Sympathetic VS Parasympathetic: Nervous System and Training

nervous system parasympathetic May 10, 2022

Managing the Nervous System is an Under-appreciated Aspect of Training/Coaching


Let’s dive into some examples of how this can go right or wrong:⁣ ⁣

A 24-year-old figure competitor is in a challenging lifting block, 8 weeks away from a show. They just progressed workout intensity, got a stressful work promotion, and decreased their calorie intake. ⁣

Coach A: Decides to program HIIT cardio 4X/ week for 20 minutes to maximize calorie burn. ⁣

Coach B: Recognizes significant increase in Sympathetic stimulation and opts for low intensity incline walk 3x 30 minutes and sends a nice dog picture with client update. ⁣ ⁣

  • Coach B for the win.


Half marathon runner wants to break a PR this season. ⁣

Runner A: Goes moderate intensity on everything, so it always “Feels like a good run” ⁣ ⁣

Runner B: Pushes intervals into zone 4/5 (HR 170+ bpm) and accumulates some fatigue/ sympathetic stimulation for strength and speed/endurance adaptation. Also keeps long run at a low enough intensity to drive parasympathetic stimulation, up regulate enzymes, and recovery appropriately. ⁣

  • Runner A hits a plateau.
  • Runner B hits a PR. ⁣

Understanding Sympathetic and Parasympathetic drive is an absolutely essential skill for athletes and coaches who want to drive positive adaptations.


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