Despite our busy daily schedules, most of us still somehow make time for a 60-minute workout to attain that dream physique that we crave for. But even though we manage to make time for exercise, and eat those calculated meals on time, there are always those among us who have to struggle more on their journey towards a better physique, much more than many others.
Seems unfair, doesn’t it? Well, this can happen when one among these factors go wrong – recovery, nutrition, workout intensity, or even excess/over training. But what if I tell you that there is one more factor that most of us never consider a big deal when it comes to attaining the goal of growth? This single major factor is the Mind – Muscle connection.
Let me give you an easy example to understand this concept. Remember those days in school when there were subjects which we hated a lot, yet somehow cleared them just for the sake of getting that promotion, even if we had to scrape through? Yes, we slogged and scraped through those subjects, with no heart in it, and at times no attention to the subject matter at all!
Your gains at the gym are perhaps, just another example of such a subject that you slogged through. Assuming that is so, I will explain how this relates to mind-muscle connection, and how making that simple connection can help you pass with flying colors. Read on!
Just like the attention and focus required in education, every physical activity requires concerted focus towards achieving that muscle involvement to improve performance and muscle activation. Technically, the concentration that you give to your workout, and the level of dedication you have towards lifting during those 45 to 60 mins on any given day, is what is referred to as the ‘Mind-Muscle connection’. This phenomenon can be a new experience, especially if one is a beginner. I’ll provide a few more examples for you to understand how the connection works.
It is a no-brainer that every athlete requires to focus on their training, and by ‘focus,’ meaning the mindset and thoughts involved while performing a workout. This can be differentiated further into internal and external focus. Let’s consider an example of barbell bench press performed by an experienced lifter who internally focuses on the body movements required for the workout, and also maintains external focus on the form and environment involved in the workout.
Internal Focus: By squeezing the pectoral muscles (chest muscles) and retracting the scapula (shoulder blade) to make sure the weight load acts more on the chest muscles.
External Focus: By controlling the motion of the rod to act perpendicular to the ground, and also by balancing the weight.
The combination of such internal and external focus intensifies the workout dramatically (barbell bench press), and activates the required neuro-motor connection to trigger a much larger activation in the targeted muscles (here, the pectorals) than in the secondary muscles (here, the shoulder & triceps) involved in the workout movement. Practicing this ‘internal+external’ focusing in each workout is what improves one’s mind-muscle connection.
As a beginner, the mind-muscle connection is a skill, the mastery of which comes only through disciplined practice and various indirect focusing methods to acquire that connection. The following can help you get organized towards honing this skill –
Focus through planned workout schedule:
One of the main tools to attain focus is by going well prepared to the gym with a proper plan. After all, what’s the point in entering an exam hall without remembering to take your pen? A well-planned schedule not only saves time, but also allows the mind to concentrate on the workout.
Focus on music/self-motivation:
Yes, Music! It works magic at times, especially in situations like an overcrowded gym, or an distracting/talkative lifter nearby. The basic idea is to attain focus through filtering distractions and listening to motivational music. Also, focus can be developed by self motivational pep-talks and boosts, a well-known practice by many professional lifters and athletes who talk to themselves in between workouts. Typical self-motivational phrases include “I am the champ,” or “No pain, No gain.” Muhammed Ali’s favorite saying was “I am the greatest” – this was something he repeated to himself before his fights to get into that positive mental space, and sharpen his focus.
Focus on skill enhancement:
Another very different method of improving focus is by improving our skill in performing each workout. For instance, if one needs to improve on squats, a proper form is attained by maintaining the spine straight and squeezing the glutes during the upward motion (internal focus) and meanwhile making sure (externally) that the force of the weights acts perpendicular to the floor, and then again by making sure the downward motion ends when the hamstring is below or parallel to the ground level.
Focus on negative training and flexing:
Flexing is a practice where one can (in between sets) hold poses for 20 seconds or so. Like isometric training, it helps develop more of a connection. Negative Training is the method by which more concentration is brought to apply on eccentric movements (resistance phase) by controlling the motion with longer tempo. The logic behind this is that as you fatigue, tempo will always change, but the pace of the eccentric portion of the move should be consistent and strong. So utilizing this movement with proper concentration can also enhance the focus on performance tremendously.
The takeaway? Consider these methods that I have outlined, to improve each gym session by improving your mind muscle connection. Next time, at the gym, lift with loyalty and dedication that stems from the mind, rather than chatting with friends, getting distracted by your phone, or letting your focus stray with any other activities that tends to make your gym a social hangout place instead of the battlefield that it should be! After all, your mind is also a muscle, and the biggest one that controls all the other muscles in your body. Therefore, mastering your mind during your lifts, combined with attention to proper nutrition can definitely help you attain your dream physique.
So FOCUS and watch your dreams come true!!!!
Author Credits – Vinodh V.