "Periodization: Training for Sports". Human Kinetics,