Is the Mind Muscle Connection Important?
Does more focus result in benefits?
Speak to any bodybuilder and they'll express the importance of the mind-muscle connection. For those unaware, this involves focusing on using specific muscles to perform the movement as opposed to the movement itself.
For example, if you were to perform a bench press, you wouldn't just focus on moving the bar from start to finish. Instead, you'd focus on using the chest and triceps to move the weight.
If your primary goal is to build specific muscles, this makes logical sense but what does the research say?
In the research, the mind muscle connection is defined as an internal focus whilst moving the weight from A to B is defined an external focus.
Generally, studies suggest that when you adopt an internal focus, you see a neutral to positive benefit. Some muscles respond well to the mind muscle connection whereas some don't seem to make much of a difference.
Paoli et al. (2019) investigated whether different attentional foci would modify muscle activation. They found that when told to focus on triceps, activation of the triceps increased. Yet when told to focus on the pecs, activation didn't increase.
Similarly, Schoenfeld et al. (2018) found that when participants lifted with an internal focus, bicep thickness was significantly greater when compared to an external focus. On the flip side, quadricep thickness was no different between internal or external focus.
These mixed findings may be based on a lifters training experience and ability to contract these muscles independently. Most people, regardless of training status, are able to flex their bicep but it's much more difficult for an untrained person to flex their quads or their pecs.
What might mind muscle connection NOT be good for? Sports such as powerlifting and weightlifting.
The mind muscle connection has a neutral to positive effect for hypertrophy but when we consider technical compound movements such as olympic lifting, focusing on the movement rather than the muscles may be advantageous.
When you have several muscles involved in a movement trying to focus on just one or two muscles may take away from the task at hand and result in poorer performance. In this case, an external focus may be better.
In summary, the mind muscle connection is a useful tool if your goal is to build specific muscles but not so much improving specific lifts. It may take some time before you really "connect" with a muscle and this skill will likely improve as training age increases.
About the Author
Harry is an online personal trainer and WNBF men's physique professional from the UK. He's has been working in health & fitness for over a decade and has had almost every job the industry has to offer. From owning a private personal training studio to training Bollywood actors in India and now, coaching clients from all over the world online. Harry also started out competing in natural bodybuilding before transitioning to men's physique where he won the world championships in Las Vegas in 2021. Harry's primary interest is to take more nuanced and complex subjects related to health and fitness and make them more accessible for those who don't have the time to trawl through the research. When he's not in the gym, Harry enjoys going out for drinks with friends and getting his hands dirty with DIY (although preferably not at the same time!).
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