How Training Affects the Central Nervous System

July 7, 2017

central nervous system

Who’s ready to make their high school biology teacher proud? Think back to that lesson on basic human anatomy, and try to recall the importance of the central nervous system. How does it affect your muscles?

Don’t worry, we aren’t grading this. The central nervous system is comprised of your brain, spinal cord and a nerve network that connects both to your muscles. When you contract your muscles, a message travels from your brain, down your spinal cord and out through the nerves to the individual muscle. The muscle receives your message and generates tension. Therefore, any exercise, specifically intense training like bodybuilding, requires involvement from the nervous system. Just as your muscles tire from overuse, so too does your brain, your spinal cord and the local nerves.

Say you do a killer leg workout today. Then, you go into the gym the next day for chest day and notice you can’t hit your normal bench weight. This isn’t a result of muscular fatigue, it’s neural fatigue. Your leg muscles required so much energy to perform at such a high intensity, it put a high strain on your entire system. And when your nervous system is fatigued, all your major muscle groups are affected. You feel run down, your functionality is limited and your strength is compromised. This degree of fatigue can last up to 48 hours, which is why at least two days of rest are recommended between workouts involving the same muscle groups.

Unlike muscular fatigue, which allows you to train another body part without negatively affecting your overall performance, central nervous system fatigue requires complete rest to bounce back. Any intense exercise you do within the 48-hour window can potentially create more drain on your system and set you back further.

The only ways to recover completely are to sleep and give your body time to rest. If you find yourself constantly exhausting your central nervous system, it may be time to switch up your workout schedule. Instead of a traditional split, some athletes will group high-intensity and low-intensity activities together. For example, your week might look like this:

Day 1:
AM – Chest
PM – Hamstrings

Day 2:
Active recovery/Calves, abs, cardio

Day 3:
AM – Back
PM – Quads

Day 4:
Active recovery/Calves, abs, cardio

Day 5:
AM – Shoulders
PM – Arms

Day 6:
Active recovery/Calves, abs, cardio

If you’re panicking at the idea of more days off, don’t. Remember that muscle growth happens when you rest, not when you’re in the gym. Giving your body, including your central nervous system, adequate time to recover in between workouts is the key to the results you want.


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