Where the mind goes the body follows.
There are lots of quotes and statements like this that all have the same overall principle. You need to have the right mindset to make the most out of whatever it is you’re doing.
As with everything else in life, this also applies to your training and fitness goals.
Specifically, when it comes to the actual training, your mind needs to be right. That leads us to a popular phrase that you have likely seen a lot.
The “mind-muscle connection” is something that can be a big factor in helping you achieve personal fitness success.
What Is Mind-Muscle Connection?
The mind-muscle connection means you are mentally connected to the body and how it’s working while you’re performing activities. Most of you reading this lift weights and are dedicated to training for a variety of reasons. I doubt this is something you simply do nonchalantly. You probably go into the gym to make the most out of the workout and accomplish your goals.
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So you should do all you can to have a successful session. Having a great mind-muscle connection can be an integral part of making that happen. If this is something you have trouble with or if you’re new to the lifting game and can benefit from advice, then consider these seven tactics to make your mind work and your muscles will follow suit.
How to Improve Mind-Muscle Connection
1. Focus on Training the Muscle, Not Lifting the Weight
This is the overall mindset you need when you go to the gym. It can be tempting to focus more on the number on the weights and doing what you have to do to get it up when you start to reach failure.
The main idea you need to establish before you start is that you’re there to train the chest, not bench x number of pounds. You want to focus on quadriceps, not leg press every plate in the weight room. The weight has to be the means to an end and that “end” is working the muscle.
Establishing this at the start is vital if you want to make the most of the entire workout. It will be more difficult to do by the end of the session but keeping the mind strong is what will help the muscles get stronger.
You can watch the muscles working when you’re training in front of a mirror but that may not be available at all times so that’s when this can come into play.
Arnold Schwarzenegger used to be a big believer in visualization and felt it helped him maximize his physique when he was in his prime winning Olympias against the likes of Sergio Oliva Sr. and Lou Ferrigno. When he trained biceps, he visualized them as mountains and would see them grow with each rep. At his peak, his upper arm measured close to 23 inches so you can’t argue the results.
You don’t have to have that exact image in your mind but you should think about the muscles and how they are working while you’re completing the rep. Take yourself inside the muscle and watch the fibers break down. Think about the blood that is going to flood the area to create the pump. Seeing it in your mind before it happens will help you make it a reality once you start lifting.
3. Warm Up Sets on Each Exercise
Now that you’ve started the session, you need to reinforce that mindset we covered earlier. One way to do that is to do at least one warm-up set of each exercise you’re going to do that day.
Let’s think about the chest. You might do incline barbell press, flat dumbbell flys, seated chest press, and cable flys. Do a warm-up set with a lighter weight with the goal being to feel the chest contracting and stretching on each rep.
This can also help the overall quality of your work sets. If you don’t feel what you’re supposed to be feeling, you can make adjustments going forward. Change your position or adjust the weight you’re using. When you feel the muscles working properly, you’re doing effective reps.
4. Slow Down the Reps
This is a popular method for increasing time under tension but it’s also a good way to improve your mind-muscle connection. Performing the reps slower helps you feel the muscle working and stretching from start to finish.
Do this one with exercises like concentration curls. Isolation movements like this are much more effective with slower reps and you will know for sure that the muscles are working. You might reach failure sooner than expected but the overall purpose will still be served.
5. Flex in Between Sets
I know the image that may have entered your mind when you read this one but don’t jump the gun on me. I’m not asking you to stand in front of the mirror and perform all the mandatory poses like you’re onstage at a bodybuilding show.
Instead, I’m suggesting that you take a few seconds where you are and flex the muscle you’re working while you’re recovering. Let’s talk triceps for a minute. You just finished a set of rope pressdowns. After you release the rope, simply stand where you are, straighten your arms to your sides, and flex the triceps for a few seconds.
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Try to feel all three heads when you do this. Do it again before you start your next set. It’s a subtle way to contract the muscles and you don’t look like you’re trying to win the Mr. Hometown Gym contest.
What this will do is help reinforce that the triceps are the focus and will keep you connected to the back of the arms when you start that next set. You’ll want each rep to feel like it did when you were flexing just a few seconds ago.
6. Have Your Partner Touch the Muscles
This is one that is most beneficial for the muscles that you can’t see like the back or rear delts. You might have seen clips online of a coach or trainer touching the back or rear delts of someone training. This actually can be a very effective method to help the athlete training have a productive set.
You can’t see the muscles behind you working unless there are mirrors that are just in the right position. So when you feel that person touching that area and you feel it, it helps you feel those muscles working too. It is a small gesture that can help you maximize each rep, set, and workout.
You don’t need your partner to do this on every rep but the first rep or two can be beneficial.
7. Several Sets of Singles
Almost every workout you’ve seen calls for multiple sets of x reps. Let’s use three sets of eight reps as an example. By the time you get near the end of that set, it might be tempting to shift the focus to getting the weight up – especially on an exercise like the leg press.
Break down that set even further. Instead of doing a set of 8, perform eight singles. Perform a rep, stop, and perform another rep. Repeat until you’ve finished the desired number of reps. Remember that with each rep the goal is to feel the muscles working. In the case of leg presses, the emphasis is on the quadriceps. You can do this same thing with other exercises too.
Are there other ways you found to establish your own mind-muscle connection? Let us know what you do in the comments section below so some fellow lifters can possibly benefit.
Thank you - I am hoping this will extend to less tension post workout
Thanks so much for this. This is the combination I dream of becoming.
Thanks for reading, Josh! Glad you liked it.
Also for squats and deadlifts, I like to perform them without shoes on. I feel I am able to lift more weight!