Neuromuscular Exercise: How To Train Like An Athlete


When choosing exercises for neuromuscular training you want to use the exercises that have the greatest potential for stimulating a large amount of muscle tissue over a large range of motion at a relatively high intensity.

The best types of exercises to choose are those that allow you to activate a large amount of muscle tissue without encountering a large amount of fatigue or being limited by the nervous system in another way.

For this reason, a few types of exercises stand above the rest as being beneficial for our purposes on the TestShock program. Sprinting, explosive muscle ups and variations of the Olympic lifts are some of the best types of exercise for neuromular training.

Neuromuscular Exercise: how to train like an athlete

China’s Gold Medalist Weightlifter Lu Xiaojun Executing Olympic Snatches

Taking each one of these individually, let’s look at Olympic lifting first.  The most important potential lifts to use from this category are the power versions of the classic lifts.  The power snatch, power clean, hang power snatch and hang power clean are the most important variations to use.

If you have access to bumper plates these exercise can be made even more valuable as you will be able to drop the weight from the top of the lift.  This is beneficial as it allows you to stimulate a large portion of muscle fiber with the strong contraction required to move the weight explosively.

Unlike the concentric portion of the lift your muscles do not incur a large amount of structural damage from these concentric contractions.  Not only will this mean these movements will interfere minimally with your regular strength training exercises, but you will be able to perform more repetitions without being limited by mechanical damage to the muscle.

Neuromuscular Exercise: how to train like an Athlete

Step-by-step walkthrough on Olympic snatches

The above walk through is a good example of the many variations on these lifts that come out of the classic lifts.  As you can see in the diagram, four distinct exercises are described: the squat snatch, power snatch, hang squat snatch and hang power snatch.  Of these four, the power snatch and hang power snatch, which do not require a catch in the full squat position, are the easiest to use for our purposes.  They do not require the long eccentric phase encountered while catching the weight in the full squat position.

Similar to Olympic lifting variations, explosive calisthenics allow you to activate a large amount of muscle tissue at high levels of intensity.  There are many ways to perform calisthenics so that you can minimize the eccentric component if needed.  An example is the muscle up where you can explode through the top of the movement and then do a relatively quick, but still controlled, drop to the bottom of the movement.

Unlike traditional upper body movements such as the bench press or dumbell row, the muscle up can be done much more explosively.  Where you have to perform a fairly controlled eccentric, or lowering portion of the rep, on bench presses or rows, the muscle up allows you to skip over a large part of this movement.  Unlike hypertrophy training where you might want to emphasize the eccentric, training for power is made more effective by minimizing the eccentric.

There are many other exercises you can perform in this manner if your fitness is very advanced.  On youtube you can see videos of street calisthenics guys performing high intensity sets of flips, kip ups and muscle ups they combine into a neuromuscularly challenging routine.

While these feats are beyond what the average guy is going to be able to perform, there is still room to work other less advanced explosive calisthenics exercises into your routine.  One of the simplest types of explosive exercises to incorporate is the box jump.  Box jumps provide many of the same benefits as the exercise previously mentioned while being easily scaled down for trainees with a relatively normal fitness level.

The final type of exercise that lends itself well to neuromuscular training is sprinting.  For many of the previously mentioned reasons sprinting excels as a neuromuscular training exercise.  Sprinting has a relatively small eccentric component, interferes minimally with your upper body strength training when performed at reasonable volumes, and maximally recruits many of the body’s highest threshold motor units.

Sprinting is one of the highest power activities the body is capable of performing.  If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense.  The human body with strong powerful legs and hips is nearly perfectly designed for maximum speed locomotion via the sprinting movement.

Neuromuscular exercise: how to train like an athlete

Olympic Sprinter Usain Bolt, Doing What He Does Best

Sprints allow you to maximally tax all three of your body’s metabolic systems the ATP-CP, Glycolytic and Oxidative systems.  When you are moving at maximal speeds, many of the more powerful upper body muscles are recruited.  Your nervous system is worked to its absolute max to continue maximally recruiting nearly every muscle in your body repeatedly.

As you can see, all three of these exercises have quite a few similarities.  They all allow you to recruit a majority of the body’s major muscle, they allow you to get a large volume of work without being limited by fatigue, and they limit the amount of structural damage incurred to the muscles.

While these types of exercise can be used for neuromuscular training, they do not have to be.  For example, by performing a muscle up with a very controlled lowering phase, the movement lends itself to building muscle.  Similarly, a controlled negative on Olympic variations like the push jerk turns a power exercise into a fantastic muscle builder.

The important thing to keep in mind is that just because these types of exercise are some of the best for neuromuscular training does not mean that is all they can be used for.  Similarly, these are not the only types of exercises that can be used for neuromuscular training.

Many traditional gym exercise, performed with an explosive concentric and a quick controlled eccentric become powerful neuromuscular training exercise.  In fact, this is the basic way that isolation lifts can be added to a program and is the foundation of my gym training protocol THOR

The THOR manual explains not only how to perform regular gym exercises in a manner that maximally taxes the neuromuscular system, it explains the best way to perform more complex exercises such as muscle ups and sprints.  Finally, the manual provides powerful motivation in the way of specific goals for all of the most important neuromuscular lifts.

If you want to learn more about the type of training I’m usually performing I would check out some of my earlier articles on neuromuscular training.  You can also check out some of Ali K’s articles over at AnabolicMen where he talks about how he would set up an article to boost testosterone.  I also have a primer I wrote on how to set up a calisthenics routine designed to enhance testosterone.

Posted in ,

Christopher Walker

Leave a Comment