Did you know that aside from being consistent and working out with proper technique, that there is something you should be doing in order to get the most out of your workouts?
Whether you’re training for strength or trying to build muscle, learning how to create a mind-muscle connection can and will have a lot of benefits.
It’s what makes a difference between just moving the weight from point A to point B and actually growing some damn muscles.
What is a mind-muscle connection?
A mind-muscle connection is the ability to think about the muscle that you’re specifically targeting and feel it working throughout the movement you’re doing. This could be a biceps curl, a chest press or even a lunge.
You can do it with any muscle. However, it tends to be easier to form a mind-muscle connection with your large muscle groups first. We tend to use these more, so it makes sense that we’d be more connected to them.
Forming a good mind-muscle connection will allow you to have better control over your muscles and squeeze as you’re doing a rep. The act of squeezing or flexing a muscle requires focus and concentration.
Let’s try it. Right now, hold your arm up beside you and try to flex your biceps.
Whether that muscle is developed or not, you were probably able to lift your arm and bend your elbow to pull your fist up toward your head.
While this required you to use your biceps, it didn’t necessarily mean that you had to focus or that you were flexing and squeezing as hard as you could.
Try it again, and this time actively try to tighten your biceps as much as you can by mentally focusing, creating tension within that muscle, and squeezing in order to flex. As you do this, your bicep should get flexed harder. This is a mind-muscle connection.
Don’t worry if your biceps didn’t get flex as much as you wanted to or if you didn’t feel it tighten or even move. This may just mean that you haven’t quite formed a strong mind-muscle connection with that part of your body yet (or perhaps you may need to get off your butt and start working out).
Have you ever seen someone move their ears just by thinking about it? That’s also an example of being connected and able to mentally control your muscles. You don’t have to be ripped or have giant muscles to have a good connection to them.
It’s just something that takes practice and is a skill that anyone can learn. Learning to create a mind-muscle connection can help you to achieve your goals with better results.
Why is mind-muscle connection important?
Forming a mental connection to your muscles helps you to have more control over your body. The better you’re able to control your muscles and movements, the more effective your training will be.
Being able to create a mind-muscle connection has a lot of benefits.
Some of the main ones include getting more from your training, reaching your goals faster, increasing your muscle activation for better results, boosting your strength, burning more calories and building more muscle.
Plenty of people exercise and workout, but it’s easy to just move your body without making a concerted effort to maximize your potential. Earlier, we tried to flex our biceps without a mind-muscle connection and then with a mind-muscle connection.
When we actively tried to squeeze as hard as possible and use our biceps to their fullest extent throughout the movement, it took way more focus and effort and elicited a greater stimulus.
However, when we just held our arms up and bent our elbow, it didn’t feel the same. This is because when you actively focus on squeezing a muscle and creating that mental connection, it causes your body to work harder.
This results in gaining more strength, burning more calories, building more muscle and ultimately getting better at what you’re doing in a shorter period of time because you’re applying more effort.
You can go to the gym and workout without ever creating a good mind-muscle connection. However, you probably won’t see results as quickly or to the extent that someone who is more connected to their body will.
5 tips to improve your mind-muscle connection
1. Training cues
Training cues are things that a coach or your training partner would tell you in order to help you maximize a movement you’re doing.
They may say something like, “roll your shoulders back and down” as you’re about to do a row for your back. It’s to help you remember how to use proper form and keep your shoulders out of the movement so that you can focus on the muscle being worked, your back.
Another training cue for doing a leg press might be, “push through your heels”. This training cue is to help you to remember to use your whole foot rather than just pressing through your toes or the balls of your feet, which can lead to knee injuries.
Research has shown that training cues, whether said verbally by someone you train with or repeated to yourself in your head as you’re lifting, can significantly help with your mind-muscle connection.
2. Focus and concentrate
Try not to just go through the motions when you’re working out.
You can burn calories and even get a good sweat going without focusing on what you’re doing and just throwing some weight up, but you’ll decrease your chance of injury and benefit way more if you take the time to focus on your movements.
A recent study evaluated the difference between focusing on targeting a specific muscle while training and focusing on the outcome of that exercise. The group that focused on the specific muscle by creating a mind-muscle connection actually built more muscle.
When you focus on the outcome of training, such as losing weight, getting leaner, burning calories or building muscle and size, it can prevent you from getting the most out of your efforts.
Focusing on the body part that you’re training, and creating a mind-muscle connection will ultimately get you closer to your goals, and at a much faster rate than just focusing on the outcome, you want to get from that exercise.
3. Practice proper form
When you practice your form and concentrate on taking your muscles through a full range of motion, it’s easier to learn to target and feel the particular muscle that you’re working on.
Thinking of exercise as practice may help you to reach your goals faster and prevent injuries, rather than trying to go “beast-mode” and walk out of the gym feeling destroyed.
Practicing going through a full range of motion during your movements will allow your muscles go get fully activated and lead to better strength and size gains. Aiming to use proper form and practicing it regularly will ultimately help you to reach your goals faster and more effectively.
4. Lift lighter weights
When you’re using lighter weight it’s easier to focus on feeling the muscle that you’re working.
Lifting heavy can be great for you, but lifting a lighter weight and concentrating on squeezing and feeling the muscle that you’re targeting also has its benefits when it comes to building muscle.
Often, when you lift heavy it’s difficult to specifically target one muscle and fully feel it throughout the full range of motion because you’re just trying to control the weight.
However, trying to control your muscles as much as possible can also help with strength improvements and building muscle size because you’re forced to recruit more muscle fibers.
5. Patience helps
Exercise is a skill that takes time. So, try to be patient with yourself and take it one day, one week, one month at a time, and even one year at a time.
When you’re just starting out, you may not have a lot of muscle mass so it’ll be more difficult for you to feel it. As you progress, it will be easier to create a mind-muscle connection especially to your larger muscle groups such as your chest.
And while it’s absolutely possible to also have a mind-muscle connection to your smaller muscles like your triceps or other arm muscles, it may take a bit more time.
This is why it’s important to stay consistent and think of working out as habit, lifestyle choice, and a skill that you’re trying to improve over time.