The mind muscle connection is a concept that’s been utilized, preached and promoted in bodybuilding for decades. The great Arnold Schwarzenegger even discussed developing a strong “mind-muscle connection” where he would visualize the muscle being trained and try to “feel” it working through the full range of motion.
While it may sound like bro-science, research validates the concept of the mind-muscle connection and that it can significantly improve muscle fiber recruitment and hypertrophy.[1,2]
The Science of the Mind Muscle Connection
To understand the mind muscle connection, you have to understand how a muscle contracts.
It all begins with a signal from the brain.
The nervous system generates a “signal” that travels through a motor neuron.
When the signal reaches the neuromuscular junction (the place where the motor neuron reaches a muscle cell) a chemical messenger called acetylcholine is released by the motor neuron and binds to receptors on the outside of the muscle fiber. This initiates a chemical reaction within the muscle that ends with the muscle fiber contracting.
The more intensely you focus on contracting a muscle the more powerful and complete the muscle contract -- which is a huge boon for muscle activation and gains!
How Important is the Mind Muscle Connection?
The importance of the mind muscle connection largely depends on your goal.
For example, competitive field sport athletes, combat athletes, powerlifters, and Olympic lifters aren’t really concerned whether or not they “feel” a particular muscle moving during a movement. Their primary goal is performance.
Further, research shows that when performance-based athletes use an external focus as opposed to an internal focus (i.e. mind-muscle connection), movements are done more economically and with less effort -- leading to better performance outcomes.
Now, if you’re a bodybuilder, physique athlete, or the average joe (or jane) looking to maximize your muscle building potential, then the importance of the mind muscle connection increases.
Increasing muscle activation helps you emphasize (“target”) and overload a specific muscle or group of muscles, which is precisely what you’re trying to do when your goal is hypertrophy. This can be especially helpful for bodyweight exercises where good form is key, and focus on the target body part (core for example) is integral.
How to Improve the Mind Muscle Connection
To improve the mind muscle connection, you need to focus on moving the weight with the muscles you’re trying to work. Using a slower eccentric (lowering) phase can help with this as well as incorporating pauses (isometrics) at various points during the rep, especially the midpoint.
Also, make sure to use a moderate weight, going to heavy (3-5 rep range) can make it more difficult to take advantage of the mind-muscle connection as your focus shifts to just moving the weight as efficiently as possible.
Last, but certainly not least, using a high-energy pre workout, such as HyperMax, also goes a long way to improving the mind muscle connection as it helps by energizing your nervous system with powerful stimulants and dialing in focus with effective nootropics, helping your muscles to fire more rapidly for more productive workouts.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Vigotsky A, Contreras B, Golden S, Alto A, Larson R, Winkelman N, Paoli A. Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 Jun;18(5):705-712. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1447020. Epub 2018 Mar 13. PMID: 29533715.
- Calatayud J, Vinstrup J, Jakobsen MD, Sundstrup E, Colado JC, Andersen LL. Mind-muscle connection training principle: influence of muscle strength and training experience during a pushing movement. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017 Jul;117(7):1445-1452. doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3637-6. Epub 2017 May 12. PMID: 28500415.
- David L. Neumann. A Systematic Review of Attentional Focus Strategies in Weightlifting. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2019.00007