In the fitness world, there is much talk of the mind–muscle connection and its near-mystical abilities to increase gains. But what exactly is it? Let's explore how creating a bridge between your mental processes and your muscular activity might help enhance your fitness goals, build muscle, and deepen your connection to your body.
Myth or reality: the science behind the mind–muscle connection
Try it yourself: tips on how to create a strong mind–muscle connection
Strong connections: everyday strength training
Why it matters: mindful connection to your whole body
What is the mind–muscle connection in fitness?
Despite the mythical-sounding description, the mind-to-muscle connection actually has its basis firmly grounded in reality. The mind–muscle connection refers to focusing all your attention on the particular muscle you are using when lifting a weight or performing a particular movement, utilizing the power of your brain to enhance muscle activity.
It’s often used by lifters to boost the size, strength, and activation of certain muscles, such as triceps, biceps, and quads. Due to the reported benefits of the mind–muscle connection, the techniques are now being utilized by regular fitness aficionados looking for some extra gains.
The science behind mind–muscle connection
Before deciding whether to experiment with the mind–muscle connection for yourself, let’s look through some of the data and research that covers the potential of this particular method for increasing muscle mass.
Various research studies do suggest some interesting links between the intentional focus on the action of lifting a weight and muscle activation. One study conducted on 13 resistance-trained men found that verbal instructions given to muscles during a bench press exercise increased the activity of the triceps.
Another promising study, published in the European Journal of Sport Science, examined 30 untrained men by dividing them into two groups of 15. One group was asked to use ‘internal focus’ and place their attention on the action of lifting weights in a bicep curl and quad exercise. The other group was asked to use ‘external focus,’ which concentrated on the outcome of the lift rather than the action itself.
The findings of this study included:
- Greater increase in elbow flexor thickness for the ‘internal focus’ group
- Greater increase in quadriceps thickness for the ‘internal focus’ group
The findings lend support to the use of a mind-muscle connection to enhance muscle hypertrophy.Brad Jon Schoenfeld
While there are a few promising studies on the mind–muscle connection benefit, the subject could benefit from further exploration and an up-to-date meta-analysis of all the current research.
Techniques to enhance your mind–muscle connection
If you are interested in exploring the mind–muscle connection and how to develop it, take a look through these six easy-to-follow tips:
1. Warm up for each exercise
As with any type of physical activity, you should warm up your body in preparation for the exercises you will be doing. If you are working on your biceps, triceps, or any muscles in your upper body, make sure you stretch and move your arms and torso before reaching for the weights. Upper-body warm-up exercises include:
- Jump rope for 3 minutes
- 20 arm circles in each direction
- Side plank for 45 seconds on each side
2. No mirrors
When working on the mind–muscle connection, it’s better not to use any mirrors. This will help you focus your attention inwardly rather than looking at what you are doing in the mirror. Direct your attention to the muscle you are moving to lift the weight without thinking about the result of the lift.
3. Drop the weight
Heavier is not always better when it comes to improving the mind–muscle connection. Your aim should be to hold your attention on the muscle activity while completing the lift, which will be easier if you are working with manageable weights.
4. Slow it down
As you lift the weight, try to slow down the movement as much as you can to give yourself ample time to focus your attention on the muscle that is currently working.
5. Touch your muscles
Stimulating the muscle you are going to work on before you pick up the weight can help you build a connection to it through touch first. For example, if you are working on your biceps, lightly stroke the muscle for 30 seconds before you start to lift.
Use your imagination to visualize your muscles contracting and lifting. Imagine them getting bigger with each rep as you work through your lifting sets slowly and with careful attention.
Strength training and mind–muscle connection
Strength training and the mind–muscle connection is a powerful duo. Strength training aims to build the size and power of your muscles, and using the mind–muscle connection techniques during your strength training sessions may improve your results.
You don’t need to add an extra hour of exercise each day to incorporate strength training into your daily life. A quick 10-minute session, either in the morning or added to the end of your usual fitness schedule, is a great start. Try a few of these beginner-friendly strength training exercises and focus on each muscle you are using while you do them:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly squat down as if you are sitting on a chair behind you. Keep your back straight and your gaze forward. Hold your squat for 2 seconds, squeeze your glutes, and come back to standing. Start with 10 reps and increase as you get stronger.
There are many plank variations to try. For a basic plank, begin from a push-up position, and if you need to modify, come down onto your forearms. Keep your body in one long, straight line with your gaze slightly forward. Engage your core muscles and hold for up to a minute.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and take a controlled step backward with your right leg. Lower down until both legs form 90-degree angles, with the back knee 3 inches from the ground. Push up, come back to the starting position, and repeat on the left side. Do 15 reps on each side. If you want more of a challenge, hold two light dumbbells in your hands.
Why does mind–muscle connection matter?
In a world where everything moves at such a fast pace, taking the time to slow down and be intentional with our exercise can have far-reaching benefits for our day-to-day lives. Creating a strong mind–muscle connection doesn’t just affect the muscles you use while performing a particular exercise — you are deepening your connection to your whole body.
When we are in a connected state with our bodies, we naturally move with more control and intention, potentially preventing injuries. The mind–muscle connection techniques are also classed as mindfulness practices. Learning how to listen and pay attention to our bodies can help us to become more mindful and considerate in the way we move through our lives.
What are the benefits of incorporating mind–muscle connection in workouts?
According to those who use mind–muscle connection techniques, the benefits may include muscle growth, strength, and endurance.
Is the mind–muscle connection applicable to strength training?
Yes, it is most often used when performing strength training, like bodyweight exercises or weight lifting.
Can you build muscle without mind–muscle connection?
Yes, you can absolutely build muscle without intentionally using the mind–muscle connection. If you are strength training and following the methods of muscle building, such as performing more reps and progressive overload, you will build muscle.
The mind–muscle connection refers to the focused attention placed on a particular muscle during movement.
Some mind–muscle connection enthusiasts use it to purportedly build greater muscle mass.
While some studies into the mind–muscle connection are promising, more scientific research is needed.
Some practical tips for enhancing your mind–muscle connection include visualization, touching your muscles, and ensuring you warm up properly before lifting any weights.
- European Journal of Translational Myology. Mind muscle connection: effects of verbal instructions on muscle activity during bench press exercise.
- European Journal of Sports Science. Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training.