Building muscle and getting big and jacked is easy.
It’s easy in the same way that climbing Everest in a blizzard is easy.
If you couldn’t tell, we were being sarcastic just then, as building muscle is one of the hardest processes your body will go through.
Nothing in life worth having comes easily, though, which is why you need to stick at it and really push yourself to your limits when training, whilst also ensuring that your diet is on point.
When training, have you ever found that, despite your best efforts, no matter how hard you train, how much you eat, and how many proteins shakes you chug down, you simply can’t build up certain body parts?
If you struggle with stubborn body parts, one of the best things you can do is work on your mind-muscle connection.
To some people, a mind-muscle connection may be hard to get your head around, but it really does work, and once you establish it, you’ll find that your training sessions get better, your strength will increase, and your muscle mass will improve as well.
Here’s everything you need to know about the mind-muscle connection.
Table Of Contents
First off, we’re going to begin by looking at what the mind-muscle connection is.
Despite sounding a lot like bro science, the mind-muscle connection is in fact very real, and it is something that all bodybuilders must master if they want to get the most from their physiques and their training sessions.
You see, even though bodybuilding is a physical activity, there is one incredibly important mental aspect of it to master if you want to maximize your gains.
That psychological aspect is what is known as the mind-muscle connection.
As you probably know, your brain is responsible for every single movement you do.
Whether it’s bending your fingers, running, or picking up a dumbbell and curling it, your brain is responsible for that movement.
Whenever you perform a rep with a weight, the end result is your muscles contracting.
In order for the muscles to contract, your brain sends the muscles a signal.
This is the first step in the mind-muscle connection, and it begins at the neuromuscular junction.
This is basically where the brain communicates with the body.
The mind-muscle connection occurs when the brain secretes a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, which is what is responsible for communicating with the muscles in the body and telling them what to do.
When this neurotransmitter is secreted, it is able to cross the small space that separates nerves from the muscles.
This space is known as a synapse. It is then able to bind itself to receptors located on the surface of your muscle fibers.
This then results in a muscle contraction.
The aforementioned process may sound longwinded and complex, yet it takes place in milliseconds.
The more that a person can improve the way this process occurs, the greater the number of muscle fibers will be recruited.
As each individual head of the muscle is made up of individual muscle fibers, as you improve upon your mind-muscle connection, you are helping to recruit more muscle fibers during each lift.
This means that you become stronger, it results in greater levels of muscle hypertrophy, your contractions get better when lifting, and your workouts, in general, become far more productive.
Basically, when you lift weights, the idea is to create microscopic rips and tears in the muscle fibers.
This damages the muscle slightly, and muscle hypertrophy (growth) occurs when you rest as your body repairs the muscles and builds them up bigger and stronger.
When performing an exercise, the idea behind each exercise is to target specific muscles.
Bicep curls, for example, are designed to target the biceps.
Bench presses are designed to target the chest, shoulder presses target the shoulders, and so on.
In order to get the most from your lift, though, you need to make sure that you’re really working the muscles you intend on working.
If you’re trying to isolate your pecs for example, but find that you’re using other muscle groups and not getting a good squeeze on the pecs, you aren’t maximizing your training because you’re not working the pecs as hard as you could and should be.
A mind-muscle connection helps you to visualize the muscle in question being worked, and it ensures that you perform the exercise with very good form.
This all comes down to primary movers and secondary movers.
The primary mover is the muscle which is lifting the majority of the weight and it is the muscle you’re intending on targeting.
The secondary mover is the muscle, or muscles, that assist with the lift.
So, as an example, if you’re performing a barbell bench press, even though the pectoral muscles are responsible for the majority of the lift, the triceps also help.
These are the secondary movers as they also assist with the lift.
With a mind-muscle connection, you get to target and isolate all muscles in your body, and the different parts of the muscle.
The triceps, for example, has three heads, and in order to get them looking their best, you need to work all three heads.
This is where a mind-muscle connection proves to be so useful.
By visualizing the muscle being worked, you can get a better squeeze and a better contraction, which in turn results in greater levels of muscle growth.
Hopefully, now that you understand what the mind-muscle connection is, you’ll realize that it isn’t bro science and that it really does work.
The hard part now is building it up and establishing a strong one.
If you’re looking to improve your mind-muscle connection, here are a few tips to help you do exactly that.
How many times have you been in the gym and seen some dude, usually trying to show off in front of women, lifting weights that are clearly too heavy for him, with the worst form you’ve ever seen?
Sure, he may be “lifting” the weight, but the muscles he’s supposed to be targeting won’t be benefitting at all because he is having to use so many secondary movers.
In order to benefit from a mind-muscle connection, the first thing you need to do is stop ego lifting.
One of the best ways to establish a mind-muscle connection is, to begin with, light weights and master your form and technique.
Instead of trying to lift as much weight as you possibly can, you should instead focus on every rep and really squeezing and isolating the target muscle.
Practice until your form is absolutely perfect and focus on really squeezing and contracting the muscle.
Before you lift weights you should perform warm-up sets anyways, but now you’ve another reason to do so.
A warm-up set is very important when it comes to establishing a strong mind-muscle connection as it helps you to practice before your working sets.
When you perform a warm-up set, treat it just like you would a working set.
Do the exercise until it feels perfect and natural.
Not only will this help you to get your head in the game, but it will also warm up your muscles and prepare them for what you’re about to put them through.
This is arguably the most important tip of all when it comes to a mind-muscle connection, so pay attention and make sure you get it right.
When in the gym, you’ll see that there are mirrors all around.
This isn’t just so that you can admire your gains, it’s so that you can check your form and make sure you’re doing the exercise right.
As well as checking your form in the mirror, another way of visualizing is with your mind.
When performing each exercise, in your mind, try to visualize the muscle being worked with each rep.
Visualize the exercise and the tiny rips and tears you’re creating as you break it down with each rep.
Try to imagine them growing and looking their best and you’ll be amazed by just what a difference it can make.
Too many people out there lifting weights will throw the weights around, bounce them off their chests, etc, jerk them around, and get through a working set as quickly as they can.
If you’re throwing weight around quickly there’s no time to focus on anything in your mind, because of the fact that the exercise is over with so quickly.
In order to establish a strong mind-muscle connection, you should focus on lifting the weight mindfully, in a controlled manner, making sure to slow it down on the negative, as this is what will create additional tears in the muscle fibers.
When you’re slow and controlled you can really isolate the target muscles and work on getting a good contraction during each rep.
Ultimately, this is what is going to help you to grow and pack on the muscle mass.
Okay, this may sound a little bizarre but just hear us out.
Another top tip when it comes to building a mind-muscle connection is to flex and contract your muscles between sets.
We’re not saying that you need to bust out a front double biceps flex after each set, but between sets, try to flex and squeeze the muscle that you’re working.
If you’re training your chest, try to flex and squeeze your pectoral muscles and force as much blood into the muscle as possible.
This will help to speed up the recovery process, it will give you a better pump, and it will help you to get used to squeezing and contracting the target muscle.
This is important as it helps you to “train” your brain so that you associate that specific type of muscle contraction with that specific exercise.
This could arguably be included in the visualization section, but as it’s so important we’ve given it its own section now.
In order to really work the muscle, it pays to find ways of getting a better squeeze and contraction during the exercise.
When doing dumbbell flyes for the chest, for example, to get a better squeeze at the top of the exercise, imagine that there’s a grape on your chest and that you’re trying to crush it with your pecs.
It sounds bizarre, but it really does work. This also helps to keep the mind active.
When in the middle of a working set, it’s important to be mentally focused at all times.
This is where it’s important to not let your mind wander.
Don’t think to abut the pain, or about what you’re going to eat for dinner, instead, think purely about the exercise you’re doing, and the muscles that you are working.
When you’re in pain, hurting, and struggling, it will be tough to focus, there’s no denying that, but once you have mastered it, you’ll find that your training improves drastically.
And that is pretty much that.
Hopefully, now you are a great deal more knowledgeable when it comes to a mind-muscle connection, and hopefully, now you can implement what you’ve learned today, into each and every single one of your future training sessions.
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.