Mind-Muscle Connection: What is it and How to Make it Work for You?

Actively shifting weight from one part of the body to another is something that relies on a brain part that’s known as the ‘neuromuscular junction'.

Man bench pressing weights

What is the mind-muscle connection?

To put it simply, it is the ability to focus tension on a specific muscle or muscle region to make it deliberately contract. It’s a skill that means you’re able to actively shift weight from one part of the body to another, and something that relies on an area of the brain that’s known as the ‘neuromuscular junction’, where the mind meets the body.

Those that rely on a mind to muscle connection will need to use a greater amount of brain fibers to execute the task, and by being able to create tension in specific muscles, they will be able to develop strength and size in the targeted places, and offer better quality muscle contraction and an all round better workout.

A large part of resistance training workouts is about how long the brain can concentrate for any set period of time.

This is also known as focused attention

Of which there are two different types during exercise. The first of these is:

1. Internal focus, which is the conscious following of what the exercise is requiring you to do. An example of this is feeling the strain on your arms and keeping your back straight during a press up.

2. The second is external focus, which is how your body reacts to the workout situation you’re experiencing. So if we were to use the same example of the press up, your primary external focus is to push yourself away from the ground.

While both of these focuses help improve performance, for mind muscle
connection, it’s about shifting your focus to the muscles that are instrumental to your workout, which for the press up, would be the pectorals, deltoids, triceps and abdominals. By having a good understanding of which muscle groups you are targeting, it will make focus and concentration that much easier.

Man getting ready to lift weights
Man getting ready to lift weights

Things to remember when building your mind-muscle connection

One cue at a time

When getting started with developing a mind to muscle connection, it's about taking in stages and using an improvement and movement tool known as cueing that allows your brain fibers to connect with the correct muscles.

Once you know exactly which muscles you want to focus on, and which exercises best do that, the first cue you will want to work on is that of a correct setup, and that you are doing your workout properly.

It may mean starting off with a lighter weight, or having a shorter duration for that work out, but will ensure that you are working on the correct muscles and are exercising safely.

As you move onto the next part of the exercise, be mindful of which muscle is being worked. Once you are doing this, your brain will be able to develop muscle memory each time you return to the exercise. Both through taking your time and workout repetition, your brain will be able to zone in on the specific muscles being worked, which will in turn increase the connection between each muscle.

Pause for impact

A key part of muscle building is time tension during resistance training.

Of course it’s vital to stay safe, but as you are probably already aware, with a workout such as weightlifting, the longer you spend with tension, the better your muscles will develop.

There are three different ways to do this:

1. Pausing during peak contraction
2. Isometric exercises that involve little muscle or body movement
3. Slowing down the eccentric part (or wind down) of the exercise.

The latter two are believed to be excellent methods for developing the mind-muscle connection. The simple but heavy duty act of an isometric workout gives your brain time to focus on the working muscles, with even 3 second pause towards the end of your exercise, will automatically focus on controlling the exercise, and are in tune with how your muscles are working. 

Staying on track

When talking about creating a connection between the mind and muscles, it shouldn’t surprise many people that it’s a skill that requires total focus. This does mean that when working on developing during a workout, it’s wise to have as few distractions as possible, so you can concentrate on what your muscles are doing, and how your mind is working alongside them.

Woman stretching with band

Behaviours as simple as focus on how you look in the mirror whilst working out, how you’re being perceived by others and your form (this should be something you’re confident about before you start with developing the skill) should be put to the back of your mind.

Furthermore, whilst a playlist without songs featuring lyrics is okay, it's best to leave podcasts, audiobooks and reading any incoming emails and text messages after the workout session. If you’re a total newcomer to the mind-muscle connections, it’s best if you have absolutely zero distractions.

How do I make mind-muscle connection work for my bodybuilding routine?

Mindfulness isn’t something that’s largely talked about in bodybuilding circles, but it’s incredibly important when implementing the mind-muscle connection to your workout.

Here are some tips to help you do just that:

1. It’s about technique, not breaking new lifting records. The slowest way of developing a mind muscle connection is making moving up a bench press weight your primary goal. While it’s obviously good to be pushing yourself, especially when you want to make gains, focusing on the quality of your repetitions and the impact it is having on your muscles, will stand you in a far better stead in the long term, both physically and mental.  

2. Warming up before working out. Kick off each session by doing a few warm up sets with a high rep count, but with at a low weight. During this warm up, focus on the muscles you want the brain to connect with, and try to pause during the moment of maximum contraction, It’s also good to worth squeezing the weight, as it helps wake the mind up and get it focused for the workout ahead. If this feels like too much, do this on an off day.

3. Work on slower pumps. As mentioned earlier in the article. The more time you take, the better your brain will interact with your movements. To build a better mind-muscle connection, you don’t need to be miles away from your comfort zone. Again, there’s nothing wrong with trying a lighter weight if it means you’re engaged with what your body is doing at a speed which means you’re in control. 

4. Flexing shows progress. Whether it’s in the mirror or in private, it’s good to flex in between sets, to get a good understanding of how your mind muscle connection is developing.

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