The mind-muscle connection & strength
One key element of training that is often overlooked is the development of the mind-muscle connection.
Being aware of this and making an active effort to train it can help you get more results in both the strength and mass department.
Of course, I’m not talking about huge leaps but it can tangibly make your training more effective over time.
Essentially what we are talking about it the control of your muscle with your brain.
When you want to move your hand you brain sends impulses through your nerves to activate your hand and forearm muscles to move and contract to apply the desired force.
This is a neural connection that is developed; when you are a child you lack the manual dexterity to accurately pick things up until through practice and brain development you learn.
When you first start training you’ll find it hard to contract individual muscles
Most people as adults have pretty good manual dexterity since we spend so much of our lives using our hands; the mind-muscle connection is well developed through constant repetition.
However if you ask an untrained person to contract or flex his lats (the large back muscles that are found either side of the spine), you’ll find she/he can’t do it; if you have never had to activate that specific muscle the mind-muscle connection will be very poor.
The chances are that person will also have very undeveloped lats with little to no muscle beyond the minimum level required to move his arms back.
When you start training for the first time you may find some of the movements a little awkward and unsteady; for example you may find your arms wobbling as you dumbbell press. This is obviously due to weakness of your muscles and stabilizing muscles but also because your body is literally learning how to move in a different way.
Watch an experience person squat or bench press and you will notice how smoothly the bar travels and how it follows the same path each rep. That’s down to muscle development but also due to the body having developed a neural pathway through repetition.
Concentrate on contracting the target muscle
This obviously comes with time and practice but you can start focusing on this from your very first day. As you perform the movement really focus on the muscle you are trying to work and try and squeeze it hard.
For example if you are deadlifting really concentrate on keeping your abs tight and contracting the muscles in your lower back and hamstrings; try and visualize them contracting.
This will be really difficult at first and you might find it impossible to really feel the muscle working. However keep at it everytime you perform a lift; by concentrating you can really speed up the development of your mind-muscle connection.
Strength is in somewhat in the mind
The benefit of this is that strength is actually largely mental.
We’ve all heard of the stories where in a life or death situation a mother lifts a car off her baby or when people are able to drag very heavy people to safety in a fire.
This is because your body actually has a lot of strength potential that it doesn’t use; your mind actually acts like a speed limiter on a car to protect yourself from injury. In those do or die situations the mind lets go and these people are able to harness that potential for a short time.
Two people may have the same build but one can be stronger than the other if they have trained their mind muscle connection to allow their muscles to contract more explosively.
Elite level lifters may only practice movements like the deadlift at maximal weights once or twice a month, not because their muscles need that much recovery but because the lift is so taxing on their central nervous system (CNS); in other words at very heavy weight they are fatigues by the force of contraction required.
To get stronger you must train your CNS
This is why for more advanced trainees or those looking to increase their strength in a lift all reps, including warm-ups should be done with explosive force, as if going for a max attempt. In this way you are developing the mind-muscle connection by teaching your CNS to fire rapidly and contract your muscles as a unit with the greatest possible force.
Even if you are not looking to push your max it is still important to develop this connection, as you’ll be able to activate as many fibers of the target muscle as possible, leading to better growth.
Don”t just go through the motions when you lift, and remove any distractions when you are training to focus on contracting the muscle you are working; it will undoubtedly improve your progress and results.