What is the mind muscle connection?
The mind muscle connection or, in technical talk neuromuscular innervation is a term used when lifting weights referring to ‘feeling’ the muscle you’re training throughout each repetition of your workout. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a strong believer in the mind muscle connection, often speaking of visualization and a few other techniques I’ll discuss in a moment.
The primary reason for improving your mind muscle connection is to increase the number of muscle fibers recruited while lifting and increasing the contraction of the muscle on each repetition.
Increased recruitment and contraction will result in increased muscle mass and strength, this involves being able to control, fire and relax the muscle in question on demand. Can you bounce your pecs up and down? This takes a degree of established mind muscle connection to perform properly (without twitching your shoulders!).
How to improve the mind muscle connection:
Before you lay on that bench and get under the barbell take a moment to mentally ‘check in’ and envision the set you’re about to perform. Imagine lowering the barbell in a controlled manner to your chest while feeling the stretch across your pectorals before exploding upwards and squeezing your chest together to get that contraction at the top of your repetition.
I’ve found when I don’t take a moment to envision honing in on the muscle I’m training I often end up unconsciously recruiting secondary muscle groups (such as the shoulders since we’re discussing the flat barbell bench press).
Now that you’ve already mentally played out your set you’ll feel a far greater level of control and contraction throughout your set.
Perform several lighter weight perfect form war-up sets
A huge mistake guys make when they get to the gym is warming up incorrectly. Not only will you not feel an optimal mind muscle connection but you’re also at a much higher risk of injury if you neglect your warm-up or don’t perform one at all.
Instead of performing a few basic static stretches (which have actually been proven to decrease your performance when it comes to explosive strength based exercises) I recommend you follow a slightly more dynamic warm-up.
Perform 2 – 3 light sets (50% of your working set weight) for 10 reps per set. Take your time and focus on the stretching and squeezing throughout the range of motion.
Upon completing your warm-up sets to focus on the mind muscle connection increase the weight to that of your regular heavy sets and focus on maintaining the same control and contraction throughout the movement of each rep. If you’re not feeling it or your struggling to keep the weight under control it’s time to lower the weight of your work sets while you perfect your form and control of the exercise.
Tense the muscle prior to each set
Before each set flex and hold for a count of two seconds before picking up the dumbbells/barbell and lifting. I find this techniques helps me maintain a strong mind muscle connection when performing pull-ups – by taking a moment to bring my shoulder blades together and contract my lats I’m able to hone in on the muscle better and ensure I’m pulling through my lats as opposed to my biceps as fatigue sets in.