Developing the Mind-Muscle Connection

Calves, quads, hams, glutes, core…. a competitor goes through the checklist in their head while hitting a double back bicep pose.  A bodybuilder must be able to control every muscle flexing without looking as if it’s difficult. This takes years of practice to become good at. This is the Mind Muscle connection. 

The Mind Muscle connection is not just a term for hardcore bodybuilders, it’s for every single person who lifts weights. If the goal is to move the weight from point A to point B without any type of attention to detail throughout the exercise you might as well grab your bag and shaker and head home. 

Flexing the muscle during an exercise will create more tension and stress on the muscle with less weight. Less weight means less wear and tear on the joints and tendons. Working smarter not harder is a direction everyone should lean towards as they get older to reduce risk of injury. Let’s take the rear deltoid for example, this muscle is nearly impossible for some people to feel and contract in isolation. 

Take Reverse Dumbbell Flies for example.
Step 1: Pick up the dumbbells you use. 
Step 2: Put those down and grab half the weight.
The biggest mistake people make is using too much weight. Work with the weight not against it. 

Okay, now sit down on the bench with your legs stretched out, lean forward and let the dumbbells hang in your hands; keeping your traps relaxed raise your hands to the ceiling. When you keep your traps relaxed and raise your hands, instead of going directly out the weight traveled back towards your waist. This is because your lat contracted and pulled it back. Do it again but push the hands forward in the direction of where your feet are. 

Practice makes perfect but a reverse dumbbell fly is a good starting point to feeling the rear deltoid. If you are having trouble finding the contraction, have your gym partner press on the muscle. Then, try to flex it and push their finger up with the contraction. One Step at a Time

This 3 step process of stretch, squeeze, hold has to be done to every body part to ensure that the Mind Muscle connection is maximal. Sometimes these are referred to as activation exercises. This simply means that that one exercise that feels really good will “wake up” your muscle and get it ready to work. Even during compound movements like squats, you should still be thinking stretch, squeeze, hold. 

To start developing this connection with various muscles, start with these exercises and remember: stretch, squeeze, hold!

Activation exercises

Chest
Incline DB Fly into DB Press                    3 x 20
Focus on squeezing middle of chest

Back
Rope or Straight Bar Cable Pullover       3 x 20
Get a good stretch

Quads
Leg extensions                                            4 x 16
4 second eccentric 

Shoulders
Seated Bent over Reverse DB Fly            3 x 12

Biceps
Preacher DB Curl                                       4 x 12

Triceps
Rope cable extension                               4 x 16
3 second eccentric. Extend outwards, not down. Try to split the rope.

Hamstrings
Lying hamstring curl                                4 x 12
1 second squeeze

Glutes
Banded Kickback                                      3 x 12
Pause, turn toe out 

Calves
Standing calf raise                                    3 x 16
1 second pause at contraction. Then into a good stretch 

Practice!  
The Mind Muscle connection is not an easy thing to improve, it takes time. Your body will literally move the synapses in the neurons responsible for the contractions you practice closer together. You muscles have an incredible learning curve but again it still takes time. 

In the long run it will pay off 10 fold. You will see rounder more developed muscles and overall, a complete physique. More importantly, “man, if only that guy had calves” will never be said about you. 

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