The mysterious Mind Muscle Connection is an essential key to building more muscle.
As you train with lighter weights at higher reps, your main focus is not on progressively increasing the amount of weight you use. It is on feeling the target muscle go to “failure” in each set.
You can adjust the number of reps and the amount of resistance as you work through your sets. But you are not focusing on numbers. You are focusing on the feeling in your muscle.
You want to get into a mental groove called the Mind Muscle Connection. Feel the pump. The amount of weight and the number of sets are just tools to get you to the pump.
It’s almost a form of meditation when you really get into it. And it is critical to your success in building muscle. It may sound a little spacey, but it really isn’t. It’s about mental focus.
Even after all these years of living it and preaching it, I often find my own mind drifting away from that focus during a rep. It’s critical to catch yourself when your mind strays and put it back on the feeling in the muscles you are working. It really matters.
In 2019 there is exciting news about the Mind Muscle Connection:
Researchers have tackled the subject and proven that the Mind Muscle Connection results in more muscle growth! Men’s Health has a review in their March 2019 edition. An excerpt follows:
“Research published in the European Journal of Sport Science tracked the results of two groups of men who trained with weights three times a week for eight weeks. Both groups did the same exercises—the barbell curl and leg extension—but with one key difference: Subjects in the first group were told to “squeeze the muscle” during each rep, while subjects in group two were told simply to “get the weight up.”
The results were striking. Subjects who were told to “squeeze the muscle”—an internal focus of attention—there was a 12 percent increase in the size of the biceps.
That was almost double the gains seen in the group who were told to “get the weight up,” where the average increase in biceps size was just 7 percent. It was a different story with the quads, where there was no significant difference in muscle growth between the two groups.
The researchers think this might have been down to the fact that untrained individuals have a hard time establishing a “mind-muscle connection” in the quads compared to the biceps. In fact, several subjects said that they found it much easier to focus on their biceps than their quads.”
If you click the “Research” link, it will take you to a synopsis of a study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. It concludes with the bold, clear statement that:
“The findings lend support to the use of a mind-muscle connection to enhance muscle hypertrophy.”
In other words, keep a hyperfocus on how the muscle you are working feels as you execute the rep and you will see greater muscle building results.
We Are Going to Pump You Up
If you successfully maintain a Mind Muscle Connection, you will likely induce some soreness in those target muscles. That soreness is the legendary “Pump,” as blood rushes into the target muscles bringing healing nutrients and flushing out waste. The Pump is a great feeling. Soreness is good. Pain is bad.
Our egos tend to tell us that more weight equals more strength equals more muscle. Wrong. Unless you’re trying out for the Olympic team, forget about your weight totals.
Muscle grows in response to tension placed on it that does microscopic damage to the tissues. With proper rest and nutrition, the fibers are repaired a little stronger and thicker than before.
Hypertrophy is the process. You feel it as that “pump” while you’re working the muscle and perhaps after or even the next day
To those points above there is typically general agreement.
Succeed by Failing
Where I diverge a bit from others is that I believe in focusing each workout on a specific muscle group with enough sets in order to take it to “failure” rather than mixing up various muscle groups on each workout day. You still work the entire body but over a week’s time. You focus each workout day on one area at a time.
Failure occurs when you cannot complete another clean rep without cheating. Don’t cheat on any rep.
If you’re focusing on biceps, for example, I would stay on biceps until you’ve reached failure. In my case, this equates to 5 sets each of 3 separate exercises. Typically I’ll do bicep barbell curls x 5, bicep dumbbell hammer curls x 5 and bicep rope curls on a machine x 5.
On that same workout day, I’ll also do triceps right after biceps in a similar way. Then, I’ll add some work on forearms and wrists. And that’s it. All arms and done. On to the next body area in the next workout.
In a nutshell the formula goes like this:
- 8 – 12 reps to failure in every set
- 30 – 40 seconds rest between sets
- High volume of work: 3 – 5 sets per exercise, 3 or more exercises per target muscle group
- Focus on one muscle group/area per workout
- Muscle exhaustion is the goal — feel the pump
Lighter Does Not Mean Light
At the same time, we’re not talking about aerobicizing here. When I say “lighter weights, higher reps” I don’t mean waving a tiny dumbbell around for 100 reps.
It does mean finding the right level of resistance to cause your muscle to fail between 8 – 12 reps. In this case, failure is a good thing. It means you can’t do another clean rep without cheating because you’re taking the target muscle to exhaustion. You take a brief rest and do it again. This is how we cause hypertrophy.
Add resistance whenever 12 reps become too easy on that first set. It’s that simple, numbers wise.
Your focus is on the feeling, not the numbers.
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