Neuromotor Training Workout Components
Developing a safe and effective neuromotor training program known as functional fitness requires consideration of the frequency, intensity, time, type, volume, and progression of exercises being performed. These training components vary depending on individual levels of physical conditioning, the presence of any preexisting injuries, and personal goals and needs. Because using exercise to specifically target the neuromuscular system in nonclinical populations is a relatively new training approach, there is no consensus concerning the optimal number of repetitions, intensity, or methods of progression for neuromotor exercise.
This is due, in part, to the various types of training often included within neuromotor training. As a result, when research scientists and fitness professionals attempt to communicate the effectiveness of neuromotor training, it becomes difficult to identify whether improvements in health and function are associated with positive changes in neuromuscular function or are the result of improvements in some other body systems. However, there are some general exercise recommendations for frequency and duration that provide a good starting point for creating your own neuromotor training program. The general recommendations for neuromotor training presented in this article are based on the best and most recently available evidence.
Functional Fitness Workout Frequency
The neuromotor training exercise is recommended at least two to three days per week to improve balance and mobility. Note that this is only a suggested minimum; individuals who regularly participate in low-impact neuromotor training exercises such as tai chi, qigong, or yoga may be capable of performing these activities more frequently and may obtain additional health and fitness benefits without increasing the risk of injury. Neuromotor training exercises involving weighted resistance and explosive, high-impact activities (i.e., jumping, bounding, high-speed multidirectional agility) may place a greater physical stress on muscles, joints, and connective tissues. Under these training conditions, less frequent sessions of two or three days per week may be needed to allow for adequate recovery between sessions and to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury. You may also consider fewer neuromotor training sessions if you are performing high-impact neuromotor exercises in conjunction with other forms of fitness training such as maximal strength training or high-volume aerobic training.
Functional Fitness Workout Intensity
The principle of overload states that in order to provide benefits from training, the intensity of exercise must be above and beyond that which is demanded of the body on a day-to-day basis. To date, the intensity prescription for many neuromotor exercises, especially those targeting balance, has not been clearly established or adequately measured in research studies. Attempts at increasing neuromotor training intensity for the purposes of overloading the neuromuscular system have included increasing the duration of training and increasing the difficulty of the exercises (i.e., single- versus double-leg stance, narrow versus wide base of support, unstable versus stable surface).
The challenge is that the way in which people experience the intensity of balance, agility, coordination, and proprioceptive exercise can vary greatly. Monitoring movement quality may be helpful for assessing how demanding an activity is in your neuromuscular system. For example, if you are unable to maintain good form on any given exercise, then the exercise may be too advanced or your neuromuscular system may have become overwhelmed by the demands of the activity. In either case, if you are unable to maintain proper posture, body segment alignment, or balance while exercising, this may be a good indicator that your body has been challenged above and beyond its normal capabilities, and a short rest period may be needed before continuing.
Functional Fitness Workout Time
Current recommendations suggest that approximately 30 to 45 minutes should be devoted to neuromotor training for each session throughout the week. This should provide you with enough time to perform between 6 and 10 exercises depending on the demands of the specific activities you choose. Keep in mind that the neuromuscular system responds best to high-quality repetitive movements, so as your training progresses you may need to increase your training time as long as movement quality and body control are not compromised.
Functional Fitness Workout Type
Because the neuromuscular system is so heavily involved in the body’s capacity to learn new activities, the principle of specificity may be one of the most important components to consider when developing a neuromotor training program. To illustrate this point, consider the task of learning to ride a bicycle. Riding a bicycle requires the development and coordination of a specific set of skills. You may have used or heard the saying “It’s like riding a bike.” This comparison reflects the neuromuscular system’s ability to adapt to the specific demands of an activity and to easily recall motor skills related to that activity at a later time. It may take many hours or even days to develop the skills needed to effectively ride a bicycle.
Yet the more you challenge your neuromuscular system, the more proficient your body becomes the task of riding. Eventually, your neuromuscular system commits to memory the specific muscle actions needed to pedal, balance, and steer; and what started off as a challenging activity becomes very easy. The neuromuscular system is so proficient at learning and retaining information that even after many months or years have passed, you can climb back onto a bicycle and begin riding as if no time had passed at all.
Adhering to the specificity principle is critical to the development of an effective individualized neuromotor training program. Improvements in neuromotor function are specific to the types of activities you perform. If you want to reduce your risk of falling, then you must perform activities that challenge your upright stability and balance. If your goal is to improve coordination and agility for athletic competition, then your training program must include sport-specific activities that challenge your neuromuscular system in this way.
Lower extremity muscle strength can be improved through the performance of repeated bouts of the seated leg press; however, improvements in seated leg strength may not translate to improved athletic performance if the neuromuscular demands of seated exercise are dramatically different from those experienced while evading tackles on the football field. Consequently, a multicomponent program involving task-specific neuromotor exercise may provide greater functionality and performance benefit than one-dimensional exercise programs that focus on individual components of muscular strength, aerobic fitness, and flexibility. In addition, those forms of training that use various movements with and without visual feedback may be the most beneficial for improving specific components of neuromotor function such as proprioception and body awareness.
Functional Fitness Workout Volume
One of the most important aspects of neuromotor training is ensuring that you perform each exercise with the best form and technique possible. Your neuromuscular system learns from your repeated movement patterns. If you consistently perform an exercise incorrectly or in a way that does not engage the appropriate muscles in the right sequence or pattern, you may run the risk of “wiring” your neuromuscular system with the wrong series of muscle recruitment strategies. If you are new to exercise, knowing your physical limits and recognizing how your body responds to fatigue may be a challenge. Consulting a qualified exercise professional, even if only for a few sessions, may be helpful to guide you through proper exercise technique and form. This may better prepare you to recognize the signs of muscular fatigue and breakdown in movement performance and put you in a better position to optimize the benefits of your neuromotor training program.
Functional Fitness Workout Progression
Exercise progression and progressive overload are important concepts for all training. In order to maximize the potential benefits of neuromotor training, it is important to consistently and continuously challenge your neuromuscular system with activities that exceed the demands of your daily activities. For example, if sitting predominates in your day, then simple standing activities may be sufficient to challenge many neuromotor fitness domains. However, if your day involves significant time on your feet and possibly lifting, carrying, or moving objects, then it is likely that you will need to begin your neuromotor training program with more dynamic standing activities and possibly incorporate various standing surface conditions to optimize your benefits.
Although there is currently no clear consensus as to the most effective strategy for improving neuromuscular function through progressive neuromotor training, some logical progressions have been proposed. These progressions can be employed to ensure that your neuromotor training program effectively challenges your balance, coordination, agility, and proprioception. The table below provides a few examples of ways in which your neuromotor training program can be progressed through increasing degrees of difficulty. You can advance your neuromotor training program in almost an infinite number of ways, and no one way is necessarily better than another.
Progression of your exercise program will be based on your baseline level of physical conditioning and your personal comfort with performing different neuromotor exercises. For example, you may find it more difficult to perform dynamic tasks (such as sidestepping or braided walking) and therefore need to begin your training with less dynamic stationary standing exercises. Likewise, you may find that stationary standing activity on firm, flat ground is very easy and therefore would need to begin with more difficult neuromotor activities like balancing on one foot while standing on an unstable surface.
The focus of progression is to select exercises and levels of difficulty based on activities that are challenging but can be completed safely without increasing your risk of injury.