If you’re an experienced lifter or just a regular gym-goer, you may have heard guys in the industry talking about using a mind-muscle connection to enhance muscle hypertrophy. It’s talked about in almost every sport, the power of the mind, so it’s of no surprise there is growing interest in the bodybuilding world about how best to use it. The real question is, is it just bro-science or is there evidence behind such techniques?
Firstly, it can be defined as the process of actively thinking about the target muscle during training and then feeling it work through the full range of motion. In theory, this strategy maximizes stimulation of the muscles you’re trying to target in a given exercise while reducing the involvement of “secondary” movers. This combination hypothetically should result in greater growth.
Up until recently there had been no long term study investigating a mind-muscle connection on the benefits of muscle growth. A recent study had 30 untrained subjects perform 4 sets of arm curls and leg extensions for 8 to 12 RM on three non-consecutive days per week, with sets carried out to muscular failure. Every rep of every set was supervised by research assistants. The mind-muscle group was instructed to “squeeze the muscle” on each rep while the external focus group was instructed to “get the weight up.” The exercise portion of the program lasted eight weeks with a week taken for testing immediately before and immediately following the training period.
Simply because an untrained lifter is a blank slate and thus it could be said that they would be best to follow the prescribed attentional focus strategy.
After eight weeks of consistent training, subjects who used a mind-muscle condition had almost double the muscle growth in the biceps brachii compared to those using an external focus (12.4% versus 6.9%, respectively). Alternatively, muscle growth for the quadriceps was similar between conditions. It could be argued that subjects had a hard time engaging a mind-muscle connection in the lower limb compared to the biceps.
Perhaps more experienced lifters would’ve been able to engage a better mind-muscle connection for the quads and maybe would have had better results. Research is lacking in these studies, but this could be the start of some exciting research.
Steve O'Mahony BSc MSc
Schoenfeld BJ et al, Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018