Mind and Muscle Connection
MIND AND MUSCLE CONNECTION
Exercising is a physical activity. We are sometimes mindless during the process. Being more mindful during your workouts can give you a bigger boost in strength and hypertrophy!
WHAT IS BEING MINDLESS?
We usually lift weights and workout and don’t really concentrate on the movement. We throw weights around and lift them up without really thinking too much about, which is fair because exercising is a physical activity. You shouldn’t have to think too much about it except to make sure your form is good. You’ll still see results, but it may feel like you’re lacking for the amount of weight you’re lifting. This is where being mindful comes into play.
When you’re working out, you should be mindful to some extent to at least ensure your form is good. If there is one thing you should be mindful of, that should be it. However, being mindful of the actual movement and contraction itself can play a huge benefit in your results.
For example, if you were going to do curls of 25lbs,it could be very easy to just kind of use momentum to get your arms up and down. It’s fairly easy to do and you feel like you’re lifting some pretty good weight. Now if you lift that same weight and focus on the muscle contraction and the eccentric of the movement, you’ll notice that the exercise is more difficult and you may have to lighten the load just a bit.
When you establish a mind and muscle connection, and do it effectively, you’ll notice that your strength will go up and you will make hypertrophy gains (gaining muscle). Studies have shown that having a mind-muscle connection helps activate muscles more during the movement. When you’re activating more muscle fibers, you’re fatiguing them faster which leads to hypertrophy and strength gains. From various people I’ve encountered, the one pivotal part of their lifting experience was when they started focusing on the movement. Once you master it, you’ll reap extreme benefits from it.
ESTABLISHING A MIND AND MUSCLE CONNECTION
Let’s walk through a proper way of establishing a mind/muscle connection. For the example we’ll be using the bicep curl as our movement.
- Take the weight in hand. Feel free to lighten the load just a bit since it may be difficult to do at first.
- When lifting the weight concentrate on the contraction of the bicep. Try to make sure you’re only using your bicep to lift the weight up. Don’t use your back or rely on momentum to lift the weight up.
- When lifting, make sure you’re going through the whole movement,not just a half rep. Lift the weight all the way up to its peak without messing up your form or exaggerating the movement.
- When settling the weight, don’t just throw it down. Concentrate on the eccentric (when the muscle in lengthening under load or when bringing the weight down) part of the movement and feel your muscles stretching back out to its original position.
This same method applies for all exercises. If it’s a compound movement like squat, bench, or deadlift, you’re focusing on more then just one muscle group,so it’s a bit more difficult. I want to reiterate that if you need to, lighten up the weight. There is no shame in it. Having perfect form and concentration during an exercise with less weight will always be superior to performing an exercise with higher weight and bad form/ no concentration.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND EXTRA TIPS
Having a mind and muscle connection can help you reach a new level in your results. I specifically remember when I started to establish a connection because I hit a new level in strength and mass really fast. I was using muscles I wasn’t normally using and it was easily noticeable the muscle gain I was getting from this too. If you’re having trouble establishing a mind/muscle connection I would recommend trying time under tension movements.
TIME UNDER TENSION
Time under tension (TUT) means how long long your muscle is under strain during a specific movement. For certain muscle groups I had a problem establishing a proper connection with, I would use TUT and It would help me establish a more mindful connection. To perform a TUT workout follow these steps:
- Lighten the weight for the exercise you’re going to perform.
- When contracting the muscle go at a steady pace of 6 seconds.
- When you hit the peak, focus on the eccentric part of the movement for a pace of 6 seconds as well.
You can change up the amount of time, but I would recommend 4+ seconds. You can also do something like: 6 seconds up, and 4 seconds down or 4 seconds up and 6 seconds etc. Experiment with it and see what works best for you. After doing TUT exercises, you should have a easier time establishing a better mind/muscle connection.
NOT THE END ALL BE ALL
I want to clarify that even though I do think a mind-muscle connection is extremely important, it doesn’t mean you have to have that connection every movement. When you’re lifting heavy weight, you would want a more explosive movement. Explosive movements also recruit a great amount of muscle fibers and fatigue you fairly fast. A mind-muscle connection during a workout should be something you use during your workouts, but it doesn’t have to be every exercise. It should be a tool for you to use when needed.
For example, if it was leg day and I had to do a compound movement like squats, I would use more explosive movements. However, if i’m doing something like leg extensions or leg curls, I would make sure to contract the muscle and use a more TUT approach. Experiment with it and see what works best for you!
Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M.D. et al. Eur J Appl Physiol (2016) 116: 527. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7