Fitness and the connection between mind and muscles

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Try a few leg raises. You’re supposed to be working your abs, but if your hip flexors – the tiny annoying group of muscles under the pelvic bone and above the quadriceps – start to hurt, then you’re doing the leg raises wrong. But how can you get leg raises wrong? The solution is academically simple, but practically difficult. The next time you’re trying to do leg raises and want to avoid your hip flexor screaming in pain, just squeeze your abs every time you hit a rep. This creates a mind-muscle connection – it forces your body to raise your legs with the core and abs, not the front of the hips. The human body is extremely smart and is constantly trying to balance hard work through its many muscles and connectors. And it has to be brought back to training the right muscles immediately. And that’s the secret so that every employee counts.

Another popular example is the bicep lock. Trainers and fitness enthusiasts will be obsessed with not swinging their backs while rolling up the weight. The usual recommendation is to hold your elbows by your sides so the body does not counterbalance the bicep curl by activating the back muscles to lift it. As strong as you are, your body has a tendency to add momentum to lift the final reps through fatigue. These final reps are important. But if you’re swinging your body and your back is helping, the final reps won’t help.

Workouts are both a mental and a physical process. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “What surpasses you? It’s the mind that actually creates the body, it’s the mind that really lets you train, it’s the mind that visualizes what the body should look like as a finished product. In other words, this is what it means when someone asks you to “activate” a muscle. Bruce Lee squeezed and flexed his chest tightly before and after each set of bench presses and pushups. The scientific explanation is that this activation produces more acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that gets your muscles moving. The more acetylcholine you produce, the more contraction you can give your muscles, resulting in an acceleration in muscle growth and strength.

There are other terms you will hear in the gym: “isolate the muscle” someone will say. All of these can be very daunting to a newbie. “This type of connection is something that comes with muscle maturity and experience. For me, the best way to train newbies is to get them to obey orders. Once they get the hang of it, I make sure the muscle they were working on has a decent pump at the end of the set. This kind of visual feedback helps muscle memory, ”says Kunal Mahour, who has four national gold medals in calisthenics and works at Pune-based MultiFit.

Workouts are both a mental and a physical process.  (Photo: Istockphoto)

Workouts are both a mental and a physical process. (Photo: Istockphoto)

As someone who is primarily into bodyweight exercise, Mahour needs to work hard on his mind-muscle connection. While he was training me in calisthenics, he made sure that muscle activation was slow. In the first few weeks, I learned to swing a movement and bend or bend my legs to lift my body more easily. The next two weeks focused on stretching the legs for a strict shape. Pulling up, for example, is easier with crossed legs than with a strict straight leg.

I had another trainer in Delhi who asked me to listen to audio clips from American bodybuilder and media personality CT Fletcher to get my “body in the zone” before training. Fletcher said he started using verbal cues because “his muscles weren’t listening to him”. Of course, there were times when I would only hear half the audio and move on, but a lot of people seem to listen to his motivational pieces before training (add a video below so you can decide if it’s for you).

“It’s easier to isolate muscles in strength training than in bodyweight exercises. In what I practice, I can do a chin-up with my lats or shoulders, depending on what I’m working on. I use the help of other trainers during an exercise, ”says Mahour.

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology entitled “Importance of the Mind-Muscle Connection During Progressive Resistance Training” attempted to investigate “whether focusing on the use of certain muscles in the bench press can selectively activate those muscles”. It’s interesting research because in the bench press, the primary movers are the pecs and the secondary movers are the triceps that support the barbell.

The study found that “In both muscles, focusing on using each muscle increased muscle activity at relative loads between 20 and 60%, but not at 80% of 1 rpm (rep max). The increased activity did not occur at the expense of decreased activity of the other muscle, e.g. B. If one focused on activating the triceps muscle, the activity of the pectoralis muscle did not decrease. “It also found that focusing on the triceps also helped the chest muscles.

Below are some tips to follow when building the mind-muscle connection. Some may work for you and some may not, but it seems that flexing the brain will ultimately help you flex your muscles better.

Tips for achieving a mind-muscle connection:

– Focus on working the muscle, not lifting the weight.

– Give yourself verbal cues when lifting. During a bench press, there’s no shame in muttering to yourself, “Sit, lock, lift”.

– Imagine a muscle getting darker with each rep and lighter with each stretch. Cheesy, but as long as it works. Turning away from the mirror is a tip some trainers will give.

– Slow down the repetitions: the slower you walk, the more your body will focus and feel the muscles you are working on.

– Warm up to target the muscle / group of muscles that you will be working out that day. Before you pile on the plates, do some light, quick reps.

-Music is good for concentration. Podcasts and audiobooks, not so much.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writes about football and fitness.