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The Mind Muscle Connection

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The Mind Muscle Connection

Introduction

If you are a regular gym goer, or have even been around those who are, there is a good chance that you have heard someone speak about the importance of the ‘mind-muscle connection’ in relation to building muscle. Historically, bodybuilders have advocated the importance of the mind-muscle connection for maximising muscle growth but more recently its importance has been doubted by many. So, what actually is the ‘mind-muscle connection and does it work? Let’s find out!

Internal Vs External Focus

When performing any exercise, one can focus their attention either internally or externally. Simply put, in internal focus the individual’s attention is drawn to the body part in question. In external focus, the individual will focus beyond the body to the environment. Both internal and external focuses can be used to achieve similar results. The mind-muscle connection uses an internal focus by ‘flexing the brain’ to consciously engage the targeted muscle and feeling it contract throughout the entire range of muscle.

So, is it better to direct your attention internally or externally when performing an exercise? Well, this really depends on what results we are trying to achieve. In reference to performing athletic movements such as, jumping, sprinting, and changing direction then focusing externally on the environment is a clear winner. However, when speaking about the ‘mind-muscle connection’ we are really talking about building muscle.

Internal Focus for Muscle Gains

Indeed, using the mind-muscle connection to produce an internal focus of attention has been associated with superior gains in muscular size over a long-term training period. Researchers have found that using the mind-muscle connection can lead to greater muscle activation during an exercise. When muscle activation is higher, this indicates that more motor units are recruited and therein, more muscle fibres are being used to perform the task.

Despite this increase in motor unit recruitment, an external focus still outperforms an internal focus in whole body and athletic tasks. Why? Muscle growth does not occur evenly in all parts of a muscle after strength training, but rather specific regions. When performing a movement with an external focus of attention, we likely only produce force with those regions that are optimally structured to contribute to that movement.

In contrast, when we perform a movement with an internal focus of attention, we may well produce force with additional regions as well, and these regions may not contribute particularly effectively to the movement. This would cause greater overall muscle activation without substantially increasing the external force and could also lead to greater overall hypertrophy, because of muscle growth in additional regions of the muscle that are not trained when using an external focus of attention.

Mind-Muscle Connection – Exercise Dependant

Yes, using the mind-muscle connection seems to be an effective strategy to increase muscle mass to specific muscles. But, should it be used during every exercise? In relation to isolation exercises then using the mind-muscle connection is fantastic. However, for big compound movements such as deadlifts, squats, and bench press then we must consider the negative effect that directing our focus internally can have on performance tasks. Using an internal focus on such tasks can lead to fewer reps being performed and a decreased ability to lift the same weight. Likewise, as big compound exercises are predominantly used to target multiple muscle groups, solely focusing our attention on a specific muscle during these tasks would be counterproductive.

Summary

  • When performing any exercise, one can focus their attention either internally or externally.
  • The mind-muscle connection focuses attention internally and more specifically on the precise muscle being targeted
  • The mind-muscle connection is an effective strategy to increase muscle mass long-term
  • The mind-muscle connection can negatively impact on performance tasks and big compound movements and therefore an external focus should take precedence during these exercises.

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