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Understanding the Untrained Nervous System

brian's posts May 01, 2023

The terms "trained" and "untrained" provide a useful way to describe the physical states of various systems, and can be applied in a breadth of contexts when describing the past experiences or training work that a system has been exposed to. 

The central nervous system (CNS) is a system in which afferent information is provided to the CNS by various types of receptors throughout the body. Such receptors sense things like temperature, length of muscles and connective tissue, joint position, velocity, space, force, and others, providing crucial information about the external physical environment and or the person’s internal physiological environment. The CNS uses a combination of afferent, or incoming, information from sensory receptors, past experiences and learned connections, and other factors that influence how incoming information is processed to generate and self-organize efferent commands. These motor commands are transmitted to muscles, specifically motor units and corresponding muscle fiber types, allowing the person to interact with his or her environment in a “coordinated” way. 

This efferent or outgoing flow of information is constrained or limited by what is biologically and neurologically available to it, thus affecting coordination. The CNS will organize and coordinate based on this bioavailability. However, the CNS’s version of the coordinated task may be vastly different than what I asked for as a practitioner. If I ask for an apple, I don’t want a zucchini. 

Take for instance a recent case I had. He was unable to “appropriately” execute the demands of our assessment, ie, it looked uncoordinated. Specifically, when observing his shoulder joint articulation, I could see there were a number of issues. The few that stood out were the extraordinary effort it seemed to take, the amount of compensation from other parts of the body, and the uncontrollable shaking and twitching. His nervous system organized and did what we asked to the best of its ability based on what it had available. See the video below.

As we dove further into his assessment, I discovered this individual’s nervous system was “untrained”. Having little control and coordination over the tasks and movements we were trying to achieve. Everything was “chunky”, “ratchety”, and nothing was elegant per se. Simple tasks were exceptionally difficult to execute and control. Take the video below for example, I asked him to externally rotate his right hip at a nice and easy effort. Instead, we got quite a bit of turbulence right out of the gate. In other words, I asked for an apple and his nervous system gave me a zucchini. He lacks the biology to do what we wanted which was a second set of six repetitions of external rotation at a low intensity and effort, so what we got was jerky radical twitches, revealing he uses fast-twitch muscle fibers to do these tasks. Keep in mind, “he” my client, is not twitching like this on purpose, it is his nervous system displaying what it thinks it is that he and I are asking and trying its hardest to do so.  

In order for adaptation to occur and take the CNS from an untrained state towards a trained state, the two elements of information flow must coevolve and work together. In the case of my client, training is the mechanism by which coevolution occurs between afferent and efferent information flow, thus allowing him to learn and control his joints in space. Specific training work over time is the only way to create such changes in his physical state.

A training system that is conjugate in nature will affect multiple physical capacities at the same time, thus the conjugate system of training can be considered a form of coevolution, as it involves interdependent elements where changes to one can lead to changes in another, resulting in reciprocal adaptations over time. Thus, training in a conjugate manner only makes sense if we are to affect things like motor control and coordination, teach the CNS about what “appropriate” joint space is without compensation, and improve the slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Training is the self-deterministic or intentional means to affect the CNS and other elements or physical capacities. In turn, the CNS will organize and use the newly acquired biology and neurology, resulting in reciprocal evolutionary changes in each other. For example, slow-twitch muscle fibers and small motor units can influence each other’s adaptations over time. 

What an untrained nervous system boils down to is the inability to organize appropriately due to a lack of training experience and lacking fundamental components or physical capacities like joint space, kinesthetic awareness, and muscular endurance.

The nervous system is a complex system that requires training and adaptation of specific physical capacities in order to move from one state to another. An untrained nervous system lacks control and coordination over tasks and movements, leading to compensatory movements, low muscular endurance, limitations in physical performance, and can upset a person’s quality of life. Through a conjugate system of training, the nervous system can coevolve with afferent and efferent information flow, resulting in reciprocal adaptations over time. By understanding the concept of an untrained nervous system and the importance of training as a mechanism to improve physical states, we can improve our physical selves and lead healthier lifestyles.

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