Networks-Complexes-Systems-these words are associated with many things, including the body. It may appear that many functions of the body operate independently-never relying on another for its performance-but this isn’t so. The body relies on all its parts and systems to work together in unification; this includes the brain/mind.
Why am I not seeing results? I’m in the gym 5 times a week. I think I’m quitting.
No matter how hard I work or heavy I lift, I don’t see results. I’m done.
What’s the use? I tried getting in shape. It didn’t take. Probably not in my genetics.
Why am I not seeing results? A question I often hear as a personal trainer. I feel and appreciate the frustration. Frustration can kill an exercise plan fast. The stagnation of muscle growth could be attributed to many things: improper diet, not enough rest, not enough protein, etc. But often it is we who hinder our own progress in life and in the gym. I sought out to answer these three inquires. I casually observed the workouts. Indeed weight was sufficient, form was acceptable, workout was complete but…the entire time they exercised they repeatedly talked on the phone, took selfies, showed off the selfies, and searched tirelessly for the perfect song to accommodate 3 sets of semi-adequate 10 rep curls. A 45-minute workout turned into 1.5 hours with no results. There is the problem.
You’ve been temporarily disconnected! The mind is not connected to the body during the workout! Being in-the-moment is crucial during exercise and weightlifting. “The weights are just a means to an end. How well you contract the muscles is what training is all about.”-A. Schwarzenegger
Having a good mind-muscle link means being able to isolate a muscle or muscle group and feel it working throughout the entire range of motion. Having a strong mind-muscle connection means you are able to feel the contraction, the pump as you push, pull, or lift weight.
An article in the March 2018 European Journal of Sports Science reported on research being done on the mind/muscle connection. The researchers observed and charted 2 groups of people while they executed resistance training exercises for 8 weeks. One group [A] was prompted to focus on the outcome-finishing the set/exercise while the 2nd group [B] was cued to concentrate on contracting the target muscle during the exercise and feel it move and fill with blood.
The participants in group B showed greater increases in bicep curl strength and size versus group A. By focusing on the bicep muscle instead of just lifting the weight, group B improved their strength by 16.2% while the group A improved by only 2.6%. In addition to strength changes, the researchers also looked at hypertrophy. Group B showed superior hypertrophic increases in their biceps (12.4%) versus the group A whose biceps only grew by 6.9%.[i]
Now that we know what to do-here’s how to do it. I’ve listed 5 techniques. Use them all. Practice. You will have control over your muscle in no time!
Technique 1: Practice Flexing
Just do exactly like it sounds-start flexing. You can do it in front of a mirror like a big-time bodybuilder or just sitting on the couch. Perform an exercise movement-let’s say a bicep curl-but without the weight. Slowly flex the bicep as your hand comes up and your wrist turns in-feel the tension of just the bicep. Hold. Now release and repeat. While you do this concentrate on only the muscle being flexed. If you are unsure of how to flex a particular muscle-just perform the exercise movement for that particular muscle without the weight and squeeze at the end point.
Technique 2: Only use machines…for awhile
Most machines are designed to lock you into a precise plane of motion so that you can isolate a specific muscle. This mean that particular muscle will be doing the majority of the work. I suggest performing a static hold [holding the weight in the middle of the range of motion] during a rep to really feel the blood rush to the muscle. Picture the muscle tensioning and fighting, growing against the weight.
Technique 3: Palpation
To palpate simply means to physically touch. So, while performing a bicep curl place the opposing hand on the bicep at work. Feel the texture and movement of the muscle. Picture it in your mind. Create a scene in your mind of the muscle working and growing after each rep.
Technique 4: Do Slow-Motion Reps
I would advise you use this technique with semi-light to light weight-this gets painful real quick. The reason is-this will light your muscles on fire! This is not only good for learning to focus on a muscle but it also great for hypertrophy!
Technique 5: Static Holds
As I explained in technique 2 a static hold is when you stop and hold the weight in the middle of the range of motion. This is another that will light your muscle on fire. Make sure to really feel the blood rush to the muscle. Picture the muscle tensioning and fighting, growing against the weight.
I still use these techniques even though I am hyper focused during my workouts. I continue to practice technique 1 for muscle memory. I am almost to the point where I can isolate and move each muscle independently. I use techniques 4 & 5 during my normal workouts. These have given me tremendous growth!
By focusing on the target muscle and feeling how it performed against resistance, you'll progress quicker and see more gains (muscle) and losses (fat). You will get more from a shorter workout—and you will begin to see those straggling muscles start to make some progress.
This might sound weird at first, but try this: when I go to sleep, I envision those muscles that I worked that day healing and growing as I drift off to sleep. Give it a try. 😊