Exercises to Improve Neuromuscular Pathways

In my last blog I discussed an athlete’s ability to train his neuromuscular pathways in order to improve athleticism. If an athlete specifically focuses on exercises that require quick, explosive movements, he can create more efficient paths between the brain and the muscle, resulting in greater athleticism. Today I want to share a few pieces of equipment that can help an athlete train to move his (or her) body more quickly and become a better athlete (improving those pathways).

Athleticism is commonly described as how quickly can an individual move his/her body, especially when a change in direction is required. The quicker the brain can deliver messages to the muscles in charge of this movement or direction change, the more fluid and explosive it becomes. Therefore, an easy way to improve this type of body control is by doing plyometric exercises. These types of exercises focus a great deal on footwork and the body’s ability to move the feet as fast as possible while still controlling the body. For those of you familiar with Ron Wolforth’s Combat Pitcher program, this is one of the several reasons why his athletes begin each workout with some type of plyometrics.

There are many plyometric products that an athlete can utilize to train for quicker movements and footwork. The first and probably most common are ladders (TAP Flat Rung Ladder) and hurdles (TAP Hurdles). These two products are most effectively utilized to create more efficient neuromuscular pathways when an athlete performs them for a set period of time so that he can record how many rungs or hurdles he was able to move through before the timer goes off. The Sport Timer is a great tool for this type of work because unlike most countdown timers it has an extremely loud buzzer that the athlete can clearly hear while in the midst of an exercise. The ladders and hurdles force an athlete to move through and over them as fast as he can for the allotted time trying to reach the particular rung or hurdle that is his previous best. This focus on beating previous attempts assures the athlete that his body is being pushed to the limit.

Further, when the athlete reaches the end of the ladder or the last hurdle, he is forced to redirect all of his energy in order to go back the opposite way until the timer buzzes. This is training that redirection of energy that is so crucial for superior athletes. Besides hurdles and ladders, the products available to use to train for this type of plyometric activity are numerous: TAP® Cones, Agility Ring Set, Outdoor Agility Set, and the Indoor Limbo Set to name a few.

While the above products train an athlete’s full body movements and footwork, the TAP® Double Handle Medicine Ball specifically focuses on rotational movements created by the core. All athletes must have a strong core section as it is the stabilizing piece that the rest of the muscles move around. Although a strong core is essential to excelling at all sports, some sports, like baseball or golf, are rotational in nature and require even more focus on the core. The handle medicine ball allows for the core to be strengthened and creates more efficient neuromuscular pathways. Exercises such as the wall series, where an athlete stands with his back to a wall and hits the wall while performing different movements, forces the athlete to move rotational as fast as possible.

Like the plyometrics, this is done best when the athlete is timed and counts the number of times he is able to hit the wall before the timer buzzes. This will force the athlete to move the medicine ball as fast as he can rotationally, establishing more efficient pathways in these movements.

Click here to see an example of an athlete performing the wall series 

Another unique product sold by Oates Specialties that target neuromuscular pathways are the Speed Chains. This product has several types of devices that can be used to simulate a throw, a swing, a kick, or just generally train the core. The product has a variable resistance in that the chain starts off small closest to the athlete and gets progressively larger and heavier toward the end of the chain. The small chain closest to the athlete allows for extremely fast movement by the athlete while the heavier chain at the end provides the resistance to develop strength and power. But probably the best thing about the Speed Chains is the ability to train in the same plane as required in competition. For example, with the Bat Speed Chain or the Torso Burner Chain, a baseball hitter can move rapidly back and forth through the exact movements of a swing. This helps to make the specific neuromuscular pathways of that movement more efficient which helps translate to a quicker more explosive swing when the athlete picks up a baseball bat. Click here for a video showing some of the benefits of the Bat Speed Chain with instructor Perry Husband.

The key to improving your neuromuscular pathways is by forcing your body to perform activities over and over again as fast as possible so that each time the path in which the nerve impulses travel from the brain to the muscle become more direct. I have specifically mentioned only a few of the many products that can help you redefine your neuromuscular pathways and thereby make you a better athlete, but almost any piece of equipment can be utilized to accomplish this goal. As long as you have the intent to move as fast and explosive as possible when performing exercises you are helping to increase your athleticism.

Until next time, Brian Oates

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