Why Are More Pro Athletes Moving into Central Nervous System Training? Why Should You?

The nervous system is a complicated system of different types of nerves and cells that send and receive messages between the brain and spinal cord and different parts of the body.  In a nutshell, the purpose of the nervous system is to sense what is happening inside and outside the body and to react promptly, appropriately and intelligently so that you survive. The nervous system is the fastest system in the body and controls pretty much every bodily function, the brain is the gaffer or the big boss.The nervous system can create high power, high speed, and yet skillful movements, but it will only do so as long as it considers the movement ‘safe’. We are wired for survival rather than performance. In order to get the most out of your brain and body you need to make the brain feel safe and  focus on performance rather than just survival.

So what does this safe mean to the brain?

When the brain senses, or thinks it senses, damage, restriction, loss of sensory information (vision, touch or balance)  or injury in the body, it can  dampen down power to the muscles to ‘protect the body’.

The same goes for bones, if you brain senses you have weak bones, osteopenia or osteoporosis, it will not allow you to use the muscles associated to exert full power on the bones. Due to strict dieting and training, some professional athletes have osteopenia, so this is not just something ‘old ladies’ suffer from.

We are only as powerful as our brains allow us to be.

This is why so many athletes are now employing coaches who specialise in training the brain and nervous system, my friend Grant Hayes who specilised in nervous system and vision based training, has worked with BMX world champions, olympic athletes, world class shooters, fighters, footballers and racing drives to give athletes the edge. In sport nowadays, fractions of seconds are what decides who wins and who loses. Athletes need to be extremely precise and detailed in training to gain that tiny edge in order to win and a highly performing brain is what makes all the difference. A well functioning nervous system is key for EVERYONE who wants to perform well and feel good.

What Can be Expected From Training the Brain and Nervous System?

Nervous system based training allows

  • Greater force production, skilled  manoeuvring, power,
  • Improved focus, jumping and landing
  • Faster reflexes.
  • More effective decision making processes

Many people report increased stamina and decreased overall tiredness due to a more efficient nervous system. In sport, players who train their nervous systems will see more ‘options’ more quickly. ‘See it first be first’.

Improving parts of the brain involved in vision, spatial awareness, balance and coordination allow athletes to see more of what’s coming at them and be aware of what’s around them. This key in sport, not only for winning but also for preventing injuries, concussions and being ‘ hit’. Injuries for a pro athlete or in fact anyone who loves to move can mean no training for weeks and sometimes months.  Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) have damaged many sporting careers, such as Tiger Woods, but TBIs affect the rest of the population too and the military. Using a neurological approach with correct assessment and carefully choses exercises the brain and nervous system can be rehabilitated following a TBI or concussion.

One key aspect which separates us from animals, is key to our survival is our ability to predict.  Your brain can imagine many possible scenarios so you can then make the best decision. The better your brain the faster it can predict and take action. With a better brain Information is stored, organised and applied effectively, this is relevant for productivity, motivation, positive mood driving, competitive sports, socialising or  passing exams.

The Fundamentals of Neurology 101

What happens when we stimulate the brain?

This is called the 1-2-3-4 of brain function. The brain receives an input, processes the input makes a decision and produces an output.

Input. This comes from eyes, ears, skin, joints and receptors in the body. The quality  and quantity of the input or signals matters.  Am I getting good  signals? Am I getting enough of them?

Processing and Decision.  This is the brain attaching meaning to the incoming input, comparing it to all other pasts experiences and then making a decision. This is where the speed at which you process the information comes into play. Can I make the most intelligent decision in the fastest possible time?

Output. Most commonly it is movement, but can also be physiological responses

Our ‘Biological’ GPS Systems

To allow you to move powerfully, gracefully and safely through your environment, your brain always has to know

  • What can you see
  • Which way is up
  • Where you are in space
  • Where your head is in relation to your body

Your brain relies on sensory input to process and react to your environment. In the neural hierarchy the brain organises its sensory input system with vision at the  top, vestibular/inner ear or balance being second and information from joints or proprioception being third.

This means the senses or skills we do not train often like the inner ear or the eyes are in fact the ones which the brain values, uses or relies on most. Many people, including athletes are ‘missing a trick’ or missing out on getting the edge by not training vision and the inner ear. This is one key aspect of a nervous system based approach and there are 100s if not 1000s of neurological exercises to tap into this potential. The premiership club Manchester United and others have incorporated sports vision into the players regimes with success.

Brain based training 

Another way to look at nervous system based training would be to work with specific parts of the brain. For today I will briefly introduce you to the cerebellum, ‘ The little brain behind the brain’.

The cerebellum is involved in  the ABC of movement, which is accuracy, balance and coordination. This ABC of movement is everything, arms, legs, spine eyes and tongues. Anything  from eye movements and speech  to playing sports and musical instruments. The cerebellum is like an integration center which works with the motor cortex and visual system to perform smooth, accurate, skillful  movement and with the brainstem, eyes and inner ear to provide stability and tone to the relevant parts of the body.

 

FOR EXAMPLE: Chronic Hip pain or lower limb injures. The root cause may be poor input/output to the cerebellum 

A poor firing cerebellum can result in:

  • Weaker extensors on the same side.
  • Ankle instability
  • Back “goes” regularly with no apparent casue
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Poor head stability which can impact visual and vestibular function.
  • Internally rotated shoulder, tight quads, psoas and poor hip extension.

If an athlete or in fact anyone suffers from the above symptoms and have been to physios, chiropractors, doctors and nobody seems to be able to find anything wrong with the joints and muscles so the ‘proprioceptive system’ (which is 3rd on the neural hierarchy)  then the root of the problem could be higher up in the neurological system. There could be a problem with how the cerebellum is processing input and output or with the eyes or inner ear which provide the input. The next step would be locating the problems and using neurological exercises to re-train the brain, eye and inner ear. This, in a nutshell is what functional neurology is all about and why athletes are so keen on it.

To find out more about your brain and how to improve it download my FREE ebook Here 

 

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