Enhancing the Mind-Muscle Connection for Better Results
Where do you feel it?
You’ve probably heard us ask this question multiple times over the course of a workout. Why is it so important? Simply put…if you’re not feeling the right muscles, you’re not getting the most out of the exercise, and more important you may be stressing your joints.
Although the biomechanics of a particular movement dictate the muscles that are responsible for accelerating, decelerating and stabilizing the joints during that movement it is quite common for disuse and/or poor motor program development to result in a change to muscle roles. This is the issue for most trainees, regardless of sex and age, who have trouble sensing certain exercises working the desired muscles.
Let’s break down a simple hip bridge, for example.
Prime Movers (muscles responsible for the lifting part of the motion): Glutes (butt)
Secondary Movers (muscles designed to assist the prime movers): Hamstrings (back of thighs), Quadriceps (front of thighs)
Stabilizers (muscles that don’t experience a change in length during the movement, but must engage to protect the spine or other joint that is supporting the load not directly involved in the movement): Low Back Muscles (erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum); Abdominal Muscles (rectus abdominus, external and interval obliques, transverse abdominus, pelvic floor); Calves (gastrocnemius)
When we have a client perform this exercise and we ask “where do you feel it”, we expect to hear “butt” and then possibly “hamstrings” as the individual fatigues. However, we often hear “low back”, “thighs” (i.e. quadriceps), or “hamstrings” only. Guess which muscles are actually doing the work in the latter cases? Hint…it’s not the Prime Mover.
When muscle roles change or a movement or exercise is learned incorrectly the consequences can be:
– increased risk for injury and sub-optimal performance in athletics
– increased risk for chronic joint issues
– lack of desired strength and tone in certain muscles
Ultimately, instead of making yourself better with every workout…you’re getting closer to an ER visit, Physical Therapy, or you’re becoming frustrated because you don’t see the changes you desire.
If you’re an athlete, muscle role and recruitment issues are known to result in chronic muscle strains (i.e. hamstring, quadriceps), severe knee injuries (i.e. ACL), and sub-optimal performance. If you’re training to sprint faster or jump higher, good luck if you don’t move efficiently or recruit the right muscles for all phases of the activity.
For the fitness enthusiast, using the wrong muscles can lead to a mishandling of joint stress during basic movement patterns. Take the squat for example. How many of you have been told or have heard that you shouldn’t squat b/c it’s bad for your knees? This is prevalent, mostly due to ignorance, but research has shown that a squat done correctly poses no significant short or long term risk to the knees. Unfortunately, if someone is using the wrong muscles, due to tightness, muscle role changes, or has consequently learned how to squat improperly it is a different story.
Of greatest interest to most trainees is the impact exercises have on target areas such as butt, thighs, arms and abs. If we perform an exercise that should, based on biomechanics, strengthen and tone a specific muscle, yet the individual performing the exercise doesn’t feel it in that muscle what do you think the result will be? Most likely he/she will be strengthening the muscles they “feel” instead of the “correct” muscles, resulting in imbalanced muscle tone, and he/she will inadvertently be strengthening the poor movement pattern he/she has developed.
With respect to the big picture…if you’re looking to achieve a specific effect on your overall physique over time you must understand that all good strength and conditioning coaches and trainers design their programs based on the assumption that the trainee will use the correct set of muscles for each given activity. A good program is designed to pay equal attention to all muscle groups. For example, if we have 2 exercises that target glutes and 2 exercises that target quadriceps (thighs) we have balance. If the trainee, however, is using his/her quadriceps for all 4 exercises with zero glute recruitment…unfortunately, he/she is going to be all thighs and no butt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s what most people want when it comes to physique change.
How can you start to “feel” the right muscles during your workout?
1. Know which muscles you should “feel” during each exercise.
2. Concentrate your mental energy on using those muscles.
One of the best things you can do when learning a new exercise is to understand where you should be feeling it. If you don’t have the awareness it’s important to find out why, and then to focus on gaining the correct sensation before increasing the weight you’re using. If you don’t know which muscles you should feel working during a particular exercise…ask! At the Shop there is always someone within an ears reach that can give you a quick response and a simple cue or two to help increase your awareness.
Focusing on squeezing your muscles tight during every exercise is something that bodybuilders have done inherently for years. EMG studies have confirmed that if you concentrate on a particular muscle during a specific exercise you can increase recruitment of muscle fibers within that muscle. Concentrate on tensing and squeezing the muscle you’re trying to work during every rep.
If you have trouble sensing a particular muscle expect that it’s going to take some time before it becomes instinctual. Don’t be afraid to be a little anti-social during your training sessions. It will pay off in results.
If you need additional assistance and we are unable to provide the necessary attention during a Group Training session, please make a mental note and catch up with one of us before or after Training.
We are here to help you succeed!