It's pretty safe to say that most of us day to day try to avoid being decapitated, right? Your Central Nervous System (CNS) is made up of your Brain and Spinal Cord encased in your Vertebrae and Skull (noggen). It's a very intelligent system that receives all the information your body experiences and then "interprets" it and this is how you see the world. In addition to these experiences, it also dictates how you perform in said world...
Where is the C.N.S muscle and how do I train it!?
Now we're talking! Well you're pretty much training it all the time, you can’t isolate it. Every time you do something with your body your CNS is involved. Imagine a full bottle of water...when you train, lift heavy, work on motor skills, you pour some out. When you sleep, eat, have some "me" time, you fill it back up - sounds simple enough? Unfortunately it's not.
Having a bad day at the office? Feeling stressed out? Not sleeping? Eating crap all day? Drinking too much? Bro! You’re just poking holes in your bottle. Let's stay positive about this though! What happens when you train smart and do get those PR's? You make your bottle bigger! More in the tank, but you now need more water to fill it.
The “physical” side of CNS is easy enough to manage with a good program followed correctly. You shouldn't be "overtraining", or end up suffering from "CNS fatigue" (Neurotransmitters Serotonin, Dopamine and Acetylcholine levels up the left). If you're feeling tired, demotivated, uncoordinated, depressed and weak all the time this could be your culprit. Ever heard someone saying they feel "drained" the day after a benchmark workout or something like a heavy deadlift session? Every day isn't a PR day.
The “mental” aspect of your Central Nervous System is the real bad boy that you need to overcome/teach, it has no interest other than keeping you alive to make babies. In my opinion, the fastest way to experience the hold it can have over you is the Box Jump: do one, stick a bumper plate on, do another one and keep adding bumpers until you start to feel butterfly's in your stomach before jumping, that's him starting to say "Hey boy! What you at!??". Add a further four plates, you'll dip down and you'll THINK about jumping and your legs will be like jelly you'll adopt a standing foetal position and you won't even leave the ground, that's him saying "You're gonna hurt yourself, you're done!".
It's the most frustrating thing in the world!! Especially while performing Olympic lifts. You know you have the numbers to complete the lift, and there's no doubt that you're strong enough, but every time you set up, your muscles just don't seem to fire and you make the dumbest mistakes that you would never normally do. Training wise, you've gotta work really hard to convince your CNS that the movement you want to do is actually safe, so it will allow you to recruit the strength that you have to do it. When you hit a PR admit it! EUPHORIA! It's in that wee rush that you get that your CNS is almost rewired and it reluctantly says "Fine! You were right!". How many things can you think about that you do all the time now that you really used to struggle with?
Obviously training, sleeping and eating right will have the most positive impact of nudging you towards success, but in the Gym overcoming your noggen is the tricky part! Here's some "techniques" I've tried and used on people that have worked very well for me:
1. Teaming up!
Getting a training partner for your lift is great. One variation is putting someone with more experience with someone fairly new (obviously after foundation training) and asking them to "look after" the new person, what does this do? Two things! It gives the new person someone that they can actually relate to a little more than the coach with that "Hey if he can do it then so can I!" approach, but also through a slight fear of looking like a wimp they may be more willing to try a weight they wouldn't normally by themselves. The more experienced person will benefit because they are helping out, explaining, demonstrating etc. they will receive a real boost of confidence with what they're doing and feel extra alpha so when they're distracted a PR is a good possibility.
2. Talking to yourself...
Trust me these are going to start getting pretty daft soon. Some people I've found like to have a little routine speech they give themselves before approaching the bar or talking through the setup, either out loud or in your head. If it works for you keep it up! If someone's working up to hitting a new one rep max I don't mess with the "zone". I keep cues to an absolute minimum as all the technique work has been leading up to this so you don't need to think... you need to lift! Afterwards we can evaluate what happened (good and bad) and start to work on issues in practice again.
3. Talking to the bar...
Yes Mr Barbell and I have had many words, some of them loveable some of them you wouldn't dare repeat when your mother is around. “I am the master” and “The Barbell is my bitch!” Quite a few of my own personal PR's have been from missing a lift, shouting "Oh is that right!?" And getting it on the second one. Do you look like a nutcase? Little bit, but it works for me and a few others.
4. Catching yourself off guard...
I love the bitch outs before you even pass your knees in Olympic lifts. You know the ones, you don't even try because you beat yourself before you started that weird looking speedy deadlift. Say you have that little routine of talking yourself through your set up, try going through it from the start, but as soon as you're in position before you start to focus on driving the weight, just go for it! Also walking away then turning round real quick and just going for it can work, good one if you have problems clearing your head.
This one's a good trick if you're getting stuck, for example if it's a clean load a bar up with a weight a lot heavier than you're aiming for and go through the 1st and 2nd pull for a few reps. Then go back to the original weight you're aiming for, in theory(!) you just might be able to catch yourself out. Works with presses and jerks too. Try a heavy front rack hold sometimes to get a feel for a heavy weight then go back to a weight you can do, when you get into position again the weight feels like nothing on you (till you do anything with it unfortunately, but the initial sensation is awesome!).
6. Screaming and slapping yourself silly...
I'm all for psyching up for a lift. You gotta really feel it though, if you're shouting or whatever it's to clear your head, and flip that switch that tells you it's "go time". After the lift (miss or not) you should go back to being cool beans, there's a difference between controlled aggression and being a douche!
7. BRO SESH!
This is by far my favourite, like teaming up earlier, arrange to get someone that's either that little bit in front of you or chasing your heels and start lifting! Have fun with it! If either of you miss, then laugh it off and try again! If you're training in a class situation or just with the coach and missing a weight I wouldn't recommend going past three attempts otherwise you run the risk of associating a really negative feeling towards that certain weight (a mental block) and getting over that sometimes can be a nightmare! A "bro sesh" though is more like a game so you just enjoy it, and seeing someone else struggling just like you really takes the pressure off - so have as many goes as you can!
Let us know if you have any "pre lift rituals" we'd love to hear them!