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Monitor your CNS with the finger tapping test

Ups and downs in the training room are common and who hasn’t tried either feeling great and having a miserable session or the exact opposite? There is of course a connection between physical and mental well-being but apparently it can’t always be trusted. Having a way of knowing whether you should go for a PR, just get in a light workout or maybe think about deloading for a while can be useful in many contexts and there are actually a number of ways (and without doubt more than I’ve listed here) to monitor the state of your central nervous system (CNS):

  • Grip strength
  • Vertical leap
  • Resting pulse
  • Finger tapping test

For all four methods you have to determine a baseline value that will be used to assess how your CNS is doing by comparing it to values measured at other times.For grip strength, vertical leap and finger tap test a lower score than baseline indicates a fatigued CNS and the same is the case for an elevated pulse.

As you see it’s pretty simple to perform any of these tests and they can all be done without having access to sophisticated lab equipment. But still you need special equipment to measure both grip strength and vertical leap, and for an accurate resting pulse you need to lay down and relax for fifteen minutes, ain’t nobody got time for that!

Simple tests to determine something complicated

The simple finger tapping test can provide info on what’s up with your CNS.


The finger tapping test stands out from the crowd since it can be done using a smartphone or a tablet either of which most people have these days (I look forward to reading this in 20 years and giggle). It is furthermore just as simple as it can be since all you have to do is to tap the screen with your index finger as many times as possible over a fixed duration of time. In short, the finger tapping test can be performed pretty much anytime and anywhere.

There are several finger tapping test apps out there but the CNS Tap Test by smudge.io is cheap ($1.99), works quite well and is available for both Android and iOS. Here’s a few points on using it:

  • The test should be performed if not identically then at least very similar every time. You shouldn’t compare results measured sitting at a desk with results from lying in bed.
  • When performing the test keep base of hand as well as tips of other fingers held against table or whatever surface youre on.
  • Baseline should be measured in a fully restored state, this could be after +5 days of no training or other strenuous physical activities. If you don’t want to or haven’t scheduled time off from training just measure daily and continue to do so for a month or so. Your best results within this period are probably pretty close to if not equal to a rested baseline.
  • When performing the test, baseline or regular, do three or more rounds with each finger and discard all other than the highest score.
  • A drop in the finger tapping test score of more than just 5% is an indication of a fatigued CNS. If your baseline is around 60 this translates to a drop in just 3 taps.

If your CNS is looking god on a particular day it may be time to try a new PR or you might want to use the opportunity to do a bit of extra work. You can also monitor the progress of a scheduled deload period and let the state of your CNS rather than a fixed schedule decide when it’s time to step up intensity again.

If your CNS is fatigued for a day or two there’s no need to worry and you should just take it easy and let yourself recover. If it doesn’t bounce back after a few light days you might want to consider a deload period until it does.


  1. Now translated into Danish and Swedish…

  2. Human Performance is now available for iOS that tracks CNS Tap Test, Reaction Time, Resting Heart Rate, Weight and Sleep: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id703886887

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