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Are you searching for that competitive edge? One strategy to consider is stimulating your nervous system. The central governor model suggests that the nervous system strives to maintain homeostasis to minimize mental and physical fatigue by limiting exertion.

Research has demonstrated that endurance, strength, speed, and power limits can be surpassed through the integration of psychological, nutritional, and physical interventions.

In this discussion, we will explore current trends in hacking the nervous system to enhance sports performance through the mind-body connection, nutrition, tool-assisted manual therapy (TAMT), and post-activation potentiation (PAP).



Kinesthetic motor imagery (KMI) is a technique used by athletes to acquire and refine motor skills. KMI has shown the ability to enhance motor performance without overt motor output. The mechanism behind KMI involves the internal activation of anticipatory images of action effects. This mechanism improves motor performance through internal emulation of action. The emulation process occurs in brain regions that overlap with those involved in overt motor performance, including the posterior parietal cortex, cerebellum, basal ganglia, and premotor cortex. (Filgueiras, A., et al. 2017) (Ridderinkhof, K. R., & Brass, M. 2015)



Carbohydrate mouth rinsing has shown to improve endurance performance for exercise lasting approximately 1 hour. The exact mechanisms responsible for performance gains are not fully understood. There are no significant alterations in plasma insulin concentration, blood glucose concentration, or macronutrient oxidation rates.

The enhancement in performance is postulated to result from central mechanisms, likely linked to an increase in corticomotor excitability and central motor drive to exercising muscles. Carbohydrate taste receptors within the oral cavity stimulate central drive to locomotor muscles, improving performance. Additionally, a cephalic phase insulin response contributes to performance enhancement by enhancing glucose uptake by the muscles, thereby maintaining high rates of carbohydrate oxidation, similar to ingesting carbohydrates.

Cold drinks or slushies can also enhance performance, particularly in thermal stress conditions. (Burke, L. M., & Maughan, R. J. 2015) (de Ataide e Silva, T., et al. 2013) (Murray, K. O., et al. 2018)


Caffeine is a popular ergogenic supplement. Most research has focused on moderate to high doses (5–13 mg/kg), which have profound effects on exercise responses at the whole-body level. However, results can be variable, and undesirable side effects may occur. Low doses of caffeine (<3 mg/kg, ~200 mg) have also shown ergogenic effects in certain exercise and sport scenarios. Lower caffeine doses do not significantly alter peripheral whole-body responses to exercise but improve vigilance, alertness, mood, cognitive processes during and after exercise, with minimal or no side effects. The ergogenic effect of low caffeine doses appears to result from alterations in the central nervous system. The response to low caffeine doses can be variable, so athletes should determine whether the ingestion of ~200 mg of caffeine before and/or during training and competitions is ergogenic on an individual basis. (Spriet, L. L. 2014)


Higher doses of caffeine (3-6 mg/kg) have also been proven effective for aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Studies indicate that caffeine ingestion (e.g., 3–9 mg/kg taken 30–90 min before exercise) can spare carbohydrate use during exercise, improving endurance exercise capacity. In addition to the positive effects on endurance performance, caffeine has been shown to improve repeated sprint performance, benefiting anaerobic athletes. Studies examining caffeine's ability to increase maximal strength and repetitions to fatigue have produced mixed results but are worth considering. (Kerksick, C. M., et al. 2018)


Peppermint is an herb with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antioxidant, and vasoconstrictor effects. It relaxes bronchial smooth muscles, increases brain oxygen concentration, and decreases blood lactate levels. Peppermint essential oil has been demonstrated to improve exercise performance, respiratory function variables, systolic blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory gas exchange parameters. The stimulatory effect of peppermint on the central nervous system is one proposed mechanism. (Meamarbashi, A., & Rajabi, A. 2013) (Meamarbashi, A. 2014)


Current literature supports the effectiveness of SMR as an intervention for enhancing flexibility (both acute and chronic), balance, sports performance, and recovery, while reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Proposed mechanisms include mechanical, neurophysiological, endocrine, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Performing an assessment, such as the overhead squat, range of motion testing, and manual muscle testing, can help identify the best areas to apply TAMT based on individual impairments. Common impairments include a combination of overactive and underactive muscles and joint dysfunction. Regardless of whether a muscle is short (overactive) or "locked long" (underactive), it can potentially develop taught palpable bands known as trigger points. TAMT can be used to reduce or desensitize trigger points in both scenarios. This should be followed by lengthening the identified short muscles (e.g., static stretch) and activating the "locked long" muscles (e.g., positional isometrics) to restore balance. (Cheatham, S. W., et al. 2015)


Post-activation potentiation (PAP) refers to the acute excitation of the neuromuscular system following exercise. This excitation has been shown to improve subsequent explosive performances such as countermovement jumps and sprint speed.

For example, performing Back Squats at 80% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for 3 sets of 3 repetitions several minutes before an explosive exercise like a jump or sprint can leverage PAP. The theory behind PAP suggests that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions. PAP has been proven to improve jumping, sprinting, throwing, kicking, and change of direction speed performances (Docherty, D., & Hodgson, M. J. 2007) (Lorenz, D. 2011)


PAP works through a combination of intra- and inter-muscular neurophysiological mechanisms. The following three mechanisms are thought to have the most significant effects:

  1. Phosphorylation of the regulatory light chains: Increased sensitivity of myosin-actin interactions, leading to a higher cross-bridge cycling rate. This shifts the force-velocity curve to the right, enabling faster movementswith higher loads.

  2. Potentiated Hoffman Reflex response: The H-Reflex is a measure of synaptic transmission efficacy and is associated with higher excitability.

  3. Pennation angle of muscle fibers: A decrease in the pennation angle allows for more force transmission through tendons and bones upon contraction.


Strategy Guidelines Imagery - Perform Progressive Relaxation: Slowly tense and then relax each muscle group, progressing from toes to neck and head. Tense muscles for about five seconds, then relax for 30 seconds. Repeat.

  • Choose your imagery perspective: Internal perspective (seeing yourself from inside your body) or external perspective (seeing yourself from outside your body).

  • Control/Practice imagining desired performance outcomes.

  • Create a multisensory experience: Duplicate sights, sounds, physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions you would experience in an actual competition.

  • Adapt imagery speed: Slow motion for focusing on technique, gradually increasing to real-time.

  • Be realistic in your imagery.

  • Practice at least 3-4 times per week.

Carbohydrate Mouth Rinse - Use a 6.4% maltodextrin or glucose solution.

  • Rinse for 10 seconds without swallowing.

  • Repeat 4-12 times during the event.

Caffeine (Low Dose) - Consume a physiological dose of 3-6 mg/kg (~200 mg) approximately 60 minutes before training or an event.

Caffeine (Physiologic Dose) - Ingest higher doses of 3-6 mg/kg for aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Peppermint Oil - Consume one bottle of mineral water (500 ml) per day containing 0.05 ml peppermint essential oil for ten days before the event.

Tool-Assisted Manual Therapy (TAMT) - Perform an overhead squat movement assessment.

  • Use assessment results to identify overactive and underactive muscles.

  • Apply 30 seconds of TAMT on overactive muscles followed by 30 seconds of static stretching. Follow this with 30 seconds of TAMT on underactive muscles, followed by positional isometrics at 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of maximum voluntary contraction.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) - Begin with an active warm-up appropriate for the sport/activity.

Lower Body Example:

  • Back Squat: 3 sets of 3 reps at 80% 1RM.

  • Rest for 60 seconds.

  • Box Jump (18 to 30 inches): 3 sets of 5 reps.

Upper Body Example:

  • Bench Press: 3 sets of 2 reps at 85% 1RM.

  • Rest for 60 seconds.

  • Plyo Push-Up (using 6 to 10-inch blocks): 3 sets of 3 reps.

Sled Push and Sprint Example:

  • Sled Push: 5 sets of 10 yards (sled load 1.5-2 times body weight).

  • Sprint: 5 sets of 20 yards (immediately after sled push, release the sled and start sprinting).

By implementing these strategies and techniques, you can tap into your full sports performance potential. Anticipation and excitation play a crucial role in unlocking your abilities and taking your performance to the next level.

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