Have you ever driven down the road for a while, when suddenly you realize you just went ten miles, and you don’t remember getting that far, almost like you blacked out for a few minutes? Have you ever done this during exercise? You mindlessly do a set of bicep curls until your trainer tells you to stop or it starts to burn a little bit. Performing resistance training in this manner is not near as effective when you engage your focus on the muscle group you are trying to target. This is called the “mind muscle connection,” and it is very important when your goal is hypertrophy (increased muscle size).
Most people have no idea how important it is to build a connection to the weights while you’re lifting them. They simply go through the motions of an exercise, like a dumbbell shoulder press with weight that challenges their strength and they try to use good form so they feel it in the shoulders. Reality is, you can use light weights and enhanced mental focus to achieve the same thing. Skip the sets of 120-pound dumbbell bench presses, opt for 80’s, and increase your focus on the muscle, and odds are you will be the biggest you’ve been in years.
The objective should be to make the weight feel like it weighs more than it actually does. If done correctly, you will feel sore for up to three days after you get the hang of it. If you are just going through the motions, or muscling reps with no focus, there’s no point in doing it in the first place. It’s easy to go through a bad workout even though you aren’t feeling anything in your target muscles.
When training for muscle growth your mind needs to be on the target muscle. If you don't focus on the muscle you're trying to bring up, your body will revert to what it's good at, namely letting the same muscles "sleep" and calling upon already overworked muscles surrounding the ones you're wanting to build. Doing an exercise without feeling the target muscle work will not only delay progress, it can also set you back by exacerbating muscle imbalances.
When you keep training a muscle you don't readily feel working, it's natural for your body to try to work around this inefficient, sleepy muscle by changing the motor program to recruit more efficient, ready-to-work muscles. For example, when you are performing a set of dumbbell rows and you only feel it in your biceps and shoulders, you aren’t engaging and focusing on the right muscle group.
The only way to make sure you get the most benefit from an exercise what you need is to use that powerful muscle, the one between your ears. Make sure that you feel the right muscles working as much as possible from the onset of the first rep to the completion of the last. If needed, tweak your form, alter your rep speed a bit (usually by
going slower), or consider employing a technique like isometric holds – especially in the contracted position – to make sure you feel the stress of the exercise in the right place.
If your goal is hypertrophy and you aren’t focusing in that mind muscle connection, you will not be getting the most out of you work out, plain and simple. It’s time to stop going through the motions and start focusing on the muscle group being worked.