The mind muscle connection

We talked about this topic with my coach the other day and how to use it to improve training sessions. There are different ways to change and improve strength training : the tempo, intensity, the weights used, the rest periods…

If you go to the gym without following a plan and sticking to it, you are just wasting time and energy for nothing. It is called a “garbage workout”, you did it but it didn’t serve you in any way towards your goal.

Another important factor to improve and master when you lift weight is the mind muscle connection.

It is the conscious and deliberate attention to the contraction of the muscle you are working on. This focus helps enhance the contraction and so on, the growth of the muscle. 

How is that possible ? Because we have a wonderful body in which everything is connected to work in symbiose. Our brain and nervous system create chemical reactions that help the movement of our muscles. 

In this case, it’s the acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the muscles to move that enhances the process. 

The more focused you are on the muscle to contract, the more your brain will produce acetylcholine…and the better the contraction will be. It is a virtuous circle: the better contraction you have the more gains you have. 

When you think about it, it makes total sense when we are not focused on something we fail at producing something of quality. If we don’t study or work with the appropriate focus, the results of the task will be mediocre. If we drive but we are distracted by our phone we can have an accident, etc..

We might think that it is just a myth but there are actually scientific studies proving the benefits of this method for muscle growth and athletic performance (you can find a few links at the end of the article). 

To improve your mind muscle connection, first, start your sets with light weight so you can make sure you have the appropriate technique and that you really feel the contraction of the muscle you work on. 

Once you have reached this step, you can increase the weight you chose to create a bigger contraction (and later on, bigger gain). You have to be really focused on your contraction sensation when you lift the weight, you squeeze and then slowly take it back down. 

As I said earlier, you have to be focused on the contraction of your muscles. So you actually have to be paying close attention to what you are doing and not let your environment distract you. Your mind can also be wondering about your work or to-do list so if you can, workout with a dynamic music that will help you stay in the zone. 

If you want to learn more about the scientific details, you can read these references:

Calatayud, J. et al. (2016). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 116, 3, 27-33.

Clark, B.C. et al. (2014). The power of the mind: The cortex as a critical determinant of muscle strength/weakness. Journal of Neurophysiology, 112, 12, 3219-3226.

Ranganathan, V.K. et al. (2004). From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind. Neuropsychologia, 42, 7, 944-956

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