Beyond repetition prescriptions, and the odd tweak there
more in depth points which will certainly benefit you as an athlete – if you
are able to gain a proper understanding of them. Today, I wanted to talk about
the Central Nervous System (CNS) and more specifically the effect it can have
on your training, and how your training can affect it.
What is the CNS?
The CNS consists of your brain, spinal cord and within that
there are billions of neurotransmitters which act as signalling agents to your
cells. Different neurotransmitters will have different jobs and send signals to
different parts of the brain.
The CNS & Building Muscle
The CNS is one of the most overlooked parts of the puzzle in
my opinion, most regular gym bunny’s wont event spare a minute of time to even
consider it in fact. However, those of you who are a little more advanced and
do spend the additional time thinking about the CNS will benefit, greatly!
These little beauties control the strength of the contraction
and level of exertion which the muscle dispenses upon any form of resistance. In
short, you have small and large motor units and it is the small ones which
ALWAYS become stimulated before the larger ones – always. However, to really
maximise muscle fibre recruitment you want the larger motor units to become
involved as they are able to exert up to 50 times more force against the resistance
than the smaller motor units.
Right away, you might be thinking lifting extremely heavy
weight is the best way to stimulate your larger motor units. According to
several studies it is not the weight, or repetition range that matters – but rather
the ‘’effort’’ the muscle has to go through during a working set.
For example, you may be doing a set of 30 repetitions and as
the progress through the set you might fail at 18, then be forced to use
rest/pause and even used forced reps with a partner. In contrast, you might do
a set of 5 repetitions but not force the muscle to fail. Out of these two
examples, it is the first one which would recruit the more motor units and
ultimately muscle fibres.
Training with CNS in Mind
To maximise muscle mass I would highly recommend the Y3T and
DTP training principles. When you consider optimised muscle fibre and motor
unit recruitment is achieved through GREAT effort in the gym, meaning the muscle
is pushed beyond limits it makes sense to follow a training pattern with severe
intensity. Y3T also uses a vast range of repetition ranges over a 3 week cycle
which opens up a whole load of other benefits which stretch beyond the scope of
Just like overlooking the potential benefits of applying
your training principles to optimising motor unit recruitment, it is also ever
so easy to ignore the importance of CNS health in relation to building muscle
It is entirely possible, and likely that you can deplete the
levels of certain neurotransmitters by overloading the body with training
volume. If this occurs, it is likely that your motor unit and muscle fibre
recruitment will suffer in a large capacity – potentially leading to very mediocre
training sessions and overall hyper fatigue.
To help avoid this, limit each training session to 60
minutes, avoid lifting weights for any more than 5 times a week and after every
12 weeks have at least 7-10 days from the gym.
To conclude, understanding motor unit recruitment and the
benefits it can and will have on your muscle mass is essential!