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This is quite a big topic as ‘neural activation’ can be local or general. But it’s very true that the key system in the body is not the muscular system but the nervous system.
Local ‘neural activation’ simply means ensuring the muscles are capable of maximal recruitment – whether or not it is used or not – Also rather than trying to ‘activate’ a weak or poorly innervated muscle I’d first look at why there is poor innervation in the first place.
Just on the VMO – VMO isolation is unnecessary in almost every case – unless in a rehab instance. As some one pointed out above the VMO is used in every knee movement – you can’t isolate it fully – even if you did – why would you want to in a healthy athlete? Many coaches and physios think it’s used/activated exclusively at the last 20 – 15 degrees of extension of the knee – this is not the case, it also fires in the initial stages coming out of a low ATG squat or initiating knee extension. Also if it is a rehab case – rather than focusing on ‘weak’ VMO’s exclusively – synergistic glute strength should also be observed for simultaneous work – as in most cases they correspond. VMO strength is overrated – and it can’t be identified with simple visual clues either. Finally, there is a great danger of chrondomalcia patella with rugby players or such and I’ve seen some ridiculous cases of further damage to knees with excessive VMO work – under the mistaken belief that the VMO is weak or can’t be isolated.
The quote referred to refers to general activation though – not local Dan – as it refers to training phases.
Basically this is what Damian was saying when he spoke about using maximal loads to refine neural recruitment. It refers to using heavy loads to refine the neural recruitment patterns – this is why some athletes can be very strong at lighter weights.
Sadly – while lifting heavy weights is the major method – it’s not simply a case of maximal lifts though as there are many other contributing factors too. 😉