The Mind-Muscle Connection: Maximize Your Gains By Using Your Brain
Up. Down. Up. Down. Up down. The repetitive nature of lifting can be mind-numbing.
What you don't know is that this mind-numbing repetition is a severe threat to your gains.
By switching off your brain at the gym, you are losing out on potential gains, and in some cases, damaging your tendons and ligaments from improper form.
Instead, take some advice from bodybuilders like Kai Greene and focus on the mind-muscle connection.
What is the Mind-Muscle Connection?
The Bro Journal is all about mindfulness, and to be honest, that's all the mind-muscle connection is: connecting your body and mind in the present. By focusing your attention on the contraction of your muscles while lifting, instead of the actual movement, you can activate and target the proper muscle groups to enhance your gains.
It seems intuitive, right? But let's take a step back before we dive deeper.
The Real Reason Muscles Grow
Muscles work. Muscles tear. Muscles repair. If only it were that simple.
Well, it is that simple, but let's take a more scientific approach. During your workout, your muscle fibers stretch and tear from the heavy load of the weights. During your recovery, your body creates new muscle fibers, repairing your muscles. The unique fibers tend to be thicker and increase growth. While many other factors come into play, like the activation of satellite cells, a myriad of immune system responses, cell swelling, and other biological jargon, let's get back to two basics of muscle growth:
When the rate of recovery outweighs the rate of breakdown, your muscles grow.
Let's assume that you already have a proper diet, sleep regimen, and adequate rest (that's another article for another time). Instead, we'll focus on the former: muscle protein breakdown.
Proper protein breakdown in the muscles occurs when your muscles are under stress, or tension, for some time; known in the gym world as time under pressure or TUT. For example, the longer your pecs are under the stress of four plates, the more the muscle fibers will break down. On the other side, the more you lock your knees on your squats, the less you are breaking down the muscle fibers in the legs.
Now, this has its limits, but the basic principle holds.
Are you still with me? Alright, good. Now let's find out what the hell this has to do with the mind-muscle connection.
The Power of Visualization
So, how can our brains increase our gains? Simple: by entirely focusing on contracting the muscles during a workout. As stated before: more TUT equals more growth.
Whatever the exercise, train your brain to focus on contracting the proper muscles, not the actual movement. While this concept may seem abstract, and not helpful at all, let's dive into a few examples of this mind-muscle connection.
A great way to visualize the mind-muscle connection is through a simple pull-up. Most people will see the end goal of performing a pull-up as getting their chin above the bar. They are wrong. Instead, the primary purpose of a pull-up should be to contract your lats, which can be done by visualizing putting your shoulder blades into your back pockets, rather than performing the movement. The visualization ensures that you are working out the proper muscles, and not kicking air to get your chin above the bar.
If you're still confused, I understand entirely. It's honestly a tough concept to grasp. So, drop what you're doing, and let's try a simple exercise.
- Get in the push-up position.
- Go down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
- When you're in the down position, close your eyes.
- Focus your brain on your pecs and your triceps.
- Instead of merely pushing up, contract both your pecs and triceps simultaneously.
- Now, open your eyes. You're back in the starting position.
The mind-muscle connection makes you more in-tune with your movements, and allows you to focus on the correct muscles. In other words, it's letting your brain do the heavy lifting.
Practice Makes Perfect
As with anything good in this world: the more you practice, the better you get. Don't expect to be the gym buddha after reading this poorly written article. Still, check out these five quick tips you can use to increase your mind-muscle connection and maximize your gains.
- Know which muscles you are supposed to use: If you're unsure, look it up or ask that swoll guy that brings a full gallon of water to the gym. He'll probably know.
- Warm-up: Do a light set to get a feel for your muscles.
- Slow and steady: Don't rush through your sets. It's not like you have anything else to do. Plus, that insta-chick just got here, so you'll have plenty of entertainment.
- Don't be overconfident: You'll probably end up lifting less weight than usual. That's okay. No one will judge you, unless you're wearing a deep-cut razorback. If that's the case, you should get some new gym clothes.
- Avoid the mirror: No one cares that you can hammer curl 50-lbs. Instead, turn around and look at that guy quarter-repping the leg press. Try to avoid eye contact when you laugh, though.
Is the Mind-Muscle Connection the Best Method for You?
I love utilizing the mind-muscle connection in the gym. I honestly can feel the pump. On top of that, it's just another mindfulness exercise that helps me stay focused on the present.
But it's not for everyone.
Recent studies in Science Daily show that although the mind-muscle connection helps to improve hypertrophy, it may be detrimental to overall athletic performance. The main reason is when you focus on the internal components of weightlifting; you tend to exert more effort, which can be detrimental for athletic performance. The point of athletics is to achieve a goal with as minimal energy as possible.
Let's take powerlifters, for example. Their goal is to lift, snatch, grab and press as much weight as possible. To do this, they need to focus on the end game of getting the bar where it needs to be. Hence, not an ideal movement for just the brain.
All in all, if you're looking for gains, use your brain. The mind-muscle connection is essential for hypertrophy, and some of the greatest bodybuilders of all time swear by it. Keep TUT in mind the next time you're repping out those curls, and make sure your brain focuses on the muscle contractions, not the movement.
Who knew that mindfulness could make you so ripped?
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