Do your exercises feel like a chore? Do you feel your sets and repetitions have no guidance or purpose? Have you planned you monthly routine only to find your muscles still don’t move like you want them to?
If so, the answer is in your head. Part of the blame may lie in your mindset on fitness. You may need to start viewing it as a lifestyle. If you’ve already done that and still have trouble, it may be a lack of mind-muscle connection.
The mind-muscle connection is deliberate muscle flexing. When you have a mind-muscle connection, you can focus tension on specific muscles or muscle regions. You consciously activate certain areas of your body, bringing in more muscle fiber than you would if you passively moved your body.
An easy example is the bicep. Many beginners already know how to flex the bicep since the muscle hogs the aesthetic limelight. That flex — also known as contraction — is the goal during every exercise.
Each muscle requires a different connection. They all require different types of movement and contraction. However, here are a few general ways to increase mind-muscle connection throughout your body.
Learn basic anatomy
You need to know how your muscles move if you want to target them with movement. If you want to actively move your body, you need to think about how your muscles stretch and tighten while in the act.
You don’t need to memorize every muscle in the human body. Cursory knowledge goes a long way. Just learn how your joints bend and where they’re supposed to move.
The easiest examples are the biceps and triceps. Their purposes are to bend the elbow, extend the elbow, bring the elbow behind your back and supinate (rotate) your hands and forearms. Performing those motions will lead to bicep or tricep muscle activation.
A basic anatomy lesson will also reveal what muscles assist during exercises. For example, your front deltoids (shoulders) and triceps help push objects away from the chest. If you want to target the chest, you’d roll back your shoulders and widen your hand placement during bench presses or push ups.
That’s just one of many examples. For the rest, all you need is a search engine.
Focus on form
An annoying truth about exercise is that your body doesn’t care how it lifts the weight, only that it is lifted.
This is something a mind-muscle connection fights by limiting activation to targeted regions. Every exercise targets some muscles more than others. Similarly, every exercise has a way to “cheat” and lessen the load on that target.
That’s why you need to focus on form and build muscle memory around it. Remember to roll your shoulders back and widen your hand placement for bench press, to keep your arms at your side for curls and to keep your back straight during squats among other, equally important considerations.
When you do an exercise with proper form, you will feel much larger strain on the targeted muscles. From there, you can understand what activates those muscles and learn to better contract them.
Lower the weight
It feels good to lift heavy weights. You can brag about how heavy you lift to your friends. However, muscle control gets harder with higher weight loads.
If you lift weights heavier than you can handle, your body will start compensating by bringing other muscles in.
This compensation wrecks form and lessens tension on the target muscle group. At worst, it could lead to injury.
That’s why you start small. Take a few plates off the bar, go a few dumbbells down the rack and take a few reps off of those bodyweight exercises.
Lower weight shifts focus away from just lifting the weight and onto performing the exercise correctly. You can track your form, lessening your chance of injury and activating your muscles the right way. You can also feel yourself flex, letting you get into the habit of purposefully flexing during exercise.
You can go a step further and include warm up sets for each exercise.
Lower weights will build your mind-muscle connection while also building foundational muscles. This better prepares you for further muscle growth.
Put your pride and heavy weights aside and focus on quality.
Control your breathing
Those who practice meditation or do yoga know the importance of breath control. Controlling how air enters and leaves your body hones your focus on your immediate actions.
Better breath control increases blood flow, relaxes your muscles and boosts your stamina, among other effects. This allows you to lift heavier when you’ve already mastered the mind-muscle connection. Before that, it helps you develop one by focusing your mind on the exercise at hand and how you’re performing it. When your breath is even and your mind is clear, it’s easy to understand how your muscles are contracting and how to flex them.
Breathe during the eccentric portion of the exercise — i.e. when you’re lowering the bar/body during a bench press, push up, pull up or squat, when you’re lowering the forearm during a curl and when you’re bending it during an extension. Breathe out during the active portion — i.e. when you push the bar up, when you curl or when you lift during a squat.
Continue this even after you develop your connection. It will always benefit your workout.