Train Your Nervous System

It’s a neglected part of your cycling physiology but possibly the most important. Here’s why training your neurological system will lead to faster cycling…

Cycling lore says that recreational cyclists keep riding intensity lower in the winter months, before cranking things up in the spring.

But research suggests that’s to neglect the importance of the nervous system on cycling performance, which is broken down into the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system, comprising cranial and spinal nerves.

Every pedal stroke derives from the nervous system, and research indicates that prolonged and specific movement influences how the central nervous system controls muscular recruitment and patterning. Cue Bompa…

Noted physiologist Tudor Bompa observed that to move your body – or bike – as fast as possible when sprinting, the speed of signal transference in the central nervous system needed to be as rapid as possible.

That’s why when it comes to your riding, by adding a modicum of sprint work to your off-season training – and certainly your regular rides right now in spring – you’re either reminding or demanding your central nervous system how to transfer a signal at fibre-optic speed.

Leave out sprintwork for any period of time and neurologically you simply forget how to pedal fast!


Nervous System Carousel


Just remember that when it comes to winter sprints, there’s an argument that you don’t need to fire up those synapses for more than 10secs at a time.

Beyond this point you’re generating significant levels of lactic acid, which isn’t necessarily what you’re after when your main aim is to improve oxygen delivery and extract greater amounts of energy from fat rather than carbohydrates. Also sprint from a rolling start to reduce the chances of injury.

Sprints can be longer at this time of year, though heed that rolling advice all-year-round.


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In essence, when you cycle you recruit neurons. The more you cycle, the more neurons you recruit, leading to a wonderful new internal cycle network that improves pedalling efficiency.

As well as recruiting more neurons, key to improving your cycling performance is a white, pearlescent substance known as myelin. In fact, to many, this is one of the fundamental reasons behind elite success, along with huge aerobic capacities and robust minds.

Myelin is a sausage-shaped layer of dense fat that wraps around the nerve fibres and works the same way that insulation works on a wire, namely it maintains a strong electrical signal by stopping electrical impulses leaking out. The thicker the myelin, the thicker the insulation, the stronger the signal from one fibre to the next. And you achieve that by consistent riding.




As you repeat any movement, the myelin becomes thicker. If you look at violinists, for instance, and the hand holding the violin, myelin is a lot thinner than the hand holding the bow because the bow hand is working through a more complex process and at greater speed.

The same applies to cycling – faster cyclists will, in general, have a thicker covering of myelin over the nerve fibres involved in the movement.

It takes between 40-60 days and a lot of repetition to change your neural map, for new technique to become an automated process and to begin thickening that myelin.

That’s why you should cycle at least 30mins a day for the first seven to 10 days when learning any new skill, whether it’s a new bike position or tweaking your pedal stroke. Cycle three times a week thereafter and you’ll reinforce these new pathways.

It’s time to be a nervy cyclist…


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GARY CARTER 3/05/2017

This is not new info .. we were trained as teens in the late 70’s to 80’s maintain these qualities by a very advanced coach .. along with elasticity of the spine

Andy 3/05/2017

With this affecting the myelin coating, this could help people (like me) who suffer from MS (multiple sclerosis) which is caused by the myelin being missing from certain areas, I do cycle as much as possible and have found that it helps me with my stamina, which is what i lacked, maybe its doing other things as well, maybe more people with ms should take up cycling to see if it improves them…

    marcus 5/05/2017

    Hi Andy, I have MS too. I just wondered how you fuel up for rides. Are you on low carb diet?

    Liz McGregor 6/05/2017

    Along with the cycling, I would suggest you would benefit from seeing a nutritional therapist. A diet low in saturated fats, and high in oily fish, with fish oil supplements and olive oil is suggested. Take B complex, Vit C; reduce sugar, coffee tea and alcohol and eat very little red meat, or dairy but increase all colours of vegetables, plus eat lots of berries. You are probably doing some of this already, but if not…it might help. Meanwhile, try reading “the Autoimmune Fix” by Tom O’Bryan to get you started. Best wishes.

Andy 6/05/2017

Wow. Didn’t know that. I’ve CMT, which is a peripheral neuropathy whereby the myelin degrades with time. I cycle 2/3 a week at a fair rate and I’m glad I’ve kept it up as it looks like it’s done more good than just the fitness.

Neil B 8/05/2017

Hey Andy,
I hope it does help, i’m sure it aids immunity which is good for sure. Although “endurance” exercise can subdue immunity too, research suggests.
You may find that optimising the microbiome and, thus, the immune system will improve your MS symptoms. There’s a great TED talk on MS by a US doctor who was in a wheelchair before optimising her diet, now she’s dancing. Of course the results on a N=1 experiment are just that, one persons experience.
But as research seems to now be suggesting that MS may be a virus, the improve immunity strategy makes more sense – suggest you google “Paul Jaminet perfecthealthdiet on Leviticus”. Here’s a link [if it survives through to the page] – of course opinion this has caused some controversy!
Read up, I would. I hope your symptoms are reduced somehow.
Happy riding

Guru 8/05/2017

Good advice above. Cycling at least 3 times a week has been shown to improve some neurological conditions especially degenerative ones, not to mention balance. I normally advice people to throw away any television in the house and cycle, walk and garden regularly.

Mogwai 10/05/2017

Please point us to the scientific literature which confirms this. I love cycling and work in the field of neurosurgery. The above unfortunately sounds like nonsense.

Mogwai 10/05/2017

Please point us to the scientific literature which confirms this. I love cycling and work in the field of neurosurgery. The section on myelin unfortunately sounds like nonsense.


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