As athletes, we are always trying to find ways to work out smarter and not harder. When developing your most efficient and effective workout routine, it’s important to understand your strengths and where you can improve. 

Neuromuscular Efficiency, or NME, is a principal that can help you to better understand your body’s natural tendencies when it comes to power and endurance and ensure that your time in the gym is well spent. 

What is neuromuscular efficiency?

Neuromuscular efficiency is a strength and conditioning principle that refers to your ability to recruit muscles to produce force or perform a task. Your muscles are activated by your central nervous system (CNS), and your ability to activate your CNS more or less efficiently is what gives you a higher or lower NME. A good way to think about it is that everyone has a limited amount of power and your NME determines how quickly you use it. 

  • A person with a high NME is able to activate their CNS efficiently and put a lot of power into a movement. They are able to use all of their power immediately but are prone to burn out more quickly. A sprinter is a good example of a high NME athlete.
  • A person with a low NME may not be as immediately powerful but has greater endurance than someone with a high NME. They use their power reserve more slowly over time. A marathon runner is a good example of a low NME athlete.

A high or low NME isn’t necessarily good or bad, it just means that there are certain types of activities that you are likely to be better at and there are certain methods of training that will be more effective for you. 

How to test your neuromuscular efficiency

One of the best ways to test your NME is by performing back squats in the following way:

  • Build up to a one-repetition maximum (1RM) of the back squat
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Complete as many reps as you can at 85% of your 1RM

The number of reps you’re able to do will let you know your NME:

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  • If you complete more that 4 reps, your NME is low
  • If you complete fewer than 4 reps, your NME is high

How to use your neuromuscular efficiency to maximize your training

Knowing your NME can give you an edge in creating a training regimen that’s perfectly suited to your body. Below are the recommendations for athletes with high, low, or mid-range NME.

High NME

If you have high NME, you should train with a lower volume at a lower percentage of your 1RM in order to build your endurance. For example, for back squats you might do 3 sets of 3 reps of at 70% of your 1RM.

Low NME

If you have low NME, you can increase your endurance by lifting at a higher volume and a higher percentage of your 1RM. For example, you might do back squats for 3 sets of 10 reps at 80% of your 1RM.

Mid-range NME

If, during your NME test, you complete 4-6 reps of back squats, your NME is between high and low. This probably means that you have somewhat equal strengths in terms of power and endurance. During your workouts, you might start with a high number of reps and decrease with each set, for example: Set 1: 8 reps, set 2: 5 reps, set 3: 2 reps. 

These recommendations are specific to reps and sets for back squats, but you can apply the same ideas of high and low volume or intensity for a variety of workouts. As new workout trends become popular, knowing your NME can help you determine if the latest trend would actually be effective in helping you reach your goals. 

But keep in mind, your NME is not a measurement of “good” or “bad,” but a tool you can use to know your strengths and work out smarter.