The mind-muscle connection is something of a mythical concept in bodybuilding circles – almost like the Force.
“Use the mind-muscle connection, Luke!”
And like all myths, belief in this concept is very varied. Some people believe the mind-muscle connection to be a complete fallacy and proclaim that technique is all that matters, while others herald it as one of the single most important factors in optimizing strength and performance.
So which is it?
What is the Mind-Muscle Connection?
The first question we need to answer is just what the mind-muscle connection actually is. Generally then, the term describes the ability of any given person to control their muscle as they need to for specific actions.
The central idea behind the mind-muscle connection is that you can have degrees of control over your muscle and that some people are capable of getting stronger contractions than others out of the same amount of muscle mass.
Is the Mind Muscle Connection Real?
So is it real? The answer is definitely yes.
Not only are there plenty of studies that demonstrate the existence of just such a connection but you can see it for yourself. Try right now to wiggle your ears and if you’re like most people, you won’t be able to. Some people can wiggle their ears though – and they don’t have any different muscles to you. The difference? They have a better connection to that muscle.
The same happens in your bicep. When you contract your bicep, you don’t actually contract the whole muscle at once. Rather, you contract lots of separate ‘motor units’ which together combine in order to exert the force you want to produce.
Some people are capable of controlling 50% of their motor units. Others can only control 20-30% of their motor units. And fascinatingly, no one can control 100%.
How it Works
So what happens when you contract your muscles?
Essentially, the decision begins life in your brain and probably in the cerebellum. From there, an impulse is sent through your nerves all the way down to the arm where it will end at the end of the nerve, called the ‘neuromuscular junction’.
When the impulse reaches this gap or synapse, acetylcholine is passed over to the muscle fibers and this causes them to start accepting sodium ions and to contract.
How to Strengthen the Connection
So how do you strengthen the connection?
One thing you can do is to simply train harder. Training harder helps you to create more myonuclei in your muscle fiber and the more myonuclei you possess, the greater your ‘synaptic efficiency’ will be.
Better yet is to train your 1 rep maximum or to train using ‘overcoming isometrics’ (weights you can’t move at all). When you do either of these things, you attempt to recruit the maximum number of motor units you are capable of and this helps to strengthen the neural connections and lay the foundations for new ones.
Finally, try focussing on your muscles as you train and really feel them contract and loosen. Even when you’re relaxed, occasionally be mindful of your muscles and the state they’re in.