Let’s talk about a topic that is very common among gym goers (especially the bodybuilding crowd).
The topic is the Mind Muscle Connection.
The belief is that if you focus on activating that muscle with your mind before starting the movement, that you will get more out of it because both your body and mind are in sync and working together.
Is this “BroScience”? Does it actually work? Are bodybuilders a bunch of weirdos?
Well — the science behind this theory actually backs up our bodybuilding friends. Studies have shown that not only is the mind muscle connection real, it can and will make a huge difference in the activation of a muscle or muscle group.
Even I, at one point a long time ago, thought that the mind muscle connection was crazy.
Before I show you some information from a recent study — I know, I know you’re not here for science but in this case I just want to show that the data backs up what many blew off as a gym myth.
If you don’t care about the data, just scroll past the images and I will explain what is going on below.
But first, try this right now before we move on:
Stand up and mindlessly do an air (bodyweight) squat — then gather yourself and focus on keeping your glutes engaged and again perform an air squat.
I know you feel the difference!
So — What in the heck do all of those numbers mean?
The easiest movements where you can tell a huge difference between no focus and focus on a certain muscle is the hip thrust with glute focus and without, the back extension with glute focus and without. In both cases the difference when focusing on the glutes led to an increase of 2.5-6x more activation versus no focus.
The studies also show that this is most effective when training with loads <70-80% of your max. Reason being is because it is easier to have an internal focus when moving submaximal weight compared to when you are getting into the high 85-100+% when the focus shifts to external. An example would be a max effort bench press, thinking about pushing that bar up and away off of your chest will be much more beneficial than thinking about flexing your pecs.
Good news, though. Most of us stick in the ranges where the mind muscle connection has the best effect!
But how do I put this into action, Chris? Let me break it down for you:
Get in the right frame of mind before you get to the gym.
Know what you want to accomplish and how long you have to accomplish it. Throw your headphones in and get ready to work.
It may sound dumb or cliché, but take the time to visualize your workout and the goals for the day. It helps, promise.
Don’t blow them off as “unimportant”, the warmup sets set the tone for your working sets.
Activating the proper muscles for each movement is huge! An example is the bench press, the chest is the main targeted muscle here, but, if you nonchalantly perform your warmups it is very easy to let your shoulders take too much control. While the shoulders will be involved, if you’re going for chest development using the bench press it isn’t ideal.
This will go hand in hand with the above point — tense the main targeted muscle for the exercise you’re about to perform before each and every set.
Tagging on to our bench press example you would tense your chest, in the hip thrust/glute bridge you would tense your glutes (these are your butt muscles). Tension in the main targeted muscle of an exercise before starting the lift can help with muscle fiber recruitment.
The more muscle fibers that are activated and recruited = better results (and gainz) for you.
Flex the targeted muscle(s) of the exercise during rest periods to increase blood flow and keep maximum muscle fiber recruitment going.
(FYI Terry Crews is all about that Mind Muscle Connection)
Check your ego at the door — meaning, lighten up the weight. Doing the whole stack on the lat pulldown means nothing if it looks like a scene from the exorcist.
Once you finish your heaviest sets, drop the weight significantly and do very slow tempo repetitions (4 seconds down > 1 second pause > 4 seconds up > 1 second pause > repeat). Focus purely on getting max effort and contraction out of the main targeted muscle of an exercise.
Another way to increase Mind Muscle Connection is to “pre fatigue” the muscle you are really wanting to activate. What this means is that you would use an accessory movement prior to your main movement.
In practice this could look like:
DB Flat/Incline Squeeze Press 2×15-20 Reps (this will give you a massive pump in your chest and you’ll definitely know your chest is “activated”)
Barbell/DB Bench Press 3-5×8-12 Reps
Can I work on the Mind Muscle Connection outside of the gym?
Absolutely! This is me giving you full permission to have a full blown flex off with yourself in the mirror. Although not as intense, this is the same thing bodybuilders do when posing. Flexing in the mirror allows you to see what muscles are working and sometimes it may not be the effect you’re going for (which is why we are doing this in the first place).
(Cale and I are still working on his MMC, obviously!)
The moral of this article is that mindset matters. How you approach your workout and the lifts you are performing that day will be awesome if you are focused. And, on the flip side, probably not so awesome if you aren’t.
This is free — quite literally it only takes a little extra effort in the mind.
Better results that are free, don’t require more gym time and just means you have to think a little more. Now that is a dang good deal if I have ever seen one.