Behind the Mind-Muscle Connection
Mind-muscle connection: science, or just bro science?
For years, trainers and fitness gurus have said to focus the muscle you are exercising, commonly called the “mind-muscle connection”. For example, if you are doing a bench press, you would squeeze the muscle at the top of the bench press to get the most intense muscle contraction out of the movement. One standard technique a personal trainer will do it to place his or her hand on the muscle that is being trained to cue to the person exercising to contract the muscle. Legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was noted for focusing on the muscle as he trained, and focusing on the most intense muscle contraction possible.
This practice of focusing on a body part while training is known as the “mind-muscle connection.” Previous studies had reported increased biceps muscle activation when participants were told to concentrate on the muscle, instead of focusing on bar movement during biceps curls and isokinetic elbow flexions, even when the exercise was performed at different speeds.
Researchers placed electrodes all over subject’s chest and triceps, and told them they were performing a push-up study to examine the effect of push-ups on muscle activation. Subjects performed one set of three reps of the push-up, with a two-second concentric and a two-second eccentric phase, under three different conditions:
1. Regular push-up
2. Push-up focusing on selectively activating the pectoralis major. The subjects were advised that during this set, they must try to focus on only using your chest muscles.
3. Push-up focusing on selectively activating the triceps. Subjects were informed that during this set, try to focus on only using your triceps.
A the end of the study, the researchers found that focusing on the chest while doing push-ups increased the EMG amplitude (i.e. muscle activation) of this muscle by 9 percent compared to the group that was just told to do push-ups. These findings of focusing on the muscle while you are training are similar to a previous study where focusing on using the chest increased activity in this muscle by ~17 percent during a bench press performed at 50 and 80 percent of 1RM. Another interesting finding from the group that focused on their triceps while doing push-ups was that there was an association between the number of years of strength training experience and the ability to increase triceps muscle activation using the mind-muscle connection. The study suggests that focusing on the muscle that you are exercising can lead to increased muscle activation, and ultimately better gains in muscle mass and strength.
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.
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