T Nation

Neuromuscular Strength

I’ve been at a sticking point in my weightlifting for a while now and have spent the last few months just building mass and not worrying about how much I am putting up. Unfortunately, I have gained more fat than I would have liked, and I will probably be cutting some of that soon. I know you have to have a calorie surplus to build muscle, but do you have to have a calorie surplus to build up your neuromuscular strength, too? I’d sure love to build my neuro strength while I cut weight.

Any experts out there who might have an answer to my dilemma? Or maybe someone who has first hand experience? Thanks for any information you might have.


You don’t have to have a caloric surplus to become more neurologically efficient (and thus stronger), but it’s generally hard to do if you’re in much of a hypocaloric state. If you’re trying to drop fat, I think you can do it while still increasing strength levels, because I’ve done it before, but you have to

  1. be only slightly hypocaloric or eat right at maintenance and rely on NEPA to burn extra calories

2)not be too intense with your workouts; 5s and triples are as heavy as I would go.

These things mean that:

  1. strength gains will come a little slower, since your intensity and calorie intake are both down

  2. fat loss will be fairly slow, since you’re still eating to support moderately intense training.

Still though, I think this is a good approach if you don’t have a lot of fat to lose, like 10-12 lbs. or less.

basically pick 2-3 lifts and train them like a skill, if you want to Thai kick properly then thai kick a LOT… essentially bulgarian style

so if you wanto increase your squat… all squats all around 90%, i wouldnt go higher than a triple… so squat 10-15singles in one workout and call it quits

same for whatever else you choose.

  • no assistance work

  • lower calories

  • short workouts im talking below 45 minutes… 30min if you can

THAT is how you get neurologically efficient. after 4-6weeks switch exercises

so if you’re doing Front squats… do front squats with chains/bands or deadstop front squats

or do a completely different exercise but something that will still increase your front squat (this is easy for lower body because they all have some crossover but more difficult with upperbody exercise selection)

oh and keep in mind that it takes about 6wks imo for any neurological adaptations to become permanent.

this is just what ive noticed.

What affects neurological? Woudlnt it be just mostly potassium and sodium?

Thanks so much rmccart and xen nova! You guys helped out a lot.

[quote]blazindave wrote:
What affects neurological? Woudlnt it be just mostly potassium and sodium?[/quote]

Lifting heavy :slight_smile:

[quote]NeoSpartan wrote:
blazindave wrote:
What affects neurological? Woudlnt it be just mostly potassium and sodium?

Lifting heavy :)[/quote]

Heh, i meant how does it recover\rebuild?

Well a lot of it has to do with the fact that you’re still breaking down muscle and have to recover from that but you’re just not breaking down as much.

one important part is not overloading yourself tryin to learn too many things at once. Like westside guys only really “learn” the groove for bench, squat, and dl… the other assistance lifts they rotate a lot or use higher rep ranges where its learned but not ingrained the way the singles are… its more muscular development than neurological (though the line between the two is so blurred its retarded to argue)

most important is SLEEP, as far as lifting heavy thats as anabolic as you can get. if you can lift and immediately take a nap you’re better off.



Vitamin C (debatable)



citrulline malate

D & L Phenylalanine



^very few of that shit do you need to actually supplement with you actually eat a balanced diet have a lot of fruit, veggies, and meat.

HOW it rebuilds is that your motor units within your muscles are basically going to learn the most effective combination of how to fire and what order to fire in to get up the weight that you’re throwing around, not sure if the preplin chart or just research of olympic lifters but they found that your motor units fire differently with higher threshold loads vs light loads

which is why doing 5 reps with power clean is FAR different than 1-3reps.

you need to be in that 90% range to really improve how your body handles your maximum load.

Really truly think of the lift you want to improve as a skill. and you have to ‘learn’ it.

Because exactly what you’re doing is TEACHING your nervous system to lift whatever it is efficiently.

While this is useful if you just want to improve a certain lift, most athletes need to be exposed to a LOT of different stimulus to have “functional” strength. Which is why people assume a big bench press doesn’t transfer. Because we learn to neurologically perform a big bench, with a barbell, of certain diameter, etc. in a certain strict groove

meanwhile something like ring pushups or rope climbs are going to be different almost everytime you do it…

now im not saying to not have a groove or learn a lift properly… there’s a place for that (a huge one its the best way to improve your absolute strength) but you also as an athlete need to teach yourself to recruit as many motor units as possible no matter the uniqueness of the situation

so exposing yourself

Xen Nova’s advice is generally good, but I would advise against training at 90% when calories are lower. There’s just no need. For most people (non-advanced trainees) 80% is just as effective at building strength. Below 80% is probably too light, but triples at 80-85% would be pretty optimal, I think.

^yea good point, i rarely train in a w/o a caloric surplus… im lucky to have the kinda genes where i just dont gain much fat.

you can definitely take loads that aren’t singles (around 3rm) and throw those up and still gain efficiency but im pretty sure thats where it stops.

just going through my training emails (yes i have one email account dedicated to just training newsletters) and found this… might be useful in your pursuit

Compound Exercise Overload - One of THE Most Stunningly
Powerful Single Workouts You Will EVER DO
By Nick Nilsson
With this extraordinary training technique, you will, in one
single workout, achieve strength gains in a single exercise
that would normally take weeks or even MONTHS
with “normal” training. NO EXAGGERATION.

Right now, I’m going to unveil to you one of THE single most powerful training techniques that I’ve EVER discovered for making rapid gains in strength in a single exercise. It’s elegant in its simplicity, brutal in its execution but quite literally ASTONISHING in its effectiveness.
I’ll tell you right now, this will blow the doors off any preconceived notions you might have about training volume and how the body can respond and adapt to it.
Now, the very first time I came up with this technique, I used it to do dumbell shoulder presses. It was a Friday afternoon workout, and I did a set of presses with a pair of 60 lb dumbells. I was able to do 8 reps with them.
But on Monday, only a few days later, I pressed 80 LB DUMBELLS for 11 REPS - same exercise, and using strict form. That was a 25% increase in strength in only a matter of 4 days!
So what happened in that one single workout that gave me such a HUGE increase in strength in only a matter of days?
I’m going to tell you…
I call it “Compound Exercise Overload.” And let me tell you, if you’ve hit a plateau in ANY exercise, this technique will shatter it like a brick through a window!

[Authors note: this explanation of the technique will tell you how it is
typically done. In the “Muscle Explosion” program, you will be
doing it with a few modifications to make it even MORE
effective when done in the overall context of the program!]

Basically, you’re going to take a single compound exercise (a.k.a. multi-joint exercise like bench press, squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, shoulder presses, close grip presses, etc.) and do ONLY that single exercise for 45 MINUTES straight.
And that’s not even the brutal part…
The brutal part is…you are only allowed 20 seconds of rest between sets (30 seconds when using squats or deadlifts)!
And, here’s the other brutal part…you’re going to end up doing between 40 to 60 sets with NEAR-MAXIMAL WEIGHTS (relatively speaking - I’ll explain below) of that single exercise for the ENTIRE WORKOUT.
This is one of the toughest workouts you can do (when you do it right) but you WILL be rewarded with results.
Compound Exercise Overload works to increase strength in several ways:
It focuses your nervous system on a single specific exercise,
i.e. “greasing the groove” at a specific rep range. No competing
training stimulii here, just very specific focus - it’s one of
the reasons Olympic lifters only use a few lifts in their
training. It’s also one of the reasons they can lift such
extraordinary amounts of weight!

It allows you to have a LOT of practice lifting heavy weight -
this helps you to perfect your form and become more efficient
with your lifting technique.

The high volume of training (those 40 to 60 sets you’re going
to do) creates an emergency situation in your body which forces
rapid adaptation by your body (both in muscle and connective

The high volume also forces a tremendous amount of blood into
the target muscle group, which helps drive nutrients into
those target muscles, which helps them recover and Grow!
Combine these four factors and you’ve got one POWERFUL workout.

This technique is best done at a time when your gym is not very crowded. You’re basically going to be hogging a single exercise area for the entire 45-minute workout.
First, select a compound exercise to work with. We’ll use the bench press as an example here. In actuality, you can use this technique with almost any exercise, whether it be compound or isolation (single joint). I refer to this as Compound Exercise Overload because it’s most effective when done using a compound exercise like presses, rows, deadlifts, squats, etc. Isolation exercises can be used, but the effects won’t be quite the same.
So get your exercise set up. If you’re doing bench press, I HIGHLY recommend doing it in the power rack with the rails set up. That will allow you to use maximum weights without having to worry about being crushed or having to use a spotter the whole time. If you don’t have a rack to use, the other option is to do dumbell presses. With dumbell presses, if you can’t complete a rep, you can always just set the dumbells down.
Do a warm-up before getting started - whatever you prefer to do for a warm-up is fine. I like to do some general movements (like push-ups or a few pull-ups or a couple of minutes of walking on the treadmill) then a few light sets of the specific exercise I’m going to be working - nothing that will tax the body for what’s to come.
With this technique, I encourage you to use a stopwatch, regular watch or other form of timer. If your gym has a clock with an easily readable “second” hand, that will be fine, too. Otherwise, you’re going to have to count your 20 seconds of rest in your head, which is not as accurate (plus that 20 seconds will tend to turn into a LOT longer as you go through the workout and it’s critical to keep it constant).
You’re going to start with a weight you could normally do for about 6 reps or so. Start your timer or note the time on the clock because you’re going to be doing this exercise for 45 minutes straight!
Lay down and perform ONLY 3 REPS with that weight, even though you CAN do six. DO NOT go anywhere near failure on this first set.
Now re-rack the weight and rest 20 seconds. Lay back down and do 3 more reps. Rest 20 seconds. You are going to repeat these 3 rep sets with those 20 seconds of rest until you are unable to get 3 reps with that weight anymore. This could take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the exercise and the amount of weight you’re using.
The set where you only get 2 reps, stop and remove 5 lbs each side of the bar (If you started with 225, you’ll now have 215). Start again doing 3 reps sets and continue with 20 seconds rest period. Drop the weight by 10 lbs whenever you can’t complete 3 reps during a set.
Be sure to stick with 3 reps on each set - no more, no less. Your body hits a rep-range groove and will acclimate to it very quickly. It keeps your nervous system efficient.
** IMPORTANT: If you’re using this technique with squats or deadlifts, take
30 SECONDS rest between sets and drop the weight 20 POUNDS
on each drop. Trust me on this - you’ll need it.
On the final set (after 45 minutes are up) rest for a TWO FULL MINUTES (aren’t I generous :slight_smile: then lay back down crank out as many reps as you can with the same weight you just ended with. You’ll find that can probably get 6 to 8 reps on that set, just because of the increased rest period.
This training uses neuromuscular specificity to allow you to teach your body the absolute most efficient way to perform a single exercise. Your body will learn to fire the exact sequence of muscle fibers it needs to do the exercise most efficiently, making fast strength gains possible.
And, don’t use different variations of the same exercise (e.g. don’t start with incline bench then go to flat bench). It’s important to use the EXACT SAME exercise the whole 45 minutes for maximum adaptive response.
Do your best with the 20 second rest, too. This rest period will naturally increase during the times when you’re making weight changes but even then, try to keep it as close as possible. Just do your best to stick with the 20 seconds.
When doing this technique with a barbell exercise, I like to load the bar with small plates as I load it for my starting weight. For example, if you’re starting with 225 lbs on the bench press, don’t just throw two 45 lb plates on either side. You’ll be pulling a pair of those 45’s off pretty quick! Instead, put one 45 lb plate on either side, then a 25 lb plate, then a 10 lb plate then two 5 lb plates. It’s the same weight but when you can no longer hit 225 lbs for 3 reps, all you need to do is pull a small 5 lb plate off either side. This is much easier than pulling 45’s off either side then loading 35’s and a 5 back on.
Be sure to keep track of your starting weight and ending weight so you know what your numbers are and can improve on them the next time you do this technique. And be ABSOLUTELY SURE you take a full 2 days off training after you get done with this one. To maximize the adaptive response, those 2 days off are CRITICAL!
If you’re going to try this technique with a training partner, it helps if they’re the same strength level as you are (especially if you’re doing barbell work). If you’re doing dumbells, it’s not as critical as you can just grab different sets of dumbells.
With a partner, you’re basically going to be going back and forth with no real break. Twenty seconds is not a lot of time. If you’re working with a barbell exercise and you need to switch weights, the moment you finish your set, you need to both start switching weights before your partner starts. When he/she finishes, you need to jump back and switch again.
It can be done (I’ve done it a few times training with another person) but it does make it harder to execute, depending on the exercise.

If you’re looking for a FAST way to get past a plateau and build your strength, I don’t think there’s anything better. It won’t be easy but the results are well worth it!

I hope you enjoy trying out this technique the next time you’re at the gym! Believe me, you will be astonished at how good your results will be and how quickly you get them.
And if, after trying it, you think that this technique is good…imagine what will happen when you combine it with a training program DESIGNED to take full advantage of it and MAXIMIZE the effects…
You can read more about the full “Muscle Explosion” program here