Mind to muscle connection is the ability to consciously recruit and activate a given muscle or muscle group.
When working in the gym, a strong mind to muscle connection can be the difference between achieving an effective, intentional muscular contraction and simply moving weights up and down. Any time I am performing an exercise, I make sure I know why I’m doing it, and I make sure I am feeling what I want to feel. For instance, if I am doing a triceps press down, I make sure I can feel the triceps at the back of the upper contract with every rep. It’s easy just to throw on some heavyweight and move it only to feel the shoulders, chest, and elbows during the movement and nothing in the actual meat of the triceps. But if the point of the exercise is to train the triceps muscles, then you gotta make sure you feel it in the triceps! So, how can you maximize your mind to muscle connection?
Here are a few tips:
First – know your basic anatomy. If you’re going to take the time to go to the gym multiple times per week, then you at least want to know your basic muscle groups. Even as a gym novice, you should at least take the time to learn where to find the pecs, lats, traps, deltoids, biceps, triceps, abs, low back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. These are just a few general muscle groups, but knowing where they are in the body is a great place to start. This way, when you are training these muscle groups, you will at least know where you should feel your muscle activation.
Second – Lighten the load. How often do you see dudes in the gym heaving around super heavyweight just because they think it has to be heavy and feel challenging to be effective? While you do need to challenge your muscles, you have to do so intelligently. Make sure you’re actually challenging the muscle you intend to train. Sometimes that means you have to lighten the load in order to properly move the weight and contract the muscles you want to be involved. So, if you’re swinging up some heavy biceps curls, and all you can feel is your lower back cheating up the weight, then try lowering the weight and be more mindful of feeling the biceps actually doing the work.
Third – Slow things down. You took the time to go to the gym, might as well get the most out of it. I know, I know, sometimes being at the gym isn’t your favorite thing in the world, but simply flying machine to machine and just trying to get it done is more of a waste of time than anything (and also a good way to get hurt). Before you perform an exercise, take the time to think about what muscles you are going to be targeting and control the movement and actually try to feel those muscles. Slowing down the pace will let you really focus on the contraction of the muscles and over time, you will create a stronger and stronger mind to muscle connection.
Fourth – Mobility work. Full range of motion and stretching. We know that fully stretched muscle fibers have a greater potential for activation. Going through full ranges of motion around a joint will give your muscles better potential for contracting and give you a better chance to feel it. Also, tight muscles can inhibit contraction and activation. There is something called reciprocal inhibition. Basically, muscles perform certain actions and then there are muscles that perform the OPPOSITE action. They are called “agonist/antagonist” muscle groups. If a certain muscle’s antagonist is tight, it may make it difficult to recruit and contract. So…. Tight biceps (agonist) may make it difficult to contract and feel your triceps (antagonist) for instance. So make sure you stretch, stretch, stretch all of your muscles (even the small ones) and use a full range of motion!
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-Jason L., Exercise Physiologist at Dedham Health