How to Have the Best Workout Ever: Making the Mind Muscle Connection
I train clients one on one and I also teach group fitness classes. The thing I love about doing both of those things is the ability to watch the way people workout. My observations have helped me as a professional to form a type of descriptive language to guide people through their workouts. There’s one thing I’ve noticed; that people will mindlessly execute their exercises, and that is called the act of “going through the motions.” Many think that just performing the exercise, sets, or reps is what will create progress but thats all it is, a performance.
Its not enough to just complete the act of an exercise. Sure when you first start you’ll be sore and think you did something. You’re not wrong. You did in fact fire up some muscles that hadn’t been used in a while. However, after a short time that just wont be good enough.
Its important to create a mind muscle connection from the very beginning of your fitness journey.
What is a mind muscle connection?
The mind muscle connection is the active effort of creating a contraction in the muscle of the body you are trying to target.
Observe for yourself. Go to the gym and watch people sit down to do a lat pull down. I guarantee you see a person load up the weight and use a combination of their lower back and momentum to pull down the bar. You might even see a persons put minimum weight on the stack and just pull the bar down to their belly button. Neither of these movements have rhyme or reason. Neither of these movements properly work the targeted muscle group.
In completing a lat pull down are you just yanking the bar down towards your chest area or are you focusing on a controlled motion? A motion that allows your brain to deliver a message to your lat muscles via your nervous system. A message that urges them to tighten up with each and every single rep.
To properly perform this exercise you must contract you’re scapula, which fires up the lats and allows the bar to come down to the targeted finishing point naturally.
If you aren’t feeling every rep in the target area than you, my friend, are just going through the motions. If you are feeling this exercise in your bicep, shoulders, or lumbar area, Stop now!
How to make the connection-
I think the best way to gain this connection is by asking yourself these questions:
What are you trying to achieve with this workout?
What muscle do you want to target?
Why are you doing this exercise?
Do you feel target muscle working or do you feel it elsewhere?
Once you answer these questions you are starting the process of mindfully working out. At first, it may be difficult to fully contract certain muscles but the more you practice the better you’ll get.
I think it is important to note that this is not only relevant in the slower paced world of body building or sculpting. It is also extremely relevant when completing dynamic multi muscle moves such as clean and press, push press, hang snatches and even kettlebell swings. These movements might be more fast paced but they too require complete control over the weight. In maintaining this control you are working specific muscles. You may be working more muscles at one time but you are still firing off the neurons that control each muscle group.
There are two main reasons why I consider this the most important factor of working out.
- Progress- If you really want see progress in sculpting the body treat it like a piece of art as you workout. Michelangelo didn’t just take a pic axe to a piece of marble blindly to create David. You shouldn’t just blindly go into your workouts. Ask yourself the questions above, ask them continuously throughout your workout, and make every attempt to fatigue your chosen muscle.
- Safety- Being mindful of your movements creates a control over the weight. One of the biggest factors leading to injury in the gym is a loss of control. It can be because you’re lifting a weight that is too heavy or just because you were not paying attention. If you are taking the time to contract the muscle properly it will fatigue and there’s no need to lift a weight that is way to heavy. Muscle fatigue is the name of the game here and trust me you can create that without lifting 400 pounds.
Yea But Really… How?
Here are a couple of tricks I use when I find myself going through the motions of my workout. I’m certain they can work for you too
1. Slow down your pace- Count to 3,4, or 5 as you complete each part of the exercise. Doing so forces you to think about what you are doing. I gives you time to feel each part of the exercise as you execute it, It also keeps the muscle under tension for a greater amount of time helping you feel the fatigue faster.
2. A one to two second pause at the point of the exercise that the muscle is most tensed- This one is my favorite. Once the weight is in a place where the muscle is fully contracted keep the weight in place for a full Mississippi or two count. It is almost always inevitable you’ll feel the squeeze of the muscle because holding it creates a forced overload.
3. A great mental trick that I use is just simple THINKING. Never underestimate pure brain power. Remember, at this point you know why you’re doing the exercise and you know what muscle you’re trying to work. So, all you need to do is think really hard about that muscle as you do the exercise. It sounds simple and like a no brained (ha!) but it’s exactly what’s missing from many gym goer’s routines.
I have a huge issue with feeling the left side of my body. As I complete an exercise I constantly repeat to myself “lefty, lefty,lefty lefty.” Do the same. Complete your exercise thinking to yourself “Pull with the lats,” or “I’m working the cap of my shoulder.” At some point those thoughts will just be sermons nature.
4. Place your hand on the muscle being used. One of my favorite things to do is feel my muscles at work. I also love to make my clients do this because it fascinates them. Often times this is useful when completing a single armed chest fly or press. Place your hand just slightly to the side of your shoulder and feel the magic happen
Honestly, i worked out for years before i understood the concept. I would just come in the gym throw some weights around and be done. When my light bulb finally went off my body completely transformed. I noticed fuller, better quality muscle and my overall body fat stayed relatively lower than it had in previous years.
I really hope that if you’re new to training that this information helps you. My hope is that the lightbulb goes off for you and you start to make the kind of progress that shows the amazing effort you’re putting into the gym. Not only that I want for you to enter the gym confident that you are going to safely and effectively complete your workout