Do you want the secret to building leaner and stronger muscles?
Don’t we all??
To date, I have not had one client come to me saying they want to get softer, rounder, or weaker.
When it comes to increasing muscle mass and getting stronger, the ‘How’s’ and strategies are endless. Most of these strategies tie back to the training style or diet, but there’s one important factor that’s almost ALWAYS overlooked by people today.
It’s the Mind-Muscle Connection, and the reason we don’t think about it is because it’s not something we can see or feel.
But you know what’s cool?
If you master the Mind-Muscle Connection in a well-organized program while on a balanced diet, your results could SKYROCKET without changing a thing!
So let’s breakdown this hidden secret a lean and strong physique.
What is the Mind-Muscle Connection?
How well do you feel you’re “in tune” with your body when you work out?
Being “in tune” means you’re touching into the Mind-Muscle Connection. It means you’re tying your brain to the muscles being used during activity.
Let’s think about it this way – when you exercise, you get stronger and improve your muscular strength potential of your body.
However, just because you get stronger and improve your strength potential, doesn’t guarantee you’re able to activate or USE that potential. So what does?
It’s simple: Through will power AKA the mind-muscle connection.
The use of your muscular strength is primarily a skill, one that can be learned and developed.
You are the one who coordinates the muscle fibers, builds up the muscle tension, and determines the strength output.
Your mind is in complete control of your muscle potential, but you need to teach it how to do so in order to generate and send the appropriate instructions.
It’s a difficult skill to learn, but one that can take you from a beginner level lifter to an advanced one.
Why is it so important?
Improving your mind-muscle connection offers a number of potential benefits, but let’s take a look at the 5 biggest advantages.
#1 Improved Muscle Coordination
You probably read this one and think “Duh!”
If you improve your ability to activate and fire your muscles, you expect to improve your muscle coordination.
Every movement is under the control of the mind. Whether you realize it or not, the brain sends a signal to the target muscles via the Central Nervous System (CNS) for every body movement. The strength of that signal is determined based on the strength of your Mind-Muscle Connection.
A poorly trained Mind-Muscle Connection limits muscle coordination and leads to sloppy movement and wastes of strength. Unfortunately, the average person uses only 20 to 25% of their strength potential because their Mind-Muscle Connection is not properly trained.
Now, there are two types of coordination to consider when discussing one’s ability to carry out a movement and develop power:
Intramuscular Coordination – How muscle fibers cooperate within a single muscle.
Intermuscular Coordination – How muscles cooperate with each other.
If your goal is to improve strength, then you need to improve both types of coordination as well as increase muscle mass.
Now, because building muscle mass is an energetically costly process, your body naturally prefers to improve muscular coordination first.
This comes in the form of frequency and repetition. The more frequently a muscle moves in a specific pattern, the better muscles get at coordinating the movement and utilizing its full potential.
Take this as another reminder to master the technique of your movements first before adding load. When load is prioritized and a movement is left improperly coordinated, secondary and stabilization muscles take over for the main muscles which prevents effectiveness and efficiency of movement.
#2 Better Self-Awareness & Control
Do you ever feel out of control of your body? Like you have no idea how you’re moving or what it’s doing?
That’s probably what you felt when you started resistance training and now every time you add a new exercise to your training routine.
Mentally, we’re so focused on executing the movement pattern and learning the technique that we find issues feeling the target muscle of a movement.
In the beginning, whether you feel the connection or not, the muscles still grow because of the newness and the tapping into unused potential. However, if you don’t place an emphasis on building the Mind-Muscle Connection during that movement, progress can quickly slow.
As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t feel a muscle working, you’re likely not stimulating it to its full extent. Emphasize a direct target of the individual muscles, so you can improve the Mind-Muscle Connection and add to the intensity of your training.
#3 Improved Muscle Symmetry
As a coach, I always remind my clients to balance sets out between both sides.
Nobody wants uneven cheeks!?
The truth is that we all deal with asymmetries. We have dominant sides, specific sides or muscles stronger than others, and non-dominant sides, weaker limbs or muscles groups.
Because we favor certain sides, we typically have a better Mind-Muscle Connection on those sides.
What’s the best solution for improving asymmetries?
Improve the Mind-Muscle Connection!
More specifically, that means incorporation of unilateral exercises. It’s important to remember that during these, your stronger side should do exactly the same repetitions and resistance as the weaker side, and that if you can, train the weaker side first while the CNS is fresh.
Outside of training, use your weaker sides more frequently during everyday life to naturally improve the Mind-Muscle Connection.
#4 Better Full Body Tension
If you improve the Mind-Muscle Connection in all of your muscles, can you imagine what this would do for your overall strength?
The reality is that the more complex the exercises, the more muscles required, and the more power generated. During a complex exercise, the force generated by the secondary and accessory muscles is transferred to the primary moving muscles to stabilize and support during movement.
The better your Mind-Muscle Connection, the better your full body tension, strength, and likelihood for safe and injury-free training.
#5 More Fun, Enjoyment, & Motivation
Since most (if any) of us are not training to be professional athletes, training for fun, enjoyment, and motivation is pretty important (it’s what keeps us going!).
When you train to improve the Mind-Muscle Connection by default you must completely focus on your workout.
The goal is to contract as many muscles as possible, so you can better feel the entire movement. That means our thoughts must be totally focused on the present moment. This gives you an opportunity to temporarily let go of all the worries and problems of your day-to-day life.
This is your chance for some You Time and find your zone. If you’re able to release the struggles from the day and get into your zone, you’re much more motivated to stick to your training long-term because it’s a happy place or safe zone for you.
How do I train the Mind-Muscle Connection?
By this point you know what the Mind-Muscle Connection is and why it’s important, now it’s time to educate you on how to train the Mind-Muscle Connection.
The best strategy for training your Mind-Muscle Connection is to get into your “zone” so you can consciously feel the movement and contraction of various muscles.
This requires practice and is a skill that must be developed.
The number one thing to improve your chances of getting completely into your “zone,” is to eliminate distractions. Since most of us train in a public gym or training facility, you can achieve this by turning off your phone (or at least notifications), hitting the pause button on work, and listening to some familiar music.
While that’s the number one thing, there are specific training tools that can be applied to training and improve the Mind-Muscle Connection.
Let’s go through the top 3.
#1 Peak Contraction
Peak contraction takes place when you stop at the top of a movement and squeeze or tighten all of the muscles as tightly as possible. In a squat this point is the upright position and in a bench press, this would be the position where the arms are locked out.
This tactic is great for improving the interaction of the individual muscles. The conscious contraction of your muscles improves your ability to include as many muscles as possible in a single movement.
Peak contraction requires more energy than standard reps, so it’s likely you will do fewer repetitions overall. Because this strategy is more fatiguing it needs to be used wisely. I recommend the use during only compound lifts, for two to three sets per session, and toward the end of your training.
#2 Static Exercises
Static exercises are held positions and do not require movement of body parts. During these exercises, you focus on working and firing all the muscles at the same time to improve intermuscular coordination.
Most often, static exercises are coached to be held as long as possible; however, this takes away from the effort, degree of contraction, and actual function.
The purpose of static exercises are to create as much body tension as possible, NOT to save energy. This is the ONLY way your body can use static exercises to improve the Mind-Muscle Connection.
The best example of a static exercise is a plank.
- If you’ve done them before, you know the typical coaching uses:
Neutral spine (no arch or round of the back in any place)
- Elbows underneath the shoulders
- Neutral position of the head (no hanging or raising)
- Feet shoulder-width apart or together.
What you might not know is to pull your elbows and toes towards each other while in the plank position. This tightens and engages the entire front side of the body and improves the full body tension.
#3 Isolation Exercises
Remember when we talked about everyone’s likelihood for muscular imbalances and weaknesses?
Isolation exercises are the best way to deal with your weak points because they do two things:
- They directly train targeted muscles.
- They improve the Mind-Muscle Connection with the isolated muscle.
It’s easy to use isolation exercises incorrectly, so here are some tips to effectively apply them to training:
- Add at the beginning of your workout to stimulate the targeted muscle for the upcoming training session.
- Add at the end of your workout to enhance the Mind-Muscle Connection.
- Prioritize concentration on contraction over the load.
- Utilize higher reps to allow for ample time to form the connection.
- Utilize full range of motion to improve the connection throughout its entirety.
Are you looking for more ways to improve your Mind-Muscle Connection? How about information on creating and following the perfect training program for yourself?
Click HERE to sing up for a FREE Training Call to talk through your best tactics moving forward for improving your Mind-Muscle Connection.
About The Author
Jordan Davies is the Co-Owner of Complete Performance. Jordan has her B.S. in Exercise Science and Psychology, and her M.A. in Holistic Health Studies. She is a CSCS certified strength and conditioning coach, and a PN-1 and NCI-1 certified nutrition coach. She loves to study how the human body needs to be moved and nourished and making that fit to your unique lifestyle. Click Here Now to Apply for Coaching with Jordan.