Do you have a stubborn muscle group that just will not improve no matter how often you train it? The answer is probably not to increase the intensity or duration of the training. Instead look inside yourself and concentrate on building a mind-muscle connection.
Mind-muscle connection is often the most neglected element when people are training to form muscle. However, it may well be just about the most important element to achieve results.
The good news at the outset is that building your mind-muscle connection does not involve deep thinking or researching some out-of-the-ordinary technique. And it certainly does not involve wasting money on unnecessary supplements.
Mind-muscle connection involves mental concentration on what you are doing when you are exercising. It really is as simple as becoming mindful of what you are doing as you exercise.
Mindfulness and Exercising?
When people hear words such as mindful or mindfulness they tend to think of ‘activities’ such as meditation. Mindfulness and exercising do not, at first, seem to go together easily. At best they may see a connection with exercises such as Yoga or Pilates.
When your exercise program is focused on muscle strengthening or building mindfulness does appear to be coming at self-development from a very different perspectives. However even for heavy lifters in a gym environment, mindfulness is necessary to bring about the desired results and muscle growth.
Think of the exercise program you are currently following. Now place yourself there. Ignore the actual physical activities and concentrate of what goes through you mind during the program.
Do you ever find you are just simply ‘going through the motions’ during your workout? Perhaps you are training well within yourself but, at times when you are pushing your limits, do you carry out the exercise without thinking intently about what muscles are working with the specific movement?
You may have ‘learned’ which exercise is associated with which muscle group. But are you actually positively thinking about this? If so, is your body confirming what you have learned?
If you are actually rather distracted while exercising, listening to external sounds, watching focusing on external images, thinking about other parts of your life, or perhaps just putting your attention on the effort that is required, well you are not alone.
The Typical Approach
Not thinking about what they are doing is a very common way for people to behave when exercising. Many see it as a way to escape from thinking, not to replace one focus of thought for another. And they have not been told any different.
The typical instructor is fit and familiar with the body and the impact of exercises. They can draw connections between a desired outcome in terms of muscle development and a specific set of exercises. A good instructor can identify the outcome a client desires. And they can instruct the client on which exercise program is best to achieve that outcome.
So far, all good. But there is a missing element – the psychological element. Typically, this will only come to the fore if there is a clear problem or if it is raised very specifically by a client. But people assume fitness and exercise is all about physical activity. So, once this is put in place and learned they go ahead. They work hard – or not – and they achieve an outcome.
But there is also a psychological aspect to fitness training that people tend to neglect. And because this is not included as an intrinsic part of the exercise program your mind wanders, often to topics you may be trying to avoid. You think about things in work, what you will eat for dinner, and so on as you are training.
This psychological weakness means that very often the outcome falls short of what is expected, given the advice that was provided and the effort that was made. Negative feelings are inevitable.
Building the Mind-Muscle Connection
You need to make changes. You need to form that mind-muscle connection. Become aware of the sensations in your body before you start. Feel the muscles you are using to control your breathing. Make sure you are breathing correctly. I’ve written about the importance of this elsewhere on this site.
Be aware of your immediate environment and what you are touching. Feel the sensations of your body touching physical objects. Feel the sensations in your body as you move and the changes in effort that are required.
Rather than daydreaming, focus on the muscles being used. Be intensely aware of these specific muscles as they relax and contract. Are these the muscles you wish to concentrate on? Are there others? If not, are you doing the exercise correctly? Does your program need revision?
Building in this psychological dimension will make a difference, and in a relatively short time. Over time it will greatly help you to see the results you have been aiming to achieve.
Without it, you may be lifting very heavy weights, and ever-heavier weights. Your form may be as close to perfect as can be achieved. You are doing what has been asked of you and an instructor will typically encourage you to keep going, perhaps to do more of the same.
But if you do not achieve the mind-muscle connection I describe here, you will not see the desired change in your body’s appearance. This is the case irrespective of whether you wish to build muscle or simply to tone your muscles.
So, don’t ignore the psychological aspects of muscle building. Chances are it will be up to you to introduce this aspect of training into your program.
This just underlines the important point: the results you obtain are your responsibility.