Mastering the Mind-Muscle Connection
Bodybuilding isn’t all about brute strength. Learning to put your mind in the muscle can accelerate your gains.
By Brandon Curry, IFBB Pro
[Q] Brandon, I hear a lot about using the “mind-muscle connection,” but I still don’t really understand what it is. What’s your take?
[A] It’s basically a feeling of connection with your muscles that you develop over time. It helps you mentally control the amount of force you can generate on a given exercise. Regardless of the weight, it’s the ability to use the weight to get as strong a contraction as possible in the target muscle. It comes with practice. A lot of techniques such as forced reps, negatives, partial reps, etc., are all used to control the muscle through a certain range of motion and work the muscle harder. But if you focus mentally on how the muscle is working, you develop that control over time. Bouncing your pecs, for example, takes a bit of control and experience. That’s all about the mind-muscle connection.
[Q] Some pros say that it’s important to visualize your workout before you go to the gym. Is this really a helpful tool?
[A] Yeah, I think it’s a very helpful tool, especially if you train intuitively or if you don’t have a plan. It’s definitely important to have a general layout in your mind of what’s going to take place. Whether you have the whole thing in your mind or just the beginning, it’s important to be able to attack the workout properly. It’s important to create that mindset for training. Your day might be stressful and your mind is going nonstop, so it’s important to get focused on what you’re about to do, which helps you train more efficiently and with less risk of injury. It sets you up for the best success.
[Q] It’s hard for me to “feel” my back muscles working. Is that because I can’t see them? How do I fix that?
[A] The first step when it comes to feeling the muscle, I think, is lowering the weight. Once you do that, the approach is to use your warm-up better. If you try to warm-up with perfect reps, really squeezing and holding the contraction with every rep, it allows you to mentally connect with the muscle and get a good pump going. Then you work from your warm-up weight to your working weight gradually so that you can hold on to that feeling. If you lose that feeling, you’re probably going too heavy too fast. It’s also important to practice squeezing and contracting the muscle between sets or before you get started because it aids with that mind-muscle connection. If you just focus on lifting heavy, you may never see the kind of development you want. When training back, depressing your shoulder blades and then following with your elbows helps to keep your upper lats fully engaged. Also, using straps helps you focus on the pull with your back, rather than on your grip, which is a problem for a lot of people.
[Q] Do you have anything that you use to psych you up before a set like certain music or grunting or anything like that?
[A] I like to do the opposite. A lot of people like to make a lot of noise, or grunt. I like to be quiet and relax a little bit. I don’t want to use more energy before I get to the lift. I’m trying to get confident, like Ronnie Coleman would talk about light weight. It’s just a mental focus. In the middle of a set, I may let out some excitement.
Brandon’s Top 4 Mind-Muscle Tips
- Go light: Reducing the weight helps you focus on the target muscles better.
- Focus on tension: Contracting the muscle properly throughout a move aids total efficiency.
- Tempo: As you fatigue the, tempo will always change, but the pace of the eccentric portion of the move should be consistent and strong.
- Pose: Between sets, hold poses for 20 seconds or so. Like isometric training, it helps develop more of a connection.