When it comes to increasing muscle mass and getting stronger, there are a number of strategies. Most focus on training and nutrition.
Undoubtedly the most important factors.
But particularly when you want to build up strength, many overlook an important component.
The Mind Muscle Connection – an invisible connection between body and mind that you can train very consciously if you want to become stronger.
→ But what actually is the Mind Muscle Connection?
→ Why should you train your Mind Muscle Connection?
→ How you can maximize your training success with just minimal adjustments.
→ Why a good Mind Muscle Connection results in more fun and enjoyment in training.
→ How to train and improve the Mind Muscle Connection in a targeted manner.
So let’s begin…
What is the Mind Muscle Connection?
If you focus on lifting heavy in order to build up muscle strength and you are eating at maintenance or in a surplus with sufficient amounts of protein, you are already doing some things right.
However, many people forget what muscle power actually is.
The theory is: More muscle mass = more strength
This equation is not entirely wrong. If you build muscle mass, you increase the strength potential of your body.
Nonetheless, another important question is: how do we use this potential or how does that strength get activated? The answer is simple: through will power (i.e. mind muscle connection).
It is you/your mind, who coordinates the muscle fibers, who regulates the build-up of tension and therefore decides on the development and output of strength.
That means, putting out muscle strength is primarily a skill.
It is the ability of your mind to use the already existing potential and to give the relevant structures the appropriate instructions.
The Mind Muscle Connection is the link between mind and muscle.
It is one of the main differences between beginners and advanced athletes.
Why you should train your Mind Muscle Connection?
If you train and consciously promote the connection between mind and muscles, you will benefit from a whole range of advantages. Some of them may surprise you.
Here are the 5 essential advantages of a good mind muscle connection at a glance (explanations follow):
- Improved muscle coordination
- Improved self-awareness and control
- Compensation for asymmetries
- Better hyper- irradiation
- More fun, joy and motivation in your training
Let us now take a closer look at the individual advantages.
1. Better Muscle Coordination
Every movement of the body follows the instructions of your mind.
The control center, the brain, sends the instructions to the muscles via the central nervous system (CNS). This connection between mind and body, like all other structures in our body, is strengthened through use and weakened through neglect.
A poorly trained Mind Muscle Connection means that individual muscles cannot be coordinated properly, which leads to sloppy movement and wastes of strength. In addition to that, muscles that are ‘poorly tied in’ often “refuse” to grow.
An average person only uses 20-25% of the strength of their muscles because the muscles involved in the respective movement cannot be properly coordinated. (1)
There are basically two different types of muscle coordination:
→ Intramuscular coordination: The cooperation of the muscle fibers within a muscle.
→ Intermuscular coordination: the cooperation of the muscles with each other.
Both types of coordination are important in order to be able to carry out a movement well on the one hand and to develop as much power as possible on the other.
Poor coordination is often seen in squats, for example, when the knees of a beginner begin to slide inwards or the upper body is unstable.
Incorrect movement patterns like this, are a sign that the individual muscle fibers and muscle groups are not pulling together and therefore are not coordinated properly.
As a result, both strength and growth potential are lost.
Essentially, you getting stronger depends on two things:
- An increase in muscle mass
- An improvement in coordination.
Building muscle mass is energetically a very costly process for your body. From an evolutionary perspective, your body prefers to store energy rather than use it unnecessarily, because for our ancestors that was crucial for survival.
Your body therefore technically always prefers to improve coordination first.
Of course, the more frequently we perform a movement, the better the muscles involved are coordinated, which results in a more powerful and also ‘healthier’ movement.
In the case of an improperly coordinated movement, support or stabilization muscles partially take over the part of the main muscles, which can lead to overloads much faster.
That means, always work on technique first before adding too much load to a lift.
2. Better Self-Awareness and Control
The more the body and mind work together, the better the self-perception develops.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “You need to put your mind in the muscle.”
Particularly people new to resistance training often have problems feeling the target muscle of a movement. They may perform a lat pulldown and may feel the biceps at most, but not the back muscles or lats in particular.
But the basic rule is:
If you don’t feel a muscle working, it probably won’t be stimulated to the full extent. (3)
This rule becomes more important, the more the training experience increases.
At the beginning, the muscles will still grow due to the large unused potential even if you don’t feel that connection. But unless you train the Mind Muscle Connection and learn to “feel” into your muscles this progress slowly rather quickly. An improved Mind Muscle Connection means that you target individual muscles more directly and thus can train more intensively.
3. More Muscle Symmetry
Almost everyone has to deal with asymmetries. Usually one side is stronger and more muscular than the other.
This is because we usually favor one side of our body for our day to day activities and this side usually automatically has a better mind muscle connection.
How to compensate for asymmetries:
→ Incorporate unilateral exercises, train with free weights, such as dumbbells or kettlebells instead of only using barbells or machines. This way you can avoid that the stronger side supports the weaker side. When doing such exercises, always make sure that you only do as many repetitions with the stronger side as you do on the weaker side and that the stronger side “waits” for the weaker side and does not rush. If you do one side after the other, do the weaker side before the stronger side when your CNS is still ‘fresh’.
→ Deliberately use the weaker side more frequently in everyday life. For example try to use your weaker arm in everyday activities like lifting a box, opening a door, eating or brushing your teeth . This will help improve the Mind Muscle Connection on this side and therefore help assimilate both sides.
Overall: An improved mind muscle connection helps to compensate for asymmetries.
4. Better Hyper-Irradiation
What the heck is hyper-irradiation (2)? It sounds like rocket science, but it’s basically a fancy word for “full body tension”.
The premise is that the more muscles are involved in a movement, the more power you can develop.
You can test the hyper-irradiation effect very nicely at home. Let’s do an experiment:
→ Grab a sturdy bar with one hand and tension your grip as hard as possible.
→ Just consciously concentrate on tensing the forearm muscles and deliberately remove any tension from all other muscles. Try to keep your legs, stomach, back, shoulders and upper arms as relaxed as possible and only press them down with the strength of your forearms.
→ Do the same experiment again, but this time take an upright position.
→ Consciously contract as many muscles as possible. (“maximum body tension”)
→ Tense your legs, buttocks and stomach to have a stable, strong position and consciously use your back muscles, shoulders and upper arm muscles when pushing.
→ Direct the energy from the entire body into your hands via the forearms and grip as firmly as you can.
You will immediately feel that you can develop much more power. This effect is called hyper-irradiation.
The force (i.e. the tension) is transferred from other muscles to the actual main “moving” muscles. This means that all muscles that are consciously activated support each other.
The better the Mind Muscle Connection is developed, the more muscles you can be included in a movement and the greater the tension built up. More tension means more strength.
At the same time, the additional tense muscles improve stability during movement, which means that you protect yourself more from injuries.
An improved mind muscle connection leads to a greater use of the hyper-irritation effect and thus to more strength and stability.
5. More Fun, Enjoyment and Motivation For Your Training
We have already covered quite a few benefits of an improved Mind Muscle Connection for the development of strength and muscle mass. This one however, is the most important point in my opinion:
By training the connection between mind and muscles, you inevitably focus completely on your workout or at least a lot more than you would otherwise.
It is impossible to think of what you might buy at the grocery store while paying attention to the movement and contraction of individual muscles.
When you are fully committed to trying to contract as many muscles as possible, to feel the movement, your thoughts are completely in the here and now. The only thing you think about is coping with the challenges you set yourself in training.
That is the moment when you are in the flow and forget all worries and problems of your everyday life.
With this, training becomes even more fulfilling and an opportunity where you can zone out and just have some “you time”..
I believe that anyone who finds their “zone” in training will be much more motivated to stick with their training long term, because it becomes a “necessity”, “happy place” or at least “safe zone” for them.
Some days it’s harder to “stay in the zone” than others (especially because we all have a million things going on”), but in order to make your training a fulfilling part of your life and to get the most out of it, try to be present as much as you can.
If you want to learn more about schemes that can help you end training boredom check out this blog HERE.
Key facts – Why you should train your Mind Muscle Connection:
→ To be able to coordinate your muscles better and therefore be able to generate more strength.
→ To target individual muscles and therefore be able to train more intensely in your compound lifts later on.
→ To work on asymmetries.
→ To improve the hyper-irradiation and therefore generate more strength and stability.
→ To get into ‘the zone’ in your training and increase motivation and enjoyment in your training.
Now that you know the main benefits of a well-developed mind muscle connection, it’s time to take action.
How to Train the Mind Muscle Connection
I have already touched on the most important thing that can improve your mind-muscle connection: Being completely ‘in the zone’ and consciously feeling the movement and contraction of the individual muscles.
Consciously tightening both, the target muscle and the support muscles.
This is primarily a question of practice.
The more often you concentrate, consciously contract individual muscles and include as many muscles as possible in an exercise, the more efficient your Mind Muscle Connection will become.
I already mentioned it at the beginning: it is a skill. Practice the skill and you will improve automatically.
To expand on that though, I will now show you four training tools with which you can train the Mind Muscle Connection even more targeted:
- Peak contraction
- Static exercises exercises
Let’s go through them one by one.
1. Peak Contraction
Peak contraction helps you to improve the interaction of the individual muscles.
Briefly stop a movement at the top point, then tense all muscles as tight as possible.
In a Pull up for example, it would look like this: You stop the movement shortly after your chin has passed the bar and then consciously tense all muscles. When deadlifting and squatting, this point corresponds to the upright position.
By consciously contracting all muscles, you improve your ability to include as many muscles as possible in one movement. So you are training to make better use of the hyper-irradiation effect described above.
Using the peak contraction method costs more energy than performing the exercise ‘normally’. Because of that you might be able to do fewer repetitions overall. Use this technique targeted and not arbitrary.
For example limit yourself to two sets per session and use them specifically with compound lifts and at the end of your training.
2. Static Exercises
Static exercises, such as the plank, can have a similar effect to the peak contraction method, if executed properly.
During static exercises, you also focus on getting all muscles to work together at the same time, which obviously improves inter-muscular coordination.
However, many people try to do the exercise as effortlessly as possible in order to be able to hold the position longer. This makes a static exercise lose its actual function.
Let’s take a look at the correct version using the example of the plank:
Static exercises – technical example: Plank
→ Your back should be in a stable, neutral position. That means you neither round it nor hold it in an arched position.
→ Your head is in a neutral position.
→ Your legs and butt are tightly squeezed.
→ Tip: try to move your toes and elbows towards each other (but without actually moving them) – this will increase your overall tension.
Only that way will they help you improve Mind Muscle Connection (especially the interaction of the muscle groups) and the entire stabilization muscles of your body.
Static Exercises – How to Choose and Use the Right Exercise
Aside form the plank, there are many other effective static bodyweight exercises that can help you improve Mind-Muscle Connection
→ Side planks
→ Reverse Planks
→ Superman holds
→ Squat Hold
→ Handstand hold
How to implement them:
→ Perform one of these exercises or a variation of it at the end of your workout for a total of 3 sets.
→ Hold for as long as possible with maximal body tension.
→ Write down the length of time that you were able to perform the exercise well to see progress over time.
→ If you can hold an exercise for longer than 30 seconds, you could switch to a more difficult variation for example by lifting an arm or a leg when you are in plank position.
3. Isolation Exercises
Now it gets a bit confusing, because the techniques mentioned so far aim to promote the interaction of the muscles and to better utilize the hyper-irradiation effect. They are anti-isolation techniques, so to speak.
Then why can isolation exercises help you strengthen the Mind Muscle Connection?
Simply put: Everyone has muscular imbalances or weaknesses. Isolation exercises are one way of dealing with your weak points.
Isolation exercises works in two ways:
→ They train the targeted muscle directly
→ They train the Mind Muscle Connection of the isolated muscle, so that you can include it more easily in compound lifts.
Here is an example:
Suppose you had problems increasing your back musculature.
One of the best exercises for a strong back is the pull-up.
Many people, especially beginners, say that they can’t feel their back properly during the exercise and therefore pull more with their arms. By the way, the same problem often occurs with the lat pulldown.
At this point I would like to remind you of the basic rule from above: If you do not feel a muscle, it is likely not sufficiently stimulated.
In order to solve the problem, you can train your back in isolation, for example with the exercise “lat pulldown with straight arms”. Concentrating consciously on the contraction of your lats. Perform the exercise slowly and see where you can feel the contraction. You can also get a trainer or friend to ‘touch’ the lats so that you know where you are supposed to feel the exercise.
The Mind Muscle Connection in the back musculature will gradually improve, so that you can engage it properly in a pull up as well.
When performing an isolation exercise, a very high focus is the key to success.
Isolation exercises – How to use them correctly:
→ Add isolation exercises at the end of your workout to enhance mind muscle connection or at the beginning of your workout to stimulate and “feel” the targeted muscle better.
→ Concentrate on the contraction of the trained muscles – load is less important here (if at all)
→ Often times higher reps can help you ‘feel the muscle” better, as it might take a while for you to form that connection.
If you want to learn more about how to create the perfect training program for yourself check out this blog HERE.
Conscious posing is totally underestimated, because it is an excellent way to train your Mind Muscle Connection. You may laugh at people that check their biceps in the mirror, but if you do it right, you can learn to contract certain muscles through posing. This also makes it easier for you to contract these muscles during training.
This can be done in two ways:
→ You activate individual muscles and achieve a similar effect as with an isolation exercise
→ You activate multiple muscles in combination and improve intra-muscular coordination that way.
In any case, posing is a worthwhile technique with which you learn to control your body better.
The advantage is that with the exception of a mirror, you don’t need any other aids. Therefore, you can even practice at home, within your own four walls.
You don’t need any specific instructions for this. You can simply try to use either technique whenever you please. Concentrate on the contraction and feel how it feels. This is what will train the Mind Muscle Connection the most. (4)
If you are considering doing a bodybuilding competition check out this blog HERE on what to expect.
Key facts – This is how you can train the Mind Muscle Connection:
→ Peak contraction – Stop the movement at the highest point, then tighten all muscles as much as possible.
→ Static exercises – Instead of performing the exercise as effortlessly as possible, focus on maximum body tension.
→ Isolation Exercises – incorporate in higher reps with light loads before your workout as an activation or after your workout to really ‘feel’ the connection
→ Posing – When you pose, you learn to specifically activate certain muscles. This makes it easier for you to contract these muscles even more during training.
The Mind Muscle Connection is one of the most important skills for building strength and muscle mass and for creating and keeping a training routine which is fun and keeps you motivated. It is one of the crucial differences between beginners and advanced athletes.
If your training progress has stalled or you have lost your motivation for training, focusing more on Mind Muscle Connection could be the missing piece of the puzzle for you. Ultimately, every athlete, probably actually every person, benefits from a better working mind muscle connection, because basically all it means is ‘good body control’.
A well-trained Mind Muscle Connection gives you control and a deep connection to the only “thing” that accompanies you all your physical life.
I think it deserves your attention! 🙂
If you need a little extra help with a training program check out our membership site, The Tailored Trainer.