By UK Personal Trainer | John Hockley
BSc Sport and Exercise Science
The Mind Muscle Connection. We have all heard the term, but what does it really mean? And how will it help muscles to grow?
Quite simply, It’s about consciously engaging the targeted muscle and feeling it contract throughout its entire range of motion. This will create tension in the muscle which is essential for growth. The reason it is so important is because our body will do anything to make a movement easier.
Mind Muscle Connection
Anyone can move a weight from point A to Point B with no regard for what they are trying to contract, but not everyone can engage the muscle. Take the bench press for example, typically you increase the weight each week or change the rep range but never really feeling a burn in the chest. Often the shoulders and triceps take over or form is compromised and momentum is used to lift the weight. Well, that’s your body’s way of protecting itself and shifting the weight the easiest way it can.
I would say building this connection is the fastest and most effective way to make strides in the gym. Don’t worry about the number of reps and sets you are doing, because without engaging the working muscle you are wasting the opportunity to grow.
Is Mind Muscle Connection a new ‘fad’?
The Mind Muscle connection is not just a new buzz word being bound around by top bodybuilders. There is real science behind the theory, and studies and fitness professionals have looked into whether a greater activation occurs to a muscle when subjects were instructed to focus on it (1,2).
It is implied that the greatest activation is made when focusing on the target muscle rather than an outcome – for example, performing a 1RM, or as many repetitions completed in a minute. By doing this you are creating more tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage all leading to greater muscular development.
The mind muscle connection is a skill like any other that can be improved and developed over time. It’s best not to over complicate things at first, so here are my top 5 tips on how to develop it.
#1 Leave your Ego at the door
Do not worry about the weight you are lifting; your muscles certainly don’t care! They only respond to how much force and tension is going through them.
Often you can feel the muscle working with a light weight, for example, when you warm up.
✓ Drop the weight at least 30% and focus on maintaining that feeling throughout the entire rep. Soon enough your weights will go back up, but this time you will be working the right muscle throughout its entire range of motion.
#2 Prime your muscles
Before any set, engage the muscle. This can be through an isometric hold or very light warm up sets. For example, before performing calf raises, stand on your toes and squeeze the muscle for 5-10 seconds.
✓ Repeat this 5-10 times so that the muscle is already engaged before you start. Visualising the muscle working will also help you prepare for the working sets.
#3 Focus on Technique
We have all seen that guy or girl swinging the heaviest barbell when performing curls, but who needs their hips and shoulders to build their biceps?
✓ Get your technique right. Lock down your form and engage only the muscle you are trying to work.
#4 Slow it down
Studies show that placing a muscle under tension for 40-60 seconds is key to growth. So, slow your reps down, especially on the eccentric/lowering phase and really feel your muscle work.
✓ A set of 8 repetitions with a 3 seconds lowering phase, a 2 second concentric phase and a 1 second squeeze will place 40 seconds of stress on a muscle.
The perfect amount for building muscle.
#5 Create Tension
Often it is what you can’t see that makes the difference. Tension throughout the muscle is key. Whilst reading this, squeeze your chest as much as possible. You want this feeling throughout your entire rep.
Tricks can be employed to help achieve this. For example, when performing a press up or bench press grip the bar and consciously slide your hands together without moving them and squeeze. This will engage the chest throughout the movement.
The same trick can be reversed when performing a back exercise, imagine you are pulling the bar apart, retract your shoulder blades and lead with your elbows, this would help to engage the back even before the movement has begun.
Take home message
I would suggest employing these techniques on one to two exercises at the beginning of your workout, as it is mentally taxing at first. You can eventually build this up so every set and rep is performed this way.
If you have found that your muscles aren’t growing and you are doing the same exercises, then work on this connection. I can guarantee it will work wonders for growth, you are less likely to get injured and you will be able to flex at any given second.
Enjoy the connection.