Chances are high it’s not the first time you hear someone talking about mind-muscle connection. But perhaps I’ve just made you notice you never really wondered what it’s all about (you’re so welcome.) Well, it’s obviously about Mind. Muscle. Connection. Sure it must be a good thing. Almost like what they call mindfulness maybe.
Or not quite. Let me dig into it and we’ll find out what’s in there for you!
So the story starts in bodybuilding. Ok, now some of you may already drift off thinking: those muscle guys? Sorry, not my cup of tea. And let the story end right here. You hear “them” groaning from the other corner of the gym and go like: wait, didn’t they just add those extra plates themselves?… or maybe I’m just exaggerating and you consider anyone who to some extent works towards the goal of forming their bodies could be called a body-builder. And I agree that’s a pretty cool idea.
Whether you like or don’t understand the idea of body-building (yet), I’ve got to tell you there’s some knowledge in this kind of sport that could be of use for everyone who wants to live a healthy active lifestyle.
What sounds like some sort of spiritual experience is actually considered to be fundamental to traditional bodybuilding training principles: behind mind-muscle connection stands the idea of intentional focus on squeezing and isolating the muscle that you are trying to target when doing weight training exercises.
Among bodybuilders this particular focus is key to improved muscle activation and a great pump – no other word could better describe this feeling of being invincible after a great weight lifting session. The “pump” is caused by increased blood flow and swelling in the working muscle tissue. However, ultimately and perhaps most relevant to athletes is the assumption that mind-muscle connection leads to improved muscle growth. The gainz.
Muscle squeezing seems fun stuff. Only unfortunate that research cannot really back up the muscle building benefits of the so popular technique: in fact, there are some studies claiming that mind-muscle connection could be of little or no importance to gaining muscle mass. Arguing that muscles are moving the weight anyways, there is no need to consciously activate a particular muscle. Instead, one should rather focus on executing the exercise with proper form, using appropriate range of motion.
Again, there is people shooting back. Obviously, there is a lack of evidence coming from long-term studies that support either of the conclusions around mind-muscle connection, as the professional bodybuilder Jeff Nippard discussed in one of his latest science-based videos on YouTube. Also, there is reason to believe that the ability to consciously contract a certain muscle seems to differ between upper and lower extremities. As research needs to further explore the importance of mind-muscle connection on muscle growth, it might be worth to consider that improved focus can have other beneficial effects.
In the end, aren’t form and mind-muscle connection inter-connected? Many athletes perceive that targeting a muscle by conscious contraction helps improve and maintain proper exercise technique in the long term aiming for continuous progress.
Ok, bodybuilding stories so far so good. The benefit of gaining muscle mass for weight loss and general health I already touched upon in my article Not eating is Not the answer. Regardless if it’s about maintaining weight, losing fat or gaining muscle mass, or improving performance – fitness is a lifelong learning process and I believe that everyone can win from practicing mind-muscle connection. Instead of simply moving (body) weight from A to B conscious muscle contraction or focus helps you more consciously experience the exercise and explore the movement (on another level).
Can there be any greater motivation than feeling your way into the exercise?
What seems to keep bodybuilders motivated could just be worth a try to find (more) excitement in forming our bodies. Even if some of you may now want to close the loop towards mindfulness (yes, please go ahead!) finally, isn’t it all connected to the consistent aim to feeling good, the connection of mind and muscle – mind and body. It’s the process of experimenting that is filling into the full picture step by step, revealing every individual’s way to enjoy motion… and perhaps it’s just about increased conscious movement, the feeling, that is the missing piece to form your attitude towards exercising that you were looking for.
If you still wonder how this mind-muscle connection feels like or want to improve your workout experience, here are some general tips straight out of the body-building community:
- Use less weight. I know this can be tough when all you can see is people around you lifting heavy stuff… But key (as from maybe all perspectives in life) is: Don’t compare yourself with others. Everyone has once started, you’re not the first new gym member. Still not convinced? Take these: 1. People are way too busy with their own workout and there’s less eyes on you than you might think. 2. For the scale of impression it applies: Form over weight. 3. Overcoming insecurities is just part of the whole process that will make you grow.
- Stay in controll of the movement. By moving the weight slowly you can find a better connection to your muscle, keep proper form and prevent injury. After a while you will learn to intuitatively match weight, repetitions, Focus will make you gain trust in the learning process instead of going aimlessly through the motions on a machine.
- Discover the function of your muscles. There is a number of ways to isolate a particular muscle you want to train. Try different exercises, angles, work on your form, or ask a PT to help you. What is your favourite exercise? And why? Where in your body do you feel it most? You know this love-hate relationship you have with sore muscles – that’s often when you are able to feel your muscles isolated. The fun part: go and work out “through the pain”… and you are able to focus and target the muscle with ease.
Ok, just the “regular disclaimer”: I’m not a PT but a nutritionist who some time ago found that enthusiasm for strength training was just completing the passion I have for a healthy lifestyle. Interestingly, as it is with nutrition science, there is a lot you hear about what you should do or should not do that will get you to your goal. But even if it was a goal that got you start the journey to your own fitness, isn’t it the learning and growing on the way there that makes it so exciting and fun?