According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the biggest mistake people make in the gym is going through the motions without putting their minds inside the muscle. He was referring to the conscious and deliberate control over the contraction of your muscles, which is known as the mind-muscle connection.
on’t just take Arnie’s word for it! Be inspired by these 7 reasons to strengthen your mind-muscle connection.
Get more out of your workouts without working harder
Want to get more out of your workouts without working harder? Strengthening your mind-muscle connection is proven to do just that - it’s the secret to achieving more with less! All muscle movement begins in the brain, so there's much more to gain from a mindful 10-minute workout than disassociating in the gym for 30-minutes.
A strong mind-muscle connection shifts the tension and power output onto the muscles you’re training, which is a much more efficient way to reach your fitness goals. You can even regulate your strength through visualisation alone, so there’s no need to lift a lot of weight or do super long workouts to get great results.
Tip: Slow down
Your mind automatically focuses on controlling the slower movement, especially when you lengthen the muscle during the eccentric phase. Training in this way is likely to reduce the number of reps you're able to perform, but one slow and controlled rep is worth far more than 10 rushed reps.
Feel more energised and engaged during your workouts
Along with proven physical benefits, a strong mind-muscle connection comes with big psychological payoffs. Putting your mind in your muscles can help you get in the zone and feel more engaged during exercise.
When you focus on engaging your muscles, you preserve all your energy for the task at hand: slaying your workout.
Tip: Turn off distractions
A stronger mind-muscle connection provides an easy path to better form
Improve your form and avoid injuries
Moving with good technique reduces the risk of injury during a workout, and a stronger mind-muscle connection provides an easy path to better form. Think about the specifics of what your body is doing rather than focusing on the external environment and mental chatter.
Not only does this focus ensure the correct muscles are engaged during an exercise, but it also helps you listen to your body when something isn't right.
Tip: Use internal coaching cues to hone in on what your body is doing.
Reduce muscular and strength imbalances
While it’s common to be stronger or more muscular on one side of your body, it’s a sign that your mind-muscle connection could be better.
Rather than just going through the motions with unilateral exercises, experiment with giving some extra focused attention to your weaker areas. To make it easier to mentally isolate specific muscles, touch them to feel them contract. A little biofeedback goes a long way!
Tip: Warm up with unilateral isolation exercises
Compound exercises get all the glory because they require more energy and engage multiple muscle groups at once. However, isolation exercises can be just as valuable if you want to strengthen your mind-muscle connection. Warm-up with unilateral isolation exercises to activate the muscles you want to focus on.
Improve your coordination
Getting stronger not only requires an increase in muscle mass, but it also requires an improvement in coordination. Poor muscle coordination leads to unstable movements during exercise, and this lack of stability means we only have access to about 20-25% of our strength.
While instability may look like weakness, a few tweaks and some mental focus can instantly make you very strong in the same movement. Always aim to improve your coordination before challenging your strength.
Tip: use static exercises for strength
Static exercises are also known as isometric contractions, and they can help you get stronger without moving. They’re also a great way to increase time under tension while improving your awareness and control over your muscles.
A common mistake with isometric contractions is to aim for effortless execution. Instead of trying to relax and zoning out, focus on creating maximum tension in the relevant muscle groups. Here are a few static exercises to practice your mind-muscle connection:
- Superman holds
- Squat holds
- Wall sits
- Front lever
- Back lever
- Handstand hold
- Isometric chin-ups
- Loaded carries
Make mindful workouts your new goal and aim for strong mental awareness and control over your movements
Increase your motivation to exercise
Not only is a strong mind-muscle connection a defining difference between fitness newbies and more advanced athletes, but it’s also one of the keys to staying motivated and on track to your fitness goals.
If your progress has plateaued or you’re struggling to find your motivation, it may be time to reconsider your approach and strengthen your mind-muscle connection.
Tip: make mindful workouts your new goal and aim for strong mental awareness and control over your movements.
Forget about the phrase, ‘no pain, no gain’
When it comes to getting great results from your training, the phrase, 'no pain, no gain' is very misleading. Pain or cramping during a movement could be a sign that your technique needs some attention, the weights you’ve chosen are too heavy, or a combination of these two factors.
While muscle fatigue and discomfort can be expected towards the end of an exercise, pain and cramping during your first few reps is a clear indication that the movement is not within your control.
Tip: Use lighter weights, check your form, and aim for control rather than pain.
The mind-muscle connection is not simply about ‘feeling your muscles working’; it’s about consciously controlling the movement of the right muscles at the right time. It’s also a great way to become familiar with your anatomy and practice mindfulness – all while getting more out of each workout!