The Mind-Muscle Connection

  1. Nelson
    Nelson's Avatar

    Lightbulb The Mind-Muscle Connection

    I found this article a good read.
    I`m definitely guilty of sometimes going through the motions & moving the weight without utilising the mind-muscle connection.
    I think I`ll give the super-slow approach a try to improve my mind-muscle connection.

    Anyway here`s the article:

    The Mind-Muscle Connection

    by Michael Berg
    December 03, 2001

    Do you ever just go through the motions? You know, sleepwalk through a workout just for the sake of getting it done, absentmindedly pumping out your biceps curls while thinking about your ailing 401K, the latest celebrity murder trial or the unalterable futility of existence. If it's the latter, first take meds, then keep reading.

    If you regularly trade in your brain for a complimentary towel when you walk into the gym, or if you've never learned how to focus on the working muscle, you're missing out on perhaps the biggest secret to building your body: the mind-muscle connection. Simply put, you need to engage your gray matter while you engage the iron. Let your mind wander, like a punch line in search of a joke, and you won't find much humor in the results.

    To drive this point home, we decided we couldn't rely on just some book-schooled Ph.D. or exercise physiologist. No, we needed someone who knows what we're talking about firsthand. Enter Milos Sarcev, pro bodybuilder and personal trainer from Temecula, Calif. While Sarcev's personal experience with honing the mind-muscle link comes from building a massive and striated physique straight out of a Duke Nukem video game, his advice rings true for anyone trying to add some quality size.

    Enter the Zone

    If you've ever rained shots down during a pickup basketball game with a seemingly can't-miss, magical touch, you know the zone. Failing that, you've at least seen Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson enter it on occasion. It's a feeling of automatic pilot that is similar to the mind-muscle link in weight training. If you train correctly, you fall into a virtual trancelike state, wherein your breathing pattern and lifting speed blend into a cadence, while in your mind you see the proper muscles firing on each perfectly controlled rep.

    As a beginner, Sarcev admits he knew nothing about the mental aspects of lifting. "When I started training in 1980," he says, "I'd look at the pictures in bodybuilding magazines and try to simulate the exercises. I didn't pay attention to the feeling in the muscle until I ran into a 60-year-old gymnast who was training in my gym. He asked me, 'Can you squeeze a muscle on command? If I ask you to squeeze your right outer triceps, for example, can you do it?' What he was talking about was mind-muscle control. He was actually capable of isolating a muscle like the rear delt and squeezing it in isolation from the rest of his shoulder."

    According to Sarcev, the gymnast revealed a simple yet often overlooked tenet of getting results: Feel the body part you're working by deliberately contracting it as you lift. For example, if you're benching, visualize your pecs contracting as you raise the bar. This is where many lifters fall short, Sarcev explains, because they use whatever means necessary to lift a weight without concentrating on making the intended muscle do the work. "Building muscle is not about moving a weight from point A to point B. It's about squeezing the muscle and exerting complete control over every inch of the movement."

    Slow Speed Ahead

    To develop the "zone mentality" from the get-go, Sarcev suggests trying a technique he calls "super-slow reps": Take a full five seconds to lower a weight and another full five seconds to lift it. "From the very first moment you pick up the weight, you need maximal tension in the muscle," he says. "You can't use momentum, and you can't relax in the negative [lowering] phase of the exercise. With super-slow reps, you won't be focused on the object you're moving but on the muscle you're working."

    Whether you're just starting out or getting back into a program, or if your brain cells are on autopilot when you're in the weight room, Sarcev suggests using super-slow reps for at least one to three months to develop a connection (see sidebar, left). "After that, you'll be familiar with the feeling you should have in the muscle when working out. That way, when you don't have that feeling, you'll know to question what you're doing wrong."

    To help you zone in on a powerful mind-muscle link, one that will benefit your workouts and augment your progress for years to come, we've included a sample routine so you can try out Sarcev's super-slow reps for yourself.

    While this regimen includes a suggested number of repetitions for each set, Sarcev cautions against allowing these guidelines to limit your workout. "I've seen people who fail mentally on every single set long before they fail physically, especially beginners who don't know their limitations. They'll say, 'I'm going to do six repetitions,' and I see them blaze through five and then struggle with six, because they've convinced themselves they can't do another. You have to strive for physical failure instead of mental failure, concentrating on the action of the muscle."

    Sarcev adds that, no matter what program you do, lifting weights and using your head are not mutually exclusive activities. "Going in with an empty mind and just lifting weights is easy. But if you don't have a strong mind-muscle link, you're just wasting your time in the gym."

  2. Nelson
    Nelson's Avatar

    By controlling the movement, you will be able to get a better mind-muscle connection -- an association between the exercise performed and the muscle being worked. An experienced bodybuilder can perform a ten-pound bicep curl and get a connection because he/she has established this important mind-muscle connection. A great way to get this association is to place your hand on the muscle being worked. For example, do a one-arm bicep curl while placing the opposite hand on the muscle being worked.

  3. Nelson
    Nelson's Avatar


    The mind muscle connection. What does this really mean? If you have been working out for awhile you have probably heard of this before. But do you understand its significance? This is the one principle that can change your training forever, and make the training that you are doing now, more productive and efficient.

    Simply put, the Mind Muscle Connection (from here on referred to as MMC), is a synergistic connection between mind and muscle. In other words, when you want your body to feel a certain way during training, you can focus on that individual bodypart and make it feel what you want it to feel. Some of you may remember hearing or reading stories about how Arnold would use 25 lb. dumbbells (or something to that affect), and do 15-20 reps with them really slowly and make himself think and visualize that they were 60 lb. dumbbells. In essence he was tricking his body into thinking that he was lifting a heavier weight than he really was. This is the core mechanism of the MMC. "Feeling" what you are doing instead of just doing it.

    Now, this principle is easier said than done. If you are a beginning exerciser, do not get frustrated if you are doing pull-ups one day and you only feel your biceps burning and not your back like you are "supposed" to. It takes time to master this, but once you do, you will tap into potential that you only imagined that you had access to.

    When I train my clients, I try to stress this principle right from the get-go. Even though they might not feel it, I keep harping on the idea that they are supposed to feel it in a certain area, and that they should concentrate on that area as if there were no other muscles in their body. Often when I work out with people, I am doing an exercise, say chest presses with a barbell, and I grimace in pain as I lay the weight down and complain that it "burned" my chest. When they proceed to try this, they simply look at me like I?fm crazy. But when the next day comes, you can guess who is more sore. That is the secret. Tapping into your body?fs unlimited potential to grow. In order to activate each muscle fiber, you must master this form of concentration. Sure, it might be possible to get just as sore beating your muscles into submission doing every exercise that you can think of in one day, but this is neither efficient, nor a good long term solution and will quickly lead to burn out and overtraining.

    Many bodybuilders that have been working out for years, often tell wildly unbelievable stories about how they only work out for 30 min. and only do one bodypart at a time like just triceps, or just back. You may then ask yourself how the heck they can get the physiques that they get by doing so little. Isn?ft more better for you? What has happened here is that they have mastered the MMC principle. By doing less and focusing more on the exact bodypart that they are working, they are not only cutting their workout times in half, but they are getting results far faster than a beginner. Why spend 2 hours in the gym doing 5 exercises for chest when you can spend 1 hour doing only 2-3 exercises, be more sore the next day, and get better results? This is what it?fs all about.

    When you first start working out it may not be possible to do this right away. That is why beginners usually need more time in the gym than a more advanced trainer, besides the fact that the advanced trainer has already spent years discovering which exercises work best for them.

    Strategies for Improving the MMC

    There are two ways that you can teach yourself the MMC and get there faster than simply trial and error:

    Learn to Isolate Bodyparts in Single-Joint Movements: Practicing the MMC for single joint movements is a great way to start and build up to multi-joint exercises. What I mean is this: slow down, take your time, lower the weight, and feel yourself doing it, rather than just trying to get it over with. If you are doing biceps curls, start with a lower weight, make sure that your form is impeccable (that means no swinging, no twisting, and no body English whatsoever), for at least 10 reps. If you cannot make it without cheating, then drop the weight. Remember, it does not matter how much weight you lift, it matters how it feels and if it is working the way that it?fs supposed to! Leave your Ego at home. When you are doing the exercise, FEEL IT! Look at your arms flexing as the weight is brought up. Do you feel that burn? Good, now keep going! Don?ft stop because of a little pain. Your body does not improve because you quit when it started to hurt, your body improves because you have pushed it beyond its normal limits, to places where it has never been before. You can get a spotter to help you on the last few, but your form must not vary, it must stay impeccable and flawless. This is the key to making this work.

    Learn to Isolate Bodyparts in Compound Movements: It?fs easy to feel a biceps curl or a calf raise, but how about a pull-up, or bench presses? This is when your MMC is tested. Compound movements are movements that involve more than one joint, typically they are harder to isolate specific bodyparts on because the force gets distributed throughout the joints involved. When you are doing compound movements like these you must make sure that you are not using to heavy of a weight. On pull-ups, if you can only do 2-3 on your own, the chances of feeling it in your back are not good. Try an assisted pull-up at a machine instead. As you are raising yourself up, forget about your arms. Pretend that they don?ft even exist. Think of them as hooks, that are attached into your lats. The lats are the ones pulling, not your arms. "FEEL" your shoulder blades coming together as you are doing a seated row, "FEEL" your lats burn as you pull yourself up off of the ground.

    For a bench press, it is a similar endeavor. Forget about your arms and shoulders. Think only chest. Envision your pecs coming together as if you were posing, feel them as they contract forcefully to bring the weight up slowly. Again, you must not cheat. No bouncing the bar off of your chest, or going up or down too fast. You must feel at the top and bottom of the movement that your chest is doing all the work, and nothing else.

    You must be patient with yourself. This is a tedious process that can take years to master. You know that you are getting there when you can flex any muscle in your body just by thinking about it, and not moving a limb. Simply sitting in a chair you can flex your hamstrings, biceps, lats, etc. WITHOUT moving your arms or legs to make it easier.

    The MMC is one of the final domains of the elite bodybuilder. It is a well kept "secret" that you won?ft hear to much about. It is not as sexy as a drop set, but in the end it is more powerful and efficient than any other principle around. Learn it, use it, and master it, and your bodybuilding will never be the same.

  4. Getting the brain into the muscle can take a bit of training - some people can't grasp it for a while.
    There are several ways to enhance this, one of them being to CLOSE YOUR EYES.
    Some exercises such as heavy squats can't be done like this, but just about everything else can.
    Dumbell curls are probably a good place to experiment, as are dumbell lateral raises.
    Do a set as normal, using hte mirror if you must.
    Then on the next set, get yourself into the correct position, and close your eyes - then perform the set. You will probably find that not only do you feel the exercise where you are supposed to, but you perform the exercise in a much more biomechanically sound way. Sometimes you may find that if you are doing things assymetrically (eg, lifting one DB higher thanthe other on lateral raises) but you will notice this quickly, and be able to correct it.

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