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Insane In The Membrane: Anything And Everything's Fair Game

Mind That Muscle!

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by , 03-25-2008 at 02:44 AM (1465 Views)

The Mind Muscle Connection: We've heard that term a thousand times - about how it is crucial to achieve that state of mind during training so as to attain maximal workout intensity and muscle growth. Heck, I even remember how Bill Phillips (Yeah yeah, that guy behind the controversial Body-For-Life competition) got the market clearing out all the health store shelves of St. John's Worts because of its "touted" abilities to enhance the mind-muscle connection... until he came up with his own version called "Neurogain", which, of course, cost a bomb and remains up there among the Top 5 worst investments of my life, alongside the "Ab Chair" and Enron shares. Anyways, I'll chalk that one up to adolescent gullibility. But I digress.

What is the Mind Muscle Connection (henceforth MMC)? It is when you hone your attention, during training, to be focused and aware of each rep in every set you do in any exercise. This includes keeping your form superb, controlling your movements to negate momentum as much as possible, and feeling the contraction of the intended muscle group at the peak of every rep. As you all can attest, it is very easy for the mind to wander away in random thought while doing a set. However, such loss of focus without MMC can potentially cause these unnecessary complications:

1. Incorrect Form. For example, your lower back is arched during a regular deadlift. This not only robs your lower back muscles of its complete recruitment during the exercise, but also puts you in danger of a bad, possibly permanent, injury. (Slip discs anyone? Didn’t think so!)
2. Too much momentum. If you don’t control the eccentric portion of your reps but allow the full force of the weight to either “bounce off" or "jerk" your body at the end of the movement, you are not only depriving your muscles of full recruitment, but you are putting a “shock” on your joint and ligaments. Think bench press. An increasingly alarming amount of amateur bodybuilders are suffering from a shoulder joint complication known as Distal Clavicle Osteolysis. Basically, the sudden strain placed on the Acromioclavicular joint (those protruding nodes on your shoulder blades) can lead to tendonitis, followed by joint disintegration, or osteolysis.
3. Cheating. Following from the previous two points, a person who does not watch his/her form and movement will tend to pick a weight that is too heavy, mostly because of the “Ego” factor. This often leads to “cheating”, the sacrifice of good form to move the weight at all costs, making for a very unfulfilling and injury prone workout.
4. Target muscle under-worked. Often times, it is difficult for a trainer, if you have one, to teach you the correct form to an exercise because although the form looks identical on the outside from person to person, the slightest shift in weight distribution, invisible to the eye, can work another muscle altogether. That is why “feeling” the target muscle is imperative.

As you can see, harnessing the mind is very important in effective weight training. This is also the one way to achieve intensity. Only when you can focus and direct each rep to fully exhaust the desired muscle can your workout be truly intense. Ask any bodybuilder who trains with high intensity, and he’ll tell you he can’t last longer than an hour at the gym. Why? Because all that mental concentration, apart from the physical activity, can be quite tiring in itself. The mind is so used to wandering randomly that “forcing” it to concentrate is a legit exercise all by itself! Just ask the Buddhist monks. Here is just a guideline of how to ensure an optimal MMC when you train:

1. Check your emotional baggage at the door. That’s right, leave your daily problems in the locker before you enter the gym. The last thing you need is your mind running amuck like rats in a maze: you simply cannot focus on completing your squats in good form if you’re imagining all the different ways you want to ram your co-worker’s head into a hard place. Letting go of your problems temporarily may sound hard to do but trust me, it gets easier every time.
2. Send your Ego on a trip. The gym is the last place to have an ego trip. There’s no point trying to impress anybody at the gym by lifting heavier than you can handle because NOBODY CARES!!! And anyone that does seem to care is just as much of an idiot as you are! I’ve seen guys built like houses benching the same, or even lesser, than me or even scrawnier guys lifting heavier than me and all in good form. Our musculatures are unique from person to person; some of us make gains off the slightest stimuli while others are hard-gainers who barely budge weight-wise despite their unbelievable strength. It’s just genetics: Get Over It! Pick a weight that works and pound away.
3. Mini-meditate. Well, that’s what I call it. Before any set, just settle into your starting position (before removing the weight from rest) and take a couple of deep breaths. In that time, sense your being down to the very last muscle fiber. Try to feel all the muscles that are going to be involved in a particular exercise; feel them pulsate with every heartbeat, feel the way the weight will trigger and contract them, visualize a stream of explosive energy building up inside them, ready to explode. Heck, even talk to them; say stuff like, “Here we go buddy, show me this stupid barbell I’m about to lift is lighter than feather. Put it to shame!” I know, sounds like new-age hogwash but it works!
4. Everybody else is just white noise. Tune out everybody at the gym (except your spotter of course). Keep conversations to an absolute need-to-talk minimum (like, “are you done with that machine?’), ignore all the conversations occurring around you, and resist the temptation to join in one. It’s just you and the weights for one hour, the only way to get maximum intensity.
5. Get your beauty sleep. Being well rested in all important; not only for muscle repair and growth but also to keep your mind as sharp as a tack. You simply cannot focus on anything, especially something intense like weight training, if you’re going through the motions like a zombie. Furthermore, lack of sleep wrecks hormone hell on your endocrine system, depriving you of strength, vigor and resolve.

For me, training is a religious experience. It’s amazing the peace of mind I get at the gym even though I’m pounding away at the heavy weights and thoroughly exhausting my body. I’m focused and relaxed at the same time, a very Zen like feeling. And why not? Eastern mysticism and Western esoteric practices have preached for thousands of years that peace of mind, or inner tranquility, comes from disengaging from the thought process and being attentive to the NOW, as opposed to reliving the past or worrying about the future. As you can already guess, nothing gets you out of your head and into the present moment faster than 300+ lbs of metal that’s gonna come crashing down on you if you don’t lift it off your chest!

Till the next post,

Updated 03-25-2008 at 03:30 AM by InsaneInTheMembrane

Workout Woes and Worries


  1. Merc..'s Avatar
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    good post ..
  2. InsaneInTheMembrane's Avatar
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    Cheers mate! Much appreciated