Okay… so you’re doing online searches and reading articles on the “mind-muscle connection” and you feel you’re getting about as much useful information as you’d get from a zymurgist at an AA meeting (by the way – a ‘zymurgist’ brews beer). Well, maybe you’re not doing THAT badly, but the ambiguity and pseudo-information is enough to dissuade you from conversing with anyone about this topic. If you do, a lack of clear-cut definition and your own inconclusive results in its practice could lead to… well, some awkward moments. Here’s how one of those conversations went when a ‘wanna-be-bigger’ guy at my gym told me about his ‘mind-muscle connection’ technique:
Me: “Oh great… how’s that going for you?”
Other guy: “Uh… yea, yea, pretty good. I think I’m feeling more of a pump when I do my sets.”
Me: (thinking) Uh-oh – he’s talking about ‘muscle pumps’ within the first sentence of that answer; he’s probably not making gains.
Me: (talking) “How do you go about getting your mind-muscle connection; what do you do?”
Other guy: “Well, between my sets, I just sit there and concentrate on the muscle. Instead of daydreaming – I just concentrate.”
Me: “And that’s leading to better gains?”
Other guy: “Uh… it seems like it.”
I’m not surprised at this guy’s explanation when I look at the ‘mind-muscle connection’ information online and in magazines. It’s fuzzy to say the least. It explains something we do automatically. Really, whose brain is disengaged from their muscles when lifting heavy weights? It’s our mind-muscle connection that is the cornerstone of every move we make; our nervous systems, the intermediaries.
Before I introduce you to my take on mind/muscle, let’s look at the common advice on this topic:
- Slow down rep speed: This is probably good advice for some people. Those who pile on weight and perform cheat reps are missing out on more than just essential focus; they’re missing out on ‘fiber recruitment.’ That said, you can certainly improve workout focus with slower repetitions if you’re currently performing them quickly and sloppily. However, applying different rep speeds is a science all its own and taking this step might still leave your ‘mind-muscle connection’ mired in vagueness.
- Lighten up the weights: Gee, doesn’t this kind of tie-in with slower rep speeds? You can’t really slow down your reps unless you at least slightly lighten the load. Again, this might be great advice for the complete novice, but your mind-muscle connection might feel no less tenuous while following this advice if you’ve been lifting weights for, uh… maybe… more than a few weeks?
- Flex your muscles: “Hello” – I don’t think you need to encourage any guy involved in bodybuilding to do this more often; most do it instinctively any time they see an attractive female or a mirror. Okay, I get the idea behind this; we ‘feeeeeel’ the muscles more when we flex them. Are you getting more connected yet?
- ‘Squeeze’ the muscles on contraction: I’ll be blunt: this just seems like bad advice. Bodybuilding gains depend on successful overload and recuperation. If when going for that overload you hamper your muscle’s ability to get maximum volume because you build up lactic acid through unnecessary “squeezing”, you can end up “pumped” – with not much else. Muscles depend on real progress for natural gains – not short-term ‘pumps’ that only help you feel good while at the gym.
- Utilize ‘visualization’: This is one bit of advice being dispensed that I can wholeheartedly agree with. However, simply telling people that ‘Arnold’ used to visualize his biceps as huge mountains isn’t enough. He has genetically gifted biceps; what’d he visualize for his weaker body parts? Bodybuilders need to know how and when to use visualization. Otherwise, they end up like my buddy at the gym – sitting there between sets, appearing like a zombie as he tries to “see his muscles” while not knowing if this cognitive activity is contributing to muscle gains.
So, here’s my short and sweet version of how to REALLY get a ‘mind-muscle connection:
2. Set ‘workout performance quotas’ – not ‘appearance quotas’: In order to really make a valuable mind-muscle connection, you need to connect to your muscle’s workout performance more often than some static notion of their appearance. That’s because your workouts are the stepping-stones to your muscles getting bigger and stronger. Sure – seeing your biceps as “huge mountains” before you perform some barbell curls might help. But because that’s a ‘static image’, it might do very little during the heat a biceps workout or just before you perform a set. You have to know what you’re shooting for during each set – how that sub-goal fits into your overall goal – and how to get your subconscious mind to help you maximize the performance of that set.
3. Learn how to ‘jamb your internal dialogue’: This is something I cover in more detail in my book. However, here’s the gist of it: Our outcomes in life depend largely on our performance. Our performance depends largely on our ‘mental game’; what’s going on in our heads from moment to moment. Our mental game is built of ‘internal representations’; what most people refer to simply as “thoughts.” Our internal representations are constructed of ‘submodalities’; different combinations of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. But… these internal representations built of our five senses are labeled and can be manipulated by the self-talk we attach to them; our ‘inner dialogue.’
When you learn how to subconsciously enhance your muscles to perform at their peak, you develop the ultimate ‘mind-muscle connection.’ This might require that you learn to jamb out any negative self-talk that can stand between you and your best bodybuilding set. That’s what’s referred to as “jambing your internal dialogue.”
I’ve recently developed a tool for doing just that, but it’s only available to those who have my book. They’re the ones who understand how to make this authentic ‘mind-muscle connection’ really work.