Gymnastics fascinates me. As a little seven year old, I stood in front of the TV absolutely hypnotized by what these girls were capable of executing. Fifteen years later, I’m pursuing a master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology, and part of my training will involve working with Division I gymnasts.
Succeeding in a sport such as gymnastics, or fostering any sort of muscular growth requires practice and exceptional mind-muscle connection. A more well-known term is mind-body connection. This term is more than just thinking about the muscles being recruited during exercise, it’s understanding why.
This term isn’t totally unfamiliar to me, but what caught me off-guard was when I began to see this term used in the bodybuilding and Instagram fitness model world. How could I use this in the gym? Unless I use too much weight on the lat pulldown machine and forget to let go, my body isn’t soaring through the air like a gymnast. So what does mind-muscle connection mean for me and my training? First of all, did you know that your brain communicates with your muscles using something called, “acetylcholine”? It’s true! Doing a squat is far more complicated than just bending your knees and sending your behind back. Your brain sent your muscle a chemical that made it contract in that motion.
A more in-depth explanation as to why using MMC can result in increased muscle growth comes from Brent McGrath, a writer for Bodybuilding.com, “The more you can improve this communication, the more muscle fibers you will recruit. A single muscle head is made up of many individual muscle fibers. By improving your MMC you are actually increasing the number of muscle fibers being recruited when you perform a lift. This results in a better quality muscle contraction and better workout.”
Simply put: mind-muscle connection is intentionally focusing on the muscles used in a specific movement. Think about the muscles you’re using. Okay, duh. But really, how many times have you done squats and thought, I’m driving through my heels to activate my glutes and hamstrings. Maybe this is a very familiar monologue to you, or maybe (like me) this is sounds more familiar: Wow I love this song, I can’t wait to be done with this, I have an itch in my nose, what is that person doing, which set am I on, do I have time to go tanning after this. Clearly, one of those is much more focused.
McGrath goes on to further explain the benefits of MMC, “Think of it this way, you bench press 250lbs for reps. But because your MMC is poor, your Triceps and Deltoids are pushing much of that weight, so your chest might only be bearing 60% of the load. In other words, your chest is being recruited to push 150lbs (60% of 250lbs). Instead, try lowering the weight and focusing more on your MMC. Say you reduce the weight to 220lbs for 8 reps; this time because of your improved MMC your chest is bearing 80% of the load. Now you’re pushing 176lbs (80% of 220) with your target muscle, so your chest is actually doing more work. If you have to lower the weight in order to get a good quality muscle contraction, then do it. Sometimes less is actually more.”
A huge opportunity I’ve found that allows me to work on this is during deadlifts. For me, it is imperative that I focus on my hamstrings, back, core, neck, and even my gaze in order to ensure proper form. The most I can lift is a thirty pound straight bar, or else I can feel my mind focus more on the weight and less on my body. As McGrath said, sometimes using less weight can have more benefits, both physically and mentally.
Imagine how strong you can become when you actually put your mind to it!
“It is the mind that actually creates the body.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
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–Aly Fuller, BA Psychology
Energy Krazed Coach