Imagine that you’re at the gym on a Monday night, ready to crank out a new PR on bench press on “International Chest Day.”
You decide to throw on a good amount of weight on the barbell for a solid 2 reps on the bench. Your excitement is palpable; this is it, it’s your time to push yourself! Your gym partner stands behind you promising you’ll only need his/her moral support. You lay down on the bench with your favorite song blasting, the setting is perfect. You take the barbell off the bench rest and use everything within you to squeeze out 2 reps. You’re stoked! You were able to hit your PR and it’s surreal how cool and accomplished you feel. You proceed to move on to the next chest exercise and get ready to begin the first set. You expect your chest to feel pumped and rearing to go after a major set like the one you just had. Unfortunately, your chest feels deflated and flat, and your back, shoulders, and triceps feel a little sore as well.
So what went wrong in this scenario that you didn’t get that amazing pumped feeling in your chest?
I can’t tell you how many people I have met in the gym that are bubbling with energy and determination to kill a workout, and yet they end up not even working the intended primary muscle group that they set out to work on when they go to lift. In the previous story, you were able to bench a new PR by the skin of your teeth; but did you work the primary muscle group of the exercise? It is important to note the different muscle groups being used when you go to do an exercise and their proper function.
The main or primary muscle group (in this case being chest), you intended to use your primary movers in your chest. Likewise, the secondary muscle group would be the secondary movers that support that primary movers; this would include your back, shoulders, and triceps if your primary muscle group was chest.
Thus, the mystery of this story is solved by simply evaluating which muscle groups were being used during the lift and why. Our first evaluation of the story would conclude that all muscle groups were used fairly equally; because the movement was chest based, but your secondary muscle groups felt sore from fatigue. The next question we have to ask ourselves is WHY did we use all these muscle groups when we were clearly trying to work on chest? The answer would lie in our positioning for this exercise, and our Mind Muscle Connection that we excluded and that we should have included. Obviously poor positioning in any exercise will end up working the wrong muscle group more than we’d like, but more often than not we fail to observe this and for good reason; we do not utilize Mind Muscle Connection (MMC).
So what is Mind Muscle Connection?
According to Brent McGrath, in his BB.com article 4 Tips To Help Train Your Brain For Massive Gains: Mind Muscle Connection!:
“MMC is when the muscle movement is controlled by brain stimulus; or when your muscles communicate with your brain on what it wants to move. This occurs when the mind meets the body and is given the fancy term neuromuscular junction. The brain communicates with the muscles in the body by releasing a chemical neurotransmitter called ‘Acetylcholine.’
When Acetylcholine is released at the neuromuscular junction it crosses the synapses (the tiny space that separates the nerve from the muscle) where it binds to receptors on the surface of muscle fibers. Voila, muscle contraction.
he more you can improve this communication, the more muscle fibers you will recruit. A single muscle head is made up of many individual muscle fibers. By improving your MMC you are actually increasing the number of muscle fibers being recruited when you perform a lift. This results in a better quality muscle contraction and better workout (McGrath, Web).”
So we all having the begging question: Why is MMC relevant to my workout, and how do I use it?
MMC is relevant to every workout because without it, you are doomed to go through a workout and not use your maximum muscle potential to get maximum gains in the primary muscle group you wish to work on. By not using MMC, you end up repeating the storyline from the beginning anecdote and working out additional muscle groups that are not the main focus; and you also lift weight and receive only half of the benefits. So how do you use MMC in a workout?
The first step to achieving MMC when working any primary muscle group, is to visualize the motion and proper range of motion that you need in order to fully isolate your primary muscle group. For example, when I first started using MMC for bench press, I visualized my starting point of the rep, my directional motion during the press, and finally my ending point where I was squeezing at the end of the rep. By visualizing the process you produce an expected motion that your body performs and you are able to fully hit the primary muscle group without utilizing the secondary muscle groups nearly as much.
Similarly, after visualizing my ROM (range of motion) for the rep at the beginning, I perform the lift and concentrate on where I am feeling the most tension each time I perform the proper ROM for each rep. For example, if I proceed to bench press with my hands moved closer in towards each other, they are going to start putting pressure mainly on the head of my triceps; and this would be considered a close grip bench exercise more so than a barbell chest press. But how would you know this if you’ve never been taught or experienced this; especially if you are a beginner and/or new to lifting? The answer would be to feel where you are experiencing the most tension when you perform each rep; granted that your ROM is correct and you visualized the set before doing it. In doing the close grip bench exercise, you would end up feeling a burning sensation in your triceps (the muscle fibers breaking and expanding for muscle growth), and you would assume that this exercise was working your triceps and not your chest.
It seems simple enough and one would assume that everyone does this. However, the sad realization lies back in the story from the beginning where you attempted extremely heavy weight for two reps. The problem isn’t so much the reps as it is the fact that you focused more on the weight and simply completing the lift, rather than fully focusing on pressing and contracting movements at a slower, controlled rate. It goes back the idea of simple physics where the longer you put your muscles under pressure, for more weight, equals maximum muscle capacity being used and worked. Furthermore, if you look back on the beginning story it is easy to see that we were more focused on getting a lot of weight (ego lifting), as quick as possible, with little to no focus on the actual muscle itself. Moreover, before you look to put up a lot of weight for a new PR, and show off to your friends, keep in mind that focusing on the motion you are performing utilizing MMC, is more important than any amount of weight you are looking to put up. This is not to discount hitting a new heavy PR by any means, rather it is a friendly reminder to remember what the original goal of the lift was supposed to be, and to then think about whether you are performing in such a way that you are achieving that goal; whether it’s for a powerlift, or for body sculpting to make you look better.
Whatever the case may be, MMC is a useful tool that helps bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts everywhere across the globe achieve maximum muscle potential that builds them into what they strive to be. It my hope that one day we will all be able to utilize this crucial part of weight lifting.
Thank you for reading! Check out my fitness page and workout plans if you are interested in learning more about proper diet and lifting form.