We’ve all been there —
Some workouts feel amazing. You feel every muscle, you sweat, and you feel great after. You’re completely focused and motivated. But some workouts… they just feel like you’re going through the motions. Just trying to get it done because you are making yourself do it. Maybe you’re distracted, stressed, or it’s late at night… and your mind just goes somewhere else, And then afterwards, you don’t feel like you even did anything!
You end up walking away feeling defeated, and frustrated.
What you may not realize is that when you have these unfocused days, you are missing out on one of the most important aspects of your training — the mind-muscle connection!
Working out is just as much psychological as it is physical. Your brain is what initiates signals to your muscles to make them move and contract. The more you mentally “tune in” to the muscles that you want to use, you will actually increase the number of muscle fibers used in the exercise. So the question to ask yourself is this — in the middle of your workout sets, what’s going through your mind?
There are a few reasons why people have a hard time making a mind to muscle connection.
One is simply because there are smaller, secondary muscle groups (muscles that assist your prime movers) that are difficult to target and isolate. But these muscles are just as important as your prime movers because they increase your overall muscle alignment, balance, and stabilization.
An example of a secondary muscle would be the back of your shoulders (posterior deltoids). The first step in creating a mind-muscle connection with a muscle group like this would be to practice exercises that are specifically designed to target these muscles, and then make sure you are performing them correctly, using light weights and slow movements. There should always be a pause in the movement to really feel the contraction of the muscle.
One of my favorite ways to target and isolate the posterior deltoids is a dumbbell bent-over underhand row.
Another reason why people cannot make a strong mind to muscle connection is because they are actually lifting too much weight. Believe it or not, most of the time, you can get much more out of an exercise if you drop the weight slightly and focus on the contraction. Most of the time, if the weight is too heavy, we end up over-compensating with our secondary muscle groups, and under-using the prime mover — the major muscle you were trying to target.
So for example, if a guy in the gym is trying to chest press a weight that is too heavy for his strength levels, he is going to start using muscles like the triceps and shoulders to push most of the weight, so his chest may only be pushing a small percentage of the total weight.
Simply lifting heavy weight is not going to necessarily work the muscles that you want. Less is more!
Just by simply checking your ego at the door, and actually concentrating on the specific muscle that you want to work during exercise can help you get a much better workout and better results in the long run. It’s all about quality, not quantity. Stop obsessing over how much weight you’re lifting, because twisting and wrenching your body to force yourself through reps is really just going to lead to injury and more set backs. Train your brain to properly communicate with the target muscles.
I would rather see 5 perfect reps than 10 sloppy reps. You should feel the exercise. Not just get through it.
Overall, try to minimize distractions as much as possible. Wear headphones and listen to your favorite music. Get into the mental zone, and just go for it. All of your other problems will be waiting for you at the door when you leave. Focus on that time with yourself and make the best of it. There is no point in spending the time working out if you’re not giving 100% into every movement and using your muscles effectively. Remember, working out is not just physical — it takes a lot of mental stamina, strength, and focus that can only be developed over time with practice.
Once you develop better mind-muscle connection, you will actually be able to use this toughness and focus outside of the gym as well, which is a huge plus! Work projects will become easier, you’ll be able resolve conflicts with a clearer mind and better thought processing, and you’ll have better endurance for when life situations become difficult and stressful.