Neuromuscular Coordination, also known as “motor control” or “muscle memory” is the ability of the nervous system to efficiently recruit a muscle or a group of muscles in order to perform a specific task unconsciously. Through a series of interactions between neurological messages, a complex system is formed, connecting different aspects of muscle actions (static, dynamic, reactive), muscle contractions, coordination, joint stability, body alignment and balance.
Neuromuscular coordination has two components: Intra-muscular Coordination and Inter-Muscular Coordination. Both of them are important to incorporate in one’s training program in order for one to be efficient with his movement and to minimize the risk of injury.
This article will tackle both components mentioned above and each will be explained in a simplified manner, including examples to provide a better understanding of the topic.
Before delving into the elements of intra-muscular coordination, it is important to have an understanding of what it means. ‘Intra-muscular coordination’is the activation of an individual neuro-muscular unit within a muscle fiber. This has three main elements:
1- Rate coding: it is the firing rate of neuro-muscular control units which in return increases the strength of muscular contraction. Resistance training is known to be the ideal method to enhance your code rating.
2- Recruitment of neuromuscular motor units: it allows alternation between muscle groups (when a group of muscles are exhausted, others compensate). It could be increased by maximum load training or plyometric exercises.
3- Motor units synchronization: it improves the ability of recruiting muscle fibers at the exact time required leading to greater force generation and more efficient movement.
The other part of the neuromuscular coordination is called ‘inter-muscular coordination’ which is the interactions between the agonist, antagonist, and stabilizer muscle groups during specific tasks and activities.
Let’s move away from medical terminology to something more practical and easy to understand. We’ll get down to simple and practical tips which can be implemented in everyday training.
“Synchronized Movement” is the main point to emphasize on through this topic and is in fact the most overlooked in training. There are numerous exercises and ways to improve it, but controlled rolling and crawling are considerably the most important as you can target the posterior and anterior chain in easy drills to improve your neural pathways, which will eventually maximize your movement quality.
Why rolling and crawling?
Well, they are the first movements an infant would learn and that is because his brain started to create neural pathways to connect muscle contractions together and generate “movement” (the messaging system we talked about earlier). Utilizing those neural pathways drive will maximize the body’s torque exertion which eventually will lead to a better performance when it comes to functional movement. As we grow up and move less like humans and more like robots, our brain tends to “forget” how to activate those pathways efficiently.
A final piece of advice: Going back to basics builds a strong foundation.
Train smart, not hard.