Do you know what it means to get in the zone? It’s not just being so in tune with the muscle blasting through your earbuds that you forget everything else. There’s something called the mind-body connection, or for us gym rats, the “mind-muscle” connection, that can help you power through those days when your muscles are sluggish, or when you can’t get a decent pump.
The mind-muscle connection helps you go beyond the motions. If you’re tired of just showing up but not getting any real work done, it’s time to establish this connection.
Let’s learn how.
What Is The Mind-Body Connection?
When people talk about the mind-body connection, they are talking about more than meditation or yoga or stuff like that. In terms of “mind-muscle” and “mind-body,” the connection built between conscious thought and conscious, deliberate movement. In other words, you are consciously activating the muscle instead of just mindlessly lifting things up and putting them down.
For example, when you’re just starting out in the weight room and someone tells you to flex your biceps, you might be confused. How does that happen?
The mind-body connection is the reason why experienced movers — lifters, dancers, and athletes — can effortlessly isolate specific muscle groups in ways that novices can’t.
Is Mind-Muscle Fact or Bro-Science?
Now, this might sound like complete BS (bro-science) to you, but it’s not. Movement begins in the brain. Muscular contraction, therefore, starts when a signal that you want to do a bicep curl is sent to the brain. The brain processes this sends out a hormone called acetylcholine, and this tells the muscle to begin the contraction phase, which starts a whole bunch of physiological changes at the molecular level.
When you pair this with the idea of neuroplasticity and proprioception, you realize that it’s not just mind or muscle memory working, it’s a partnership of both.
How Can You Make Your Mind-Muscle Connection Work For You?
Enhancing your mind-muscle connection can be the turning point, separating you from the amateurs in the gym. The question, however, is how do I start? Here’s some tips to get you started.
Lose The Attitude, Bro
The mind-body connection requires some Zen in your lifting. In other words, you need to drop that Ego off at daycare and think about what you’re doing. Training isn’t about proving how much weight you can push around. Forget what everyone else in the gym is doing and focus on the quality of your own movements. You will find that you can push farther when you work on the quality of your lifting, no the quantity.
Establishing the mind-muscle connection requires understanding the contraction and eccentric phases of movement. Pick up a lighter weight and go through the motions. Watch the muscle as it lengthens then contracts through the full range of motion. Hold the eccentric phase for about 3 seconds then return to the start position. If you can’t watch the movement, visualize it.
Then, once you complete the set, put the weights down and again go through the motion. Try to recruit those muscles to see if you can control them.
For instance, if you are doing a lat pull-down, you always focus on recruiting the stability of the core first. Assume a slight crunch position, where the core muscles are cinched together, and then start moving your arm from the elbow while retracting the shoulders into the spine.
When you are working the quadriceps, visualize pushing the ground away from your feet. Never lock the knees. Instead, focus on making the movements look as smooth as possible. Once you get to the eccentric phase of the movement, squeeze the hamstrings and gluteal muscles to help you force the ground away from your feet as you lengthen the legs.
Other cues for yourself include:
- Move from the elbow
- Squeeze on the contraction — especially for biceps and hamstrings
- Exhale through the effort
- Visualize movements similar to the exercise, like golf swings, throwing a ball, or chopping a tree to help with putting your focus in the right place.
Clean Up Your Plate
Certain substances are known to dull your mind-muscle connection. By eating foods that promote focus, you can accelerate your mind-body training. Instead of eating simple sugars and drinking alcohol before your training, work on complex carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein so your body has clean burning fuel. Spicy foods and those rich in antioxidants and zinc enhance mental clarity, too.
And remember, going to the gym dehydrated, hungover, or hangry is going to hinder your mind-muscle connection.
The mind-muscle connection isn’t just some BS fabricated by yogis. The top competitors that can control their muscles deftly are just one example of people with exemplary mind-muscle connection, and even if you’re not training for competitions, understanding the mind-muscle connection will help you push harder and farther and unleash your true potential. When you can block out external distractions and connect to what is happening in your body, your exercise performance will grow exponentially. You’ll see greater gains in hypertrophy, feel less sore, and be able to train smarter than ever before.
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