Often, the most influential effect on your behavior is what happens in your head. Many people think that weight training is purely physical, especially compared to something like yoga, but the truth is, there are many psychological aspects involved. Mastering the art of mind-muscle connection is key to getting the most out of every workout.
What is Mind-Muscle Connection?
Everything your body does is controlled by the brain, which obviously includes your muscles. In order to create a muscular contraction, a signal is sent from your brain to the muscle telling it to contract. At the same time, your brain releases a chemical neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This chemical crosses the synapses between the nerves and the muscle to bind to receptors on the muscle fibers, causing a contraction.
During this communication, your mind and your muscle connect. The more you improve the communication, the more muscle fibers you will recruit. The more fibers you recruit, the better the quality of the contraction and the more effective your workout becomes.
How Does Mind-Muscle Connection Impact My Workout?
When you are moving a weight, there are primary and secondary movers at work. The primary mover is the muscle you are targeting. Secondary movers are the muscles that support the primary mover. For example, during a bench press, the primary mover is the Pectoralis Major and the secondary movers are the Triceps and Deltoids.
Mind-muscle connection helps you maximize the force placed on the primary mover in order to maximize gains. While you hear many people brag about the weight they can move, what you really need to focus on is how much work your target muscles are doing. Your muscles do not grow because you are moving weight up and down. They grow because they are forced to contract by acting on the weight.
Let’s go back to the bench press as an example. You may be able to bench 250 lbs., but without mind-muscle connection, your Triceps and Deltoids are pushing much of that weight. Instead of the full 250 lbs., your Pectoralis Major may only be bearing 60% of the weight, or 150 lbs.
Remove your ego from the equation, lower the weight and focus more on your mind-muscle connection. If you reduce the weight to 220 lbs. but engage your chest so that it’s bearing 80% of the load, you’ll actually be pushing 176 lbs.; more than you were with the heavier weight.
To make serious gains, you have to learn how to make every rep count. This starts by training your brain to communicate properly with your muscles. Differentiate between getting 10 reps and actually doing 10 reps. Every rep you don’t feel in the targeted muscle is a rep wasted.
How Do I Improve Mind-Muscle Connection?
Staying focused in the gym isn’t always easy. Nowadays, gyms are full of distractions: they blast loud music, they’re full of TVs, they’re crowded. And that doesn’t even include the greatest distraction of all, sitting in your pocket – your phone.
Establishing a strong mind-muscle connection can help. Plus, the ability to mentally block out external distractions will only improve your performance. Here are four tips to help you develop and enhance neuromuscular communication:
- Check Your Ego at the Door – Don’t become obsessed with pushing more weight. Instead, concentrate on the quality of each repetition.
- Warm-up – Start your workout with a few warm-up sets. Close your eyes, concentrate on the target muscles and squeeze out 15-20 reps with a low weight. Pause at the point of maximum contraction.
- Slow Down – Using a lower weight than normal, take 4-5 seconds for both the concentric and eccentric part of the movement. Pause at the point of maximum contraction.
- Flex – You may have seen people do this, and thought it was all show. In reality, flexing your target muscles in between sets forces additional blood into the muscles, pumping them up even more. You are more aware of your muscles when they’re fully pumped, which makes them easier to target mentally.