If you want to know what the mind-muscle connection is, and why it helps you build bigger muscles, you want to read this.
For decades, gym bros and bodybuilders around the world have preached the importance of the vaunted mind-muscle connection -- a mystical link between the brain and skeletal muscle system that when harnessed to its fullest potential can produce life-changing results.
You see, in the view of the iron veterans, when it comes to building muscle and strength, it’s important not only that you’re lifting heavy ass weight, but you’re acutely focused on contracting every fiber of the working muscle group as hard and powerfully as possible.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was even aware of the importance of the mind-muscle connection, stating:
“The weights are just a means to an end. How well you contract the muscles is what training is all about."
This all sounds great in theory, but is there any scientific proof to back this theory up? Or, is it just another chapter in the annals of bad bro science?
Well, as it turns out the gym bros were right -- the mind muscle connection does exist...and there’s research to prove it!
What is the Mind-Muscle Connection?
The mind-muscle connection essentially refers to consciously and deliberately contracting a muscle through its full range of motion. In other words, when you’re at the gym, don’t focus so much on simply lifting the weight, but dial-in on the specific muscle that is doing the work. During the concentric phase, contract it as hard and powerfully as possible, ideally with an intense squeeze at the point of peak contraction, which increases intramuscular tension. Then, during the eccentric (lowering) phase, focus on resisting the weight all the way down and use a conscious stretch at the very bottom.
Utilizing this approach on every single repetition you perform leads to greater motor unit recruitment, which in theory, should lead to greater muscle growth.
The mind-muscle connection has been proven time and again in the scientific literature thanks to the advent of electromyography (EMG) -- a measure of the muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve's stimulation of a given muscle.
Over the past several years, a host of EMG studies have demonstrated that when subjects are instructed to focus on a specific muscle prior to executing a movement, a higher percentage of those muscle fibers are recruited.[3,4,5,6] Additionally, when using that inner focus, subjects also recruited fewer accessory fibers (i.e. auxiliary muscle that you don’t really want to target on a given exercise).
So, it would appear that utilizing the mind-muscle connection during training should help maximize muscle growth.
Unfortunately, until recently, no studies had been conducted testing the long-term hypertrophic effects of the mind-muscle connection, if any.
Enter “The Hypertrophy Doc” Dr. Brad Schoenfeld who recently put the mind-muscle connection to the test.
Use the Mind-Muscle Connection for Bigger Gains
For the study, 30 college-aged men were randomly assigned to either train using an internal focus (i.e. mind-muscle connection) or an external focus. All of the men performed 4 sets of arm curls and leg extensions using between their 8-12 RM on 3 non-consecutive days per week for a total of 8 weeks.
Additionally, each set was taken to muscular failure, and every single rep each man performed was supervised by one of Dr. Schoenfeld’s assistants.
Men using the mind-muscle connection were instructed to “squeeze the muscle” on each rep, while the other group was merely instructed to “get the weight up.”
Now, at first glance, you might wonder why Dr. Schoenfeld chose to use two isolation exercises rather than the typical “bread and butter” barbell lifts of bench press, deadlift, and squat. The answer is rather simple.
Compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts involve multiple muscle groups, which makes it difficult for lifters to focus on a single intended muscle group. Furthermore, compound lifts also require a greater learning curve and higher degree of coordination. Since this study used untrained individuals, the use of isolation exercises was more appropriate for measuring the effect of the mind-muscle connection on hypertrophy.
So, what were the results?
After 8 weeks of training, men using the mind-muscle connection had almost double the muscle growth in their biceps compared to those who adopted the “just get the weight up” mentality. Muscle growth for the quads was about the same. This may be due to the fact that it is easier to focus on the biceps flexing than the quads.
Based on these findings, it would appear that gym bros have been validated -- the mind-muscle connection does exist and it does lead to better muscle growth.
How to Develop the Mind-Muscle Connection
To begin solidifying your mind-muscle connection, it helps to practice using slow eccentrics, taking roughly 3 seconds to lower the weight on each rep and focus solely on the muscle group your working. By increasing the amount of time you spend in the eccentric portion of an exercise, your nervous system is placed under greater demand, which leads to greater gains in motor control and coordination.
In other words, by taking longer to lower the weight, you’re helping strengthen the connection between your brain, CNS, and skeletal muscle, leading to a significantly stronger mind-muscle connection, and ultimately better muscle growth.
Let’s put this into more practical terms using the lat pulldown as an example.
When you set up for the lat pulldown, focus on pulling with the muscles of the back, driving the elbows down and back. Continue focusing on this active contraction of the lats until you reach the point of peak contraction (bar at your chest), and then hold that position, squeezing your muscles as hard as you can for a solid count of one, then slowly, under control, “resist” the weight up under a count of three. During this eccentric portion, try to maintain constant tension on your lats, slowly lengthening them until they are fully extended and your arms are back in the starting position.
In addition to this tempo work, isometric contractions at various points of the lift can also help foster a stronger mind-muscle connection. This comes in handy especially for those muscle groups that are harder to feel for novice lifters, such as the lats, side delts, or hamstrings.
Tempo work, mindfulness, and isometrics are all key factors that help build the mind-muscle connection, but there’s one other avenue you can navigate to help strengthen this essential muscle building technique...
Acetylcholine -- The Mind-Muscle Connection Neurotransmitter
A huge contributor to establishing a robust mind-muscle connection is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Also known as “the learning neurotransmitter”, acetylcholine plays a prominent role in cognitive function, memory, learning, and focus. It also serves as the chemical messenger (“excitatory neurotransmitter”) in the body that controls the contraction of skeletal muscle.
How Does Acetylcholine Affect Muscle Contraction?
Acetylcholine resides in synaptic vesicles in nerve terminals. When an electrical signal (action potential) stimulates release of large packets of acetylcholine into the synaptic cleft located on the surface of muscle fibers, they bind to nicotinic receptors, leading to depolarization. This causes sodium (Na+) channels to open, initiating another action potential.
As a result, a different type of sodium channel is activated in response to this depolarization, allowing more sodium in and a wave of excitation spreads throughout the muscle cell. From here, calcium ions (Ca+) are released from storage sites in the muscle cell. These calcium ions initiate a series of events involving troponin, tropomyosin and myosin that lead to muscle contraction.
So, as you can see, acetylcholine has a pretty significant role in your ability to lift weights and focus on lifting those weights. And, if you’re deficient in acetylcholine, you very likely will have trouble focusing during your workout and generating a solid mind-muscle connection.
Fortunately there’s a way you can ensure your acetylcholine stores are never at risk for deficiency by supplementing with choline bitartrate.
Choline Bitartrate -- The Mind-Muscle Connection Nootropic
Choline bitartrate is an affordable and effective form of choline supplement that’s been shown to increase choline levels in the body. By providing the “choline” in acetylcholine, choline bitartrate supports increased acetylcholine production in the body, aiding focus, learning, mood, and the mind-muscle connection.
Due to the importance of acetylcholine both in mental and physical performance, we’ve included a full 2 gram dose of choline bitartrate in every serving of Mega Pre Black.
Mega Pre Black -- The Mind Muscle Connection Pre Workout
Mega Pre Black contains everything you need for heightened focus and muscle fiber recruitment during training. Using the powerful acetylcholine boosting duo of choline bitartrate and huperzine, Mega Pre Black promotes greater, longer lasting acetylcholine production for a fortified mind-muscle connection and dialed-in focus.
Try Mega Pre Black today and experience the power of the mind-muscle connection for yourself!
Schoenfeld, B., Vigotsky, A., Contreras, B., Golden, S., Alto, A., Larson, R., … Paoli, A. (2018). Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training. European Journal of Sport Science(Vol. 18). https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2018.1447020
Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M. D., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., … Andersen, L. L. (2016). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 116(3), 527–533. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7
Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M. D., Sundstrup, E., Colado, J. C., & Andersen, L. L. (2017). Mind-muscle connection training principle: influence of muscle strength and training experience during a pushing movement. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(7), 1445–1452. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-017-3637-6
Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M. D., Sundstrup, E., Colado, J., & Andersen, L. L. (2018). Attentional Focus and Grip Width Influences on Bench Press Resistance Training. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 125(2), 265–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/0031512517747773
Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M. D., Sundstrup, E., Colado, J. C., & Andersen, L. L. (2018). Influence of different attentional focus on EMG amplitude and contraction duration during the bench press at different speeds. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(10), 1162–1166. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2017.1363403
Kuo IY, Ehrlich BE. Signaling in Muscle Contraction. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology. 2015;7(2):a006023. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a006023.