Rewiring for Strength: The Science of Neuroplasticity

Categories: Blog, Shane McLean, Strength Training, #Pressing RESET, Neuroplasticity Mar 04, 2024

And now, a Guest Post By Shane McLean


Our muscles are not the only thing that gets stronger; your brain can, too, through Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain's remarkable ability to reorganize and adapt and can be a game-changer with your strength training.

It's the scientific proof that our brains and bodies are not static; they can change and improve. Here, with the help of Tim Anderson (you know who he is, right?), we will dive into Neuroplasticity and how to apply it to your workouts for improved mind and body strength.  

Neuroplasticity: What Is It And How Does It Work?

Neuroplasticity is the brain's version of muscle building. Just like lifting weights creates micro-tears in muscle fibers that heal stronger, learning new skills or facing new challenges forces your brain to form new neural connections, making it more efficient, adaptable, and capable.

Think of neuroplasticity as your brain's workout; much like muscles, you either use it or lose it, as Anderson explains.

“ If we don’t move or think, our brain will prune away neural connections that are no longer needed for the movements and thoughts we are not using and having. The opposite is true:

 "Use it to keep it” or “Use it to build it.” If we engage in movement and thoughts regularly, we are creating and demanding a need for the neural connections that support those thoughts and movements.” says Anderson.

Every time you face a new workout challenge, like a new exercise, technique, or workout, you're not just strengthening your muscles, but your brain is getting stronger, too. Neuroplasticity helps your brain become more adaptable, improving everything from coordination and balance to recovery.

Neuroplasticity means that your brain continually evolves and strengthens based on how you use it. Like a fitness program that includes cardio, strength, flexibility, and recovery, various physical challenges and learning experiences keep your brain in shape.

Why Is It Important?

Neuroplasticity is crucial for your physical and mental performance, but let’s focus on the physical reasons that are pretty compelling.

Better recovery from Injuries: Neuroplasticity plays a vital role after you get hurt. After an injury, the brain can rewire itself to regain or improve motor functions that were lost or impaired, essentially finding new neural pathways to achieve the same thing. This means faster and more efficient injury recovery, especially when combined with physical therapy.

Improved Skills and Performance: Your brain adapts to new challenges by strengthening the neural pathways.  This can improve coordination, balance, and overall athletic performance. You can see better results from their workouts as their brains and bodies become more in tune.

Better Aging: Engaging in activities that make neuroplasticity possible becomes increasingly important as you age. Engaging in regular physical activity and learning new skills can help keep the brain agile, which supports muscle memory, coordination, and the ability to perform daily activities efficiently.

When your brain is nimble, like your movements, this becomes crucial for your performance in and out of the gym and overall health and well-being. Here are some tips to strengthen your brain and body.

Neuroplasticity Tips

Here are two things you can do immediately for improved mind and body strength.

Embracing Challenge and Variety

One of the most effective ways to stimulate neuroplasticity and improve your strength is by incorporating variety and challenge into your workouts. Engaging in new and challenging exercises builds muscle and forges new neural pathways, strengthening your brain and body.

Tip: Mix Up Your Routine

Why It Works: Regularly changing your workout routine prevents mental and physical plateaus. Introducing new exercises, altering your intensity, or changing your workout environment keeps your nervous system on its toes, encouraging growth and adaptation.

How to Do It: If you're used to lifting, try incorporating yoga, Pilates, or Tim’s workouts to challenge your strength, balance, and flexibility. Or, if you're a runner, mix in some strength training to challenge different muscle groups. The key is to keep it varied and challenging, ensuring your brain and body continue to adapt and grow stronger.

Overcoming Strength Plateaus

When your progress stalls, it's often a sign that your workout has become too predictable for your muscles and nervous system. By leveraging the principles of neuroplasticity, you can overcome plateaus by using the following tip.

Tip: Focus on the Mind-Muscle Connection

Why It Works: Enhancing your mind-muscle connection through focused, mindful exercise can reignite neuroplasticity and break through plateaus. Paying close attention to the muscles you're working on sends stronger signals from your brain to those muscles, improving both neural and muscular adaptation.

If that sounds like mumbo jumbo, let Anderson clarify some things for you.

“Strength training often keeps our neural pathways healthy, strong, and efficient. Engaging in new movement and strength challenges also builds new neural connections. When these become efficient neural pathways, we have more access to our strength expression.” explains Anderson.

How to Do It: During your next workout, slow down your repetitions, focusing on tempo and the muscles you are training. Visualize the muscles contracting and relaxing, and eliminate all distractions. This increased focus can help deepen the neural pathways associated with each movement, leading to more robust, more efficient muscle contractions and better flex times. And who doesn’t want that?

More examples of how this works and what this might look like can be found in Tim’s new book, A Simple Book of Strength.



Shane McLean is a certified personal trainer with 15 years of experience and has been a freelance fitness writer for over 10 years. He accomplishes both through vast amounts of coffee on a daily basis. Shane’s work can be found here and here.

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