Think when to your last lifting workout — were you 100 percent focused on the task at hand, or were you contemplating what to make for dinner, stewing well-nigh work or irreflective well-nigh a vacation? It’s easy to let your mind wander while doing an worriedness you’ve washed-up a thousand times surpassing (more biceps curls — zzz …), but switching your smart-ass to autopilot could be negatively impacting your results and may be making that elusive mind-muscle connection plane harder to establish.
“Some fitness enthusiasts are skeptical well-nigh the mind-muscle connection and think it’s bro-science quackery,” explains kinesiologist Jessica Kasten, MS, NSCA-CSCS, CPT. “But it’s been used for years by bodybuilders who swear by its effectiveness, and new research backs up their claims.”
They’re Tabbed “Concentration Curls” For a Reason
Visualization is used by athletes of all levels, and the pros spend a lot of time mentally improving their performance by seeing the basketball go into the hoop, feeling their skis whittle perfect turns and watching themselves navigate the finish line first to win their 5K. A mind-muscle connection is a little different, however, and occurs when you urgently think well-nigh and focus on feeling a target muscle contract and proffer as you are unquestionably doing a movement.
“The mind-muscle connection brings conscious sensation to a working bodypart or movement pattern that is self-ruling of distraction,” says Matthew Zanis, DPT, physical therapist at the U.S. Olympic Performance Center. “For example, directing your sustentation to flexing and squeezing the biceps [in a curl] focuses your smart-ass on that word-for-word muscle, resulting in the soul pumping increasingly blood, making neural connections and releasing chemical mediators that set the stage for higher levels of performance in the form of strength, size and power.”
This is moreover known as an “internal focus of attention” and is a salubrious skill if you’re looking to develop size and strength. An external focus of attention, on the other hand, is task-oriented and involves cues such as driving through the floor with your heels or moving the weight as slowly as possible. These are increasingly salubrious for motor control, performance and athleticism.
Where Focus Goes, Chemistry Flows
So how does all this work, exactly? Imagine that your muscles and nerves speak variegated languages; a neurotransmitter tabbed acetylcholine is the translator that helps them communicate. The largest the communication, the increasingly muscle fibers are recruited and the greater the muscular contraction. “Acetylcholine is released into the neuromuscular junction, a small space between a nerve and a muscle fiber, telling the muscles to turn on,” Kasten says. “This molecular signaling … contributes to greater muscle growth and adaptation.”
“When the mind is unfluctuating well with the body, upper levels of three important neurotransmitters are released: brain-derived neurotrophic factor, vascular endothelial growth factor and fibroblast growth factor,” Zanis adds. “Together, these help develop worthier and increasingly unfluctuating nerves and enhance neuroplasticity — the worthiness of the smart-ass to adapt, grow and evolve with new movement patterns — making us increasingly coordinated, stronger and largest movers.”
Honing in on your mind-muscle connection moreover can ingrain stronger muscle memory, which can work to your wholesomeness if you’re injured or are forced to be sedentary. “Consciously thinking well-nigh moving and engaging a target muscle can unquestionably strengthen that muscle with no exercise at all,” says Kasten, citing a study in the Journal of Neurophysiology in which participants wore surgical casts on their wrists for four weeks: Half were instructed to imagine flexing their wrists for 11 minutes per day, five times a week. The other half did nothing. When the casts were removed, the group who imagined flexing their muscles had double the strength of the tenancy group.
A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science compared the effects of applying an internal (mind-muscle) versus an external focus of sustentation to resistance training on muscle adaptations such as hypertrophy and strength. After eight weeks, subjects in the internal focus group demonstrated significantly greater biceps growth — 12.4 versus 6.9 percent — than those with an external focus.
Practice Makes Perfect
Improving your mind-muscle connection is all well-nigh repetition. Here are Kasten’s tips to help you construct a strong connection, starting from ground zero.
- Uncork with a single-joint exercise. Practicing with a move such as a biceps flourish or a leg extension makes it easier to identify and isolate a specific muscle on which you should focus.
- Use a moderate load. Going too heavy automatically shifts your focus from internal to external, negating your potential benefits. Choose a weight that is 60 percent or less of your one-rep max, and well-constructed between 12 and 20 reps for weightier results.
- Perfect your form. Sloppy technique requires spare muscles to engage in order to perform an exercise, which ultimately distracts you from paying tropical sustentation to the movement of the target muscle.
- Focus on each rep from start to finish. As you uncork your lift, consciously vivify and shorten the muscle on the way up (concentric), squeeze it nonflexible at the top (isometric), then consciously finger it engage and resist on the extension as it lengthens (eccentric). Move slowly to weightier pinpoint your focus.
- Limit your distractions. Put yonder your phone or pause your music so you can requite your full sustentation to the exercise.
- Flex between sets. Contracting and focusing on the target muscle helps modernize the mind-muscle connection by permitting you to finger it and vivify it plane while you’re not lifting. It moreover gives you a bit increasingly of a pump and allows you to sneak a little increasingly volume into your workout.
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