Neuromuscular control: why is it important for runners, and 3 easy ways to improve it

Efficient movement is one that allows you to activate your muscles as fast as possible. Why? Because running demands some pretty quick contact times (between .08 – .3 seconds every stride). If you can generate a forceful contraction rapidly during the stance phase, you’ll tap into some amazing efficiency. And tapping into those forceful contractions requires good “neuromuscular control”. This term gets throw around a LOT with abandon. A quick explanation here: Strength is nothing unless your body can control it. Our nervous system needs to “learn” to control our newfound strength and power. Said simply: better neuromuscular control, better economy.

 

To get more of your nervous system in the game, we need to recruit more muscle fibers to contract. And there are three ways that we can increase muscle fiber recruitment.

 

  1. Sprint all the time. If you are in a drag race, you aren’t going to pull up in a Prius. You are going to borrow your neighbor’s Porsche. Who cares about economy, you want to win the checkered flag! Running as fast as you can isn’t really that efficient. It costs way more energy per distance than running slow. This increased energy cost comes from recruiting a LOT of muscle fibers at once. Sprinting is actually one of the best running- specific forms of strength training out there. Its not just for track-stars. I have my 800 meter, 5K, 10K, 13.1, 26.2 and even ultra runners doing sprints at various cycles during the year. But its hard, and that why we don’t do it every day!
  2. Run Hills. No secret here. Running up hill requires we raise our body up against gravity more than running on flats. And the extra force per step it takes to conquer that hill comes from….you guessed it…..more muscles fibers being recruited each and every step. Hills are tried and true for years to improve running-specific strength. But again, these place a big training load on our body, and we can’t do them every day.
  3. Lift weights. The cool thing about weights is that we can get a huge increase in the number of muscle fibers activated (there’s that catchy term again…..more neuromuscular recruitment!) without a big cardiovascular and connective tissue training stress. Lifting quite heavy and quite powerfully has been directly coorelated to running economy. And here again, you can’t do these daily either.

 

So the secret to improving your ability to activate more muscle fibers comes from, well, activating more muscle fibers. Take a look at your training plan and see how you can include 1 or 2 of these techniques into your own strategy each week. A little goes a long way here. Have fun, and watch as you achieve those running milestones.

 

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