The Mind-Muscle Connection: The Real Reason You’re Not Seeing Gains?
There’s a very important habit that all experienced exercisers and athletes include in their training, but that most people haven’t heard of: the Mind-Muscle Connection (MMC).
Growing and strengthening our muscles is impossible without our nervous system. Outside of the gym, our posture, our movements, and our reflexes are all affected by our brain’s connection to our muscles. In short, nothing happens in our muscles without our brain’s say-so. Mind-Muscle Connection, or the lack thereof, is the reason that some people struggle to grow certain muscle groups; by improving our MMC, we can directly improve our muscles’ strength, size, and functionality. Think about the strongest person you know–that person is using their Mind-Muscle Connection. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has attributed his impressive physique to MMC!
The Evidence for MMC
MMC, in short, can be defined as an “internally focused strategy [that] involves visualizing the target muscle and consciously directing neural drive to the muscle during exercise performance.” Studies have shown that you can expect to experience up to 80% more activation in a muscle by just thinking about the muscle while exercising. Another study found that by having a person (such as a personal trainer!) verbally instructing an exerciser to focus attention on the muscles while lifting led to greater muscle activation and–it can be hypothesized–increased hypertrophy. If you’re still not convinced, one scientific review on the effects of attentional focus on muscular development found that “It is likely that the molecular signaling for all 3 primary mechanisms of muscular hypertrophy, namely mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage, are increased when the exerciser focuses their attention internally, which could ultimately result in greater muscular development for a given exercise and load.”
Feel the Muscle
So, how do you improve your MMC? If you have a stubborn muscle that just doesn’t seem to be getting stronger or bigger, ask yourself: can you feel the muscle? When you go to the gym and you do a shoulder press, for example, are you aware of the muscle fibres in your deltoids working to lift the weight above your head?
One huge but underrated benefit of becoming a personal trainer is that you gain an in-depth understanding of anatomy and muscular function; just knowing where the muscle sits on the human body and how it works will help to improve the strength, size, and functioning of your muscles. So, before you throw in the towel because you’re not ‘gaining’, consider taking an exercise science or anatomy class through Infofit. Our instructors will take you on an in-depth journey into your muscular function, to help you (and your clients) to grow bigger and stronger muscles.
Tips for Maximizing the Mind-Muscle Connection
- Practice at home
MMC doesn’t have to happen only in the gym! Take a minute or two during your day to check in with your muscles and focus your mental energy on the specific muscle you want to target. Practice engaging your core or contracting your quads when you go to sit or stand up. This actually can be surprisingly difficult at first, but with practice, the Mind Muscle Connection will become second nature and you’ll be activating your muscles with ease!
- Go lighter than you think
It might seem counterintuitive, but there is evidence to suggest that you may experience more muscle engagement by going lighter. One study compared two different lifts, a chest press at 50% 1 repetition maximum (1RM) and a chest press at 80%, and found that there was greater activation in the pectoralis muscles at the 50% weight. In both cases, the lifters were instructed to focus on the chest muscles while lifting. So, consider lowering the weight the next time you hit the gym–it might hurt your ego, but your muscles will thank you!
- Slow it Down
Savour the weight! If you are or if you have a personal trainer, you’re probably all-too familiar with the directive to “slow down”. And for good reason! Slowly performing an exercise can lead to greater muscle activation as it forces you to think about the muscle’s engagement as it contracts and releases. Try different tempos: if you’re usually taking one second in the concentric phase (the lift or the pull), experiment with taking another second. Taking even more time in the eccentric phase (the lowering or releasing the weight back to the starting position) may be even more effective in engaging MMC. Many experts recommend 4-5 seconds in the eccentric phase.
We hope you found this article helpful! The Mind-Muscle Connection might be just the small tweak your training needs to bust through that plateau and start seeing the gains you deserve.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.