If I told you that one of the most important and powerful aspects of building muscle was mental, rather than physical, you might look at me like I was crazy. But the reality is that the mind-muscle connection—the mythical connection to your muscles that legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger say is key to developing a killer physique—is critical to getting the most out of your workouts.
If you want to develop the best physique possible, developing a strong mind-muscle connection is vital. But what exactly is it, and how do you develop it?
Read on to find out.
What Is the Mind-Muscle Connection?
Mind-muscle connection (MMC) is a tricky thing to explain. Basically, this is how well you can feel and focus on the contraction of an individual muscle. It’s important for activating a target muscle properly in a movement. Let’s use the bent-over row as an example. If you’re training back, and you can’t feel your lats working during your rows, it’s not because they aren’t working—they physiologically have to in order to perform the movements. Instead, it’s because you haven’t built a strong mind-muscle connection to them. This can result in other muscles—biceps, in this case—doing too much of the work, which can cause your lats to lag in development.
How Mind-Muscle Connection Benefits Training
Mind-muscle connection is important because it helps you isolate particular muscle groups during training, so you can ensure that the right muscles are doing the right amount of work. It can help get a better pump in the target muscle. Using the example of back training above, if you primarily feel your rows in your biceps, it’s an indication that too much of the work is being handled by them and not enough by the latissimus dorsi, which is the muscle you’re actually trying to target with the rows. While your lats are still working (physiologically, you can’t perform a row without engaging them), they may not be working as much as they could be in that particular movement.
Tips to Develop a Strong Mind-Muscle Connection
First of all, leave your ego at the door and drop the weight you’re lifting. This is probably the hardest part of developing the mind-muscle connection for most people, because a lot of lifters are conditioned to think more is better. While lifting heavier weights is important to progress and develop your muscles, if it impacts your form it can actually be detrimental. If you’re lifting too heavy, your mind is going to be focused on moving the weight, and you’re more likely to recruit secondary muscles in the movement rather than letting the target muscle group do the work.
It’s easier to focus on a muscle contraction and build MMC with lighter weights. Slow down, take each rep nice and slow, and really concentrate on feeling the muscle work. Flex your muscles between sets, paying attention to only contracting your target muscles. If you’re working biceps, focus on flexing and contracting the biceps between sets. And always make sure to use proper form. This is important both for safety and for developing the mind-muscle connection.
Exercise Cues for Tricky Muscle Groups
Mind-muscle connection is, to an extent, something that comes with practice. However, there are cues you can use during lifts to help develop it faster:
Lats: Think about pulling from your elbows, rather than from your hands. This can help minimize bicep activation. At the top of the rep, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and at the bottom, try to feel a nice stretch in your lats.
A great exercise for building MMC with the lats is the straight-arm pull-down. Use a light weight and focus on contracting your lats and squeezing. Go slow and really feel it.
Pectorals: For building a connection with your pecs, nothing beats the classic dumbbell fly. With presses, especially heavy bench presses, it can be hard to isolate the pecs without your triceps and front delts taking over. Some nice, slow flies with a big stretch at the bottom can be a great way to isolate them and get the right feel down.
Deltoids: Isolating the deltoids is almost impossible without a strong mind-muscle connection. These muscles are small, and it’s easy for larger muscles to overpower them and do all the work in a movement. Focus on slow reps and squeezing, like with other muscles. Use a light weight and maintain proper form throughout the movement. This is especially important for working the delts.
Quads: For your quads, try a lighter weight for squats. Slow down and focus on contracting and squeezing the weight up rather than exploding out of the hole. Another good exercise for learning to feel your quads is leg extensions. Again, go light and slow, and focus on squeezing the weight up.
Hamstrings: Treat the hamstrings just like the quads—drop the weight, slow the reps down, and focus on the squeeze. Romanian dead-lifts and lying leg curls are perfect for both building big hamstrings and developing your mind-muscle connection.
It can take a while to build a good mind-muscle connection, so don’t get discouraged. Keep practicing. Stay focused on the contractions of each muscle when flexing and lifting. It’s worth the effort, because a good mind-muscle connection can take your training—and physique—to a whole new level.