CNS and squat ? (Tim Pinkerton)

I was having a discussion on another forum late last year about overtraining and CNS recovery. I am not a doctor and didn’t know the exact reason why this type of training works, but along came Brent. Brent has a Ph.D. in Neurobiology. He answered the questions in terms everyone can understand. I emailed him to say thanks for explaining to everyone, including myself, of how and why it works. His email reply:

« I’m the one who should be thanking you. Your posts on GoHeavy (back in 97-99 when I was originally training using this method) are what got me interested in all of this. To see a contradictory opinion that made sense really opened my eyes. It may not have seemed like anyone was paying attention back then, but I was. My coach thought I was nuts. LOL

My experience using myself a guinea pig is what sparked my interest in physiology in the first place. For what it’s worth, thanks for your influence, a little bit went a long way. »

What goes around, comes around. Here is what he posted, along with a few others’ responses. Thanks again for the education!

Post 1)

In the « dark times » it’s just as I said, a lot like « withdrawal » from substance abuse. If you want the specifics, I’ll try to lay them out for you as best I can. Maybe this will clear up some of the misconceptions people have about what actually happens when you lift weights. Then again, maybe monkeys will fly out of my behind…

Most people think the only part of the body to adapt to lifting are the muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. In fact, the brain also adapts to whatever stress you put on the body. It physically changes its structure and ability to deal with chemicals which directly relate to your physical activity. If you are a runner, you’ll get better at making and using chemicals which deal with running. You’ll also develop and affinity for extremely short shorts, politics, FOX news, granola, etc.

One thing that pissed me off about IA is his insistence that the CNS fatigues in some way. Bulls**t. People are still taught that the nervous system runs off of electrical impulses like a power cable. It doesn’t. The nerve impulses (synapses) run off of chemicals (neurotransmitters). If these chemicals are not present, there is no signal between brain and muscle. The reason you can measure electrical impulses in the nervous system is because the electrical impulse is a BYPRODUCT of this chemical reaction. Its called an electrochemical reaction.

A large part of how strong we are is the ability to create and deal with a higher concentration of these neurotransmitters. The nerves develop more receptor sites to connect with them, and the glands learn to make more of the neurotransmitters themselves. Only then do you get a stronger impulse.

When you start placing demands on the brain to lift maximum weights every day, it says « oh crap I need to learn how to make and use these chemicals or he’s going to kill us. » So it goes through an adaptive period where it shuts down some functions and tries to upgrade. These are the « dark times ».

The main chemical in muscle contraction is SEROTONIN. It actually regulates how HARD the muscle contracts, which is why only the heaviest weights seem to effect our mood, the reason why people shy away from maximal lifting and cower from the imaginary symptoms of overtraining.

Serotonin just happens to be the main feel good hormone in the body. It directly effects your mood and mental outlook, your happiness and willingness to train. Your sleep, appetite, and also effects the cardiovascular system (your heart rate increases when you are supposedly overtrained – this is why). The serotonin cycle in the brain gets screwed up when drug addicts go into withdrawal (most recreational drugs artificially influence the serotonin pathways, which is why they are so much fun). There are other neurotransmitters which get effected by this (acetylcholine for example), but serotonin is the big one.

So, when the body receives a demand to lift heavy things on a daily basis, the brain shuts down the serotonin receptors to upgrade them. The brain structure changes take a few days to a few weeks. Changes in individual nerves happen quickly, a few days at most. This is why the dark times occur. Its the adaptive period that’s needed for the brain and body to get to the next higher level. Natures little joke is obviously making us feel like crap when we are actually improving.

The body is trying to get us to stop the stress so it isn’t forced to remodel the whole place, but that’s exactly what you want. That’s why its so important to keep pounding away through it all. You want the greatest adaptation to take place.

Guys who are afraid of this response are guys who are lifting because they like the way it makes them feel. If you do lighter workouts, this serotonin is raised, but there is no signal to adapt. You feel high. Basically lifting weights becomes like a drug. People feel better doing light useless workouts, just like they feel better taking a hit of crack. I think this is why no one wants to try lifting the Bulgarian way. They are addicts.

You asked me about cortisol. There are no good and bad hormones. There are only hormones specific to your physical activity. Do you know why cortisol is released in weight lifting? Cortisol controls the blood pressure and concentration of blood sugar.

With short bursts of intense lifting (singles and doubles), blood sugar is not the primary fuel. Blood sugar only becomes an issue when you are doing higher reps. Cortisol is released mainly as a way to cope with these high reps, a way to shuttle more fuel (blood sugar) into the muscle tissue by using higher blood pressure. This is one reason bodybuilders have their posing trunks in a bunch over it. Cortisol is dealt with just like serotonin. The body tries to adapt to using it, and all the bodybuilders run and scream. If they stuck with it they’d go through a response much like the Dark times, and they’d be able to handle more high rep sets afterwards.

In this case, cortisol is specific to the activity bodybuilders, not power or olympic lifters. Keep your reps low and you never have to worry about it. (It has nothing to do with total volume, only reps in the set.)

That’s funny what you mentioned about the Bulgarians having huge adrenals. It makes sense. They adapt by getting larger and stronger just like anything else. That’s also a great argument against limiting genetics. Someone else would look at normal sized adrenals and say they would obviously be overloaded by stress. The Bulgarians entire organism changed in response to their lifting. Form follows function. Awesome stuff.

The adrenals don’t only release cortisol, they release adrenaline as well. Adrenaline acts as one of the triggers to this adaptive period. You should go read the lecture by Ivan Abajiev

He explains this whole adaptive period and how it effects more than just the musculature. Go read the paragraphs which start with:

« So this is our aim when we are training athletes, that we would build up all those organs and muscles needed for a certain performance, not only the muscles, but the whole cardiovascular and other systems that support the working of the muscles in order for a better performance. The adaptive process however, does not only include all the lungs and the heart and the other organs that I mentioned. »

So I hope I explained that all well enough. Bottom line, from a physiological standpoint – BROZ IS RIGHT. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Take care.

(p.s. – If you think maxing squats daily is tough, try typing all of this out on a phone!)

Post 2)

Originally Posted by dordoree
Electrical impulse IS neurotransmitters. « People are still taught that the nervous system runs off of electrical impulses like a power cable. It doesn’t. The nerve impulses (synapses) run off of chemicals (neurotransmitters). » You are wrong, there is no neurochemical reaction, it is just movement of ions. Serotonin doesn’t do anything in muscle junctions firing, it’s mostly GABA and ACh. Neurobiologists mostly work on cell system so you cant take a cell viewpoint on a body level because there are too many variables. Also, I think a neurobiologist saying serotonin is the main chemical in muscle contraction is just wrong. In vertebrates, the signal passes through the neuromuscular junction via the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. I really don’t know that much I just know your statement on serotonin and NMJs are wrong. I mean you say sero makes muscles fire and then say it makes you happy so its like a drug addiction. It’d be great if you can possibly provide sources regarding your statement. Thanks

Well, I think you missed the point just a bit.

One thing you find out in graduate school is that the vast majority of what you were taught as an undergrad was wrong. lol You say you don’t know much, so I am guessing you’ve had an introductory biology course on this topic. Youâ??re missing a few facts.

Yes, there is a neurochemical reaction before every nervous impulse. The movement of ions you refer to is a byproduct of these reactions, just like I said. Otto Loewi proved this over 80 years ago, and it is common knowledge in neuroscience. Im sure Wikipedia can tell you all about it.

Serotonin does indeed play a role in muscular contraction. Again, it is just as I said, it determines how hard the contraction is. Acetylcholine fires the muscle, Serotonin determines how hard it fires. Here are some research papers that confirm this.

– ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC492609/?page=1
– jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/267/2/1002.abstract
– jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/77/1/277

I honestly don’t know how much clearer I can make what I wrote. If you want to know the ins and outs of this, stop contradicting information you know little about and spend a decade of your life earning a PhD like I did. Thanks.

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