The type of neural adaptation which occurs depends upon the stimulus placed on it. This is what training is – the body is adapting to a new stimulus. In fact, the first results obtained from a new training stimulus are neural adaptations. Early strength gains (within the first few weeks) from resistance training are not due to increases in muscle mass. The body adapts to a new stimulus with more efficient movement or enhanced ability to move greater loads due to the improved communication between the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, if the training stimulus has been correctly applied. This method of adaptation is called the Law of Facilitation. The law of facilitation states that when an impulse passes through a given set of neurons to the exclusion of others, it will tend to do so again, and each time it transverses this path, the resistance will be smaller. The body will then adapt and be able to respond with greater ease and increasing ability.
Trainers must understand how an individual learns. Anytime an individual learns some-thing new, several mistakes are often made. This is normal and called the cognitive phase of learning. In this phase the individual must think about the action, requiring the involvement of the central nervous system. Movement is usually gross and uncoordinated and relies on visual and verbal cues. However, with continued practice, less errors or mistakes are made. This is called the associative phase of learning. There is greater consistency in replicating the movement while less visual cues and greater proprioception are required. Proprioception is an awareness of one’s position in space. Ultimately, with continued (quality) practice, an individual will perform movements “flawlessly.” This is called the autonomic phase of learning. The skill is now performed automatically. Conscious thought is not required, which is the ultimate goal in performing efficient movement. This is known as the Fitts and Posner Three-Stage Model of Motor Learning.
What does this mean? The more an action is repeated, the more efficient the brain becomes in communicating with the muscles, and the message between the brain (central nervous sys-tem) and muscles (musculoskeletal system) is enhanced. Personal trainers should view this as the process of learning technique. If a person learns poor technique and repeats it continually, the client will only be good at poor technique. That’s why teaching proper form from the be-ginning is the key. Trainers must not only teach good form, but the importance of good form. Proper form (technique) leads to the development of proper motor skills and proper motor skills lead to mechanical efficiency (see next section).
The more appropriately the nervous system is challenged, the better the overall adaptation. In other words, exercises which challenge overall balance and coordination are going to allow for better neuromuscular adaptation and improved bodily control. All other movements should see improvement. Movement starts with the brain. If a trainer is able to have their client “realize” and “become conscious” of what is happening, this will lead to more effective and efficient exercise execution and result in an increase in performance. This is no easy task. This is your challenge.
Lastly, when talking about neuromuscular development, we must mention power. Remember, power is the rate that work is performed and power has a HUGE neuromuscular component. What is going to determine how fast and powerful someone is able to move? A major factor is how quickly their brain can tell their muscles to fire.
To learn more, see the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification.