There are many videos of professional bodybuilders which allegedly contain the secret to extraterrestrial muscular hypertrophy. One of the special tactics promoted by the bodybuilding gurus is called mind muscle connection, which is a term describing the ability to activate a muscle whenever you want during a lift.
The idea is that if you are simply focusing on moving weight, you may not use the right muscle for the task. The most popular example would be the pull-up. Many people use arm strength and not as much back to lift themselves up.
How can you move without your muscles?
It’s funny how people think you need some sort of magical muscle activation in order to use a particular muscle group. Since we live in the era of the gluteus maximus, you often here about different strategies to activate that muscle as much as possible. I will tell you a secret: you cannot move without your muscles.
There are movements that cannot be performed without the help of very specific muscle groups. Those muscles get activated no matter what. For example, 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 many gurus will try to play mind games and convince you that you need to squeeze and think about your biceps until brain damage has occurred. At times all you need to do is just lift.
Quite often there is no need to overthink and simply doing the movement with correct form is good enough. 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 to improve stability.
What’s certain, however, is that you don’t need a bunch of different exercises to re-activate your muscles. To me that’s nothing more than unneeded vodoo magic.
I don’t want to brag, but I have excellent mind muscle connection, but it wasn’t always like that. For quite some time I was brainwashed to believe that activating your lats during pull-ups, for example, is reserved only for magicians. I read in one book that it will take you many years to make it happen. Luckily, that’s not really the case and you can accomplish suck task in a few short months or less.
While I think that people are overthinking muscle activation, because many seem to have nothing better to do, it is quite cool to have it. The good news is that it doesn’t take an army of scientists, personal trainers and experts to get it down.
It’s easy to focus on 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.
When the weight is really heavy, it’s quite natural to go back to survival mode and try to lift the damn thing anyway possible. That’s why people often do just fine when the weights are light, but once the iron gets heavy and challenging all kinds of interesting things happen. Squats turn into good mornings, deadlifts become rounded back stone lifting, flat bench presses become declines, military presses turn into inclines….etc. I’ve done it all myself.
While it is impossible to always maintain perfect form when the weight is heavy, you shouldn’t allow more than 5-10% deviation from the norm. Sometimes even that could be a lot.
Keeping the mind muscle connection going 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 poundage should be used to practice form and establish mind muscle connection initially. 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 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.
Hypertrophy and mind muscle connection
Mind muscle connection has decent influence on muscle growth, but don’t get too excited. You ain’t becoming a monster just because you can “activate” the right part of the robot.
One of the more important benefits that come with improved mind muscle connection is the chance to bring up a weak muscle group. During certain exercises you can actively focus on using specific muscle groups more than others in order to 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, most of those guys give themselves way too much credit without realizing 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 forget forget what’s real. Don’t let yourself daydream.
Sadly, there is no amount of mind muscle connection, squeezing and feeling of the muscle that will turn you into Kai Greene. In the popular video above he explains how you don’t need heavy weights as a bodybuilder because you are not a weightlifting. In the clip he biceps curls something funny for his size such as 30 pounds and explains how you should use really light weights to feel the muscle.
It it is true that you need to use moderate weight in order to ensure good form, but you will never reach high muscular tension with pink dumbbells. In his case 30 lbs are really nothing for his 20+ inch arms. You ain’t getting arms that big from curls with 20-30 pounds. This is a fact and even hiring a special group of muscle whisperers or whatever will not change it.
While developing a strong mind muscle connection is very useful and important in your career as a lifter, you should 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 correction exercises to get a feel for it. Then use 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. But if you don’t need it, just lift.