Innervate (verb) – ˈɪnəveɪt,ɪˈnəːveɪt/
1. supply (an organ or other body part) with nerves.
2. ability to feel, sense and control the working muscle.
3. the fastest way to achieve maximum hypertrophy.
I remember growing up and being so excited because I could do the ‘pec dance’. It wasn’t until I could make my rear delts, my lower lats and my hamstrings do the same that I truly became a bodybuilder.
This is what happens when you master innervation.
Bend your elbow and flex your bicep. Squeeze it hard. Use every ounce of energy you have conscious control over and make that muscle cramp. Pretty easy?
Now, try to create that cramping pump in your rear delts, your lower lats, your upper chest or any other muscle group that is a particularly underdeveloped region of your physique by taking it through it’s basic range of motion.
Schwarzenegger was right when he spoke of the importance of the mind-muscle connection and truly focusing on getting the working muscle to contract while training – and not simply going through the motions.
“Your number one goal as a bodybuilder should be to learn how to innervate or feel and stimulate your muscles work as you train them, and to maintain innervation throughout a set” ~ Greg Zulak
Some basic Neuroscience to get started…
Every time you perform a movement, your primary motor cortex in the brain is sending an electrical nervous impulse – or signal – through your spinal cord to nerves in your muscle fibres telling them to fire and contract. Continue doing this on a repeated basis and you accumulate fatigue, muscle tissue breakdown, stimulate protein synthesis and assuming your nutrition and recovery is on point, grow some muscle.
Simple concept really.
Think of it as creating a pathway- every time you contract and innervate a muscle, you are creating a deeper, stronger link.
The neural synapse responsible for sending this nervous impulse to the muscle fibre will occur more efficiently; faster and with more intensity.
In the same way you would learn a skill based on repetition – such as learning a musical instrument – your brain is rewiring itself to learn to contract muscle tissue more forcefully.
Here’s where it begins to get interesting. The intensity as to which your muscle will contract is directly impacted by the strength of this nervous impulse from the brain. Improve your neural function, or what has become known as neural drive, and your muscles will contract with maximal velocity and intensity – innervating as many fibres as possible – ideally leading to growth.
Typically, a body part that is strong, dominant or overpowering on an individual will naturally have a strong neural network and the brain is extremely efficient at firing to contract the necessary fibres to maximal velocity.
These body parts and muscle fibres have a high-speed motorway linking the brain to the muscles.
But what happens if that nervous impulse doesn’t get to the target muscle group as efficiently? The pathway required here is a road less travelled. Instead of a high-speed motorway you’re driving down a back-country gravel road, or off-road all together. The neural synapses are weak, crude and slow. When you go to contract this muscle, the brain isn’t efficient at sending the nervous impulse to innervate the required fibres, and they’re left under stimulated.
This is true for entire regions of weak or stubborn body parts – say your back, delts, calves or hamstrings. But it is also specific to regions within a muscle – such as the lower lats, the upper chest and the outer quad sweep.
Consider this – you perform a movement – say a Lat Pulldown – and the nervous impulse is fired, but it only reaches the superficial, outer upper portions of your Latissimus Dorsi, leaving the medial, inner and lower fibres largely unstimulated.
Movement has occurred – there’s a decent chance you’re strong as well – but have you completely innervated the target region?
Continue to repeat this motion or similar motions and all you are going to do is create a stronger neuromuscular link – or upgrade the motorway – to those upper outer fibers, while continuing to under stimulate the lower medial fibres, allowing the overgrowth of the countryside to take over this road.
Do this over a long period of time and accrue some serious muscle tissue, and you’ll start to build up inefficiencies and muscular imbalances – and the issue is compounded.
How to create Innervation
So what’s the solution?
We need to enhance neuromuscular efficiency of the body. If you can’t create a cramping contraction in a given muscle group or region of a muscle group without load, then you need to take the time out to achieve this.
It doesn’t matter what spectrum of the training continuum you’re at – maybe you’re benching 405 for reps – evidently pretty advanced in your training – If all you’re getting is a pump through your triceps and delts, or you have a flat upper chest with more clavicle and sternum showing than a starved Ethiopian, you need to scale it back completely and start from the ground up.
First, you need to find a way to stimulate and innervate the region you’re after. Typically, it will require a variety of movements from a range of angles. It will more than likely require some movements that are unorthodox and new to you. It will require a lighter load and much slower tempo.
Chances are, the first few times you try these movements you’ll feel uncoordinated, awkward, weak and frustrated.
But keep in mind we’re not going for maximal strength and we’re not chasing maximal hypertrophy in this phase. All we are after is enhancing the neuromuscular link and creating neuromuscular efficiency.
In Part 2, I’ll be covering my techniques for improving neuromuscular efficiency and innervation, as well as my step-by-step process for periodising innervation training for maximal hypertrophy and creating a balanced, aesthetic physique.
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