The mind-muscle connection is everything to many experienced bodybuilders and fitness buffs. A recently-published review of studies shows, however, that it is not everything.
The main idea behind the mind-muscle connection is that a person should focus their attention on individual muscles when lifting weight. This is believed to enhance the activation and the growth of the muscle. Simply, the mind-muscle connection refers to the neurological effect that your brain can produce on building stronger muscles.
However, a new systematic review that appeared in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living hints that movement is more important for performance. A person may be able to lift heavier weights, or for longer when they focus on moving the weight rather than on the muscle they use.
David Neumann, the author of the review, said that athletes can boost their performance by maintaining an external focus. An example of this is when the focus is on moving a load. The professor at Griffith University, Australia noted that this approach, when combined with ‘dissociative’ focus strategies, can make exercise more appealing to less-active individuals as well.
Challenging a long-held belief
People who advocate the mind-muscle connection believe it helps to enhance muscle activity. Put differently, a person promotes activity when they focus on particular muscles when lifting weights.
This improved activity could boost muscle hypertrophy, a term that refers to the growth of muscle cells. However, the mind-muscle connection could also mean putting in more effort to be able to hoist the same weight.
“The higher overall muscle activity with an internal ‘muscle focus’ is not specific to the muscles mentally isolated during lifting,” Neumann pointed out. “Rather, it seems to represent the increased activity of non-target muscles, too.”
Several studies have shown that, when people focus more on movement, they lift with less effort and are able to lift weights for longer durations.
Researchers observed in one of the studies reviewed that focus on muscle did not offer more benefits, compared to an external focus, at 80 percent of maximum effort when doing bench presses.
Neumann, therefore, concluded that focusing on external effects of efforts can ensure the best performance in both training and competition. It can boost exercise adherence when combined with music listening or another dissociative focus strategy.
“It appears that this external focus allows automatic control processes to operate, removing the attentional demands and mechanical inefficiency of conscious muscular control,” he said.
The mind-muscle connection remains relevant
As eye-opening as this analysis might be, it does not, in any way, completely negate the mind-muscle connection. The idea is one that has been proven over the years to be helpful for building muscles.
The review only showed that focusing attention on movement could enhance efficiency when lifting.
There is no doubt that the mind-muscle connection enhances the activation of muscle fibers. This effect is crucial for hypertrophy or an increase in the size of muscle cells.
A closer look at the review reveals there is still a need for larger studies to confirm how beneficial focus on movements can truly be. Relevant studies in the current analysis mostly had small sample sizes of between 11 and 29 subjects. The participants were mainly young, Western males who are experienced in weightlifting.
Therefore, large studies with participants that are more diverse, in terms of demography, are necessary to confirm the findings. There is also a need for such to clarify some other aspects, including weather effects, extend across similar sporting tasks.