Bodybuilders have always talked about the importance of the mind-muscle connection. It's a variation of the idea of "internal focus of attention" which comes from the field of motor learning. It's the process of actively thinking about the target muscle during training and then feeling it work through the full range of motion.
According to theory, this strategy maximizes stimulation of the muscles you're trying to target while reducing the involvement of secondary movers.
There have been numerous studies that have confirmed mind-muscle connection does in fact increase activation of the target muscle as measured by electromyography. However, until recently there have been no studies to investigate whether adopting a mind-muscle connection actually had a beneficial effect on growth.
The New Study
A study by Schoenfeld et al. examined 30 untrained college men who performed 4 sets of arm curls for 8-12 reps on 3 non-consecutive days per week. One group was coached to focus on technique and mind-muscle connection; the other group was given coaching cues not relevant to mind-muscle connection.
After 8 weeks, subjects who used mind-muscle connection had almost double the muscle growth in the biceps brachii compared to those using an external focus (12.4% vs. 6.9% respectively). The study found that participants made superior biceps gains by using an internal focus of attention.
Three Things to Do
There are three methods that can help improve your mind-muscle connection:
- Posing: Regardless of whether you're stepping on stage, practice flexing and contracting the body part you're wanting to build.
- Mirrors: Watching the muscle work can help you build the mind-muscle connection.
- Isometric Holds: Focus on contracting the muscle in a static position when loaded.