Maximal Discharge Rate of Motor Units – Garage Strength

Maximal Discharge Rate of Motor Units

One of the hardest aspects of being an elite sports performance coach lies in the grounds of understanding modern data and science and applying it to the current state of your training system. Over the past decade, I have become obsessed with cutting edge research, I have spent countless hours reading and learning BUT I have also spent hours confused as to how to actually implement this information into a strength-based program.

One of the few TECHNICAL books that I have spent years studying AND applying was a book from Dr. Roger Enoka. Sure, he lays everything out in very technical terms but as you start to grasp the verbiage and vocabulary behind the terms, you can start to see where human movement stems from and how physiology operates when under loads and external stress. 

This brings us to the idea of neural activation and the force produced by a muscle. Buzzwords like neural drive, motor unit recruitment, neural fatigue, etc...are used all the time throughout strength and conditioning but RARELY are they actually used in a proper setting with a proper application. 

While studying these confusing principles, I was about 300 experiments into developing my training system and learning from my athletes. I started to have this clear AHA moment (again, not the band).

Everything started to make sense as I saw MASSIVE gains from a number of my athletes. Our frequency in training had increased and our frequency on complex movements began to increase as well. As the complex movements started to be executed consistently and Technical Literacy dramatically improved, the sports performance behind my athletes started to develop. Finally, I had these crazy experiments on-site that were super successful AND I started to have a greater understanding behind the physiological perspective. As my understanding of physiology improved, my ability to comprehend stress adaptations improved! 

Great. So what the FU$K did I learn and apply?


1. Neural drive sparks the movement of muscle, the KEY behind the neural drive is the RATE at which neurons discharge. High initial motor unit discharge rates occur at the beginning of a VERY FAST contraction and play a massive role in achieving a high rate of force development. 


Application: Force development for movements like vertical jump, coming off the blocks in swimming and sprinting and coming off the line in football and finishing a throw in track and field all come back to being a learned aspect of training. As coaches, we need to constantly teach the athlete how to recruit the proper motor units both GRADUALLY and RAPIDLY! It is important to study the sport and understand how rate coding occurs in that specific sport and then train that aspect of rate coding OVER AND OVER AND OVER in the weight room. 

Shameless plug...I basically show this in my book, Olympic Weightlifting and Sports Performance.


2. Rapid discharge of motor neurons can increase gradually during slow ramp contractions BUT, they can also discharge FASTER during instantaneous rapid contractions. 


Application: If a sport is more similar to Olympic weightlifting or even throwing where motor neurons are discharged in a very short period of time, then the athlete must be trained predominantly by learning how to RAPIDLY create contractions for discharge A simple idea...pull on a bar with a dynamic isometric force that is aggressive, just prior to lifting the bar off the floor. It is also important for the athlete to recognize the mental state and mindset achieved during instantaneous rapid contractions because that is likely the mindset they need during specific competition settings. 


3. Thoroughly relaxed states during training can lead to a greater discharge rate of motor units. 


Application: This is a tough one BUT can still be trained. Envision a world-class wrestler. They might be pummeling or prowling their opponent on the mat in a very RELAXED state and then all of a sudden, BOOM, they hit a rapid double leg and blow their opponent up! This is a learned aspect of greater discharge rates of motor units. The same goes for a shot putter or football player. If the athletes are able to create slack and fully relax their muscles moments before demonstrating incredible force, they will be capable of recruiting more effectively. What’s this mean? Learn mental tricks like meditation, yoga and create a mantra to relax before FULL IGNITION is achieved.


4. Being familiar with the consistent complex and ballistic movements can lead to more organized recruitment and faster rates of force development. 


Application: Over long periods of time, athletes are able to consistently learn and enhance their rate coding organization and ultimately lead to faster rates of force development. This can occur through monitored training protocols that involve both INSTANTANEOUS rapid contractions AND gradual ramping of rapid contractions. 

These ideas are complex BUT when you monitor athlete's feedback over long periods of time, you can learn a few different things. You can see how the individual responds to gradual ramping of rapid contractions AND you can learn how they respond to instantaneous rapid contractions. As a coach, you can then study what their sport uses predominantly during competition and develop programming around the single goal of optimizing the maximal discharge rate of motor units. 

For more information around how we apply these theories regarding our elite athletes, head over to !
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