Weight training isn’t just about getting big & bulky. When we lift weights, we get two main changes in our muscles:
- Mechanical changes, like increased muscle fibre size, increased area & volume. This is the typical expectation of resistance training & of course, it has its place in improving sports performance
- Neurological changes; what we believe to be more important. This refers to how well your brain can communicate with your muscles. We all have muscles, but how well do we use them??
We can break these neurological changes into 4 categories & give an example of how each component works with one another.
- Motor unit recruitment = how many muscle fibres your brain can turn on
- Motor unit synchronisation = how well the muscles can synchronise their contractions with one another
- Motor unit rate coding = how quickly the muscles can contract
- Neuromuscular inhibition = how much other muscles & joints will resist the movement
To put it in a different context, imagine a car rolls & someone is stuck underneath. Obviously, the goal is to get the car off as quick as possible & it’s going to take multiple people working together to get it done.
- Motor unit recruitment refers to how quickly the onlookers can get to the car & get ready to lift. This is also affected by how effective the call for help was in getting the bigger, stronger people & not just the children or grandparents to help
- Motor unit synchronisation is about getting everyone to lift at the same time. If people are lifting out of turn & not working as a team, the car won’t move
- Motor unit rate coding means everyone is there & ready to lift as one. We need them all to lift hard & fast to get the car off the ground. It’s important to note that although the car may physically move slowly because of the sheer weight of it, the intent of the lifters still needs to be there to move it explosively
- Neuromuscular inhibition is the scenario when for whatever reason, someone is pulling at the wrong end of the car or pushing while everyone else is pulling. In the body, this is somewhat like a defence mechanism & can prevent the muscle from applying its potential force.
To sum it all up, we essentially need muscles working in unison, we need them to do it quickly & we need it to happen almost non-stop throughout a game. Lifting larger weights at speed can help to strengthen these pathways from the brain to the muscle so that when you see that gap, when ball bounces the other way or the opposition knocks you off balance, you can react & move quicker. Weight training doesn’t have to make you slow & big. It can make you fast, explosive & resilient!