5 min read
Every trade has its insider secrets that one only gets to learn about through years of experience, trial and error, experimentation, mentorships, interacting with the right people, etc. In fitness, I’d say it’s not hyperbole to categorize the mind-muscle connection as one of the many insider secrets of the industry.
Its existence is an open secret, not even guarded, but a lot of people are dismissive of, or simply ignorant to, its benefits and don’t bother to try and master it. Don’t be one of those people making this rookie error, or better yet, share this with one of those people being a rookie.
What is a Mind-Muscle Connection?
In the simplest term, a mind-muscle connection is the conscious communication between your mind and a muscle or muscle group. When you have a strong mind-muscle connection you can consciously increase the engagement of your muscles in a workout and the neural feedback your brain receives from your muscles is heightened. Among many other things, this conscious activation separates the novices from the experts.
Now that we’ve established what it is, how exactly is it beneficial?
1. Improves Muscle and Body Awareness/Control
To start off, having a good mind-muscle connection allows you to dually improve the control you have over your body and the awareness surrounding it. With a strong connection, you can tighten or relax muscles voluntarily, have greater influence over muscle activation, and easily feel tension, imbalances, or irregularities across muscles during a workout.
So, what benefit do these present? Aside from being a great asset at managing/preventing injuries, mastery of control and awareness leads to having better form and posture during an exercise, which promotes correct muscle development and helps iron out muscle imbalances or weaknesses.
2. Improves Focus
Focus is naturally improved when you pay more attention to any task that you’re doing by having to be consciously active in the engagement. When your conscious game increases, it means the chance for an injury to occur decreases, the quality of the exercise increases, and you’re using your time a lot better.
3. Increases Muscle Activation/Recruitment
The biggest draw to wanting to have a strong mind-muscle connection is that the ability allows you to better develop overall muscles. Being able to communicate with your muscles at will means that during an exercise, you can consciously recruit more muscles when performing an exercise. More muscles recruited means more muscles are stimulated, leading to a better and more impactful workout.
An example of utilizing a mind-muscle connection to draw out more muscle activation is when you’re on that final rep of an exercise and you feel like you’re about to drop the weight, but instead, you dig in deep and force out that final rep. That’s you consciously telling your muscles to hold on just long enough to complete the rep.
4. Increases Engagement
Because you have to pay attention to develop that mind-muscle connection, it means you’re more engaged in your workout. Over time, when we engage in a task that steadily becomes routine, we tend to demote it into a passive engagement; we switch off our brains and go through the motions. Workouts typically suffer from this habit, but having to activate the mind-muscle connection translates to enforcing an active engagement, disallowing passivity.
And as we all know, an active engagement always outperforms a passive one, in anything.
5. Decreases Likelihood of Injuries
This links back to the point that a strong-mind muscle connection increases your bodily awareness. This awareness allows you to gauge your comfort/discomfort during a routine, your level of fatigue, and/or your overall energy level. Being mindful of these things can prevent you from overdoing it when your muscles are tired and at their most vulnerable; that can be in reducing weights, reducing reps, slowing down an exercise, or even not engaging in an exercise altogether.
If your mind-muscle connection is strong, you’re more likely to make smarter decisions than ones that’ll have on the next online fail compilation.
How to Obtain a Strong Mind-Muscle Connection
There are five things you can do to obtain a stronger mind-muscle connection:
- Be mindful (or mentally present) when performing repetitions.
- Overemphasize the peak contraction.
- Perform isometric exercises.
- Perform isolation exercises.
Mindfulness when performing reps simply means actively engaging with each exercise, as opposed to being passive and absentminded.
Overemphasizing peak contractions refers to tensing your muscles at the height of a contraction so that you become familiar with the feeling of what engaged muscles versus disengaged muscles differ and feel.
Isometric exercises are great tools because alongside building strength, they also engage your stabilizer muscles. When in an isometric hold, it’s easier to feel your muscles tensing and working, helping you familiarize with what engaged muscles feel like.
A lot of people are quick to dismiss isolation exercises as a waste of time, but in this instance, isolating muscles can allow you to develop them better and also focus in on what that muscle goes through during an exercise. For comparison, it’s easier to use biceps curls to train a mind-muscle connection than it is to use a lunge. Biceps curls are simple movements with fewer muscles involved than lunges, which are more complex and recruit more muscles across a larger area.
And lastly, when you practice, at the start of learning to develop a mind-muscle connection, you’ll know you’re on the right path if you tire out quicker than usual. As you’re willing your muscles to be more engaged, you will naturally fatigue easier since this is new to you. Fatigue may come in noticing you can’t do as many reps, having to lower weights, or even noticing that your energy levels have depleted at an earlier stage in your workout than normal. These are all good signs, and practice will lead you to better navigate the fatigue.
With all that highlighted, hopefully now you too will be a believer in the mind-muscle connection, and you can share this with folks who may be dismissive.