What do you think about during a workout?
Think back to your last workout. What were you thinking about? What you were going to have for dinner? Your weekend plans? Or were you concentrating on the task ahead - connecting to your working muscles and focusing solely on the exercise? In exercise science, the term mind-muscle connection has been coined, to describe the benefit of mind-body focus during a workout. Here’s all you need to know.
What is the mind-muscle connection?
This isn’t a recent trend. In fact, the mind-muscle connection has been a part of bodybuilding for as long as its inception. But what is it? It involves mentally connecting to your muscles so they essentially ‘switch on’. That means you’re not thinking about your dinner plans, you’re thinking about your bicep flexing in a bicep curl.
Many proponents of this believe in being able to flex all necessary muscles without performing an exercise - like being able to flex your pec without having to bench press, for example. The benefit being that your mind and muscles can seamlessly communicate and thus, muscles can easily be activated when working against resistance.
Mind-muscle connection advocates claim increases muscle activity, which in turn, causes greater muscle synthesis and strength gains. For bodybuilding, this is a clear benefit. But it also can be beneficial for beginners, who are still learning to master their form and activate certain muscles during exercises.
What does the research say?
Your brain and nervous system are responsible for contracting your muscles during an exercise. Whether you’re thinking about it or not, your muscles will still contract.
But will they contract to the same degree? Research suggests not. A study that asked participants to focus on something else other than the exercise they were asked to perform, found that lifts were done more economically - with less muscle fibre activation, less effort and a decreased range of motion.
A pilot study by Bret Contreras found that the mind-muscle connection was beneficial, particularly for some exercises with more dormant muscles like the glutes. This is likely because most people sit all day, preventing the glutes from activating optimally during exercises like squats. One example given was glute activation in the back extension - EMG activity increased from 6 percent to 38 percent when mind-muscle connection was practiced.
Most studies conducted on mind-muscle connection agree that it’s more beneficial for some than others. For those whose aim is hypertrophy, practicing a mind-muscle connection is recommended because you’re working at a lower limit of your max effort output (1RM), which has been shown in research to be the best for muscle fibre activation and synthesis.
If you’re a relative beginner and still trying to activate dormant muscles, this tool can be definitely work to your advantage.