The Elite Physique

Mind Muscle Connection

Using Your Mind Muscle Connection to Build Muscle

mind muscle connection

The mind muscle connection is being able to isolate a specific muscle or muscle group and being able to feel it or them move with each repetition.  This takes time and practice.  With the right information, training, focus, and practice, you can achieve the mind muscle connection.  Then, when you train, muscle gains will shoot through the roof.  Now, let’s get crackin’ on more details about this interesting concept.

The Conscious Connection

The mind muscle connection is the intentional contraction of a targeted muscle.  You see, while weight training is a physical act, there are psychological factors that go with it that can really intensify your training.  First, all movement is controlled by your brain. With a muscular contraction, the muscle sends a signal to the brain telling it to contract.  This occurrence takes place where the mind meets the body, at the neuromuscular junction.

In order for the brain to communicate with the muscles, it releases a chemical neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.  Once released at the neuromuscular junction, it crosses the synapses.  This is where it binds to receptors of the surface of muscle fibers.  The final outcome is muscle contraction.  A single muscle head is composed of many muscle fibers.  The cool thing is, you can recruit more muscle fibers in your training when you learn how to use this communication process.

Making Reps Quality

One of the reasons lifters don’t build muscle is they are just pushing and pulling weight in the gym.  You have to use your targeted muscle to move the weight.  There is a difference between just moving weight and actually lifting it.  It’s not how much you are moving, it’s how much weight you are lifting, using good form and tempo, under tension.  The quality of your rep is the factor that’s going to make you or break you.  Quality reps activate specific muscles you are targeting.

Zoning-In on Your Targeted Muscle

You have to know and understand what you are doing in the gym when you are lifting.  If not, your training session could be below par.  One area people need to understand is the primary and secondary movers.  The primary mover is the muscle that is recruited the most during the lift.  The secondary mover is the muscle group or groups that is sharing the load with the primary mover.  The bench press targets the chest.  The pectoralis major is the primary mover and the deltoids and triceps are the secondary movers.

Now, there are muscles that are difficult to train for the newbie since they can’t really feel the muscles or know how to tune-in to feel them.  As a personal trainer, these are the people that will have trouble with certain exercises when trying to isolate certain muscle groups.  For example, I was training a guy and I started him on Face Pulls as a rear delt isolation exercise, in hopes to build it to the degree that I could soon put him on bent-over lat raises.  This guy had no mind muscle connection.  Early on, when we attempted the bent-over lat raises, he was wobbly and just all over the place.

What’s on Your Mind?

What’s your mind muscle connection like?  What are you thinking about when you are in the middle of a set?  Are you thinking about what you are going to eat later, about your date, about facebook…?  Are you trying to just push and pull the weight, trying to get reps in?  If you do any of this when training, you are training wrong and your gains will be minute and slow.

The simple act of moving heavy weight doesn’t mean that you are targeting muscles.  Lifting heavy builds muscle, but only when you have perfect form.  You get perfect form with the mind muscle connection.  When you are training you should literally FEEL each and every rep of the muscle you are training.  Really, no one in the gym cares how much you are lifting, so stop acting like a jack ass in there with your ego lifting.  Focus on what you can lift rather than trying to show off.  What’s going to make your muscle grow is intense muscle stimulation and time-under-tension.

We use the same part of the brain to visualize an action as we do to perform that action, says Srini Pillay, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  Use this tactic the next time you do DB flys.  Don’t just swing the dumbbells out and bring them back together.  Any Planet Fitness goer can do that.  I want you to put your attention on your pecs and inner chest when doing this movement.  Feel the muscle move, feel each stretch, and feel each contraction.  Engage your brain as well as your muscles.  Do that, and you’ll get a much better workout.


I was watching a guy in the gym doing lat pulldowns.  The weight he was using was too heavy.  Rather than using his lats to pull the weight down, he had to use nearly all the other muscles in is body, especially his biceps, to hoist the weight down with each rep.  His weight was too heavy, his form sucked, he had no mind muscle connection, no focus, and he was putting strain on other muscle groups.

Bottom line: He didn’t really target anything doing that exercise.  His back was not targeted because he used his biceps as the primary mover doing the lat pulldown.  Simple fix: LOWER THE POUNDAGE AND USE PROPER FORM.

How to Engage the Mind Muscle Connection

Now that you know a little bit more about how your mind can affect your training, let’s learn some tactics you can employ to get this little feature working.  The more you can use the mind muscle connection in your training, the more muscle growth you will get.

Use Machines for Mind Muscle Connection

I’m not a huge weight training machine fan, but they do have their place in the gym and in some fitness routines.  Free weights allow all the stabilizers to come into play, allowing for a better overall lift.  However, when you being to use the mind muscle connection, it can be quite difficult.  That’s where machines can be helpful.  While machines lock you into the movement and don’t allow for a natural range of motion, they can help isolate the muscle and you can use this to start feeling the muscles moving.

As you lift the weight, think about the muscle or muscles involved.  Put your mind into that muscle.  As you do, feel the muscle move from the stretched point to the contracted point.  Focus on getting the full range of motion stretch and focus on hitting that contraction.  Do this for each and every blessed rep.

Slow Your Roll, Playa

Slow down your tempo.  Taking advantage of the negative rep when training can help you leaps-and-bounds with your mind muscle connection.  Anyone can hoist the weight up.  However, many can’t control it on the way down.  They allow the weight to take control and lose 1/2 the rep.  Executing your reps consciously allows you to feel the muscle fibers slowly shortening as you get to the fully contracted position, and then to feel them progressively stretch back out.  It you really want to tap into the mind of the muscle, keep control of your rep speed.  Use the primary mover to move the weight up in a paced and controlled fashion.  But, that’s not all.  You have to return the weight using the same, or slower, tempo.  Doing that, just slowing down your rep speed can help connect that mind muscle feature.

Visualize for Mind Muscle Connection

Visualization can do amazing things.  This is a tactic Arnold Schwarzenegger used during his primal years of bodybuilding.  When training biceps, he’d visualize them as mountains, and would see them growing with each and every rep.  When he did squats, he’d see his legs as huge tree trunks.  You have to see it in your mind’s eye and you have to believe it.

I used visualizing when I was competing.  I would see myself on stage, muscular and ripped and I would see myself winning first place.  It worked.  I started bodybuilding at 106 pounds, placing last and two years later I won overall at 117 lbs. and 6% body fat. Visualize.  It works.  Put in your mind what you want, see it, and keep it there.

Static Reps

A static rep, static hold or isometric rep are all the same thing and is a Weider Training Principle.  It became mainstream with Mike Mentzer and Author Jones.  It’s simply holding the weight in a fully contracted and fixed position for a certain amount of time.  Static reps can be held from 5-30 seconds or more.   The beauty about holding a contracted rep is that over time, you will become aware of the muscle, when training and when at rest.  You can learn to control is during training and while at rest.

Static reps can be done many ways in your training.  One way is, you can add a static rep to the end of your set.  Another way is to make the entire set about the isometric rep.  Another option is doing just 1 or 2 reps and holding the weight for 15-30 seconds.  This sounds like child’s play, but the time-under-tension is the same as if you were doing standard moving reps.

Stretching for Mind Muscle Connection

The next two are a dying art.  No one is flexing or stretching these days and they are doing themselves more harm than good.  Stretching can help muscle growth and flexing can help condition the muscle.  In addition, it can help build your mind muscle connection.

When you are training, you need to be stretching that targeted muscle group between sets.  If you are training chest, after each set, stretch out your chest muscle.  Same thing for every muscle group you train.   Stretching your muscles during, you actually stretch your fascia.  When you stretch the fascia, you are making more room for your muscles to grow.  As you stretch, and the more you stretch, you’ll begin to feel the muscle more.  You can feel it lengthen.  But that’s not all… you need its counterpart, the contraction or flexing. 

Flexing and Posing

A great way to learn how to the mind muscle connection is through forceful flexing.  Flexing forces blood into your muscles.  When your muscles are pumped full of blood, you can definitely feel them!  A muscle you can feel, is a muscle you can isolate and move.

Have you ever noticed how refined the muscles of bodybuilder are?  Not just their muscles though, their training, too?  It’s due to the mind muscle connection.  It’s a conscious creation.  Competitive bodybuilders practice their posing for hours a week when they are prepping for competitions.  A seasoned bodybuilder can move from one pose to the next.  It comes second nature.  They have trained their muscles to respond to their brain.

Flexing and posing go hand-in-hand.  So yeah, learning to pose can help the mind muscle connection, but sometimes you need that mind muscle connection activated before you can pose.  Regardless, attempt it anyway.  Now, you don’t have to be a competitive bodybuilding to practice posing.  It just comes down to flexing the muscle group you are training.

Give it a try.  Flex your biceps.  Squeeze that muscle!  Now, from that flexed position, straighten your arms straight out to the sides, palms up.  Go back into your biceps pose.  This engages the biceps muscle only.  Try this before and after training and see how well you can feel your biceps and feel them move.  Practice this, and all muscle contractions.  It will improve your mind muscle connection.

Try Palpation

Palpation is the method of using one’s hands to check the body.  I use this method at times when I’m personal training my clients.  I want to feel the muscle in action and I want the client to be aware of the muscle in action.  Very few people use this technique these days.  Even so, it’s still one of the most effective methods.  If a client says he or she feels the exercise somewhere else, chances are they are using other muscles in the movement and they still have work to do on muscle control.  You can do this method yourself on muscle groups you can reach while you train, or a trainer can touch your primary mover to help you feel that muscle and gain control.  Put your mind into it.  Think about what you are doing, what you are lifting, and what muscle groups you are using.

The Mind Muscle Connection Mastery

Once mastered, the mind muscle connection is an amazing tool.  You’ll no long be slinging iron mindlessly.  You’ll actually be lifting weights, stimulating the targeted red arrow pointing downmuscles and growing.  What more could one ask for?  You have the ammo to build amazing muscle and bring up lagging body parts.

Stop lifting weights and start training your muscles as well as your mind.  Arnold said it best, “Where the mind goes, so goes the body.”  There couldn’t be a truer statement.  Oh, if you want some insane bodybuilding information, see below and get my FREE Natural Bodybuilding Lessons to pack on mass…


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Karen Sessions NSCA-CPT

What You MUST Know...

My name is Karen Sessions and I am a life-time natural female bodybuilder, multi-certified fitness instructor, author, specialist in performance nutrition, and a success coach. I've been in the fitness industry since 1988! I teach people Just Like You how to transform their bodies, get in shape, build muscle, lose fat and compete in Bodybuilding, Physique, and Figure Competitions. When you have the CORRECT information you can have total confidence and turn your dreams into reality... and I can help transform YOUR body. I have helped THOUSANDS of clients reach their goals and I can help you, too. Be sure to grab my free gift above so you can start moving toward your goal.

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