There’s nothing worse than sticking to a consistent training program, putting in all the necessary steps day in and day out and still not seeing the results that you want. Whether you are looking for increased strength, muscle growth or improved performance, you may be missing one important aspect that should be present in every training program, mind-muscle connection.
Bodybuilders and personal trainers have been on the fence for years about whether or not mind-muscle connection actually works, with some arguing that performing an exercise with proper form will allow for the necessary muscles to be naturally targeted without the need for mind-muscle connection. But others believe that mind-muscle connection is vital for optimal strength gains, leading to increased performance and muscle growth.
Before we jump into the science, let’s cover the basics.
What is Mind-Muscle Connection?
Mind-muscle connection is a psychological aspect of training in which you focus on feeling each and every rep and recruiting specific muscles. It is about more than just going through the motions of each movement, but rather, focussing on a conscious and deliberate muscular contraction. This mental focus can increase the recruitment of muscle fibres during an exercise and make it easier to isolate specific muscles. With this method, you make every rep count.
Not convinced yet? We have proof.
A recent study by Bret Contreras (include link), using electromyography (EMG), tested whether load and form dictate muscle activation or whether it is possible to use mind-muscle connection to mentally steer neural drive towards some muscles and away from others. They performed a variety of lower and upper body exercises with the same weight and form, but focussed on activating different muscles each time. For example, they performed the squat once with the mental focus on activating the glutes and once with the mental focus on activating the quads.
What they found is that advanced lifters, such as themselves, CAN steer neural drive to and away from specific muscles without significantly altering form. The tests showed that when focussing on the glutes while performing a squat, the activation of the glutes was significantly higher than when focussing on the quads.
But what does this activation mean for your gains?
In a study performed by Brad Schoenfeld (include link), it was found that training with a focus on mind-muscle connection led to a significant increase in gains compared to performing the same training program with proper form, but without mind-muscle connection.
This study took place over eight weeks and involved two groups of inexperienced lifters. Both groups performed the same training program and executed each exercise with the same form. The only difference was that one group was told to focus on activating specific muscles while performing certain exercises and the other group was told to simply focus on lifting the weight.
The group that focussed on mind-muscle connection saw greater increases in strength over the eight-week period.
Put this information to work.
So now that you know the importance of mind-muscle connection, let’s talk about how you can work on improving this connection for yourself.
One of the first steps in improving mind-muscle connection can happen before you even step in the gym. Practice flexing your muscles at home. Take 10 minutes each day and isolate specific muscles. Get your mind and body used to working together to activate certain muscles.
It will make it easier to focus on those muscles when lifting weight if you are able to focus on them without any weight at all. You can also flex the target muscle before beginning an exercise and in between sets to increase blood flow and keep your mind focussed.
Less weight, more muscle activation?
After you have mastered the flex, you can begin performing your favorite exercises to test out this theory. But, make sure to check your ego at the door. When focussing on mind-muscle connection, it is best to lower your usual weight to something more manageable.
Mind-muscle connection allows you to focus your effort on a specific muscle, meaning the secondary muscles will not be used as much and, in turn, you will not be able to lift as much.
Perform each exercise with lighter weight and focus your mental energy on the specific muscle you want to target.
This lower weight may also ensure proper form and could lower your risk of injury. Which sounds like a win, win situation to us.
Slow down your movements.
Get the most out of every rep by slowing down the eccentric portion of a contraction. Think about taking 3-5 seconds for each eccentric movement, while simultaneously focussing your mental effort on the specific target muscle.
By creating tension in the right muscles, your body will be better able to gain strength and size in all the right places. Train smarter, not harder.
Contreras, Bret. “Mind-Muscle Connection: Fact or BS?.” T-Nation.com, 11 Feb. 2014, www.t-nation.com/training/mind-muscle-connection-fact-or-bs. Accessed 12 July 2018.
Schoenfeld, Brad. “The Mind-Muscle Connection: A Key to Maximizing Growth?.” lookgreatnaked.com, 15 Mar. 2018, www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/the-mind-muscle-connection-a-key-to-maximizing-growth/. Accessed 12 July 2018.