The Mind-Muscle phrase gets thrown around all too often, and many amateurs, and most gym goers don’t understand or do not implement this aspect of bodybuilding. So although this does not pertain directly to high protein meal delivery or paleo diets or insulin sensitivity and the many other topics we usually cover here in the blog section, Body Food clients can certainly benefit from this information. Our success is directly correlated to yours.
What is a Mind-Muscle Connection?
The mind-muscle connection refers to being connected, feeling, responding to, and adjusting your training to facilitate full usage of the targeted muscle. So, one of the most difficult muscles to isolate and thus to develop is the trapezius muscle. This is the muscle that takes up the middle upper portion of the back and extends up to the neck and out to the deltoids. This muscle can prove to be a challenge to isolate which is why we are going to focus on it. Many athletes use pull downs, rows and other compound movements to target this huge area.
The difference between a connected workout, and a disconnected one.
When the MM connection consciously exists, you can focus your training on just that muscle. So even though to train it, you may do a complete cable row, for example, your focus is on the part of the movement where you roll your shoulders forward to stretch the traps, and then shrug your shoulders backwards to feel that muscle contract. As a result, the muscle will give you feedback in the form of acid build up and fatigue. Now you are connected, and the muscle is being trained. When your set is over and you rest for a few minutes, you will notice the muscle has filled with blood and has tightened. This is more feedback. The muscle is now communicating with you and it is ready for another set. And on you go. The pump is ultimately your greatest tool for feedback. A weak pump can be a result of many factors, but assuming your nutrition and rest is correct, a weak pump is usually a sign that you are not training the target. So a disconnected workout of the traps using cable rows would look identical to the untrained eye, but at the end of the movement, where the cable is meeting your chest, you release instead of shrugging and bringing it in for that final inch. That final inch, that little squeeze at the end is the difference between a MM connection and a weak training session. Success is built on tiny wins: one rep at a time, one inch at a time, one shrug, one little squeeze, over and over and over.
A lot of women don’t focus on developing the back to this extent. Another example anyone can relate to is the bicep curl. Often times an individual focuses their attention on moving the weight around, rather than the key points -the beginning and the end of that movement. So to elaborate on the “final squeeze” mentioned above, when bringing in that dumbbell to finish off a curl, bring it ALL the way in, as though you are crushing a walnut in the bend of your elbow. And notice how much harder it is to continue afterwards, and how much more rewarding the pump is. So lighten the weight, and give it 100% every time and notice how your muscle is communicating with you.
A big exercise that some men are keen on is the bench press. Most pros don’t use the bench press at all, or do so at the very end with light weight. It’s a huge area of vulnerability to injury, but, the key reason being that a MM connection is very hard to attain on this compound movement. Many amateurs and youth are very focused on the amount of weight they move or completing the movement to the end, locking out the elbows. We can always ask the bench “presser”, what he’s working, and the answer inevitably comes back as chest. Really? Is that really the best way to isolate and focus on the pectoral muscle? Bench press is compound. It is as much chest as it is shoulders (delts) and triceps. But if the individual has a strong MM connection, this movement can be adjusted for a variety of muscle groups. So if the chest is the target, then getting the bar up to the 80% mark is all that is necessary. Anything further is a triceps exercise.
Signs of a Poor Mind Muscle Connection
The point is to always ask, “what am I here to work?”. Continue to ask that question during your workout and even during your set! If the MM connection is lacking, put the weight down, focus up, and start over. Your workouts will be far more productive with 4 or 5 outstanding and focused sets sandwiched in-between a bunch of volume, than 20 or 30 sets of nonsense.
Completing a set to a preset number of reps is a sure fire way to limit yourself. Your muscle has no brain and no ego. It does not know if you are doing 1 rep or 100 reps. It knows how to contract, release, and grow. That is all. Your job is simply to use the muscle to the point of exhaustion. Stopping at 10 reps because that was the target is a waste of your time. If you have more in you, then go to the end. Saving reps for another set, saving energy for another part of your workout is a waste of time. Once you are warmed up, go 100% on every rep on every set until there is nothing left. Often times you will find your workouts to be shorter and more effective with a post workout energy boost, rather than a blood sugar slump.
The biggest flag of all for ZERO MM connection is a notebook. This is an indication that you are basing your training on past workouts and thus need to keep track of your progress. But this also indicates that you are training with your ego and ignoring your body. So because last month you benched 200 pounds for 5 sets of 12, this month you must bench 220 pounds for the same. Why? Perhaps you got less sleep last night. Perhaps you missed a meal. Perhaps you have a new stress in your life. When a solid MM connection exists, no two workouts are exactly the same. Some days you will be weaker than others. So you may do drop sets and focus on volume those days. Others you will come in feeling strong, so go heavy and train for strength. But by listening to your body, instead of competing with yourself, you can fatigue the muscle as best as possible for that particular day.
The last example we want to share is that of the clock watcher. This is as common as the notebook; it’s an indication that someone is basing the length of their training session as well as the rest between sets based on an arbitrary number of minutes or seconds. ZERO MM connection! If the muscle is ready for another set, don’t wait around to cool off, hit it while it’s pumped! If you need more rest, more water, if you’re lifting heavy, then rest until you don’t want to rest. Every muscle magazine preaches on about hormone levels dropping off at exactly 45 minutes of weight training and cortisol levels rising quickly. Really? Every single person has the same hormonal schedule and the same biological reaction to weight training? Leave the watch at home. When it’s time to stop your body will let you know. There is an almost instant drop in energy when its quitting time. Your blood sugar will drop and you will notice that you are tired. If you push past this point your pumps will dissipate. This is the only indication that you have hit the wall, testosterone has dropped and cortisol is rising. No clock can tell you what your body can. Some workouts will last 30 minutes and others 90 minutes. It all depends on your genetics, the muscle group your training, your diet, your sleep, your stress and countless other factors.
Just pay attention to your body and leave nothing on the weight floor. Next article will focus on sets and reps and the myths about how much/many to lift for strength/definition.