Ali Othman, NSCA-CPT®
Neuromuscular training centers around exercises that improve communication between nerves and muscles. Training in this method has always been an athlete favorite, but it shouldn’t be limited to this small demographic. Neuromuscular training is useful in any case where proper form equals better performance. Maintaining proper form during exercise and daily activities means safer movements, which will aid in keeping your joints healthy throughout your lifetime. Whether you call it the mind-muscle connection, hand-eye coordination, or spatial awareness, training your nerves and muscles to function as one unit will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your movements.
When applied properly, neuromuscular training, herein referred to as NT, can improve stability around a joint and decrease forces from impacts like jumping or from load-bearing movements like resistance training. NT trains specific patterns of muscle contraction and reduces the lag time between a decision and its response. This type of exercise focuses on the quality of a movement pattern rather than the number of repetitions or amount of weight. With enough repetitions of a correct movement, your mind becomes trained to recognize an altered movement pattern and correct it without making a conscious decision to do so.
The time between when you decide to make a move and when your body acts is critical. Act fast enough in the right situation, and you can prevent an injury. For instance, if a jogger steps wrong and rolls their ankle, the extent of the injury may depend on how long it took the jogger to realize what was happening and how long before they removed their weight from that leg. The longer the lag, the more severe the injury.
NT can benefit everyone from all walks of life. It’s never too early to develop a good form for exercise, standing and sitting, or even walking. Helping children develop proper movement patterns will positively affect their joint health and quality of life throughout adulthood and into old age. As soon as children begin to play, they start developing their movement patterns. Running, jumping, landing, throwing, and many other physical skills begin here. At this age, the idea of NT is simple. Give children the ability to excel at physical activity so that their desire to be active remains strong throughout adolescence. An active child forms a healthy relationship with physical activity and carries this concept into adulthood.
When applied to children, an NT program is called integrated NT and is used by many youth coaches to prevent injury. A great example can be seen while watching a girls’ basketball game. When young girls land a jump, their knees tend to fold in towards each other. That pattern of movement is unhealthy, and continuing it can lead to injury. In terms of effectiveness, this movement is inefficient, causes slower acceleration, and results in poorer performance in an activity where explosive starts are needed.
Analyzing an individual performing an incorrect movement usually reveals the cause. Oftentimes the cause of collapsing knees is something as simple as a lack of hip strength. An integrated NT program may involve adding a few hip-strengthening exercises to the current routine and training a person to perform the movement pattern correctly. Performing the movement in front of a mirror is a great way to recognize improper positioning and reinforce good form. In the mirror, you should observe the point where your knees begin to collapse inward. Your movement pattern is healthy up until the point of this breakdown. To correct the movement, shorten the range of motion and stop before your knees begin to collapse in towards each other. This healthy range of motion becomes the new movement. NT training should focus on increasing your range of motion and jump height at a rate equal to that of your increase in hip strength. Properly managing this rate of increase keeps the movement in line with the body’s natural, healthy range of motion.
NT is routinely used to correct both standing and sitting postures. The longer you sit, especially in front of a computer, the more your torso tends to curl forward. Your shoulders roll inward, and your upper back begins to slouch. There are many ways to address this unhealthy body position, but strengthening the muscles in your lower and mid-back can assist in lifting and straightening posture. There are even electronic devices that you can attach to your clothing that alert you when your posture is failing. Until you’ve trained yourself to sit and stand tall, a quick beep or buzz can give your brain the signal it needs to assess and adjust your posture.
A proper starting point for those wanting to begin an NT routine is adding a balance component to your current exercises. For example:
Physical therapists, especially those who practice manual therapy, are good partners for your NT routine. Personal trainers who specialize in corrective exercise can also guide you through this process. If you begin an NT program on your own, consult your physician beforehand and be consistent in your training. Find a place with a good mirror and watch closely as you perform movements. Recruit a partner so you have a second pair of eyes on each other’s form.
Seeing the results of an NT program can sometimes take time because the longer a movement pattern has been established, the harder it becomes to replace. However, once a correct pattern is established, it is equally hard for your body to forget.
Ali Othman is an NSCA-certified personal trainer with over fifteen years of experience in the health and wellness industry. He works in the Technical Department at IFANCA and manages IFANCA business activities in South Korea.