How does a 135-lb. woman squat 400 lbs., one might ask? Steroids? Perhaps, but there’s still something deeper going on physiologically. Many people think that the bigger one is or the more muscular one is, the stronger he or she is. This is not necessarily true. I love using the sport of Powerlifting as an example of strength, because that’s exactly what the sport is…strength. If you look at the top female divisions in USA Powerlifting (USAPL), these women put up some massive numbers for their size. If you look at these women, they don’t look like the Hulk, and if you saw one of them on the street, you wouldn’t have a clue that they can squat almost three times their body weight. So, how does one see massive strength gains like these?
There are two ways to get stronger: morphological adaptations and neurological adaptations. Morphological adaptations are increases in muscle size due to an increase in myofibrils in one’s muscles. Neurological adaptations include an increase in motor-unit recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers, an increase in motor-unit synchronization and firing frequency, and even an increase in skill development. So, basically, you get stronger by getting bigger and having a more developed and efficient nervous system. My focus here is on the second option.
At the beginning of this article, I posed the question, “How does a 135-lb. woman squat 400 lbs.?” While it’s easy to resort to steroids to understand this to be true, that’s not the case. For people new to strength training, it seems hard to believe how people who don’t look very big can lift a lot of weight. How is a 155-lb. man throwing 225 lbs. over his head? This is where I want to address the neurological adaptations in strength.
How to Get Strong….Like REALLY, REALLY Strong
There are a few ways to increase neurological adaptations in strength.
- Lift HEAVY
There’s a reason powerlifters are some of the strongest people. It’s because they lift really heavy, very often. All athletes should incorporate some heavy lifting into their training. What I mean by HEAVY is pretty much anything over 85% of one’s 1-rep max. Now, a baseball player or tennis player won’t need to lift heavy as often as a powerlifter; however, they’ll still benefit greatly from lifting heavy.
Lifting heavy is a skill that needs to be practiced. When you lift heavy, it takes a lot of force from your body to move the weight. The more you practice lifting heavy, the more your body and nervous system adapt and the more force your body is able to produce, AKA getting stronger. This benefits athletes across-the-board, because everyone wants to throw harder, run faster, be more explosive, etc. Increasing the amount of force the body can produce is a sure way to be able to do all those things.
So, lift heavy more often and watch your strength numbers go up.
- Lift Things FAST
Your nervous system not only adapts to lifting HEAVY things by increasing the amount of force your body can produce, but it also adapts by increasing the RATE at which you can produce that force. A really heavy back squat usually takes a little longer to lift than a light back squat. That’s because your nervous system produces a lot of force…but over a longer period of time. So, it can be said that your nervous system is recruiting extra motor units to lift the weight, but it’s doing it very slowly.
Another way to increase your neurological adaptations to increase strength is to lift things fast to increase the rate at which your nervous system recruits motor units. An example of this would be lifting 60% of your 1-rep max back squat for three reps, but doing it really fast. You may even add bands or chains to the lift, resulting in your having to accelerate harder through the easy part of the movement. You could even add some sort of jump right after the lift to add a little post-activation potentiation. Over time, your nervous system will adapt to this process by increasing the rate at which it produces force and recruits motor units to do the work.
Some PAP (post-activation potentiation) training for @nate_sink. The heavy prowler push right into a sprint is a great idea for speed training. Whether or not anything is physiologically happening the prowler push teaches the athlete to keep the center of gravity low, create a forward lean, and really "push" into the ground which is then carried over right into the sprint. You don't have over teach sprint mechanics. Just give the athlete the right environment and some tools to succeed. #performance #sportsperformance #eliteperformance #training #elitetraining #athletedevelopment #athlete #highschoolathlete #football #basketball #baseball #speed #strength #sprint #power #forcebarbell #fishers #indy #livelightliftheavy #alwaysseekimprovement #unlockyourpotential
- Lift Things When Tired or for Many Reps
I have mentioned how you can get stronger by lifting heavy things or lifting light things really fast. This has been in the context of a few reps per set. You can only lift heavy things or lift things fast for a few reps. Now, I want to mention how you can get stronger by lifting things over a long period of time or simply by lifting things when you’re tired. This is the type of training every athlete hates.
So far, I have discussed how your nervous system adapts and gets stronger by recruiting more motor units to do work over a long period of time or really fast in a short period of time. You can also find ways to increase muscle-motor unit activation by lifting things when you’re tired or for a lot of reps. For example, we might program an athlete to do one set of as many reps as possible after he or she is finished squatting heavy, or we might program an athlete to do sets on the minute, which limits rest time. The best way to explain what happens physiologically during this is by explaining it in layman’s terms.
Your body basically has motor units that never get used. They are basically hiding in the deepest, darkest parts of your muscle, just chilling, watching all these other motor units being put to use all the time, while they’re just laying back enjoying some coffee. However, when your body gets really exhausted by doing a set for as many reps as possible or by doing sets when the body is already fatigued, these motor units that are sitting back enjoying some coffee are called into action and get used. Those primary motor units that are being used all the time get fatigued out and can no longer be called upon to work. So, it’s time for your “deepest, darkest” motor units to finally do some work. After training in this manner for a long enough time, your body adapts, and those motor units that were accustomed to laying back, never getting used, now become primary motor units, just like the ones that used to be watching, while other motor units now stand by and drink coffee. Your body is now officially stronger, because it has more motor units to work with.
@dhscheid27 with a big deadlift of 159kg/350lbs for a bonus set of if 4! The baseball squad is starting to get strong! #performance #sportsperformance #performancetraining #eliteperformance #training #athlete #baseball #pitcher #strength #power #velocity #speed #forcebarbell #livelightliftheavy #alwaysseekimprovement #unlockyourpotential
Everyone has the ability to be freakishly strong. All of us possess contractile strength within our muscles to produce a crap ton of force. However, very few people have the ability to use that force. Getting really strong is sort of all about tricking the nervous system. Your body doesn’t let you use all that force it’s capable of right away, because it doesn’t think it’s safe. And, it’s certainly right. However, the more you train, the more your nervous system allows your body to go to these unsafe waters, because it’s actually no longer unsafe. The ways you manage this “tricking” of the nervous system are the techniques listed above. Lift HEAVY things, lift things fast, and lift things when your body is extremely tired. This allows your nervous system to adapt to using all the force that’s actually stored in the muscle but thinks it’s unsafe to use. Remember, getting MASSIVELY strong is the result of neurological adaptations, NOT morphological ones. You now have the knowledge to school the gym bros who think it’s all about getting BIG!