Connecting Mind and Muscle

August 8, 2018
Chris Reed

You might think that people who lift weights fully connect their mind and contracting muscles. But is this true? If you have ever seen the older Old Spice commercials with Terry Crews, you have enjoyed his wonderful 30-second commercials. I love the one where Terry is flexing every muscle in his body at different beats! Terry Crews is the shining example of having a mind-muscle connection. He can simply think about flexing a single muscle and make it happen.

The Science

This phenomenon has sparked some researchers to ask, is it necessary to have this ability? Does it have positive benefits? Researchers in the European Journal of Sports Science looked into it and found some interesting things.

What Researchers Found

• Researchers split participants into two groups and matched them for existing muscle thickness. One group was told to simply “get the weight up,” while the other group was cued to carefully feel the muscle contract through each repetition, which in turn helps to establish a mind-muscle connection between the brain and that specific movement. They focused on just two movements: bicep curls and quad extensions. Participants did 4 sets of 8-12 reps, 3 times a week for 8 weeks.

• What did they find? In the quads, muscle thickness was roughly the same, but in the biceps, the group that was told to focus on feeling the muscle contract increased their muscular thickness more than the group that was told to just “get the weight up.”

What Did We Learn?

The mind-muscle connection may be something we should focus on, but not during all lifts. Although these are similar types of muscle contractions occurring in different parts of the body, it may be more intuitive for a person to be able to flex their biceps on command than their quadriceps, which is why they saw more progress in the biceps. The connection from brain to muscle is more likely to already existing in the biceps compared to the quadriceps.

Ultimately, when applying this concept to other muscles and movements, simpler movements better demonstrate the mind-muscle connection than more complex movements. For complex movements with a lot of moving parts, like squatting, focus on executing good form before trying to really “feel” any type of mind-muscle connection. When doing a simple, single joint movement, this research shows it is warranted to at least try feeling the muscle contract through the movement, because we may be activating more muscle fibers, resulting in more growth.

Your Mind-Muscle Connection

Not sure if you already have an existing mind-muscle connection? Attempt to flex only your right bicep without making the whole arm move, then try the left. Now try your right and left pec. If you can’t do this, do not fret – it can now serve as a goal. This will not be the make-or-break moment of training, but it can serve as another tool in your toolbox to have total control over your body. Some simple tips to try getting this going is to first focus on perfect form, and when that is accomplished, “squeeze” the target muscle at the top of the movement and hold it for at least 1 count.

It’s All in the Form

When it comes to what is important with training, prioritize form, proper movement programming, sleep, and diet. Our Performance Session is a great way to learn how your body is currently moving. Then, we can explore increasing our performance through various mediums, such as the mind-muscle connection. It is an easy way to challenge yourself and give the body better motor control. Increasing motor control can help decrease injury risk; when things go awry, the pathway to correcting the movement is already in place.

Additionally, having total control over your body will give you the best shot at maximizing a workout program for all it is worth. Your program is designed to challenge specific muscles. If you can’t control those muscles’ movement, you are likely to compensate the movement. Now we missed the boat on total body development. Don’t miss the boat – test out your mind-body connection today and see what you can control now and what goals lie ahead.

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Chris Reed

Chris is a native of Chicago, IL. Growing up he played every sport he could convince his parents to sign him up for, which shaped his current holistic approach to performance and training. After high school, Chris received a Bachelors in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Following that, Chris moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to pursue certification and a Masters in Athletic Training at the University of Arkansas. While there, Chris received the Athletic Training Student of the Year Award after his second year in the program. Immediately after graduating, he spent a year as an Intern Athletic Trainer with the Chicago Bears. Over his short time as a Certified Athletic Trainer and Athletic Training Student, he spent time in the high school circuit, Big 10, SEC, and NFL across multiple sports including football, baseball, track and field, and lacrosse. He uses his knowledge of injury rehabilitation and sport performance to guide realistic and thoughtful choices while progressing or regressing athletes. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, 12-inch softball, golf, and reading.

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