Many videos of professional bodybuilders allegedly contain the secret to extraterrestrial muscular hypertrophy. One of the special tactics often promoted in those clips is the mind-muscle connection – a term describing the ability to activate a muscle during a lift.
According to the iron scholars, if you are simply focusing on moving the weight, you may fail to activate the right muscles for the task. The most popular example would be the pull-up. Many people rely on arm strength instead of the back to lift themselves up.
How can you move without your muscles?
Many muscle apprentices think that special voodoo is required to make a particular muscle group fire, and since we live in the Era of The Gluteus Maximus, you often here about strategies designed to activate that muscle to the fullest. I appreciate the expertise, but many forget a simple fact of life – you cannot move without your muscles.
There are movements that simply cannot be performed without the help of a specific muscle group. In other words, the muscles get activated regardless of your wishes. Do you really have to think about activating your biceps during curls? How is it possible to even curl without using your biceps? It’s not, but the gurus will try to convince you that you need to squeeze hard and think about your biceps until brain damage has occurred.
Honestly, doing a movement with correct form is often good enough. You don’t always have to feel a muscle to know that it’s working. Like I already said, you can’t curl without your biceps. Even if you are not feeling them (highly unlikely), they are working hard.
However, in some situations having the ability to activate a certain muscle group can be very useful. A popular example would be bracing your core and tensing your back as much as possible during squats.
I have an excellent mind-muscle connection, but it wasn’t always like that. For a long time, I was convinced that activating your lats during pull-ups is reserved for magicians. I read in a book that it will take you many years to make it happen. Luckily, that’s not really the case, and you can accomplish this task in a much shorter period.
It’s easy to focus on the mind-muscle connection when the weight is light. Almost anybody can go to the lat pull-down machine and crank out a few pump sets while focusing on pulling with the lats.
But when the weight gets really heavy, people enter survival mode and try to lift the weight in the easiest possible manner. Squats turn into good mornings, deadlifts become rounded back stone lifting, flat bench presses become declines, military presses turn into inclines….etc.
While it is impossible to always maintain perfect form, you shouldn’t allow more than 5-10% deviation from the norm. Sometimes even that could be a lot.
Keeping the mind-muscle connection strong during heavy attempts is the hardest, but it’s also when it counts the most. As I said already, almost anybody can get a nice pump with a weight that’s really light, but that’s not how you get strong. Light weights just can’t make you strong. It’s like trying to run fast, without running.
Still, light poundages should be used to practice form and establish a mind-muscle connection. Once you have accumulated enough practice under your belt, it will translate fairly well to your heavy sets as long as you don’t get greedy and add an enormous amount of weight to the point where all joint integrity is lost. In that case, you are simply training the pain tolerance of your joints and testing your luck. I know what I am talking about. After all, I am a former cat back deadlifter.
The mind-muscle connection has a decent influence on muscle growth, but don’t get too excited. You won’t become a monster just because you can activate the right muscle.
One of the more important benefits that come with an improved mind-muscle connection is the chance to bring up a weak muscle group. During certain exercises, you can actively focus on specific muscle groups and make them stronger and bigger. However, the growth that you are going to experience will not be anything out of the ordinary despite what the bodybuilding philosophers say.
Truth be told, those guys give themselves way too much credit while failing to realize that the majority of their size is due to colossal steroid abuse and has very little to do with actual training effort.
Sometimes ordinary people get caught in the net too. Watching videos of famous muscle monsters describing how you can get massive and shredded too can make you lose perception of reality. Don’t let yourself daydream.
No amount of mind-muscle connection, squeezing and feeling of the muscle will turn you into Kai Greene. In the popular video above, he explains that you don’t need heavy weights as a bodybuilder because you are not a weightlifter. In the clip, he does biceps curls with 30 pounds, which is extremely light for his size.
It is true that you need moderate weight to ensure good form, but you will never reach high muscular tension with pink dumbbells. In his case, 30lbs are simply a joke.
Developing a strong mind-muscle connection is very useful and important in your career as a lifter, but you have to avoid getting caught in the trap of overthinking. If you have a specific muscle that you can’t feel working, just introduce a couple of corrective exercises to get a feel for it. Then use a light weight for your main exercises to integrate your new skill. Finally, try to maintain the same form during your heavy sets as much as possible.
P.S. The post revealing the natty potential has been updated.