Neural adaptation to resistance training

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1988 Oct;20(5 Suppl):S135-45. doi: 10.1249/00005768-198810001-00009.


Strength performance depends not only on the quantity and quality of the involved muscles, but also upon the ability of the nervous system to appropriately activate the muscles. Strength training may cause adaptive changes within the nervous system that allow a trainee to more fully activate prime movers in specific movements and to better coordinate the activation of all relevant muscles, thereby effecting a greater net force in the intended direction of movement. The evidence indicating neural adaptation is reviewed. Electromyographic studies have provided the most direct evidence. They have shown that increases in peak force and rate of force development are associated with increased activation of prime mover muscles. Possible reflex adaptations related to high stretch loads in jumping and rapid reciprocal movements have also been revealed. Other studies, including those that demonstrate the "cross-training" effect and specificity of training, provide further evidence of neural adaptation. The possible mechanisms of neural adaptation are discussed in relation to motor unit recruitment and firing patterns. The relative roles of neural and muscular adaptation in short- and long-term strength training are evaluated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscles / innervation
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Weight Lifting